What's more important: Your children or your marriage?
Motherhood. With all of its joys and successes come endless responsibilities, chaotic schedules and a generally hectic atmosphere. Given the copious amounts of energy this job demands, there is a tendency to elevate children to 'highest priority' status in a family. But, where does that leave your marriage?
As mothers, we are often stuck between managing our children's lives and fulfilling our obligations as a wife. Sometimes, balance seems unattainable, as our little ones demand more and more of our attention. Is balance even a legitimate goal? If so, how do we make it happen, and why is it important that we try?
Lisa Thomas is a Denver-based licensed marriage and family therapist, certified clinical sex therapist and licensed clinical social worker. She counsels struggling couples on a regular basis and is no stranger to the precarious state of the mother/wife balancing act. "The typical woman I see in my practice is not malicious in her intent, but her actions are misguided," she says. "She thinks she is giving her children what they need as she runs them around from activity to activity, abandons her own interests and neglects her husband in order to focus on them. What she doesn't understand is that, above all, those children need to feel like they're part of a loving family."
The simple solution
Most married couples have every intention of keeping the flame alive before and after children. Then, reality sets in. "Once you have kids, it's easy to get into your own routine," says Thomas. "Then, one day you look at your spouse and wonder who he is."
How do you avoid this fate? First and foremost, understand how important it is for adults to model a healthy relationship for their children. We need to teach them how to love and how to sustain relationships, even amidst challenges. According to Thomas, it can be as simple as "prioritizing our marriage, spending time together as a family and as a couple, generally being nice to each other and having a physical relationship."
Sound like a tall order? You can get it done by following a few simple steps. Thomas stresses the importance of connecting with your spouse regularly on both an emotional and physical level. She suggests planning a one hour-long intimate emotional date (such as a romantic dinner or casual game night) and one hour-long intimate physical date (such as a massage or candlelit shower) each week. "Symmetry is key when planning these dates," she advises. "It's not always the woman's job to plan the emotional dates and the man's job to plan the physical dates. Switch it up each time."
In addition, couples should have two meetings a week: a 30-minute organizational meeting to help keep everyone on the same page and a 30-minute emotional check-in meeting to catch up on how each spouse is feeling about what's happening in their lives. Privacy is also an important (and neglected) factor in a marriage. That means kids need to respect closed doors, honor their parents' time together and sleep in their own beds at night.
Above all else, kids want closeness with their family. They want to belong to a unit. Whether or not they are enrolled in every activity under the sun is truly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. All too often, simply spending time together as a family at home leads to uncomfortable anxiety rather than harmonious unity. Creating an environment in which your spouse and your kids enjoy staying home (not all the time, but at least frequently), will strengthen the family unit and your marriage in the long run.
"Couples who have an emotional and physical closeness are able to weather life's storms more easily," Thomas says.
Bottom line: when a marriage is strengthened, the kids benefit. Childhood can be an educational experience during which they learn the value of strong relationships, strategies for creating loving environments and the security of a family unit. In turn, they will be equipped to model these behaviors to their children in adulthood. Think of it as investing in the emotional health of your grandchildren.