My only regret is that it took us so long figure it out. Early in our marriage, I suppose it wasn’t necessary. We did everything together. Then, for our first anniversary, we had a baby. We did everything as a threesome. With more children, the circle expanded. And like flames from one lighted candle to the seven around us, the warmth and light of love increased. There was a certain glow about it.
But as bright and beautiful as all that togetherness was, there was a dark side. It started out as a shadow. Over time, the shadow grew until it started to cloud the bright times. My husband and I had very little time alone together, very little time to do the same talking and dreaming and encouraging and praying that brought us together to create a family in the first place. We laughed at the constant interruptions. We talked over the noisy din. Then one day, we just missed each other so much, we left the kids and went to dinner alone. We went exactly half a mile to the only restaurant in town. We left our very competent teenager in charge and we were home in time to do the familiar bedtime routine.
In the two hours we were gone, we covered a lot of ground. We talked and talked and talked and talked. He shared with me some great homilies he had heard recently at the Shrine. I shared with him my frustration at not having heard a homily in months (always in the hall with a toddler during the homily). We discussed how far we’d come as a couple spiritually and how much further we wanted to go. It was quiet in that restaurant and the world was very small; it was only two. After dinner, we strolled across the street for a cup of coffee and then we went home.
Everyone had survived nicely. That competent teenager had even managed to clean the kitchen and give the babies baths. I put my children to bed with more patience than I had in months and slept very soundly that night. It was long overdue, but we had invested time into our relationship as a couple. Little did we know the dividends that investment would pay.
Alone and together, we found our prayer life to be much more fruitful that week. We were all on the same page God, my husband, and me. The conversations that we had, above the voices of our children, despite the interruptions, were more connected. Time alone together was a valuable component to growing together. It had taken us a very long time to learn that marriage truth. We resolved to go out once a week, every week.
As I think about the change a “date night” has brought about in our relationship, I can’t help but look back at all the married years we hadn’t dated each other. I know many other young couples who followed the same patterns we had. It’s a slow progression from romantic evenings alone to nothing but busy family dinners. Often, young couples are kept from “dating” each other because of the expense involved. Babysitters and restaurant meals can be budget-breakers for newlyweds and new parents.
Think outside the box. Trade babysitting nights with another couple. Pack a picnic and eat it at a park. Get a corner booth at a fast food restaurant. If you have a nursing baby, take her with you. Young babies really don’t interrupt the conversation. If she’s old enough to be a distraction, consider ducking out just long enough for a cup of coffee after she’s in bed for the night.
Newlyweds can benefit from the friendship and mentoring of more experienced couples. And older couples often have the freedom to help young parents spend some time alone. Rare are the parents of a baby who also have a built-in teenager. I know that. And I also know that might be why it’s taken us fifteen years to establish a regular date night. The opportunity for older couples, young singles or grandparents to minister to a young family is golden.
Now that we have set aside this time to talk and to share and to pray together, we both are better able to handle the stresses that are inherent to life in a large family. We know that our time alone together is coming. Just as we feed our souls with prayer, we feed our relationship with time. I wouldn’t dream of denying time to talk with me alone to any one of my children. I wouldn’t dream of not responding almost immediately to their needs. But it is so easy to put off the needs of the only other adult in this house. And somehow, when I neglect him, I also neglect the third member of our marriage: our Lord.
Together, at the altar, we light a single candle from two small flames and we pray fervently for the privilege of sharing that light with the flickering flames of our children. There is sufficient grace in the sacrament to keep that single candle burning brightly for a lifetime. We must cooperate with that grace. We must come again and again to the sacraments. We must pray together and alone. And we must spend time alone together.
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.
This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
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