An interview with Lorilee Craker, author of Date Night in a Minivan.

Where did this book idea come from?

When my husband and I had our third child, Phoebe, that seemed to push us over the edge in terms of more conflict, a lot more disconnect. We were not the happy, connected couple that we used to be [laughs].

We had some adjusting to do. We needed to tunnel our way back to each other as husband and wife — and not just as the parents of this very, wonderful, delightful, but high maintenance sleepless baby — We had to find our way back to each other. That’s what triggered this book.

What would you say is the primary marriage challenge among parents in this stage?

The primary challenge in many, many marriages with young children is to make marriage a priority — that couple relationship is so far down the totem pole — and parenthood is at the very tippy top. It is so easy to ignore each other and almost treat each other like roommates that have the same kids. [Laughs] Does that make sense?

Perfectly. Okay, I’ve got to ask you this. What did you mean by “turning your bedroom into cha-cha-cha”?

The “chamber of cha-cha-cha,” I believe that was the term I used. A few years ago I wrote a book called We Should Do This More Often and that was about reclaiming passion after parenthood and I wanted to write about that again in this book because I feel it is so important.

I go around and I talk to moms groups all the time. We have such a good time. But it’s really a serious issue that moms often do not want to have sex. It is very, very low on their priority list — and for good reason — because they’re exhausted. They feel like if one more person touches them they’re going to scream. And the husband is like, Well, what’s the matter with you? Don’t you want me anymore? And the truth is, Not really. Not that much. [Laughs]

So I try to encourage moms to get their mojo back and to really think of themselves as sexual people, because it can be so easy to slide into this, I’m just a mommy. I’m a mommy robot who makes sandwiches, gives baths, who puts Band-aids on. And you know what? You start to look like a mommy robot. You’re wearing the frumpy clothes and there’s teething biscuit all over you and you stop caring.
There is a commercial that says 80% of moms say they’ve let themselves go. So I try to encourage moms to think about those things, to think about the fact that they are romantic, passionate women deep down inside under their sweatsuit with teething biscuit on it. How do you get in touch with that inner red-hot mama again? Everyone benefits. Your husband benefits, you benefit and even your family does because the kids know that you have that great connection.

Well said. Couples need to be intentional and plan romance. That’s a challenge.

Yeah, it is. You have to be intentional and you have to think about even the small things — the small things especially. Like let’s say the mirror is foggy in the bathroom and your husband is taking a shower. Well, draw a little heart in the fog in the mirror and put your initials in it. Think of yourself as a romantic person and do romantic things, even if you don’t feel like it. You know it’s not really about feelings. It’s just about the little things, doing the little things — and I find the emotion will follow.

Do you remember the eight things you wrote about, the eight things that a couple can do to rev up their relationship?

I think going out on dates is one of them, for sure. It’s so important to do this, but so few couples in this stage of life find the time — or the money. They’ll give a huge birthday bash for their three year old, but they won’t spend 20 bucks to go to a cheap movie and nachos with their husband. It really boggles my mind.

Try to find ways to do things together. Try to find new hobbies. For instance, my husband and I took up ballroom dancing, which was quite a departure for us. I’m Mennonite and he’s Baptist so that’s like 500 years of no dancing. But I’m telling you that ballroom dancing has been the best thing for our marriage — we’ve had so much fun. It’s fun to find something that you both are into and, my hunter-fisherman husband is into dancing — a miracle.

You talked about using more “big girl” words such as learning to ask for help and asking for hubby’s input.

I think that women are confused, especially Christian women. They think that we’re supposed to be very submissive and we’re supposed to want to care for our family night and day. We get a little confused and we forget that we need a break. We need help too.
It’s so important, though, how you ask for help — not to be condescending or patronizing. If your husband helps, don’t criticize him. This happens so often, it’s called “maternal gatekeeping.” It means you’re standing there at the gate saying, No, one, even my husband is qualified to help me with these kids in this house. That’s a huge love buster; it breeds resentment.

Instead, ask for help nicely, ask for help graciously and calmly. Just say, you know I’ve been feeling kind of nutty these days because I don’t get to have that much adult conversation and things have been really stressful with the potty training — or whatever you’re going through — or a toddler who has tantrums all the time. These things are very stressful. What I could use is some help from you and specifically I was wondering if you could take the kids on Thursday night while I go out for coffee with my girlfriend.

You need to be specific. Don’t say, Well, you never help me around me and I’m going crazy. So take the kids on Thursday night. That’s not going to work. That may be how you feel, but that’s not how you should say it. You should really try to be gracious and calm and put your need out there. Just tell him, I need your help.

And then, when you get home don’t criticize for putting the wrong pajamas on the child. Just say, Thank you so much for your help. I really appreciate it. We want to hear that we’re appreciated. We don’t want to hear that we did something wrong.

What would you say to husbands who come home at the end of their workday and are looking for a “Leave it to Beaver” wife and romance and dinner around the table? What should a husband know? What should he do?

The man that expects his wife to be June Cleaver, hmm, a bit of a time warp there [Laughs].
I think that there is a big expectations issue. That’s something to definitely unpack together and put on the table.
What needs to happen is, with love and with grace, you need to find a way to have your needs met without these crazy expectations. The wife will always fall short. Those expectations will lead to all kinds of conflict, hurt and resentment.

Final words of wisdom?
I would say that it’s so important for moms of young kids to realize that their marriage is important. It really, really is. It’s not something that can be tended to once in a while.

When your marriage is strong, your whole family is strong. When your marriage is weak, I believe your whole family is weak, no matter what kind of attention you’re giving to the kids. If you don’t pay attention to your marriage, there is a weakness at the very foundation of your family.

When you get those things humming, when you get those things rolling — the romance and the partnership and the teamwork — life is good. Life is really good.

Copyright © 2008 Marriagetrac.

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