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The Tween Years Have Been A Total Game-Changer For My Marriage

And I didn’t even see it coming.

Parents out for a walk alone while kids stay home. They are enjoying the time alone.
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I feel like I have been knee-deep in parenting littles for a bazillion years. For so long, most days have worn me out so much that I barely think straight, let alone get some quality alone time with my spouse. But something miraculous and completely unexpected has happened recently: My grumpy, moody tweens can stay home alone (for short periods of time). It’s a milestone, and I didn’t expect just what a game changer it would be for my marriage.

I remember seeing parents shopping or dining out alone while I was dripping in small children and thinking it would never happen. But it finally did — just when I needed it most — and I can honestly report that it’s more magnificent than I ever imagined.

It started by accident, really. I had to give something to my next-door neighbor so I left my kids to watch TV while I ran to her house. She is famously long-winded, so my intended two-minute trip turned into 15 minutes. I’d never left my kids alone before, so I panicked when I realized how long I’d been gone. I walked in expecting to see total anarchy, but instead, they were still sitting there peacefully watching their show. I couldn’t believe my eyes!

Then a thought popped into my head. What if we did this again?

My kids are old enough that it’s legal where we live and they're very mature and responsible, so I felt comfortable leaving them for a short period. (I’m also a former CPS social worker, so I’m very familiar with the factors necessary to keep kids safe while we are gone.) [Editor's Note: Every state has different regulations on what age a child is legally able to be alone. Check out your state's child welfare website for more information.]

But, if I’m being totally honest, the thing that really convinced me it was doable was the Baby-Sitters Club series. As a child of the 90s, one of my fondest memories was reading those books. If you’ll recall, Mallory and Jessie were 11-year-old junior members. Hey, not so long ago, 11-year-olds babysitting other kids was a believable plot device. My kids would surely be fine.

After my accidental trial run, it snowballed from there. My spouse and I started with a quick 10-minute walk around the block and slowly increased our time away. Eventually we built up to a 50-60 minute walk on some nearby hiking trails. We go almost every evening after dinner and we both look forward to this time that we spend chatting and catching up (and getting our steps in!).

This hour that we’ve carved out to be together has made such a difference. It's our little version of a date night. We’re both so busy with work, PTA, and kids’ practices and games that it often felt like we were two ships passing in the night. We would briefly see each other and maybe even talk, but it was always about household logistics. I realized our connection to each other— independent of the kids— was waning because we weren’t able to prioritize our relationship.

Previously, time to ourselves would have been a huge added burden. Babysitting!? It’s just so expensive and not to mention hard to come by, so unfortunately, my husband and I didn't get time alone very often. Um, ever, actually. Even though I swore I would never let it happen, many days I felt my marriage taking a backseat to the enormous responsibilities and scheduling constraints of parenting.

But now with tweens under our roof this small break has been a game changer for us. And the best part is that it’s a win win! We get a slice of our alone time back and the kids love it too. They feel independent and excited to have some freedom of their own. “You and dad should really go on your walk now,” I often hear them say as they shoo us out the door.

Over the past year, our kids have proven themselves worthy of such an enormous responsibility, so we are steadily entrusting them with longer and longer stretches of time. We have slowly upped the ante and have started to sneak out to do other things that are close by. We sometimes grab coffee or run a quick errand. The other day we got kombucha tea and went to the hardware store.

Pre-kid me would be rolling her eyes so hard at how lame that sounds, but honestly, shopping for hose bib covers with my husband was pure heaven. What can I say? Romance looks a little different in my forties with three kids than it did in my twenties.

Hopefully there will be long, leisurely, and more, ahem, extravagant date nights in our future, but that day is not today and that’s okay. Leaving the house without kids in tow is a god damn luxury. So, for the time being, Home Depot it is!

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford