By Anne Gagliano
Kids: No matter how much you love them, they will one day leave you. Trust me on this one, I know. My husband Mike and I have raised two sons–two fine, wonderful, loving, solid sons. They came unexpectedly into our lives when we were young and turned our world completely upside down. They changed everything for the past 25 years, and now they’re gone.
Our oldest son, Michael Kenneth, was recently married and now has a life of his own. He has a B.A. in chemistry and is working as a chemist’s assistant, researching malaria in downtown Seattle. He is also applying to pharmacy school. He and his new wife, Samantha, have a cute little place near his work. They have their own life, and they are quite happy without us. We’re still very close, of course, but now our son is forever out of our home, building a new, separate family. His childhood bedroom has become a guest room.
Our youngest son, Rick Thomas, leaves for law school soon. He is moving about as far away as it gets—from one Washington to another, Seattle to D.C. He will probably never return, for his career goals are there. We’re so proud of him it hurts, but our hearts are nearly breaking, for our precious youngest boy will now forever be so very far away. We have no idea how often we will even get to see him, for his impending schedule is going to be quite vigorous.
The four of us together were magical, inseparable, and close. We did everything as a team—family trips, family holidays, family games, and even nightly family dinners. No foursome could have been closer. Michael has always been our “Joy” and Rick has always been our “Comfort,” for these titles describe their personalities and the qualities they added to our home. The pain of their leaving and causing our nest to be empty would be absolutely unbearable if it were not for one saving grace, and that is the fact that Mike and I have always put each other before our children; we have never let our marriage suffer as a result of parenting. As wonderful as they are, our kids have been but the “icing” on our lives and not the “cake.”
Is there anything more precious, more helpless, and more all-consuming than a newborn baby? I don’t believe there is. All my life I wanted to be a mother; I was the kind of little girl who loved my baby dolls, and I carried them around with me wherever I went. When the real thing came along, I couldn’t have been more overjoyed. But the reality of babies hit Mike and I like a truck; how could something so tiny require so much care–and so much stuff? Car seats, high chairs, cribs, diapers, strollers—these items made going anywhere a monumental task. And sleep? You might as well forget about sleep! You think firefighters are sleep deprived? They’ve got nothing on new parents. The “walking dead” is what I call them. Sometimes sleep disruption can go on for months, causing massive angst. But rule number one in our household, from pretty much day one for us, was this: The bedroom was off limits for our babies and later our kids, period.
Mike and I have always firmly believed that once babies are past the newborn stage (about six weeks or so), they must not occupy your bed or your bedroom ever again. They must have their own bed in their own room. The marriage bed is inviolate and must not be breached, even by the kids. Get a baby monitor; you can hear every breath without having to have that little body lying right next to you. It will become a habit if you let it–and the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to break. Putting babies to sleep in their own crib is better for you and safer for them, because they can roll out of bed or even be suffocated.
Sex is central to a solid marriage, as I’ve written before, and you are not doing your kids any favors by letting them literally come between you. Easier said than done, I know, as kids have a way of tugging at the old heartstrings and wanting to come sleep with you—but you must be firm and not allow it on any regular basis (the occasional closet monster scare or illness being the only exceptions to the rule). Babies and children can and will sleep just fine without you.
Rule number two in our household was this: Bedtime must be strictly observed for every age child. Our kids went to bed promptly at 8:00 p.m. all the way up to high school, when it became up to them—but they had such good habits by then that they chose to go to bed at a reasonable time. Because we were firm and consistent about bedtime habits with them from an early age, they adopted these habits willingly as teenagers. And we did not allow our young boys to have a TV in their room; TV stimulates the brain way too much to allow for sleep easily. They were read to instead, until the age when they could read for themselves.
Besides the fact that kids need lots of sleep to be healthy, pleasant, and good students, the other important reason for strict bedtime enforcement with no TV is this: Mom and Dad must have some time alone for intimacy, and this cannot happen if the kids have free reign over your nighttime schedule. Again, you’re doing them no favors by letting them dominate your private hours either by their presence in your room or by their wakefulness in their own rooms.
Children truly are a blessing and a joy, and they add immeasurable sweetness to life, but they are not the structure nor are they the foundation for yours–your marriage is. Marriage goes on; it remains when the kids have grown. It must come first if you want to be happy when your “icing” moves away.
I have more tips on how to keep the kids from coming between you and your spouse; I will write about them in my next column.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 25 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.