We adore our children. They mean everything to us. We try hard to juggle marriage, family, parenting, work, outside responsibilities. Sometimes when we’re busy and multitasking as fast as we can, our children’s needs and wants take precedence, even over our spouse. After all; our spouse is an adult and can take of themselves, right? It can even be easier to draw closer to our child than our spouse, when our child gives usually unconditional acceptance and adoration and sometimes our spouse doesn’t. It doesn’t help any that our culture has dedicated the past several decades preaching “self-esteem” in children, telling parents to effectively spoil our little darlings, put them on a pedestal, and make them almost feel entitled to special attention and being put first in the marriage and home. It is easy to be fooled into believing that “children always come first”, when actually a child that is consistently placed first, even at the cost of the marital relationship, can begin to develop a sense of entitlement. Marital intimacy can suffer as a result. This can be particularly challenging for blended families, as the formerly-single parent has often formed a particularly close bond with their child in a single-parent home, and may worry that putting their new marriage in a special place may “betray” their child.
Children actually find security and comfort when a parents’ marriage is nurtured and protected. It is very important for parents to not find their identity in “parent first, spouse second”, allowing the marriage to receive attention when and wherever the child’s needs don’t come first. I have talked to so many worn-out, stressed couples, who understandably view getting a babysitter for a dedicated date night as a costly expense of not only money but time. However, this is not an expense, but an investment. Our children actually need to see mothers and fathers devote time and honor to their marriage. The marriage relationship is where our children are modelled commitment, conflict resolution, cooperation, teamwork, love. What they learn here is what will carry them into adulthood. The home with a secure, nurtured marriage will teach the children in it, for their own future marriage and relationships, these timeless principles.
Marital intimacy needs privacy, adult-time, dedicated space and commitment. It needs bedroom time without children in it. It needs romance, dates, the occasional weekend alone. It needs a lock on the bedroom door that’s occasionally used in broad daylight without apology. A thriving marriage needs to demonstrate to the children affection, laughter, respect. When a parent cleaves to a child over a spouse, it sends the child a confusing message and can teach the child what unresolved conflict looks like and a parent that runs away from it. Children quite frankly need to be taught that they are, as Dr. John Rosemond, one of the most respected psychologists in the United States describes, “a little fish in a big pond”, not a “big fish in a little pond”. Sit down with your spouse, privately, and discuss ways you can spend dedicated time together as loving spouses. Remember what made you fall in love with your spouse in the first place? Keep that thought in mind as you resolve to spend adult-time together this week. The marriage is the foundation of a house; if the foundation is faulty or neglected, the entire house can collapse. Our children were never intended to be “little adults”, a pseudo-spouse, or a confidante to a parent in the absence of a close relationship with a spouse. It may seem foreign to resolve to put your spouse in a prime position ahead of your child, but your children will benefit by being nestled in the security of a home that has a firm foundation of a nurtured marriage, first. Please try not to view this as “one or the other”, because by nurturing the marriage, it nurtures the child.
If the marriage has conflict because of parenting issues, then resolve them privately with your spouse. Don’t talk about the parenting conflicts in front of the children. Set a time and place, with a focused agenda, to sit down with your spouse and calmly talk about the conflicts.
Set a weekly time to have private time with your spouse. It can be a romantic date, or a walk around the block, or a trip for ice cream, or an occasional weekend away alone together. And on those adult dates, don’t talk about the children. Get to know each other again as two adults, not as two parents, for just that brief window of time. Pull out the little black dress and pearls and wear them. Whatever the expense of time or money, commit to it. Your children will get used to it. A child who can’t get used to it may already be in a position of being at the head of the home, wielding a lot of power they were never designed to and certainly are not emotionally or in any other way capable of doing. This is called a “childcentric” home and no child needs or can handle that kind of power.
Is the marriage already feeling neglected? This is a sure sign it needs to be nurtured. Stop and take time, now, to build back into the marriage. Get counseling, join a group of adults in your church or community. Develop hobbies together as a couple. It’s okay to lovingly tell your children that you’re spending some special time together as husband and wife; explain to them that you love each other and in doing so, it helps you be better parents to them. They will learn good coping skills, conflict resolution skills, by observing parents negotiate together, and present a united front in a loving manner.
If you have a child sleeping in the same bedroom with you and your spouse, please consider removing them to their own room if they are not a newborn infant. Your child is probably more resilient than you might think, and they need their own space, too. A child needs a lot of rest and sleep; you can structure this so that children are going to bed earlier, are waking more rested, and you and your spouse have more quality, relaxing time together in the evenings. Turn off the TV a few nights a week and just spend time together. Your marriage will not grow if you don’t invest into it. No child can handle the heady power that being at the head of the home gives it. If you’re feeling guilty for spending time alone with your spouse, this is a sure sign that your home may be becoming a childcentric home. At my counseling practice, Sincera Wellness, LLC, I stand ready to help you and your spouse get back to having a thriving, intimate marriage with less conflict and less guilt and that lets children be children and not pseudo-spouses. Call me at 501.238.2557 or email me at MaryAnne@sincerawellness.net for an appointment and let’s talk about making your home a non-childcentric one.