7 Ways to Put Your Marriage First
The child-centered life is hard on a couple and not so great for the kids. Learn how focusing on your relationship can not only yield a healthier marriage but also happier children.
By Ellen Seidman
It's 8 a.m., and I'm caught up in the get-the-kids-to-school shuffle: shoes, breakfast, knapsacks, and no, you can't bring the vacuum cleaner for show-and-tell. Suddenly, I catch my husband giving me a funny look. "What?" I say, wondering if I have toothpaste on my cheek. "Do you know what today is?" Dave says with a wistful smile.
Um. Wait. Oops. Today is our ninth wedding anniversary. I knew it was coming up, but kid stuff had taken over my brain — signing up for swimming lessons, planning my daughter's 5th birthday party (must get blue-frosted cupcakes!), finding a speech therapist for my 7-year-old son. I'd been so consumed with them, I'd forgotten about us.
Like other couples we know, we've fallen into a pattern: Our kids have become our life. Dave and I go out to dinner and spend a good chunk of it talking about them. We center our weekends around their activities. And — dare I admit it? — they often sleep in our bed.
My husband and I are still very much in love. He's the greatest guy I know. Yet I miss him. I really miss him. So I set out to find ways of reconnecting — short of asking Octomom to adopt the kids.
I wasn't surprised to learn that this kid-focused life isn't healthy for our marriage — and it turns out that it's not so good for the kids, either. "These days, many parents seem to be married to their children instead of their spouses," says David Code, an Episcopal minister, family coach, and author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. "This creates stressed-out parents who feel disconnected from each other and demanding, entitled kids who act out. Some might become overly dependent on parents as a result of all the attention."
Researchers who study family behavior agree that a strong bond between parents is the heart of a happy family. As sex therapist Laura Berman, Ph.D., puts it in her couples' guide, The Book of Love, "No matter how sacrilegious it sounds...you need to put your relationship before your children. A strong relationship provides security for your children and demonstrates how a loving, respectful partnership should be. What could be more important?"
Nothing, of course. But it's easy to forget when you live in Kiddie Nation, where gigantic stores dedicated to children's paraphernalia push countless can't-live-without-'em educational toys, and Web sites tout classes that create junior Einsteins. Nobody sets out to have a child-centered marriage; it happens when commercial and cultural pressures collide with your own best intentions — and your nagging doubts about whether you're doing enough for your offspring. Parents get caught up in making sure that their children have only the best, and that they rack up achievements. "It's almost as if you're failing your kids if you don't lavish endless attention on them," says Betsy Brown Braun, author of You're Not the Boss of Me. "Competitive parenting is a new national pastime. Unfortunately, kids can stress out from the pressure of living their parents' dreams, and parents may stress about keeping up."