In our Internet world of picture-perfect mommy bloggers, Facebook updates about how cute our toddler’s latest saying was, and family-fun photos on Instagram, there’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect mom. But: what if all the mommy-glamour could become the ruin of your marriage? Today’s episode is about prioritizing marriage over parenting.

Should I Focus on My Marriage Or My Kids?

The title comes from Salvador Minuchin (possibly! Caleb wasn’t sure if his memory was working right here), the father of Family Systems Therapy who, when dealing with a dysfunctional family turned and asked the mother when she divorced her husband and married her kids. That is, why did she abandon her marriage relationship and focus completely on her children?

We’ve had some great advice over the years and this issue was a part of that. Advice was given to Verlynda at a baby shower before she had her first child,

You were a wife before you were a mother – don’t forget that.

And a piece of advice Caleb was given:

The best gift you can give your children is to love their mother.

This is a common issue. William Farley, in Gospel-Powered Parenting, points out the risk of child idolatry in our culture and says the Puritans actually warned against loving our children too much. Farley says we need to love God more than our children, which ultimately is better for the kids as well and so we unpacked this idea further in the show.

The research also supports the idea that prioritizing the marriage overparenting was better for both the couple and the children. Even at the start of child-rearing, a study by O’Brien and Payton in the Journal of Family Psychology, 2002: found that a higher perceived difficulty with parenting was related to lower levels of initial marital intimacy. So you can see how they observed that marital intimacy makes parenting even feel easier.

The Baby-will-save-our-marriage Trick is Probably a Bad Idea

You want your baby to land right in the middle of a secure emotional bond between dad and mom, not into a war zone!

Our proposition is that you give more to your kids through good ‘husbanding’ or good ‘wifing’ than through good parenting because the second flows most effectively from a solid marital foundation.

This was reinforced by Erel and Burman (1995) who did a meta-analysis (a study of other researcher’s work) of 68 studies examining relationships between marital quality and parenting. They found two conclusions:

  1. Positive marital relationship=positive parenting relationship
  2. Parents invest more deeply in their children when there are problems in the marriage.

Compensating for problems in the marriage by turning to the kids is the wrong approach!

In the Scriptures, the relationship that God chose to be the one institution that would symbolize his love for the church is that of marriage, not parenting. So loving our spouse well preaches the Gospel of God’s love to our kids and to others. Our children should be attracted to God and his love, seen in the gospel, by virtue of what they see in a husband’s love for his wife.

The same values are evident in what the Journal of Family and Psychology, 2004 stated, that kids (5-6 yr olds) adjust to school better when Dad and Mom are in love with each other. Again, parental love fortifies the children, makes them feel more secure and gives them more confidence to face new life experiences.

The Handbook of Parenting, Volume 4 “Social Conditions and Applied Parenting” reviews a lot of studies. They conclude “happily married parents are more sensitive, responsive, warm and affectionate toward their children…the marital relationship appears to serve as a primary source of support for parenting.” It also stated, “having skills and knowledge is not sufficient for competent parenting if marital tensions and conflict undermine the co-parenting alliance.”

To sum up: you will be more successful in creating happier children by focusing on your spouse. On the other hand, giving top priority to your children is not as helpful to them or your spouse.

What About First-Time Parents?

Newborns are demanding, aren’t they? Trust us, we’ve been there…

Remember that all of child-rearing is a process of increasing independence

  • Womb > Outside world
  • Breastfeed > Self-feed
  • Diapers > Potty trained
  • Training wheels > Two wheeler
  • Allowance > First job
  • Home > School/Career

Because this is a process, different levels of parent involvement are required all the way through a child’s life. Dad and Mom are most involved with the first baby. That’s OK! Just make sure you have small ways of staying connected and supporting each other. If you have a natural birth, the doctors suggest that you not have sex for six weeks. So you’ll need to respect mom’s body but even during that time remember that intimacy occurs on many levels and this can be a time to draw together to support this new little blessing in your life.

Ideas and Suggestions to Live This Out Practically

So we need to continue to build our marriages during all phases of life.

Here are some ideas of how we can show each other and our kids that our marriage is more important:

  • Even if you’re in the middle of a book when he comes in the door, get up and go give him a kiss!
  • If you’re talking, don’t let your kids interrupt! (and not just the first time they call you, it means every time until you’re done your conversation)
  • Let your baby cry until you’re finished what you were doing with hubby
  • Plan date nights (your children will survive with a sitter or relative!)
  • Adjust your child-rearing so that your children are trained to the extent you can do these things (i.e., stay in bed so you can have dessert/sex/etc in the evening)
  • Put a lock on your bedroom door
  • Schedule time in your day to be together ALONE
  • Make your spouse special things (like a coffee – draw a heart in the milk foam, or fry an egg in a heart-shaped cookie cutter)
  • Kiss in front of the kids. PDA!!! Woohoo! Kids hate it but they wanna see it!
  • Tell the kids it’s Mom’s/Dad’s turn for a cuddle and make them wait (this is assuming you cuddle your kids at other times!!)
  • Play together
  • Laugh
  • Flirt
  • Tease
  • Chase each other around the house

Q&A Section

Sandra writes:

I have been married for several months now and my husband has been acting different. What do I do? Alright, well I have been married for the past 6 months. Everything had been great until just a month ago he gets easily annoyed or so he claims. We are currently very stressed about money like we have never been before so im thinking that is a factor in all of this. He is very cold lately and doesn’t even want to spend time with me. I asked him what was wrong and all he says is that he is tired. I must note he works one full time job and gets home and does nothing while I on the other hand have 2 jobs, a full time job and a part time job putting in atleast a good 120 hours every two weeks. I always try spending as much time as I can with him but it seems he doesn’t want the same. Just yesterday he came home happy telling me he is getting a promotion and that he can finally get me out of working. It confuses me that he is so cold yet it seems he cares. I dont know what to do and make him feel in love with me again and want to spend time with me again. Btw his Fav hobby is videos games and I already tried playing games with him and that didn’t work out.

Sounds like a challenge! Listen to the episode to find out how we answered the question!

Image courtesy of Flickr under the Creative Commons license.