When my oldest son, Ryan, was six years old, he asked me “Is there someone we could talk to to help my dad be a better parent?” SIX YEARS OLD. I knew my ex-husband was not a good person when I left him three years prior, but I had no idea it was so bad that our six year old son knew he needed help.
I immediately found a great therapist. She would see the kids together and individually, Wil and I together, or the kids’ bio-dad and his girlfriend together. Occasionally, we would have a session with the 4 adults. That never went well. The therapist quickly realized this was going to be about me and Wil managing the unfortunate things the kids would have to deal with while they were visiting their bio-dad, and just helping Wil and I be the best parents possible for Ryan and Nolan in the hopes that one day they would figure everything out for themselves.
One of the best pieces of advice the therapist gave us was to focus on our own relationship as a married couple. As much as my ex-husband tried to make our lives hell, we needed to make time for each other because even though we had kids from the very beginning of our relationship, the kids wouldn’t always be around. If we didn’t have our own solid relationship, our marriage would fall apart once the kids were grown and out of the house. We took her advice and made sure we set aside time for each other. Money was really tight back then so we didn’t have the luxury of going out for a nice dinner or taking vacations together. Our time together was spent going on long walks or hikes or just playing a board game by the fire. As long as it was something that was just for us, that was all that mattered.
The kids are now grown and out on their own. When that happened a couple of years ago, Wil and I realized we were doing the relationship in reverse of most people. Most people have their time alone and then start a family. We had the family from the beginning, and suddenly we were a couple living alone, doing what we wanted without the schedule of the kids’ school, sports, and visitations. That’s when we really became aware of the advice the therapist gave us to make sure we had our own relationship. We were so excited just for the little things like making what we wanted for dinner without a teenager complaining about it or watching whatever we wanted to on TV. The effort we had put into our relationship all those years was paying off, and it felt pretty great.
This past week, Wil and I went to Yosemite. We did this last year as a Christmas gift to ourselves in lieu of actual gifts because we prefer doing something together instead of getting “stuff.” We had such an amazing time in the beautiful, snow covered park last year that we wanted to experience that again. We were disappointed at first when we found out there wasn’t going to be any snow this trip, but this was about spending time together, so we would just find new things to do that didn’t involve building a snowman or using icicles to have a light saber duel.
We stayed in a great little cabin along a river, surrounded by huge, yummy smelling trees. Since there was no snow on the ground, we were able to hike on a trail up to Mirror Lake, which we had never seen before. As much as I love the snow for how peaceful it makes everything, almost like a sound buffer, we realized it was just as peaceful hiking through the valley, which we wouldn’t have been able to do if it were full of snow. We were enjoying being outdoors so much that we even walked to a nearby village and enjoyed some outdoor ice skating.
At the end of each day, we would put on jammies, crank up the heater (no snow but it was 30 degrees outside) and watch movies while we played Qwirkle and Blokus and ate room service dinner. It was such a simple way to spend an evening, but we loved it.
As much of a struggle as we had just to raise our kids, we honestly appreciate that if it weren’t for going through all of that, we may not have as strong of a relationship as we do now. Occasionally, we get asked for advice from couples that are about to get married how to make a marriage last. We always tell them that no matter what is going on in your lives, whether it’s kids, school, work, whatever, always make time for each other and make your relationship a priority. Situations will come and go but at the end of the day, it’s the love and friendship with your spouse that makes it all worth it.