As parents, we seem hardwired to put our relationship with our children before all other relationships in our lives. Since our children are totally dependent on us, and the adults in our life are not, it makes sense.
The danger is we can neglect the other relationships in our lives. How do you find a healthy balance of your time and attention for all the deserving people in your life?
Most Importantly: Don’t Neglect Your Marriage
One of the easiest relationships to neglect is with our spouse. Since they live in the same house with us it can seem like we are not neglecting them. The problem is a healthy marriage needs much more to thrive than two people living like roommates.
Married couples whose relationship is too heavily focused on the kids tend to neglect the ‘marriage’ part of their relationship. Neglect of anything leads to weakening and deterioration. Your marriage is too important to everyone involved, especially your children, to allow this to happen.
5 Steps To Protect Your Marriage
In her excellent book: Not "Just Friends": Protect Your Relationship From Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal (Free Press) relationship expert Shirley Glass identifies 5 steps a couple can take to keep the marriage bond strong.
I. Know What You Are Up Against
A child-centered marriage is one in which a couple's energy, time and passion are focused on their children's needs to the exclusion of their own.
The adults don't have an identity (either as individuals or as a couple) separate from their role as ‘parents’. Their only identity is "Mom" and "Dad."
II. Protect What You Have
Parents often feel guilty leaving their kids at home. But guilt-ridden couples should know that one of the best gifts they can give to their children is letting them see their father and mother being in love with each other and wanting to spend time with one another.
By doing so you are making a lifelong impression in your children’s minds about what it means to be married and to be a family. This marriage relationship becomes a mental model that gets stored in your child’s memory and will serve as a model for their own attitudes about marriage when they become adults.
Children find it reassuring when they see their own parents sharing affection and having a private life as a couple. They also learn that the best relationships are mutually rewarding and satisfying.
III. Schedule ‘Just-Us’ Time
Responsible parents have to do what's urgent and nonnegotiable. But you can say no to some of the outside demands on your time and energy – including demands related to your role as a parent.
How many extracurricular activities do your children have to participate in? Don't over-schedule them, or yourself. One question successful couples ask is, “How much extra strain is this new activity going to put on our marriage relationship?
You have to put each other on your calendar. Your couplehood won't always get the time it deserves, but it deserves to get more than the leftovers of your time.
Some ‘Us’ Time Tips
Try to leave yourselves time alone at night after you get the kids to bed.
New parents should get the baby out of the bedroom.
Older children shouldn't be allowed in when the door is closed (unless the house is on fire!).
Get up 15 minutes early in the morning so you can ask each other over coffee: "How are you doing? What's going on?" (One husband calls it "coffee with hon.")
Trust someone else to care for your kids sometimes and let go.
If Saturday mornings are full of sports practices and the afternoons are devoted to errands, make Saturday night your night. Hire a babysitter on a regular schedule, and take weekends or an overnight away by yourselves. If you have never done this before, your kids may offer some resistance, but hold your ground. Parents need their getaways.
IV. Be Aware: Love Is Not Enough
Couples can get so ingrained in their role and identity as parents that they stop thinking of one another in a romantic way. This is dangerous for your marriage. It is possible to feel love for your spouse and yet feel physical and sexual attraction to another person at the same time.
If you find yourself captivated by somebody other than your spouse it’s time to put up some walls – before you’ve slid too far down the slippery slope of infidelity. You need to take action to honor your commitment to your family and your marriage.
Also, couples who are trying to recover from an affair often become overly focused on their children. They want to believe that their love for their children will protect them from future infidelity. But that’s naive. So be aware of the dangers.
V. Find Yourselves As a Couple
It’s critical for couples to socialize with other couples so they have an identity as a man and woman relating to other adults. On double dates, try hard not to talk about your children all night. Think about what first attracted you and your spouse to each other. If you used to like to go hiking or biking or dancing together, go back to that.
Summing Up the 5 Points
Being a parent is one of the greatest honors of life. Your children “are a gift from the LORD, a reward from a mother’s womb" (Psalms 127:3, ERV). Because so, they deserve the best you can give them. This includes letting them grow up in a family where their parents love one another as husband and wife.
Reference: Working Mother magazine, March 2003.