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Why Time Apart Might Be the Perfect Marriage Elixir

I was pregnant with our first child when my husband and I attended a friend’s 40th birthday party. Over thumping music and margaritas (a Shirley Temple for me), we wished the guest of honor another happy journey around the sun.


“How does 40 feel?” My husband asked.

“It’s good,” he said. “But I’m tired.” He and his wife had two young kids at the time. “I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night.”

Our friend turned his gaze to his wife. Beaming in her direction, he told us how excited he was to spend the night at the swanky hotel down the street that night.

“So fun!” I exclaimed. “The kids are with their grandparents overnight?”

Our friend and his wife laughed, shaking their heads. “No,” she explained. “I’m staying with the kids so my husband can have the entire night to himself and wake up whenever he wants, in silence, totally alone.”

“Too bad you couldn’t find a sitter so you could stay at the hotel together,” I replied.

“No, this is actually the perfect birthday treat,” our friend insisted.

I sipped my Shirley Temple and tried to make my face look as if I understood.

Six years, two kids of my own, and countless sleepless nights later, I understand. As I’ve come to learn, taking time for yourself once you become a parent is not a luxury but a necessity. Though it seems counter-intuitive, one of the best things you can do for your marriage is to step away from it, regularly and intentionally.

I talked to experts to find out why couples – particularly those with kids – are so much better together when they spend time apart.

Because…kids

Our kids absorb an incredible amount of our time and energy. Ironically, this is exactly why parents need to take time for themselves.

Alex Hedger, therapist and clinical director of Dynamic You Therapy Clinics, encourages parents to take breaks from the demands of both their children and their partner in order to “prevent cracks appearing in either partner’s well-being – or the relationship.”

Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, a certified life and relationship coach, describes those potential cracks as “regret and resentment toward your partner…. You’ll find yourself giving your partner the angry side-eye, and it’s all because you didn’t make time for you.”

While experts agree that down time is crucial for both parents, David Ezell, therapist and clinical director of Darien Wellness, argues it’s particularly important for women. He describes a client who mistakenly believes she should never be apart from her kids, a mindset that tends to be unique to mothers:

“Not only is it horrible for the children – they need to learn mom can leave and come back – but it’s also likely to turn this highly educated, accomplished woman’s brain into mush. Children are wonderful, but we all need a break from being asked why the sky is blue (for the 400th time).”

You’re still fascinating, even if you answer to “Mom” or “Dad”

Before you were someone’s mom, dad, husband, wife, or partner, you were just you. Peel off all the labels and you’re still there, even if you’re buried under laundry and dinner prep and birthday party invitations. And you still matter.

Vikki Ziegler, the author and divorce attorney best known for her starring role in Bravo TV’s “Untying the Knot”, calls prioritizing your own interests a chance to “nourish your soul.” Dating coach Corrine Dobbas calls it a time to “rejuvenate and foster [your] sense of self.”

Whatever you call it, it is vital to stay in touch with what makes you uniquely you – the person your partner fell in love with in the first place.

Alex Hedger uses the analogy of a sports team to illustrate the importance of each half of a couple bringing their best self to the relationship. Just as a team functions optimally when each player brings his or her unique strengths to the game, “having time apart allows you to be true to yourself in a way that allows you to uniquely contribute when being part of the Relationship Team.”

Dobbas agrees. Only when you stay in touch with yourself “can [you] show up in the relationship more present, confident, and less stressed.” Not only do you bring greater energy to the relationship when you’ve had time to recharge, you also become a more interesting person to your partner.

Marriage counselor and author Patricia Bubash says when each partner carves out time for their own interests, not only does it give them something to talk about, but it also gives partners a chance to see each other “as interesting individuals, not just a wife [or] husband.”

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Whether you take an hour for a kickboxing class, an evening with friends, or a weekend to go on a yoga retreat, taking time apart give you and your partner a chance to miss one another. Amy Bailey, a Colorado mom of three who has been married 16 years, says that, while date nights are key, so is time apart.

“There’s nothing that makes me miss home and my husband like not having him around,” says Baily, “and we take that time to send each other texts we wouldn’t want our kids to read, and by the time we see each other again – well…we’re ready to see each other again.”

While it’s not always possible to get away for long stretches of time, Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute, encourages couples to get creative with the limited time they have. She says it is especially important for new moms to have what she calls “restorative, regenerative time” in order to show up to the relationship sexually.

“For a lot of women, the ability to be aroused comes from having space for arousal to emerge.” She says because most women can’t just switch from Mom to lover in the blink of an eye, having time alone is essential, even if it’s just 20 minutes to soak in the tub.

Cunningham-Sumter says that even carving out a few minutes for chores, like folding laundry or doing dishes by yourself, “can be your time to turn on your music and just be with yourself.”

While any time away from your partner can be helpful, research suggests time spent in solitude may be especially valuable. Relationship expert David Bennett points to a recent study in which alone time was found to promote relaxation and reduce stress.

My husband gives me time to work out because he knows the more I sweat, the more pleasant I am to be around. Though he doesn’t necessarily care to hear about the way my leggings chafed or how my GPS lost its signal during my run, he does care that I’m still the athlete I was when we met.

Likewise, I rarely deny his occasional request to take himself and his fantasy novel out for a beer and a burger. He always returns in a better mood than when he left. Because sometimes time alone is exactly what we need to come together.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44

BUY

7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)

BUY HERE

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