By Ashley McIlwain
I’ve seen it happen more times than I would like to admit. Marriages falling apart after kids come along. These precious gifts birthed out of love suddenly grow up without a scrap of evidence from that very same love. What was once the reason for their existence becomes a distant to nonexistent concept for the parents who gave life to their love.
Sometimes parents stay together for the sake of the children, but they are like team members working in tandem to accomplish a goal without there being any connectedness or relationship. Others find themselves together but fighting constantly, bitter, resentful, and completely miserable. Then there are those who figure out the balance and manage to maintain their marriage amidst the chaos of kids.
There’s no doubt that having children, while one of the greatest blessings, puts a huge strain on a marriage. Exhaustion, frustration, less time, less energy, and less money all contribute to the diminished quality of relationship. It’s hard to give your kids your all and have anything left over to give to your spouse. At the same time, your marriage can’t endure eighteen years of neglect and be thriving and fulfilling. There has to be a way to maintain your marriage after children arrive.
One of the biggest problems that parenting presents is the marriage being placed on the back burner. Granted, I know that children are all encompassing, but if you are trying to give your kids everything they need for success, it starts with providing a loving home for them to grow up in. A loving home is a product of a loving marriage. The success of your children stems from how healthy your marriage is. Think of your marriage as the heartbeat of your family.
Gives a little different perspective on the priority and importance of your marriage, doesn’t it?
There’s no denying the major lifestyle changes that come with bringing children into this world, but there’s a necessity to still prioritize your marriage despite the temptation not to. And that’s just it; you have to make your marriage a priority because it doesn’t just happen on its own, especially when kids arrive. This is important for the health of your relationship, and it’s important for your role as parents.
Psychologists use the term “family hierarchy” to describe the desired and necessary structure for a family. Basically the husband and wife are at the top of the hierarchy, equal to one another, with the children falling under them. Everything within the family stems from the top-level relationship of husband and wife. How does that translate to every day terms? Well, basically it means that the recipe for success in a family and a marriage is to have the husband and wife, equal and united with their relationship being the top priority. The children then stem from that unity and relationship.
Children shouldn’t be the ones dictating how you parent, nor should they be preventing you from seeing yourself as a husband or wife first, then a father or mother. That’s right – your spouse should still be number one!
Now before you all freak out on me, this doesn’t mean that in the day-to-day there aren’t more demands placed on you as a parent than a spouse. It also doesn’t mean you neglect your child or their needs because you are on some romantic cloud. That’s not what I am saying here, but what I am saying is that your marriage should still reign supreme in your mind and heart at the end of the day.
Still A Spouse
I understand that parenting is all encompassing. Your children need and want you, and you allow yourself to get completely enveloped by that. But, you aren’t just a parent. You are still a spouse, and you can’t neglect that all-important role.
This means that you have to reserve time, energy, affection, and love for your husband or wife at the end of the day. You have to take off the “mommy” or “daddy” hat and put on your “wife” or “husband” one. What does that even mean? It means treating your wife like a beautiful, nurturing wife that you love and adore rather than just the mother of your children. It means greeting your husband with a hug and a kiss when he walks in the door regardless of the little ones vying for his and your attention. It means having adult conversations, even if it’s just for thirty minutes after the kids go to bed. It means addressing your spouse as your husband or wife, not just “Daddy” or “Mommy.”
Being a spouse after kids isn’t easy nor will it be your natural inclination. It’s up to you and your spouse to set aside quality time and carve out space for your marriage amidst the parenting demands. That includes planned date nights. Granted, it may stretch your budget a bit to pay a babysitter and go out, but it’s important to slash expenses somewhere else to make that possible. The fact of the matter is, you cannot only identify yourself as a mom or dad; you are still a husband or wife, and if you want your marriage and family to thrive, you simply must make that a reality and a priority.
One of the most common ways that being a parent can negatively affect a marriage is allowing yourselves to be pitted against one another by the children. After receiving an emphatic, “No!” from Mom, little Sally may run to Daddy to get her way. It’s crucial for the dad to enforce the mom’s answer.
Recently when I was visiting with my precious niece, Victoria, she asked my sister (her mom) if she could have a boo-boo band for her imaginary boo-boo. Granted she already had 3 on herself, but she needed just one more. My sister told her that she had enough. Well, she didn’t like that answer, so she ran over to Dad, who was just a couple of feet away from the whole conversation that had just transpired. The conversation went like this:
“Daddy, can I have a boo-boo band?
“What did your mother just say?”
“Yes!” (With a twinkle in her eye.)
“Are you lying?”
(We all chuckled … it was super cute.)
“Well, if your mom said, ‘No,’ then no is the answer.”
I was proud of my brother-in-law for opting to give up “the cool parent” role in order to enforce what my sister, his wife, had said. That’s what parenting looks like when your marriage is still a priority. You have to stick together, define your roles, enforce, and reinforce what your spouse is doing. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
Affirm and Encourage
When you are juggling parenting, marriage, and everyday life, it can be easy to drudge through your to do’s with a fervor that leaves little room for savoring your accomplishments. You and your spouse are so caught up in “divide and conquer” that you rarely stop to affirm and encourage one another. If there’s one thing we all need, it’s a dose of acknowledgment from time to time.
An easy way to keep filling your spouse’s love tank after the children arrive is to build him/her up. Let her know what an amazing mother she is. More than that, thank her for the clothes she washed, dinner she made, and hug she gave you. Thank him for the strong leader he is, how he offered to help around the house, how hard he works, and for how he snuggles you at night. Leave post-it notes for one another in random places with reasons why you love and admire him/her. More than ever, it’s the small gestures that can make the biggest difference in your marriage.
It’s easy to focus on what someone isn’t doing, but it’s crucial to make a point to affirm what they are doing. Your spouse is most likely feeling as stretched and worn out as you are. You are experiencing this chapter of life differently, but you are still in this together. Take time to simply encourage and affirm your spouse throughout the day; it could be the very thing that lifts them up while building your relationship.
There is no doubt that parenting adds a whole new level of challenges to a marriage. You are pushed and pulled in a million directions leaving you feeling overextended and absolutely exhausted. I can tell you that you don’t want to neglect your spouse and marriage though amidst the chaos and craziness because it is much, much harder to do it without your companion, support, helper, and lover. You need each other to make the most of the journey, so don’t forget that your marriage must still be prioritized and of utmost importance in your heart, mind, and actions.
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