First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…toilet training, sibling rivalry and weekends that start at 6 a.m. No wonder experts consider the child-rearing years the hardest in married life! It’s normal for romance to take a backseat to parenting, but modeling a happy marriage may be the best thing you can do for your kids.

“The quality of your relationship with your spouse strongly influences how your child feels and behaves,” says Bob Lancer, host of the radio show Bob Lancer’s Parenting Solutions. “It even impacts your child’s health…When Mom and Dad bicker, junior simply cannot behave well, and no amount or form of discipline will change that. To feel and do their best, children need a home atmosphere of stability, harmony and respect.”

You want to set a good example for your kids, but harmony and respect can be hard to come by when you’re tired, the kids are cranky, the television’s blaring, and you still have to fold the laundry and do the dishes. If this sounds like a typical night at your house, perhaps you need to slow down.

“If you live in a pressured, frenzied, frustrated pace, you guarantee that you will lack patience, understanding, flexibility and compassion in your marriage,” says Lancer. Intead of bickering with your spouse over whose turn it is to do the chores, shorten the list. You needn’t be a millionaire to buy yourself some breathing room: when you start feeling over-worked, treat yourself to carry-out for dinner, picnic on paper plates, and say no to further school and work obligations until things loosen up.

“If a couple doesn’t make time for one another and is child-centric, when the children leave, there is no marriage to come back to,” says Karen Sherman, Ph.D, author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, Make It Last. “Date nights, even at home, do a lot to help a couple keep their marriage alive. If necessary, put these on the calendar along with the soccer games, doctor’s appointments and all the other commitments!” Can’t afford a sitter? Put the kids to bed early, unplug the television, and reconnect with an adults-only dinner over candlelight.

“Parents need to put a lock on their bedroom door,” says Debbie Mandel, M.A., author of Turn on Your Inner Light. She also recommends that parents make “little romantic gestures throughout the day – sex begins outside the bedroom.” So put down the Legos for a minute and go call your partner – your child will thank you.