I recently asked my friend Nancy, "Which is a bigger priority, your marriage or your kids?"
"I know I should say my marriage," she replied sheepishly, "But...
Granted, Nancy is the mother of active, 15-month-old twins. But she is not the only parent I spoke with who admitted to putting children consistently ahead of marriage.
Making kids a high priority is natural, considering how much they need us. And the added responsibilities of a career, paying the bills, and housework leave room for little else. It is a miracle we remember our spouses' names, no less maintain red-hot sex lives and keep the lines of communication crackling 24/7.
Yet some parents, like Janine and Gary from East Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, have managed to stay focused on their marriage since the birth of their daughter, Clara.
"We believe firmly that raising and nurturing Clara to be a happy and secure child lies in the strong foundation of our own relationship," says Janine. "The stronger our marriage, the easier and more joyful it is to be a family."
"It takes great courage to put your marriage first," says Elisa Morgan, president of Mothers of Preschoolers Inc. in Denver, Colorado, and coauthor of How Children Change a Marriage. "Because it runs contrary to everything we are taught about being a good parent."
Americans tend to equate good parenting with self-abnegation. Parents go without rest, exercise, proper nutrition, and time with each other to "be there" for the kids.
The fact is, ignoring our needs and those of our marriage is ultimately destructive to our children. Overly self-sacrificing parents are unwittingly teaching that the parents' own needs and limitations are unimportant and that the child is the center of the universe, sometimes even creating selfish and demanding children. Often, these marriages model blame and bickering rather than partnership and fun.
Most of us already know that marriage takes work, but rearranging our priorities may make us feel guilty or confused about how to achieve a healthy balance.
But as couples like Janine and Gary already know, nurturing a marriage does not mean banishing the kids to the snowy plains of Siberia. The key is to view your marriage from a slightly different perspective.