I don’t know one other parent who would say having kids was unalloyed wonderfulness for their marriage. Lack of sleep, lack of free time, money worries, and simply the drudgery of doing for someone else all day long often doesn’t leave much for the other grownup in the house. Add to that the powerful emotional attachment we have to our children and even the happiest couples show some strain.
We’ve all got different ways to deal with this, like date nights, “pretend” date nights after the kids are down (good for the broke), or calling each other at work to have uninterrupted conversation. According to Episcopal priest and family coach David Code, you’d better do more of that or you’re doing yourselves –and your kids — a disservice.
He says that the biggest mistake parents make is putting their children first, instead of their spouse first. Now, I have some issue with this. My kids are, after all, kids, and sometimes we’ve each had to suck it up and wait our turn if our kids need us. They didn’t ask to be born, while we made a conscious decision to start a family together knowing that sometimes our needs would come second.
On the other hand, I do agree with his point that parents too often overattach to their child, and use their relationship with the child to bury their dissatisfaction with their marriage. And I’ll concede the point that when the other parent’s needs are second place all the time, something needs to change. One of the most competent mothers I know once told me, while I was pregnant with my first child, that you need to maintain your marriage however you can. And while I think the “put your kids second” mentality can too easily slide into Don and Betty Draper-style self-absorption, which doesn’t benefit anyone, I do see the point in putting at least as much energy into your relationship with your spouse as you do to the relationship with your children. After all, eventually the kids are going to grow up and leave if you have done your job right, and if you haven’t maintained your relationship, what then? As someone who lived through my parents’ separation after 32 years, well after their kids were launched, I can tell you that’s not something you want to do if you can avoid it.
What do you think? How do you balance the needs of your relationship and your kids?