It’s easy to get caught up in the daily responsibilities of life with kids – doctor’s appointments, extracurricular activities, homework, carpools. And of course there’s the daily responsibilities of life in general – laundry, dinner, cleaning. Where does your marriage fall on the daily to-do list? If it’s not toward the top, experts recommend you take some time to prioritize your marriage. Keep reading to find out why.
Maintaining a strong connection in your marriage is important because it benefits both you and your spouse and your children. Erin A. Kurt, B.Ed., Parenting Coach, author and speaker, sums it up perfectly: “Your relationship is the relationship that teaches your children how to relate to people. Your relationship will be what your child uses when interacting with friends, colleagues and their own future relationships. So, keeping your marriage intact and alive is not only essential for your happiness, it’s essential for your child’s success and happiness.”
Easy to say, hard to do, right? Sure, but it’s not impossible to prioritize both your marriage and your kids. Relationship expert and licensed therapist Julie Hanks, LCSW, Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, offers advice on how to give both your relationship and your children the attention they deserve.
First a mom, then the rest…
As Hanks explains, “The role of ‘mother’ is so loaded with expectations that it’s easy to get lost in the relentless day-to-day demands of motherhood and lose the [other] parts of yourself.” Isn’t that the truth? How many of us talk about our past life, where we used to go to the gym regularly, spend more time on our appearance and enjoy evenings out with our significant other?
When our children are babies, it’s expected that we meet their every last need. However, as they get older, Hanks says that moms should be there “more often than not.” What does that mean? Basically, your kids don’t require your attention every waking minute.
“Your children need to know that when they really need you you’ll be there. They don’t need you hovering over them 24 hours a day,” explains Hanks. That means that not only is it okay for you to divert some of your mommy energy elsewhere, it’s a good idea to do so. Take that small amount of time and energy and direct it to yourself and your spouse. Even if it’s not much, it is something.
Consider it a parenting skill
Treat the energy you put into your marriage as a parenting skill. “I often share with moms struggling to balance marriage and child-rearing that working on your adult relationships is a parenting skill, and one of the most crucial,” says Hanks. If you feel badly about diverting energy or attention from your children into your marriage, consider that you’re doing it for your children.
That doesn’t sound far-fetched at all if you think about it. “A warm, loving marriage relationship helps children feel emotionally safe and provides a template of what a marriage is,” says Hanks. “It gives the child the hope that a wonderful adult life awaits them and that they will be able to give and receive love.”
Hanks refers to a study of 2,000 parents about what makes a good parent, conducted by psychologist and researcher by Robert Epstein, Ph.D. He concluded that while showing love and affection to your child is the most important parenting skill, how you treat yourself and how you interact with your spouse (or co-parent) rank second and third in the list of parenting outcomes. So, if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your kids!
Remember that what your kids see in your relationship can impact their future relationships. Nobody is suggesting perfection! However, putting enough effort into your relationship so that you are emotionally connected sets a positive example for your children.
“Children growing up in homes where they experience their parents’ healthy marriage relationship develop a positive ‘default mode’ for relationships, making it easier for the child to duplicate when they grow up,” explains Hanks. “A connected marriage is one of the best gifts parents can give their child because it provides the safety and security for the child to continue their own healthy development.”
Life is so very busy and at different points, different things fall by the wayside. Nobody is perfect and to expect your marriage to be perfect all the time is unfair to yourself and your spouse. However, if you notice that you’re drifting emotionally, take some time and put the effort into reconnecting. Your kids matter and may be your number one priority, but your marriage matters, too!