Strategies for quality time with my wife when life gets in the way
November 13, 2013 7:18 AM   Subscribe

How does a youngish (36) married couple spend quality time together when demanding jobs and childcare responsibilities seem to make it nearly impossible? What are your strategies? How do you cope?

I work a demanding job that keeps me away from home a minimum of 60-65 hours during the workweek, often longer (assume for the time being this cannot change, because I am under contract and have a long commute -- I will consider seeking less time-intensive employment when feasible. But I work in a relatively prestigious field and my current job is a great resume builder, even though the hours kind of suck). My wife works from home and has a satisfying job, and is able to take care of our two daughters (5 and 3), when they are not at kindergarten or preschool. I leave the house at 6:30 in the morning, get home around 7:30 most nights, eat dinner/cleanup/play with kids/put them to bed. Then it's 8:30 or 9, and wife and I are both pooped, with an hour left of energy, if that. My wife works harder than I do, because she's got these little rascals on her hands from 3 pm onwards each day, waiting for me to come home to help out, so she's often more exhausted than I am.

We've been married for 8 years, love each other deeply, and our favorite "together" activity before kids was just hanging out, doing anything -- cooking, grocery shopping, weeding the garden, traveling -- as long as we could do it together and be together. But now with a more demanding job and two kids, we just don't have that time anymore. At least one of us must always be minding the kids when they're around, and it's becoming difficult to maintain the intense connection that initially brought us together. Other types of intimacy have taken a hit as well.

We live in a big, expensive city where we have no family (because of my job), so the only available childcare is hired babysitters, which cost between $10-15 per hour, which is not something we can do on regular basis (plus -- I almost never see my kids during the week and spending time with them on the weekends is a treat for me).

My wife and I both realize this is a uniquely trying time in our marriage -- so much to do, yet so little time to spend being a happy, married couple. It seems like whatever alone time we are alotted is taken up with the "business" side of running the family. Even when we do go out on "dates" we often, to our later dismay, end up talking about the kids, schedules, etc. Kind of ruins the point of a date.

I'm asking Internet Friends who are in or have been in similar situations: What strategies have you employed to navigate these difficult years, when it seems like there aren't enough hours in the day to do the necessary work of maintaining a relationship? We're not on the brink of divorce or anything, but we've had some issues in the past year, mostly related to poor communication skills on both our parts, and we've both identified our lack of time alone together as a major contributing factor.

How can we maximize the little time we have?
posted by Creamroller to Human Relations (17 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
At minimum I would try to have regular sex. You don't seem to have the time right now for big chunks of time together sans kids, but at least aim for some physical intimacy. That can fill some of the gap. My husband and I are crazy busy (but not as busy as you) and lately don't have the time or money to go on dates. Sex helps to keep us feeling like we're in a relationship, it helps to maintain the level of intimacy and connection to one another. Tired or not, make time for sex.

I also suggest nightly "what did you like" talks. Every night before we go to sleep my husband and I tell each other what we liked from our day, especially what we liked/appreciated that the other person did. Some likes reoccur (I liked snuggling with you for five minutes this morning, I liked hugging you when you came home from work, I liked the sexy times), but often the likes are day specific (I liked when you cleaned up the kitchen after supper, I liked when you looked at me with obvious love in your eyes, I liked when you kissed me in the hallway). We end every day being appreciative of one another and reliving the small but important things we have done for each other.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:23 AM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]

What in your lives can be outsourced? Laundry, cleaning, cooking? Even if just occasionally, getting the mundane off of your plate can be a great help.

Cast about for a "mother's helper" in your neighborhood. This person will come after school and entertain your kiddos until your wife's workday is over. Even just 3 hours a day. You can probably get a 12-year old to do this for $50 per week. You may even help out a latch-key kid who would otherwise be home alone.

Your wife will be glad not to have to quell rebellion while she's trying to get the Forecast out. Or, she can cook dinner in peace while Chelsea is playing Candy Land with the kiddos.

Instead of dates alone with your wife, plan fun outings on the weekends with the family. Apple picking, Christmas Tree selection, all the things the seasons suggest. Festivals. When we were young, my parents schlepped us up and down the California coast in the VW Van. I've seen more domes, temples, camp sites, missions, and weird festivals than you can shake a stick at. Taught me to appreciate fun, weird, free stuff. My folks got out of the damn house.

Have a regular bed-time for the children. 8PM is a good one for kids as young as yours. After 8, it's adult time.

Perhaps you can swap kid-free evenings with neighbors or friends. I'll take your kids one night, you go and have a date, then you take ours. Make pizzas and put on Nemo. It's not hard.

Small changes can yield big results.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on November 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

Can you get up a half hour earlier? Sometimes DH and I get up early and just talk. And yeah, intimacy, as often as you can, even in the middle of the night.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:29 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Career jobs that require you to sacrifice your family need to make it financially worth the sacrifice. If you cannot afford $10-15 per hour for a babysitter one night a week or one night every two weeks so you and your wife can have a date night, something is very wrong. Like really: pay the babysitter $45 and go eat hot dogs or something.

Alternatively, find another family in the same boat at kindergarten or daycare and swap: your kids go to them one weekend a month, their kids come to you one weekend a month.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:29 AM on November 13, 2013 [14 favorites]

Good for you for working to keep the connection. That's the thing, post-kids... people joke that marriages/intimacy are destined to take a huge hit when the kids arrive. They're NOT, but the thing is, it requires a large amount of conscious effort on your parts.

What my partner and I did, when we had teeny kids and no "us"-time? On Friday nights, we'd hustle the kids upstairs and let them watch a movie and eat popcorn (or just put them to bed early), and then we'd get silly-drunk on cheap booze and watch concerts on the TV (the Pixies and the Gorillaz were two perennial favorites). We'd Do It on the couch and try not to fret that the kids might walk it. We'd give each other back rubs 'n stuff.

(I suppose all of this is still possible if you can't or don't want to drink, but the booze does make it seem like more of an occasion.)

We haven't done this in a while, and by god, I DO miss it and it HAS affected our closeness. It's easy to get lazy with your relationship, especially when everything else is sooooooo taxing. But seriously, Friday In-House Date Night is a "Feel Closer to Partner" button.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:40 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

So, this may not be the answer you want to hear, but essentially, it's a choice to work 65 hours a week. Some other options are: Cut down the hours you are working by ten to fifteen hours and do a "good" job instead a perfect job; take another job where you won't feel as much pressure; be more strict about your boundaries and how much work you take on; say no to people where applicable. If you are a high-achiever, letting go of this might be hard and a big thing in your life, but it's worth examining.

When you take time out to spend with someone you are showing them through your actions that they are important to you and a priority in your life. I would say move in the direction of making more time rather than cramming more love or intimacy or whatever into a small limited amount of time. In 20 years you are much more likely to regret having neglected your marriage than you are to regret cutting down your work hours (and possibly having less money or prestige.)
posted by mermily at 7:40 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

My husband and I are in the same boat, more or less, though our situation has more to do with working hours that don't match up to accommodate my son's school schedule, so I end up working something like 10 - 7 or 8 pm, getting home after 8 or 9 pm. My husband is a teacher, so he's out the door at 6:30 am, so I do kids in the morning getting them off to school and daycare, and he picks them up and has them through bedtime. This will not change until my son goes to kindergarten next year and starts an hour earlier than now and I can make a train at a normal time in the morning.

We also cannot afford a babysitter, what with already paying childcare costs --- like, seriously. We make good money, it's just half of it goes to rent and half of it goes to childcare, so it's not unreasonable that babysitters aren't affordable when they charge $20/hour (which is the going rate in my area and more than what we pay/hour for our professional daycare provider).

We make it a point to talk. We watch old tv shows that don't require much thinking because we find them funny, and we try to do little things together --- like have a glass of wine together. We'll cuddle and commiserate and we try to have sex, but damn, sometimes sleep just needs to happen. Like, really happen. We also give each other breaks -- so we'll split our Saturdays where he'll go out for a bit and I stay with the kids, then I'll go out for a bit, and we're each refreshed from that that we have energy to spend time together once the kids go down in the evening. We also sneak five and ten minutes here and there when the kids are playing with each other --- and if you don't mind messes, we've been keeping our door closed on weekend mornings and letting the kids play together. (You get to hear some really funny kidversations, too.) We did come out this past weekend to find our daughter had reached the box of raisins on the shelf, which she apparently dumped out and proceeded to eat. But, you know, it was worth the lie in.

So, if you're circumstances can't change but will change eventually, then just grab the moments you can and do the little things. Little things add up to big things over time.
posted by zizzle at 7:49 AM on November 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the great suggestions so far. I like the drunk Friday date night idea.

For those commenting on my job situation, I am actively looking for jobs that don't keep me away from home for as many hours (we are considering relocating to a cheaper city, possibly back closer to family) but in the short term it is not possible because I am under a weighty contract (I would have to repay 50k in relocation expenses if I quit before next August). And, well, finding new jobs ain't so easy these days. So, yeah, it is a "choice," but I was unaware the hours would be so grinding before I accepted it and it is not something that can be done offsite -- and I am salaried, so if I choose to only work my 40 and leave work undone, I can be let go for cause -- and will still be liable for the 50k repayment. I work in a field that is extremely unique and this may all sound bizarre, but it is what it is. My current job is just one in a string of assignments with the same employer over the past 9 years and it is by far the most demanding. The others were great. So who knew.

So, at this point, just looking for coping strategies to maximize our limited time until I can exit this field of work and we actually CAN spend more time together. Threadsit completed.
posted by Creamroller at 7:56 AM on November 13, 2013

When you don't have family around, friends and neighbors with kids are the key.

School will be your most valuable resource here. Your kids are making friends at school, now you need to find a way to meet their parents and start to build relationships. Volunteer at school functions if possible. I know that's a hard thing to ask but it pays off multifold, not just socially but academically (face time in a classroom always goes a long way when your kid needs a little extra help).

Once you have that, then you can start to arrange swap nights like Ruthless Bunny mentions. The kids get a fun "playdate", the host parents tend to get a break because their kids are occupied and not driving them nuts, and you get a couple of hours for a simple date.

This is a hard period of parenting, but it does get better. Asking you to invest more time is even harder at this point. But hang in there.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:57 AM on November 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I want to talk just a little more about your job. Here's the thing, you may have to pay them back money if you quit or they fire you but they do not want to fire you. They want to keep you. Unless you are doing poor work or are an asshole, they want to keep you. It's a pain to find someone trustworthy who does good work. They are $50k invested in you but really they are so much more invested in you. August is a long, long time away.

I would urge you to really examine your work duties and hours and expectations and what you are expected to accomplish and get creative in managing your work life to make it less than 65 hours/week. You also need to find your sympathetic boss and figure out how to make this boss your biggest ally and cheerleader. If she or he is on your side, then you can ask for the moon and likely get it. I find that men are just as fearful to ask for what they want in the workplace as women. However, women often have no choice, if they don't ask for flexible time, less hours, there will be no one to watch the children.

What if your wife gets sick? What if one of your kids needs a high level of care all of a sudden? Would you just ignore them? No. You'd talk to your bosses. You'd make a change. So, spend the next two months figuring out how to hack your job -- what of what you're doing is just "facetime"? What are you doing that could be done by someone else? Maybe someone junior or a new hire? What are you doing that is "above and beyond" but not totally necessary? Sometimes above and beyond means a more critical function is getting short shrift. And you're already paying back that $50k "benefit" by working so much overtime. And, yet, you're not chipping away at it, are you?

Anyway, I just urge you to not throw up your hands and declare uncle. Your schedule wears out your wife. She is working just as hard as you are to maintain the 65-hour/week lifestyle. Until you can get quality time carved out, you won't have any sort of "balance" -- your work is your family life right now.

* * *
My main advice for re-connecting is that you enjoy the simple things during your down time. My husband and I pay $10/hour for our favorite sitter to come and sit every Wednesday night. We often go out and do nothing special. I think this Wednesday we are going to Costco to see what kind of toys they have that we can suggest to the grandparents to buy for our kid for Christmas (they seem to do all their shopping at Costco). We will probably eat at Costco -- cheap! And then go to a bar and have a beer. We will chat and wander unencumbered. It's low-stress. It's not a big, fancy occasion. It's just us. When we get home, our kid will be bathed and in bed and we can talk some more and just be normal.

Also, find a family to do a regular kid swap with. Your kids are old enough to do a sleepover, too. Especially if it's a family with two similarly aged kids. I haven't had much luck finding a family to swap with because seemingly everyone I know with kids my kid's age have a grandparent who babysits freely so they don't want to feel obligated to me. But, I am diligent! I offer to watch their kid and discuss the swap idea. It's worked a couple times. :)

My husband and I had this conversation recently and one thing we are talking about is having a charity to get involved with together. We are still figuring out how this works but it's nice to have some kind of project that we can do together and talk about that isn't the kids or work. We aren't sure if it's a physical activity that we do together (hiring a sitter to watch our kid) or whether it's something we can do together in the home to support something interesting. Right now we are putting together a mini clothing drive for the local relief nursery. This mostly involves calling people and picking things up. Maybe there's something like this that you and your wife could do.
posted by amanda at 9:16 AM on November 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your kids won't die if they spend Saturday mornings watching cartoons. A 5 year old can use Netflix streaming from many devices. We like our lazy Saturday mornings. Shut your bedroom door and spend some time together.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:23 AM on November 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, we are in the same boat. Thank you for asking this question!

We have a couple of strategies.

1) We talk during the day. I tell him amusing anecdotes about the kids getting up that morning (Darling Boy interrupted my shower to show me the wonderful job he did wiping after a poop) or just funny things that we've seen online. We also talk about things that need to be done around the house, plans for the weekend, or other immediate issues. It makes a huge difference to have that connection without kids around.

2) Date night out once a month. I swear, it is worth the money to go and have a meal with my husband where we can just. sit. and. enjoy. each other.

3) We also started in-home date-night twice a week where we watch something on Netflix together.

It's incredibly hard, not only managing everything but staying connected to each other.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 9:58 AM on November 13, 2013

I like Amanda’s idea above, regarding finding a joint activity that isn’t too onerous but puts the focus on a joint goal or project, rather than talking family business. I took a rare day off work a few weeks ago and my wife and I wandered around an art gallery and went to a good restaurant for lunch (while the kids were at school), and I had forgotten how much fun it was just to be with her and not worry about the $15/hour babysitter fee we’re racking up, and should we cut it short, etc.

I welcome any other suggestions for joint projects or endeavors that would help us spend time together working toward a common goal (and could ideally be done mainly on weekends!)

And tafetta, darling!'s suggestion about talking during the day is key. My wife and I recently realized that we had more or less, out of sheer business, stopped checking in with each other during weekdays. Making a conscious effort to do this everyday has really helped.
posted by Creamroller at 10:01 AM on November 13, 2013

My son is a bit older than your kids (11) but my husband and I love Sunday drives (or Saturday, Friday etc). We sometimes have a place to go or something to do, but often we don't, so we just make a decision which way to turn at each cross road and end up where we end up. My son, however, loathes Sunday drives with a passion but that's just too bad-he is in the back seat with a book or his DS and he actually usually has a great time by the end. My husband and I get to talk or be quiet or listen to some weird old song on the radio and just hang out together. It's our favorite thing to do.
posted by hollygoheavy at 10:26 AM on November 13, 2013

Two things that worked:

1. Dates at the local spa place, they had a nice jacuzzi tub you could soak in by the hour. Something about the physicality of it (and the fact that you couldn't get a screen or phone anywhere near it) let us have better, funner conversations, like what we used to have. It's ok if ten minutes get spent talking about the kids -- once you're through that you'll find that there's other stuff to talk about. Bonus: fast activity that only requires a couple hours of babysitter coverage, and no prep.

2. Dates at local comedy club. Don't require you to talk - you can go when you're tired and distracted, and it won't matter - and gives you lots to talk about afterwards.

3. If you have room, a small hot tub at your house is a great thing to have for unwinding together after kids have gone to sleep. Nothing to do there but be together.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:32 PM on November 13, 2013

Nthing find another local family with 2 kids around the same age as yours to trade free childcare. Four kids are often so much easier to care for than 2 kids of your own.

We're about the same age as you, and we try to just focus on doing the little, fun, appreciative things that over time create a positive, loving home environment - such as texting each other sweet, naughty, silly messages every once in awhile. Or thanking the other one for putting laundry away. Or an embrace and a kiss that lasts 60+ seconds at least once a day.

We've also been known to have a quickie behind a locked door, as soon as we both get home from work, while the kids watch Wild Kratts or Word Girl on Netflix.
posted by hush at 2:53 PM on November 13, 2013

Nthing the childcare swap. See if you can't find a babysitting co-op in your area. I've just done this, and it's incredible.
posted by woodvine at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2013

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