If It Were Me | February 2017

By Elizabeth Oates

Have Questions?

Dear Elizabeth,

My husband and I have hit a rut. Every night after the kids go to bed we sit in the living room, turn on the TV and binge-watch one of our numerous favorite shows on Netflix. We watch two or three episodes, fall asleep on the couch and then practically sleepwalk to our bedroom. No conversation, no checking in on the other person’s day and no emotional connection. I know we are both exhausted after working all day and taking care of the kids, but I need more dialogue than just “Pass the remote.” Any suggestions? — D.M.

Dear D.M.,

First of all, give yourself a little grace. Your situation is not uncommon, especially if your children are babies or toddlers and require a lot of physical energy. By the end of the day your and your husband’s tanks are on empty. Your brains and bodies are tired. You’re emotionally spent and have nothing else to give, so turning on the tube is an easy alternative to conversation because TV requires less energy.

At least that is what most people think.

I read a recent article in Psychology Today that discussed a study done on nearly 30,000 people to see the effects of television watching on people’s happiness. The study concluded that “TV doesn’t really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does. We looked at eight to ten activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more — visiting others, going to church, all those things — were more happy.”
So, if watching television at the end of a long day really won’t make you and your husband happier, let’s find a solution that will.

Think TIME. If you’re not energized enough to talk at night, what about scheduling a breakfast date? You could wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual — before the kids wake up — and connect over a cup of coffee. If waking up early sounds as appealing as eating crickets, what about scheduling a lunch date? Can you agree to meet for lunch once or twice a week? This will ensure quality talk time when you both have maximum energy and can focus on each other with no interruptions.

Think PLACE. You seem to think that communication and connection must always occur at the end of the day in your living room. That’s not necessarily true. Instead of eating dinner with the kids, try putting them to bed and then cooking something unique and flavorful with your husband — something that doesn’t resemble chicken nuggets or fish sticks. Not in the mood to cook? Try sitting on the back porch with a glass of wine. Add a decadent dessert, and you’ve got yourself a home date!

Think ACTIVITY. Connecting with your spouse isn’t just about talking. It’s also about sharing experiences. So think outside the box and live life together: recreate your first date, attend a wine tasting or take a hike and enjoy a picnic lunch. Try something new and different. You just might find a new favorite activity and a deeper connection in the process.

Dear Elizabeth,

I have two boys, ages 15 and 13. They are both involved in football and baseball and are extremely competitive with one another. I want them to encourage each other and push one another to do their best, but instead they instigate fights both on and off the field and basically make me glad I didn’t have a third child. How do I encourage them to be allies and not adversaries? — B.L.

Dear B.L.,

When my first two children were ages 1 and 3, I was pregnant with my third child and decided to read a book called “First-Time Mom” by Dr. Kevin Leman. Yes, it was for first-time moms (not third-time moms) so I was a little late to the party, but at least I showed up. In this book, Leman advocates for spacing children three years apart. Would have been nice to know two kids ago, I thought as I read this portion of the book. Too late now.

Leman’s reasoning behind his advice is for the exact issue you described: competition. He proposes that siblings who are closer than three years in age — especially same-gender siblings — struggle with competition more than kids who are three or more years apart.

Since reading Leman’s book, I’ve read a lot about competition and sibling rivalry. One reason your older child might instigate arguments is because he feels threatened that his younger sibling will take his place. By “place” I mean how he views himself in his family, school, community, etc. For instance, does he see himself as the star athlete or the class clown? If a younger sibling comes along who is more athletic or funnier than he is, then he won’t want that sibling stealing the spotlight and attention, which also means stealing his identity.

In turn, younger siblings often compete for love and attention. They want to live up to the standard the older sibling has set, so they try to prove themselves by shining brightly, even if it means outshining their older sibling. The more the younger sibling tries to stand out, the more threatened the older sibling feels. The more threatened the older sibling feels, the more likely he is to dominate his younger sibling. The more he dominates his younger sibling, the more the younger sibling wants to prove himself and try harder. The more the younger sibling wants to prove himself and try harder, the more threatened the older sibling feels. And the cycle continues.

With your boys, it’s important for them to know how much you love and value each of them individually. Don’t compare them — their victories or their defeats. Don’t pit them against one another. Do encourage them both in sports and other areas of interest. Do validate them not only for their accomplishments but more so for their character. Accomplishments, awards, wins and high scores fade away, but strong character lasts a lifetime. If they can see how God made them unique off the field, they’ll be more likely to appreciate one another on the field.

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