1. Know the benefits.
Knowledge is power, so taking a second to educate yourself on the benefits of not talking about the kids might be the only motivation you need to kick the habit during those intimate times between you and your spouse. Being a parent means experiencing emotions at a magnitude you never realized was possible, so it’s no wonder we feel a satisfying obligation to continually rehash the happiness, confusion, and frustration our kids ensue. Plus, some days, it may feel like the only thing we have in common with our spouse.
First, there are selfish reasons. Whether my husband and I are both arriving back home after 8 hour work-days or I’m eagerly welcoming him home to a filthy house and unkempt wife on my day off, I know we are both pleading for time to unwind and to be treated like a person. Not an employee, not a mom or a dad, not a husband or a wife, like a person. As adults, our to-do lists run rampant and it is all too easy to look at one another as a job title or list of responsibilities. We owe it to one another (and to ourselves) to shed that weight and confinement and spend at least one night a week interacting with one another as people. Nothing else to gain, no other expectations.
Then, there is the real reason we do everything: for the kids. As parents, we do everything in our power to raise good, happy kids (and probably second-guess 75% of the decisions we make along the way). We give them all the time, money, and attention we can, but it’s been said before that the single greatest thing we can do for our kids is to love their father (or mother). Although our intentions to do what is best for our kids are pure, we are often looking at the situation using too narrow a field of view, seeing only the kids. If we were to step back and employ our peripheral vision to see the bigger picture, we would realize it all starts with the parent standing right next to us.
Inevitably, the more time that passes and the more responsibilities added to our plates, the easier it is to lose touch with the versions of ourselves that first fell in love and chose this life together. Take advantage of those rare moments alone to revisit those feelings and rediscover the reasons you fell in love with the person sitting across from you. All too often, we lose ourselves in other roles and those vital lines of interpersonal, meaningful communication are pinched, ultimately severing the lifeblood of our relationships. Time spent cultivating our relationship as husband and wife is time spent strengthening the foundation our kids and family needs in order to flourish.
As with anything in life, it will seem unnatural, even forced, in the beginning, but with continued effort and practice, will become the bread and butter that sustains your family. To be a better spouse is to be a better parent.
2. Establish possible conversation topics beforehand.
We’ve all heard the old line that “practice makes perfect.” –Usually at the most annoying time possible, am I right?– Even more annoying, however, is how true it is. Date night conversation reform might take a lot of conscious effort in the beginning, but the more you discuss other things, the easier and more natural it will become. Our kids are the center of our universe, so it’s easy to get stuck in their gravitational pull and have nothing to say that doesn’t concern them, but becoming aware of the countless other topics waiting to be discussed will allow the conversation to progress in a natural and effortless way. Consider talking about sports, religion, politics, upcoming events in the family or community, world issues, entertainment, future goals as individuals and as a couple, celeb gossip, daydreaming about houses, trips, and careers., or even playing an impromptu game of “Would You Rather?” Avoid triggers if you know they’re there and always keep in mind the fine line between engaging in a healthy debate and the act of preparing your bed on the couch (see next step, digging your own grave). Nobody wants to be that couple in the restaurant.
3. Have a back-up plan for those days the conversation doesn’t come easily.Pinterest is full of clever conversation starters and questions to ask your spouse when the small talk runs dry. It sounds silly, maybe even desperate, but we’ve all been there. You’ve run out of things to talk about, so you pull out your phones. (Or, heaven forbid, talk about the kids again). In this new tech-driven era we live in, our thresholds for healthy awkward silences and willingness to dig a little for conversation starters have decreased. We are much quicker to pull out our phones during a lull than to simply enjoy one another’s company and think, however creatively, of something to talk about. Next time you pull your phone out on a date, let it be to look at the conversation starters and questions you’ve saved for such an occasion as this. Some of my favorites include this adorable Pillow Talk Printable, these Couples Roadtrip Questions, and 40 Questions to Ask Your Spouse to see how well you know one another. I’ve compiled a list of my Top 10 from the three to get you started:
- Who are you envious of and why?
- What was the most annoying thing that happened today?
- What is something nice someone did for you today?
- What accomplishments make you feel the most proud of yourself?
- If you could be a member of any TV show family, which would it be?
- When do you feel the most loved?
- What is your first single memory of me?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- What song or movie title best describes your day today?
4. Designate a certain amount of time when talking about the kids is appropriate so you can get it out of your system.If adhering to a strict no-kids-talk policy isn’t feasible, set a limit and designate a time and place for letting those topics slip. Let’s face it, there are times our kids do something so adorable, revolting, or aggravating that it HAS to be talked about; it would actually do the deed a disservice to ignore it. And, many times, date night is the first quiet, stress-free chance you have to share those stories with one another. This habit isn’t about squashing those tenderhearted moments as a parent. Allow yourselves to talk about the kids in the car on the way to your destination, while waiting for your food to arrive or while waiting for the check. Pick a time that seems natural and allows you to get stories and concerns off your chest. We are proud little things and sometimes the best feeling in the world is spending 10 minutes of our day feeding off the energy of the only other person who knows the depth of that pride. So, if you can’t stand to wait any longer, go for it. Just make sure you don’t let it override other equally-important topics of conversation.
5. Up the Ante
Some of us operate on a reward/punishment system. Myself, for example: If I am still alive by 2:00pm, I can have a Diet Coke. If I open a textbook and study, I can have a Take 5 (my favorite candy bar). Okay, so I bribe my way through adult life, but any undergraduate psychology class will tell you that this is instinctual. So, if needs be, use a reward or punishment to keep from talking about the kids on date night. Consider making a bet with very clear-cut guidelines to keep your conversation in line. Perhaps the first person to bring up the kids owes the other a 10-minute foot rub when you get home. Or, keep a running tally of who is mentioning the kids and how often, and the person with the least amount of offenses by the end of the night gets to pick dessert (or in the case of an indecisive winner like me, the reward would be not having to decide). We do things like this all the time with our kids and, whether you’re ready to admit it or not, you probably spend a large portion of your day adhering to self-induced rewards and punishments. It’s simple, instinctual, and effective. If talking about the kids is a hard habit to break, up the ante.
Written by Witney Loftin