Do your children demand the majority of your time and attention during the day so your spouse gets the dregs at night? You’re not alone. Sometimes we need permission to let go of the parenting “shoulds” for the sake of our marriage.
Welcome to a new month and a new theme! This month’s theme is PARENTING TOGETHER. Back when I surveyed my readers, many cited parenting as an area of struggle in their marriage. Its a tricky one. We can often come to a place in our marriage where we are tolerant of our spouse’s faults, but when their faults come in direct conflict with how we think our children should be parented . . . . look out! Papa/Mama bear can emerge with claws out! We’re gonna talk about how to keep that feeling in check this month to work together as a team to parent our children.
If you were answering a survey and had to answer the question, “Do you see your children as a higher priority than your marriage?” How would you answer that question?
Dig deep now.
Maybe its because I run a marriage blog, but my knee-jerk reaction is to say, “What? No! My marriage comes first!” But then on further reflection I actually spend MUCH more of my daily time, thoughts, energy and love on my children. I typically see their problems as more pressing, their need for me more urgent.
And that’s true, often their problems are more pressing and their dependence on me is much more urgent.
The problem comes in when we forget to realize that our time and energy are not infinite resources. Our time and energy are very finite. They have limits. When we use them all up during the day on our children, we find we have no time or energy left at the end of the day for much of anything else- including our spouses. No energy left for chatting, connecting and loving. And forget about intimacy- who has energy for that?!
Psychology professor Dr. Bill Doherty has said,
” If a married couple with children has 15 minutes of uninterrupted, non-logistical, non-problem-solving talk every day, I’d put them in the top 5% of all married couples. It’s an extraordinary achievement” – Bill Doherty
Five percent!?! Sad!
When we don’t prioritize each other, problems start to creep up in our marriages. And not only problems in our marriages, but for our kids too! Paradoxically, prioritizing your kids above your marriage does them harm.
David Code, author of the book “To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First” says,
Here’s the biggest myth of parenting: The more attention we give our kids, the better they’ll turn out. Where are the results? Studies show today’s parents spend more time with their kids, and yet today’s kids don’t seem happier, more independent or successful. They seem more troubled, entitled and needy.
To raise healthy kids, simply put your marriage first and your children second. For many of today’s couples, the children are priority No. 1 one and marriage is priority No. 10 — and few of us make it past the top three priorities on our daily to-do list.
Our marriages are important, but not urgent. So we neglect to feed and water our marriages, which die so slowly and quietly that we don’t even realize our mistake until it’s too late. But not only do we lose our marriages, we set a poor example for our children’s future marriages, and we also create highly anxious households where our kids soak up that anxiety and then act out.
We hear so often about the “shoulds” of parenting. We should have our kids do chores, we should put them in sports and music. We should spend quality one-on-one time with them every single day. We should prepare healthy meals for them. Etc, etc, etc.
So. Deep breath. Sometimes we just need permission to let some of the parenting shoulds go.
Here are some things I’m going to give you permission to do.
1. I give you permission to put your kids to bed early so you can give your spouse your best instead of your dregs.
In fact there are so many studies citing the value of early bedtimes for kids of all ages that this is truly favor to your kids as well. Children who have an early bedtime have been shown to have a lower risk of obesity (both now and later in life), more self-control, fewer mood swings and behavioral issues, and increased cognitive skills and attention span.
A win, win for the whole family. Try putting them to bed thirty minutes earlier than normal this week and spend that thirty minutes with your spouse. See what happens.
2. If your children are in so many activities that you are exhausted from hauling them around, I give you permission to cut out unnecessary activities.
A national study by HealthAmerica in 2006 found that a whopping 78% of kids ages 9 – 13 wished they had less obligations and more free time. Another survey by the University of Michigan found that children’s unstructured time has gone down by 12 hours per week in the past two decades.
If you find little time to do anything other than taking your kids to sports practice, making them do their chores, helping them with their homework, and nagging them to practice their instrument, do some soul searching as to whether or not the mental health of your whole family might be better if you cut some things out. You have my permission.
3. I give you permission to put on an extra show or video game time for your kids so you and your spouse can have some alone time.
I used to feel guilty about doing this since I feel like my kids probably (read: definitely) have too much screen time as it is. When this situation would come up, I would think, “Oh but wait! The kids already watched three shows today! Just . . . Can’t . . . Do . . . It.”
Let it go. Don’t feel guilty about taking this time! Don’t feel guilty for prioritizing your marriage! (And maybe it would be a good idea to cut out some of their screen time during the day to use for when your spouse is home because, ya know, you don’t want zombie kids. Just reminding myself here.)
Have sex, cook together, chat about your day without interruptions. Live it up! Sky’s the limit! (At least until Wild Kratts is over)
4. I give you permission to not be so focused on productivity.
I learned one of the best secrets of life from the book Essentialism. It says (over and over), “There are no solutions, only trade offs.” So, its true that letting go of some ‘productivity’ in your life will take some trade offs in how much you accomplish. But what are you trading off in order to get so much done in a day? Your sanity? Your sleep? Your marriage? Not worth it!
This post called “When To Give Yourself a Break and When To Give Your Spouse a Break” is actually one of my favorite blog posts I’ve ever written because it had such an impact on how I thought about how I use my time during the day. You can’t do it all! Save some of your best hours for your spouse.
5. If your child(ren) sleeping in your bed is affecting your sex life or marriage, I give you permission to keep them in their own bed at night.
Are your mama claws coming out with this one? Sorry about that. I think co-sleepers often feel attacked from the ‘just let them cry’ camp and I don’t mean to attack anyone. I’m just saying- there is help out there- there are actual things called sleeping coaches whose only job is to help you help your child sleep independently. Google it. If either you or your spouse would like to not have kids in your bed or if the situation is making it so you never have alone time together, look into solving it. There are lots of books, courses and resources out there. Your kids will be ok. Your marriage may not be.
It can be hard to give up these “trade offs,” but the truth is, the key to a thriving family, is a thriving marriage. And that may require some readjusting, but it’s worth it!