Which Comes First: The Marriage or the Kids?
By Andrea Elovson
I recently asked my friend Nancy, "Which is a bigger priority, your marriage or your kids?"
"I know I should say my marriage," she replied sheepishly, "But...
|Granted, Nancy is the mother of active, 15-month-old twins. But she is not the only parent I spoke with who admitted to putting children consistently ahead of marriage.|
|Making kids a high priority is natural, considering how much they need us. And the added responsibilities of a career, paying the bills, and housework leave room for little else. It is a miracle we remember our spouses' names, no less maintain red-hot sex lives and keep the lines of communication crackling 24/7.|
|Yet some parents, like Janine and Gary from East Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, have managed to stay focused on their marriage since the birth of their daughter, Clara.|
|"We believe firmly that raising and nurturing Clara to be a happy and secure child lies in the strong foundation of our own relationship," says Janine. "The stronger our marriage, the easier and more joyful it is to be a family."|
|"It takes great courage to put your marriage first," says Elisa Morgan, president of Mothers of Preschoolers Inc. in Denver, Colorado, and coauthor of How Children Change a Marriage. "Because it runs contrary to everything we are taught about being a good parent."|
|Americans tend to equate good parenting with self-abnegation. Parents go without rest, exercise, proper nutrition, and time with each other to "be there" for the kids.|
|The fact is, ignoring our needs and those of our marriage is ultimately destructive to our children. Overly self-sacrificing parents are unwittingly teaching that the parents' own needs and limitations are unimportant and that the child is the center of the universe, sometimes even creating selfish and demanding children. Often, these marriages model blame and bickering rather than partnership and fun.|
|Most of us already know that marriage takes work, but rearranging our priorities may make us feel guilty or confused about how to achieve a healthy balance.|
|But as couples like Janine and Gary already know, nurturing a marriage does not mean banishing the kids to the snowy plains of Siberia. The key is to view your marriage from a slightly different perspective.|
Marriage is more than the joining of two individuals. Like children, marriage is the product of a loving union and relies on continuous care to survive.
|As parents we would never say "I'm just too busy to feed my kids today." Yet many of us go weeks without caring for our marriage. Like a neglected child, the marriage weakens, loses luster, and downshifts into survival mode.|
|"Marriage is a living, breathing entity," says Morgan. "It is not just two people with the attitude of 'you take care of yourself and I'll take care of myself.' We need to invest in it, feed, nurture, and strengthen it."|
|If you suspect that your relationship with your spouse is in need of some TLC, it's time to push the guilt and excuses aside and start caring for your real first-born: your marriage.|
Find Alone Time: As little as 15 minutes with your spouse can rekindle intimacy. Set the morning alarm 15 minutes early and then doze in each other's arms until it is time to get up. Send funny e-mails back and forth during your lunch break or chat on the phone while you eat.
Morgan knows one couple that designates the half-hour after dad comes home as "grown-up time." The kids watch 30 minutes of television while Mom and Dad reconnect. When parents carve out time before dinner, dishes, and homework, they have more energy to give each other than if they wait until after the kids go to bed.
Practice Patience: There will periods when children will overshadow your marriage. This is particularly true after the birth of a baby. Less sleep can take an enormous physical and emotional toll. There is likely to be less sex, fewer nights out, and shorter fuses. Keep reminding one another that the difficult times are temporary and you look forward to more time together in the near future. In the meantime, laugh (even at each other), hold hands as much as possible, and be patient with one another.
Take Care of Yourself: You cannot properly care for your children or your marriage if you neglect yourself. when you're hungry, eat. If you cannot find time to take a nap, cancel an appointment and spend quiet time with the kids. Shoot for 15 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to five days a week. A vigorous walk with the stroller or working out to an exercise video work wonders. Once a week, reserve your kids' naptime for yourself. No sweeping, laundry, checking email, or scrubbing the toilet. Sleep, read a chapter of a good book, work on your novel, or call a friend to talk. Do whatever makes you feel lighter in spirit.
|Ultimately, good parenting is not about putting either our children or our marriages first. It is about remembering—daily—to nurture them both. Before you know it, those kids will fly the coop. What will they leave behind: an empty nest or a couple of lovebirds?|