Monday, October 12, 2009

Play’s the Thing: Inoculate yourself and your relationship against the stress of parenting

Doctors are fond of saying to patients, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This same notion holds true for the health of family and couple relationships as well. Parenting is undoubtedly a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor, but it can also be a taxing and trying one—especially on a couple’s relationship. To help weather the ups and downs, couples would do well to take stock of the preventive methods they have at their disposal against parenting stress and burn-out.

Children innately know this idea that parents often have to re-learn: Every day should include time for play. Through play, one learns how to solve problems, cooperate, express creativity, and master new skills. Growth as individuals, couples, and families is predicated on constructive play. By following these three steps, couples will inoculate their relationship against the strains of parenthood.

1. Make time to be on your own
Spouses may want to choose a night that one can call her/his own. This “time off” is really “time on” to strengthen one’s sense of identity outside of the family, to engage in healthy activities, re-connect with friends, or simply decompress.

2. Make time to play as a family
Depending on the ages of the children, families can expect to find new and different ways of playing together as children grow. Parents of young children might enjoy outings to playgrounds, beaches, zoos or children’s museums. Sports events, video games, movies, hiking, or amusement parks are all fine ways of playing with older children. The key is to find activities everyone finds pleasant.

3. Make time to play as a couple
Couples often fall into the trap of thinking they need a babysitter to have a “date”. While a babysitter does make it easy to have time together as a couple, parents can also enjoy “stay-dates” by making time after the children are in bed to talk, massage each other’s shoulders, or listen to music that isn’t child-friendly. Parents would do well to check in with each other about how well they’re doing as individuals, a couple, and a family in ensuring everyone’s needs for separation and connection are being met.

Most parents recognize that their children’s job is to play. Making appointments to play alone, as a couple and as a family is harder to remember to do. Parents would do well, however, when scheduling their children’s play-dates to make sure their scheduling their own as well.

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