If you have kids I am sure you have said it. If you don’t have kids, I am sure that you have heard it said. I have 3 kids and I used to say it and it took me a long time to break the habit and not believe it. What is “it” you ask? A couple gets married, has kids and they say, “The kids are our number one priority.”
That statement is wrong. It is incorrect. If you have said it, don’t say it again. Your kids are not your number one priority.
The relationship you have with your significant other is your number one priority.
I give thanks for the parents I have for many reasons, but the number one thing I am grateful for is they showed me what a healthy relationship and marriage looks like.
My mom is a Psychologist. She went back to school to get her master’s in Psychology when I was in middle school and graduated with her doctorate at the same time that I graduated from college. Needless to same I am proud of her, but that is another post for another day.
During her years of practice, she developed a workshop that she would present at churches titled, “Childproof Your Marriage.” It was not about safe-sex. It was about how to continue to have a healthy marriage after you have kids.
She observed, and so have I (and even experience) how the dynamics of a marriage (or any relationship) change once kids are introduced. There are a whole new set up expectations, emotions, physical changes, you name it that are now present, on a daily basis, that were not there before.
Sleep is less. Bodies and hormones are different. Schedules are crazy. Money is tight. I am sure, if you have kids you could add to the list. It is not meant to be exhaustive, just a sampling.
Plus, your own emotions change. You feel that you could not love anything or anyone more than the little baby that now sleeps on your chest. The love you now possess actually causes a physical ache in your bones because it is so intense.
You both want to be the best parents you can be. You have hopes and dreams and imagine birthday parties, and graduations, and marriages and grandkids and successes for this little one (or ones). You want to do everything in your power to set your child up for success.
Due to all those things, the dynamics of the relationship changes between the two adults. There is less time for each other and time alone.
A night that used to be going to a favorite restaurant now is spent on bath time, story time and falling asleep in a rocking chair. A weekend that used to be a quick overnight to see friends in a different city or an anniversary that would have been night in a hotel, now becomes a trip to Costco for diapers and formula, and a trip to see grandma and grandpa.
Dates are less frequent. Time in the evening talking about your day and how great or bad it was, is less frequent. Because money is tight and diapers need to be bought or insurance premiums are so high and doctor’s bills need to be paid, you don’t have money to eat out. Staying a night in a hotel for a stay-cation doesn’t happen, or if it does, a night in a hotel is a different kind of fun with kids (for reasons that do not need to be mentioned 😊)
We are okay with all of the above happening because we say and believe the following.
“Our kids are the most important thing.”
“Our kids are our number priority.”
“It doesn’t matter because the kids are happy.”
I do not believe those statements should be said because they should not be true.
To “childproof your marriage” is not about how not to have kids when you are married, it is about how to have a marriage when you have kids.
Yes, your kids are important. Yes, your kids are a top priority. Yes, we should want our kids to be happy.
Your kids are not the most important thing.
Your kids are not your top priority.
It does matter.
Here is what I believe and what I learned from my mom (and dad) and what, I believe, her workshop “Childproof Your Marriage” was about.
Your marriage/relationship is the most important thing.
Your relationship/marriage is your number one priority.
It does matter if YOU are not happy.
When I went to seminary, Vicky and I had two kids, ages 3 and one. We were there for 2 weeks and found out she was pregnant with our third.
In the span of 9 months we did the three biggest stressors in life. We moved. I changed jobs (quit my job and went to school). Had a baby. While it was all good, it was not easy.
I will never forget my parents coming to visit, giving Vicky and I $20 and saying, “Go out on a date. Keep your marriage going. The most important gift you can give your kids is to show them what a healthy marriage looks like.”
It is this advice that I am most grateful for.
Vicky and I have been married for over 18 years and we still date. In fact, it is in our schedule. Every Friday. She gets done with work at noon. I have the day off. I write in the morning and then we meet for a beer at one of our favorite bar/restaurants. They have a “Mug Club” so each month we get a free beer and during the month of our birthday we get a free pizza. (Plus, when we order a beer, we get a bigger beer than the regular size because of being in the “mug club.”) If our schedules don’t allow us to go out on Friday afternoon, we find another time during the week. This past week, we found out our favorite beer (Zombie Dust from 3 Floyds) was on tap at a local bar so after my meeting ended at 8pm, we went out on a date. We told the kids we would be back in an hour and please don’t burn the house down while we were gone.
Another favorite thing we do is to set up all 3 kids for sleepovers on the same night and then either have a night in the house alone, or go and spend a night in a hotel. We find one near a downtown area and have dinner out and then bar hop. We are not out late, because we are exhausted by 10, but we have a great time.
Now I know money is tight for many people. So, when our kids were little, we arranged “Kid Swap Nights” once a month with friends. We would take their kids one evening a month and then they took our kids one evening that month so neither would have to pay for a babysitter. (This saves money and we were not worried about getting a phone call from an inexperienced babysitter who couldn’t calm down a crabby 3 year old who didn’t want to go to sleep.)
This is not only for the benefit of Vicky and I, as we like spending time together, but our kids know that we like spending time together. They do not see life or marriage as something to get through, they see it as something to be lived, and experienced. I hope they see the good that comes with being an adult and not just the stressors that come with it. (Is it any wonder why young people today are having a hard time transitioning into adulthood? Not only have we done everything for them, we do not do a very good job at showing them the good things about life. They are stressed, because we are stressed.)
One more thing. Not only do the kids know that Vicky and I like to spend time together and we get along and we love each other, but they do see us argue. Our marriage is not all rainbows and unicorns. Marriage is work. It is hard. Our kids see that. They see us disagree with each other and they see how we resolve those issues. There are times in which our conversation is not for them and we will wait to talk until they go to bed, or we hash it out on one of our dates, but we are not afraid for them to see us argue. That is life. They don’t need to be shielded from it, they need to see how to do it in healthy ways.
So, if you have kids. Love the hell out of them.
Make sure they know they are important.
Make sure they know they are a priority in your life.
Be the best parent you can be
and don’t forget to childproof your marriage.
Don’t be a jerk (especially to your significant other. Your kids are watching.)