I call this phenomenon "divorce's dirty little secret", and it has tremendous implications for married parents. Down time is essential. Without it, parents are vulnerable to exhaustion, stress and impatience. Parents must take deliberate steps to take a break from their parenting duties. It is equally important that they create psychological space from the challenges they face in order to keep perspective. While I do not have a simple, catch-all solution to this challenge, consider the following tips. The first two steps will ensure that you get necessary physical down time. The second two steps will infuse humor and will help you recharge on an emotional level.
1. Create a babysitting exchange with neighbors you trust. Ideally, reach out to someone whose children are relatively close in age to your own, and work out a way that each couple could take every other Saturday night for themselves and for date night.
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2. Encourage your spouse to take personal time. It is relatively common to take the divide and conquer approach to parenting with each parent shepherding a child to where they need to be while the other parent navigates the schedule of the other. However, if you encourage your spouse to take an extended break while you take over on a given weekend afternoon, this can generate positive energy and momentum. If the day goes reasonably well, suggest that you take turns and make this alternative afternoon off a regular part of your weekend routine.
3. Read I'd Listen to My Parents if They'd Just Shut Up by Anthony E. Wolf, PhD. This a hilarious and psychologically astute perspective on parenting adolescents by encouraging parents to set clear limits, but use humor and take a "less is more" approach to parenting. While this book is about adolescence, it offers insights, wisdom and perspective that is relevant for all stages of parenthood.
4. Watch the film Parental Guidance. If your children are old enough to watch a PG film, watch with them. If your parents are local, invite them for the viewing as well. The film is absurd and extreme, but some of its observations about modern day parenting are downright hysterical and its emphasis on the importance of enlisting grandparents is — at times — touching.
Force yourselves to take these four steps and you will notice a change for the better. Full disclosure: after watching the above film with my family, my 11-year-old daughter suggested that my parents watch the film as well. The next thing I knew, my parents scheduled an extended visit and my husband and I planned our first getaway in years!
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