Healthy Relationship: Going Nuts? (cont.)

The time you spend with your partner or spouse won't necessarily make or break a marriage or a partnership, but it may help you manage the stresses that new parenthood places on a relationship, says Jay Belsky, a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University. Among 250 new parents he tracked, half reported that they had grown farther apart by their child's third birthday.

"Time together gives couples time to catch up on each other's lives and experience the pleasure of each other's company," says Belsky, author of "The Transition to Parenthood: How a First Child Changes a Marriage" (Delacorte, 1994). Otherwise, "Before long they will just become a team of parents, partnered in raising children."

As most parents will attest, leaving your baby for the first time is always the hardest, so ease into it with a quick getaway, like dessert at a coffeehouse or a walk in the park.

"Don't try to go for dinner and a movie if you're going to be a basketcase by the time the entrée arrives," says Douglas, "and if you're paranoid, call from the restaurant. Who cares if they think you're obsessive? You're allowed. You're a parent."

If you can't get out, get creative. Some couples wait until the baby's down for a three- or four-hour stretch, then order a nice meal, dim the lights, and ignore the phone and other household distractions. There isn't anything magical about Saturday nights, either -- take the time whenever you can.

My Time Is Your Time

The Oberholtzers of Evanston, Ill., have a standing date on Wednesday mornings. James takes time from his law practice, Katherine -- a marriage and family therapist -- doesn't schedule appointments, and the two hit a yoga class, then do lunch.

"We're firm believers that parents should get out at least once a week," says Katherine, who has three children, ages 11, 7 and 3. "When we haven't been able to do that, we feel it."

To find a good babysitter for your trysts:

  • Ask family and friends.
  • Call a university's early childhood education department.
  • Check with the instructor of a local baby-sitting or teen first-aid course.
  • Ask teachers, coaches and others who work with teens, such as members of the clergy or the career counseling department at a high school.

Since a good sitter is hard to find and keep, be prepared to pay top dollar ($5 to $7 per hour for a teen-ager and $7 or more per hour for a college student) and treat them with respect: Return home on time, pay anyway if you have to cancel at the last minute and spend time teaching them what you expect.

Together Again

Family co-ops -- groups that trade baby-sitting services on a noncash basis -- can be helpful, too, particularly since many new parents are tight on cash. But Douglas says to make sure you understand the arrangements (for instance, decide upfront if it'll be hour for hour), and that your child-rearing philosophies and personalities are in sync.