Help! We have four kids and no time for ourselves

Dear Jenny

My wife and I are very involved in each of our children’s lives – we’ve got four kids all under 10 and we keep them busy and active. We don’t resent the level of commitment we have invested in their lives but we do realise that we have almost no time for just the two of us. When we do get time together we are exhausted or sorting out a family issue and it seems we don’t have much time to just talk about ourselves or relax.

I feel like I’m on a shorter fuse these days and I react much quicker to the kids’ behaviour than I used to. I find myself leaving more of the discipline up to my wife who seems to be able to keep the peace better than me, but she struggles to feel like she is doing a good job as a parent. She is doing a great job, but she just doesn’t believe it. Not sure how we get out of this but we are both feeling flat and a bit taken for granted by our kids.

Some of Jenny’s tips

Many parents find themselves in this place – busy, dedicated, motivated and often exhausted! Raising children is pretty full on and it is easy to spend all your energy on your kids and leave very little in the tank for yourself or your own relationship. My recommendation is that you and your wife prioritise some time for your own relationship and that you take some time at least every fortnight to go out together. Don’t wait to see if there is any time left over to do this, because it will get sucked up by something else.

You also don’t need to seek permission from your kids as they won’t know just how much they will benefit from it. In fact, taking the time to nurture yourself and your relationship is a great thing to model to your children. This time together doesn’t need to cost heaps – it’s more the fact that you are putting something in your schedule. Walks, cafés, movies or meeting up with friends can fit the bill. Doing something that energises you like a hobby or exercise will help your parenting because everyone needs something in the tank to draw from.

Lots of parents underestimate themselves in the parenting realm as they are so aware of the things they haven’t done well, but they forget what they are doing just fine in. It might be time to open a journal and write a few things each day that you have enjoyed with your kids just to keep the right perspective.

The outcome

The first thing we did was have a family meeting and we let the children know that we would be having a mum and dad date every fortnight. We even put it on the calendar to help all of us register that this was part of our family routine. Our first night out was great and we managed to secure a lovely babysitter from a friend’s recommendation so they will be an important part of this routine. We have also both taken the time to do something for ourselves, so I am back at the gym and my wife has started a pottery course which has been on the back burner for a long time.

I am leaving work early once a week to transport the kids to soccer and swimming and I’ve also made a conscious decision to be more involved in some of the behaviour issues. The kids know my triggers but I am handling my own frustration a whole lot better. The family dynamic feels different and much more positive. I’m not entirely sure why, but my wife and I both feel we’ve made significant changes in our priorities and it feels like the investment in our relationship has already changed things. The atmosphere is nicer and the kids just seem more relaxed.

My wife has started a journal of what she has enjoyed in the day and what she has done with the kids. I think that has helped her see that she is doing a really good job – and that perhaps perfection is too high a standard. The kids are taking a sneaky look at the journal too and adding things she may have forgotten which is quite funny. The changes are good – I’m guessing the most important one is my wife and I feeling closer and less like the work horses around the place. We have asked our children what they like in the family at the moment and they just say we are being nicer. Nice and simple.