Do you ever feel like there are times when your kids cause division between you and your spouse within your marriage? You love your children and you love each other. But sometimes it’s difficult to feel united as you used to feel before you married.
It used to be the both of you against the world. Now it seems like the world, including your kids, are dividing you against each other. Everything and everyone is vying for your time. How do you stand united under these types of circumstances?
Kids Cause Division Sometimes
Stand United is the chapter title within our new book, 7 Essentials to Grow Your Marriage. The entire chapter is titled, “STAND UNITED: Don’t Let Family, Friends, or Things Separate You in Your Marriage.” We can’t share with you all of the specifics of that chapter in this Marriage Insight. But we can share with you a bit on the issue of when kids cause separation. They may or may not mean to, but it happens. This is common advice that we often hear, “Your kids should come first because they need you more.”
Yes, they do need you. They need you a lot. But putting them first can bring it’s own set of problems. We agree with something that Debbie McDaniel wrote on continually putting your kids needs first:
“This is a subtle lie of our culture that seeks to somehow make us feel like better, more attentive parents, when we cater to every need of our children. But the truth is, what our kids need more is to know that their mom and dad love each other. Our spouse should always have priority in our family. Through a committed, loving relationship, we’re better equipped to parent our children—together. This is often hard to live out. Through various stages, kids’ needs can seem constant, demanding, pressing. But God will give us wisdom to see what matters most in every busy season, to establish healthy boundaries, and to know when to say, ‘yes,’ and when to say, ‘no.’” (From the Crosswalk.com article, “10 Lies the World Tells Us about Marriage”)
Here’s a great prayer given to us in scripture:
“Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
Here are some wise words that Dave Willis speaks about on the issue of standing united that we also agree with:
“I’ve seen too many marriages fall apart because two well-meaning people put so much focus on their kids that they forgot to keep investing in the marriage. Some couples reduce their relationship to a partnership in co-parenting, and when the kids finally grow up, they discover that they have created an empty nest and an empty marriage. Give your children the gift that comes from seeing their parents in a loving, thriving marriage. Model the kind of marriage that will make your kids excited to be married someday.” (From the Homeword.com article, “12 Habits that Lead to Divorce”)
On the issue of wisely approaching marital life, especially with children, the following is a portion of what we wrote. (Cindy in particular wrote this in the Stand United chapter of the book):
Kids Cause Division Sometimes in Marriage
I want to make one last point on the people who can cause separation between a husband and wife. Our own children can cause division and separateness. As cute and as needy as they are, it’s important that we don’t go overboard in caring for them to the degree that we neglect our marital relationship.
“One of the big struggles with marriage today is the tendency to put our kids’ needs before those of our spouse. What we don’t realize is that child-centered marriages are often weak marriages. And in the long run they hurt the kids more than help them. If your spouse is not getting his or her emotional needs met by you, often he or she will pour all their energy into the children. The end result is an unhealthy marriage relationship. Obviously, I’m not talking about neglecting your children. I just want to emphasize the importance of seeking to keep your marriage vows a major priority.” (Jim Burns, from his book Creating an Intimate Marriage)
That’s so true. We should never allow our children’s wants to take precedence over our spouse’s needs. This is something that moms especially struggle with, although there are some dads who wrestle with this issue as well. Sometimes, it’s because they perceive that their wife spends too much time with the kids. In other cases, it’s the dad who invests an overload of time.
One of the hottest articles on the Marriage Missions website deals with How Husband Feels When the Wife Puts the Children Ahead of Him. There are husbands who are complaining. Plus there are wives who are complaining. And then there are comments from both sexes that are defending their stands on this area of parenting and marriage. It’s very problematic.
Kids Cause Division of Time
Being a mom, I can easily see how we could spend every waking hour tending to our children’s needs. And mostly, they seem like needs, rather than demands. But thankfully, God showed us a long time ago to be careful of not overdoing this to the point that we are neglecting our marriage.
Actually, it’s a good thing we nurtured our friendship with each other as a married couple, because at this point in our lives, both of our sons are living long distances from us. One is living on the other side of the country, and the other is living on the other side of the world. We would be in horrible shape if we had been a child-centered marriage, at the neglect of our own relationship.
Parent Coaching Consultant Teresa Parr wrote the following as a warning to couples:
“Babies are loud about what they need. Marriages are not. It’s easy to neglect each other because other things are more urgent, but you have to save some time and energy for your spouse.”
Attending to Needs of Kids Cause Division
And that’s what we see and have discovered for ourselves. That, which is loud does not necessarily need our primary attention. Sometimes yes . . . it is necessary to give it. But other times it’s better to let the child have some of his or her needs and wants NOT tended to (at least not right away). God doesn’t instantly tend to our every need and want. And He certainly makes us wait lots of times when He does give us what we need (or want). Ultimately, it develops our character when we are forced to be patient. The same is true of our children.
“If you are always pushing your spouse aside for time with the children, you may want to consider just what you’re teaching your children. By the way you treat your spouse, are you modeling for your children how you hope they will treat their future spouses? Probably not. Spending time with your spouse not only draws the two of you closer together, but it also teaches your children that the marital relationship has to be our number one human relationship. (Dr. Debbie L. Cherry, from the book Child Proofing Your Marriage)
There are a lot of grown children and spouses in our world who sure would have benefitted from having to wait for some things. When a child is sent the message that they are the center of the universe, it can cause all kinds of problems. Feeling entitled is one of them. Divorce is another problem, as the neglected spouse says, “Enough is enough. I need attention too.”
Kids Cause Division When Marriages are Forced to Wait Too Long
Claudia Arp made this true statement:
“Your kids will wait while you grab a few moments to build your marriage; but your marriage won’t wait until your kids grow up.”
To that, we say, “Amen!” Yes, tending to the needs of your children is important. But don’t continually put your marriage relationship on the back burner to do that. Yes, there are extenuating circumstances when you are in a busy season of life. However, when one busy season extends into the next, you need to do some re-evaluating. Or if you have special needs children, their needs are important to meet. But ask God to show you how to carve out pockets of time to be with each other. Be with each other in heart, mind, and time, whenever you can.
If your spouse won’t help you with the children, then you have a marriage and a parenting problem. Both of these issues need to be addressed. Ask God for wisdom on this one. You may need a marriage-friendly counselor to help you on this, as well. But whatever you do, follow the words we find in the Bible, “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” That includes circumstances when continually, your kids cause division.
May God bless you in this mission.