If you ask most married parents what the two most important things in the world are to them, they will say "My marriage and my children."
There is one thing couples can do; one simple monthly habit that can have a powerful positive effect on both.
We call it a "five-facet review." All this means is to set aside one evening a month to go to dinner together — have a date — and talk exclusively about your children. Don't go with friends. Go alone, just the two of you, and go to a restaurant where you can talk in privacy and avoid the tendency to talk about anything other than your kids.
One at a time, go through the five facets of each of your children: Physical, Mental, Social, Emotional and Spiritual.
The conversation/evaluation may go something like this: "How is Brandon doing physically?" Talk through any issues from weight to teeth or eyes. How about exercise, sports, activity level — any health problems? If there is an issue, focus in on it, brainstorm about it. If it's all good, move on.
"How is he doing mentally?" Talk about school, about how he learns, where his mental gifts are. Take notes about concerns and about what you intend to do about it (and about who will do it.) "How is he doing socially?" Discuss friends, how he interacts, try to isolate any areas that need attention.
"How is he doing emotionally?" Danger signs? How does he handle things? Moody? What upsets him? And finally, "How is he doing spiritually? How is his heart, how is his faith, where is he doing well and where does he need help?
Take notes. Bring along a Five-Facet Review Notebook dedicated to this purpose. Think together. Brainstorm together. When you discover and isolate a concern or an opportunity with a child, decide who will do what about it; knowing that you will revisit it in your next five-facet review in a month.
It is amazing, once you have focused in on something, how ideas and solutions will occur to you. The fact is that you know more than you think you do, and your spouse knows more than you think he or she does — about each child. It just takes a discussion and some questions to pull out things that you didn't even know you knew.
Give each other assignments. If, for example, in the "mental facet" you are concentrating on Brandon being in the lowest reading group in his second grade class, Mom might say to Dad, "Can you sit down and read with him for a half hour twice a week this month?"
One of the benefits of a regular five-facet review is that it helps you spot potential problems early and nip them in the bud. We hear so many cases of substance abuse or porn addictions or other issues that had been going on for years before parents became aware of them. With a thorough review of each child each month, symptoms are seen early on, and intervention happens before things develop.
If you are a spiritual couple, consider praying together before and after each five-facet review. Ask for guidance from the heavenly parent. Seek insights about the needs and the worries but also about the gifts and potential of each child.
What it comes down to is that you are the true experts on your own children, and this habit will prompt you to come up with specific things to work on each month. And they will be your thoughts, which will be more accurate, more particular, and more useful than anything you will ever find in a parenting book.
And here is the frosting on the cake: Working hard together on the project of your kids will draw you closer as a couple and improve your relationship and your marriage.