Tiffany and her husband Jake are some of my oldest friends. Not only do they have an awesome marriage, but they are two of the best parents I’ve ever met. Tiffany blogs about books and spirituality at her blog and also co-runs the parenting blog Play. Eat. Grow. Check ‘em both out, and follow her on Twitter.
When Jake and I first got married, there was no such thing as our own space. We didn’t want our own space; instead, we were one of those nauseating couples who simply wanted to be together every single minute.
But as we dreamed about a future family, I started to imagine daily “me” times, weekly date nights, weekend “family times” and regular one-on-one times with each of my children. All planned out at the beginning of the week, posted on our perfectly accurate family calendar (wahahaha).
What we learned as we started having kids, however, is that “life” often threatens to get in the way of the spaces we so desire to create for ourselves and for each other.
School and work continually ask for more of our time. New projects around the house are always popping up. We rarely have a day when we go to bed feeling like there is simply “nothing left to do.” With the pressures of all these other urgent matters, it can be difficult to make each other and our kids a priority.
Related to this struggle, the late Stephen Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, said,
The place to start is not with the assumption that work is non-negotiable; it’s with the assumption that family is non-negotiable. That one shift of mind-set opens the door to all kinds of creative possibilities. (p. 118)
We have adopted this principle as our starting place, and it has been amazing how we have been able to live in the tension of the multiple demands.
We’ve been able to have and nurture 3 young children while Jake and I have each went to graduate school and pursued some of our career goals, all while engaged in seasons of meaningful ministry. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road, but this guidepost has forced us to think outside the box and make sacrifices for one another- which has grown us closer as a couple and as a family.
How does creating spaces for ourselves and for one another look in daily life?
Admittedly, our “spaces” look pretty messy. Each of our spaces overlap with others’ spaces in significant ways, but each circle has a portion that is not overlapping as well. We have learned over these past seven years that it’s not necessarily about making sure that we each create space for ourselves, each other as husband and wife, and then time for each of our children on OUR terms, but it’s more like a dance- watching each other, learning to listen closely so that we know who needs what kind of space and when, and then choreographing our day or week to meet those needs.
Sometimes this looks beautiful. Sometimes it looks like a junior high dance.
Exhibit A: Jake and I had a fun date night planned out. Babysitter was scheduled. Reservations were made. We were looking forward to the night! As the weekend crept closer, we were sure to spend some extra time with the kids (since we’d be gone on Friday evening), making sure their “tanks” were full, so that they would be as ready for the date night as we were. Friday night came. Jake and I had a great night out; kids were fine with us being gone and had a good time with the babysitter.
Exhibit B: It had been awhile since Aly and I had good “one-on-one” time together, so I planned that on Saturday, I would be sure to get up with her, we’d make a special breakfast for the family, and then later that morning we’d go grocery shopping together (something she likes if it is just her and I). Saturday came. I’m not sure if it was the gloomy weather outside or what, but her day began by cranking and crying, not wanting to go along with any of my grand plans. But this was supposed to be our one-on-one time! I had a plan! I had the choice of either sticking to my “plan” and forcing this thing to happen (think: junior high dance) OR listening to what Aly’s behaviors were telling me (“forget all this activity, what I really need is some cuddle time on the couch or some time by myself playing with my dollhouse”).
As a family, our desire is to be continually making space for others, whether that be each other, our friends and family, or the stranger.
This is an important distinction for us: at our best, we are not trying to carve out time for ourselves, but rather making sure others have the time they need, having faith that their love for us will take care of our needs. This interdependence reflects our understanding of the unified Creation God intends.
While we are sure to invest in each other and our children, we see our family boundaries as fairly fluid. We find that we live this out best when we have a good bit of margin in our lives. Margin says, “Let’s not plan that chunk of time. Let’s just live in that hour/day and see what God brings our way.” By slowing down, we not only have free time for each other (Let’s all have a big wrestling match! Let’s get a babysitter and go check out that movie! Come on over and let’s make pizzas together!), but we also make space for God to bring about something that we couldn’t have planned on our own.
At the end of the day, we thank the Lord for the time He has given us, and ask for discernment in how to best spend the limited time we have.
We’re always listening, holding up our schedules and dreams and plans with loosened fingers, asking Him to help us do this well so that we can love each other and our children well, while also showing our kids that God is doing some amazing things outside of our family that He wants us to be a part of.
YOUR TURN: How do you create space in your family? How do you put your family ahead of your work?
Tiffany Malloy is the wife of Jake and momma of Asante, Alethea, Ada, and a fourth that’s on the way! Since the birth of their first child, Tiffany and Jake have been dreaming, theologizing, and blogging about all things family. By day she is the Administrative Manager of the PhD program at Eastern University. By night, she blogs at Play Eat Grow (www.playeatgrow.com), a site dedicated to the three things families do most: playing, eating, and growing. You can read more about her faith journey a www.tiffanymalloy.com.