Many people talk about how the “kids come first”, and even more people talk about staying in bad relationships for the sake of the kids. As parents, we are often lead to believe that we are somehow selfish or a terrible parent if our kids are not our number one priority. The down side to putting the kids first, is that in many cases it comes at the expense of the marriage, as demonstrated by the super high divorce rates in this country.
I am an advocate of putting the kids first when there is abuse or neglect or when a parent is struggling with an addiction they cannot seem to overcome, however if there are none of those issues present, here are four reasons why you should put your marriage before the kids.
You need to be friends with your spouse. If you spend all of your time and energy focused on the kids and pay little attention to your spouse, then there will likely come a time in your life when you will wake up one morning and look over at your spouse lying in bed beside you and realize that this person is a total stranger. Friends share their lives, their passions and their dreams. Think about your marriage. Do you share these things with your spouse?
I know that this was a hard lesson I learned in my first marriage. We were married, but we were far from friends. He had his life and I had mine. We shared very little with one another about our lives and we sure didn’t discuss our daily upsets or even quirky things that happened during our day at work. Toward the end of our marriage, we tried to change this. He told me that when I came home from work and he asked me how my day was, he wanted a more elaborate answer than, “fine”. In my efforts to try to save my marriage, I was willing to try just about anything. So I tried what he had asked. He asked about my day and I proceeded to tell him about a couple of quirky things that had happened with my boss that day at work. He interrupted me mid-story and told me he didn’t need to hear about every minute detail of my day. I don’t think he could’ve turned me from warm to frigid faster if he tried. That was the last time I made an honest effort to be open with him. I made one more minor attempt a few months later while we were on a road trip and were stuck in traffic. That time he shushed me and turned up the radio, telling me he wanted to hear the news.
If you don’t make your partner a priority, someone else will.
In my current marriage, it feels like a polar opposite to my first marriage. I now feel like I am married to my best friend. I have no secrets with him and share everything. Sure, we have our share of lover’s quarrels like every couple does, but our friendship is a priority. There have been times when we have kept the television turned off the entire night and invested that time in just talking. Talking about everything and talking about nothing at all. Recently when we were chatting, we reflected to one another in awe and delight that we had not had any big fights in nearly two years. At one point early in our marriage we had been on rocky ground. Both of us had reverted to poor communication styles, the very communication styles that aided in the destruction of our first marriages. Fortunately, we both recognized that if we did not change right away, we would soon be adding a second divorce to our record. It was not easy for either of us, but we managed to make changes within ourselves that have benefited our relationship exponentially.
Eventually the kids will move out. This item ties in with my previous point. You need to know your spouse and have something to talk about. You need to have some shared interests, hobbies, or activities you can fall back on after the kids move out. It is not uncommon for empty-nesters to suddenly find themselves in divorce court not long after the kids have moved out. These couples have often become strangers and cannot find their way back to the relationship they once shared.
You need to present a united front to the kids. Kids will be kids. They were put on this earth to test boundaries, and we were made parents in order to guide them in the right direction. If you and your partner cannot present a united front to the kids, they will see a chink in the armor and they will divide and conquer. You must talk about parenting issues with your spouse, and if you disagree with something your spouse says or does, or if your children complain about your spouse to you, you need to address these issues with your spouse in private. You should never call your spouse to the carpet in front of the kids as if your spouse is your child’s peer instead of your partner. Presenting a united front to the kids is especially important when the children enter their teen years. Although at this age kids often rebel against rules and structure, and they stamp their feet and throw fits about how they want to be independent and that they should be allowed to make their own decisions, kids actually thrive in a structured environment. If one parent comes across as the lenient parent while the other is given the role of disciplinarian, the kids will most definitely use that against you as a couple. When the kids do this, fights with your spouse will often follow not far behind.
Kids need to see you demonstrate what a healthy relationship looks like. If you have poor communication skills or brush issues under the carpet instead of addressing them, there will often be an uncomfortable undercurrent between you and your spouse. Kids can feel that even if they don’t realize what is going on. All they know is that something isn’t right. You and your partner need to demonstrate how to laugh and play together. You need to demonstrate how a couple can work through problems instead of running for the nearest divorce attorney. You need to show your children that when tough times come to pass, that you turn toward your partner instead of away from him or her and that you do not turn to someone outside the marriage.
Parents should not fear being affectionate in front of the kids.
Affection is part of a healthy relationship. If your children do not see you and your partner expressing your affection, it will be difficult for them to know how to be appropriately affectionate with their own partner in adulthood.
Be the kind of partner you want your child to marry.
It is easy to let the day to day stresses of life get in the way of a strong marriage. This is especially true for the active family. There are jobs to go to, practices to attend, games to cheer at, performances to endure. There are baths and homework and kid squabbles. There are permission slips and report cards and swimming lessons. There are so many things relating to our kids that distract us from our marriage. It is easy to fall into a hazard of taking for granted that because the marriage is strong before the children arrive, that it will remain strong as you and your partner tend to your roles as parents. However, this is a misconception.
Even the strongest and happiest marriages are hard work to remain successful.
Think of your marriage as a garden. Your plants and flowers may be strong and healthy when you first put them in the ground. They may have strong roots and be able to weather strong storms. However, if you don’t tend that garden, eventually weeds will pop up and will eventually choke those strong healthy plants, causing them to whither and die.
Never forget to tend the garden of your marriage, and remember why it is important to put your marriage above your kids.