.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Location: Allentown, PA

I'm a Christian wife and a mom to three daughters and two sons. I'm a member of the board of directors of EmPoWeReD Birth. In my "spare time" I'm a doula, and a certified childbirth instructor.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Children vs. the marriage?

This past weekend I took a trip to the largest Christian bookstore in my area. While there, I took a look at the books on parenting, to see if there was anything new. My eyes fell upon First Time Mom by Kevin Leman. While I don’t agree with everything that Dr. Leman teaches, I find him to be an enjoyable author, and worth recommending. Curious about what he had to say, I picked up the book and skimmed a few pages.

I was heartened to see him strongly advocating practices such as breastfeeding on demand (though I did wonder why he settled on 6-10 feeds per day when the AAP recommends 8-12?), baby wearing, and making sure the mom sleeps when baby sleeps so she doesn’t wear herself out trying to keep a pristine house.

Then of course came the problematic part. He stated with confident certainty that new parents MUST make time to go on a date without the baby by the time the baby is 10 days old. This is to establish the importance of the marriage to protect it. Not only is this date supposed to unite the couple, I got the impression that somehow this is supposed to send the message to the baby that the marriage is important. He was specific that the couple needed to leave the newborn with a sitter and go out. With this he joins the legion of Christian parenting experts who insist on the necessity of dates without the children—these dates ranging from getting the kids to bed early so you can have a dinner alone to hiring a babysitter on a weekly basis so that you can get out of the house.

Now I agree that it is important to keep your marriage a priority after children enter the picture. I don’t even have a problem with parents going on dates. But I have a problem whenever an “expert” starts saying that this is absolutely necessary to your marriage. Especially when that message is sent in a Christian context.

I see no where in the Bible where “date nights” for parents are even discussed, let alone mandated. Given the importance that the Bible places on maintaining marital integrity, I would think that if dates are essential to that goal they would at least get a “by the way…” somewhere in the scriptures. But they don’t.

One of the problems that I see with dates nights is that folks that so strongly advocate them are pushing a “one size fits all” approach to maintaining a marriage. Obviously they have found dates nights helpful to their marriage, so they insist that they are helpful to all marriages. Well what if they aren’t? In the 6 years since I’ve been a mother I’ve probably gone on about a dozen “dates” with my husband--and probably less than half of those have been without any children. A couple of those—3 I think—have been overnight trips (New Year’s Eve 2000, our 5th anniversary, my birthday before our 4th child was born). I can’t say that any of these dates—even the overnight trips—are particularly memorable to me as bonding events for my marriage. They are pleasant events that provide a chance to relax away from the kids, yes, but bonding? Not particularly. Each overnight trip we have gone into so tired from the rigors of everyday life that we generally spend 10-12 hrs sleeping—again, a relaxing and rejuvenating experience, but hardly a time of marital bonding.

What I do find to be a bonding experience in my marriage is sharing in the joys and struggles of raising a family together. Nothing has made me love my husband more than seeing him gently hold our newborn babies, examining the contrast between their tiny hands and feet and his larger ones. The memories that we hold dear and reminisce on together are of working around our house—with kids underfoot for the most part. Often having the kids underfoot is what helps to lead to the situations that are so memorable and bonding. One time when I asked my grandmother—who raised 5 children and had been married for about 55 years when I posed the question—about the necessity of date nights she assured me that she and my grandfather had rarely gone on dates until after the kids were out of the house, and that her belief was that mature adults would find everyday life more bonding than dates away from the kids.

When it comes to date nights in the newborn period, I find them to be an unnecessary burden at best, a squandering of God’s resources at worst. They stand as a “burden” because typically a breastfeeding mother would want to provide breastmilk for her newborn. At 10 days of age she may have great difficulty pumping enough for a bottle in between the frequent feedings the baby requires. Once she obtains this bottle, she may return from the date to find out that the baby refused the bottle, and is now very upset. Since it is generally recommended that breastfed babies not be introduced a bottle until 4-6 weeks of age the mother might try to time the date so that she can be out between the feedings, returning home to nurse. But since breastfed babies often increase their feeding frequency in the evening in response to mom’s lower milk supply, this may prove difficult to manage. Since many families today are widely spaced geographically the young parents may have no nearby family to provide free babysitting services, so they may have to pay a babysitter while they go on a date. Given how portable and generally unobtrusive newborn babies can be (my firstborn slept at a bowling alley when she was about 6 weeks old!), I think it is a squandering of the money God has blessed the couple with to hire a babysitter. Ironically, one of my more memorable "date nights" since getting married was a Valentine dinner hosted by our church's Homebuilders' Sunday School class--we went with our 1.5 day old son in tow (though our two daughters were home with a sitter). It was held in the same historic inn that our wedding reception was in. I nursed my son in a room that George Washington ate in--maybe I even sat on the same chair?

A deeper problem I have with the advocacy of date nights is the underlying message behind them. Invariably the message that is clearly stated (as it was by Dr. Leman) or subtly alluded to is that children are a hindrance to the marriage, and parents must be regularly separated from the children to maintain a healthy marriage. While I do think that it is good for children to “get away” from their parents once in a while (I wish my kids could spend the night with Nana and Poppop more than they can—I know I treasured the opportunity to spend the night with my grandparents when I was a child) just as parents do need a break from the rigors of parenting once in a while, I think setting them up as adversaries to the marriage is unhealthy. The Bible states that children are a blessing. But far too often I think that in Christian society we don’t really see them that way. We see them as “in the way” far to often. We banish them from Sunday morning worship, small group Bible studies and Sunday school social events. I even heard one mother recently proudly proclaim that her children ate their dinner in the kitchen so that she and her husband could enjoy a nightly meal without being bothered by them.

It is through serving others—including our children—that we will be most blessed. May all parents be richly blessed.


Blogger Jungle Pop said...

Hi, got to you here through TulipGirl. Thanks for that post - it's VERY thought-provoking. My wife and I regularly try to go on kid-free date nights (and somewhat regularly succeed!), but I had never considered this facet. I know that when I was a kid, I didn't like when my parents went out without me - it wasn't fair. Especially when it was just to see a movie - sheesh, why couldn't WE go too? Anyway, thanks for giving me (us) something to think about!

4:03 PM, January 18, 2005  
Blogger David said...

Jenn - I also found you through TulipGirl and wanted to let you know I am working on a post on my own blog that references this post of yours. I'll have it ready sometime Friday in a post titled Jolly Digest 1-21-05. I'm not finished with the post yet or I would give you a full url, but you can find it at http://jollyblogger.typepad.com.
Excellent post!

9:54 PM, January 20, 2005  
Anonymous stubber said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. My dh and I are the parents of six children. We waited nineteen years before we actually had a vacation without the children. In spite of all the "experts" who insist we need to get away, we've learned that there are SEASONS in marriage, and to enjoy each season as it comes. How wonderful it was to go through a long season of sharing our bed with our little ones. Now we have the excitement of having the bed to ourselves again. Great fun!

7:07 PM, August 01, 2005  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home