Early in my marriage, my wife sat me down one evening and said she was tired of being treated like one of my employees. I was completely shocked. I prided myself on my marriage and family, and in fact, ran my large corporation espousing family values telling my employees to put their families first. Do as I say, not as I do. Obviously.
That was some twenty-five years ago. Looking back, I had a lot of growing up to do. And changing, if I was to keep my wife and kids for that “happily ever after” thing. This November, I will be celebrating my 32nd wedding anniversary with my wife (you will be happy to know) and our three fabulous grown children.
The following five tips, reflect what I put in motion after learning that I was treating my spouse like an employee. They will improve your family life, enrich your leadership skills and assure you a better shot at a successful marriage. (See my blog, “Five tips to keep your husband out of the arms (and bedroom) of another woman”).
- Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. When you are heading home, prepare to be a completely different person when you walk in the door: HUSBAND. DAD. Get your mind and body ready for re-entry. On your drive home, turn off the news and the hard rock music. Think about each child and your spouse; what would be a few great questions to ask them about their day (if your kids are old enough). Put your cell phone away.
Work schedules vary widely, but whenever possible, be disciplined to be home at a consistent time each day. I made it a habit that while I was in the office each day at 6:30 a.m., I was home at 6 p.m. for dinner, homework and/or games and bedtime. My wife could count on me; this was important.
In the morning, grab your big coffee traveler, crank up the music and head out to slay your dragons; your mind 100% on your business. But come the late afternoon, be ready to be a family man!
- Date Night. In doubling down on my relationship, I decided to give my wife a very unique gift: Date Night for a Year. It worked like this:
- Every Thursday was Date Night. Just my wife and me. No family. No friends. No business associates, employees or clients. Just us for a fun night out. It could be a fancy expensive dinner; it could be dinner and a movie; it could be a picnic in the park or at the beach; it could be a play or a concert; it could be fast-food and a no-tell-motel.
- The trusted baby sitter was paid for the entire year whether we could make every Date Night or not. She knew she had a gig, the kids loved her, and we loved having her.
- The trusted baby sitter arrived at 5 p.m., and I showed up at home around 6 p.m. Particularly when the children are quite young, the crumb-grabbers dominate. That extra hour was sheer gold, and allowed my wife to take a relaxing bath, do her make-up and get dressed without the kids climbing all over her.
- What was important was that we connected, and could be present with each other. We found that if we missed a date night due to my travels, or illness, or the rare conflict, we both really missed our time together.
- Date Night with Your Children. Once your kids see their parents so happily trundling off to their Date Night, they will be electrified when you ask them out on a date. Same rules: one-on-one time with one child at a time. And you can start this practice remarkably early in their lives. It doesn’t need to be weekly of course. But quarterly? Sure.
If you have girls, let them dress up. Boys can shower (oh please!) and put on nice clean clothes, too. Surprise them, but you don’t need to overdo those nights. They will simply love being out with their dad without their mother or other siblings being around. And they will talk. And you will listen. And you will have the time of your life. And they will remember those nights with you for the rest of theirs.
And one last thing, turn off your phone (at least put it on “silent” and put it away), and only check it when they are in the bathroom.
- The Golden Rule. Many years ago, I was fortunate to be in a small group presentation led by Dr. Lee Hausner – then the recently retired psychologist for Beverly Hills High School. Her talk was on raising successful kids in, and amongst, affluence. But, her message rings true no matter what your position in life.
Getting your children involved in philanthropy – not just giving money (although that is important), but giving of time with those less fortunate – is the single biggest factor in children growing up to be wonderful human beings. And, her research showed that children and young adults who were active in giving back not only improved the chances for their generation, but also for several generations ahead of them.
In one of my early postings, I joined the service organization Rotary International to get better introductions to the business leaders in my new community. What started as a rather insincere and transparent effort at business development turned into a lifetime of service to others for my family and me. Priceless.
My children are all grown and wonderful contributors to their communities and to society. I couldn’t be more proud.
- E-Coupon Ride. For those of you old enough you will remember when there was a time that coupon books were required to ride any attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The coupons were sorted from “A” to “E.” The small, tame, slow rides needed an A coupon, and as the rides got bigger, faster, and more exciting, you needed a higher coupon. An “E-Coupon Ride” got to be synonymous with the Matterhorn Bobsleds as well as anything wildly exciting in life.
So make your family life a series of E-Coupon Rides! This doesn’t need to be expensive, by the way. But make life a series of adventures and surprises. When my kids were young, I loved to take them camping. No showers, lots of dirt, unhealthy food that I cooked for them in my awesome camp kitchen, no naps (except for the dads!), few rules, and Smores around a blazing campfire at night before returning to the “Four Seasons” – as I liked to call our tent. Today, my adult children remember these trips with such clarity and joy. Take it from me: make your life about memories not gifts, and your children will grow up rich indeed.
OK, I know I’m not perfect. 32 years of marriage is never a straight line. But hey, 32 years is 32 years! And we have three beautiful children that we are sure will do their part to raise their children right for the generations to come.
C. Lindsey Williams