Starting in the 1960s, psychological theory revolutionized America, moving us from parent-centered to child-centered families. Positives have certainly come from this shift. Many parents today are proud they don't follow the “because I said so” mentality. Children need to feel heard, that they are truly prized and valued, that we believe in the power and beauty of their essence. That being said, we live in a time when this question must be asked, “Do we make our kids too much the focus, too much the center of the family?
When a new couple reaches out for help, almost without exception, it quickly comes to light that the problems in the marriage, in large part, stem from this repeated proclamation, “Well, the kids have always come first.” Now here they sit on the counseling couch, and to some degree in a marriage run empty with one or both feeling neglected, unloved.
Often mired in conflict, sometimes broken from betrayal, most long for the love and friendship they once had. And if these kids they’ve so prioritized are older, they might even be weighing in from the sidelines, feeling entitled to influence what their parents will do in their personal lives. I truly think that "putting the kids first" has come to feel like the right and ethical thing to do, like you’re not a good parent unless your world rotates around theirs.
I have been burning to write about this topic because I see, day in and day out, how misguided so many good people are regarding family priorities. And this includes myself. In the earlier years of parenthood, I fell hard into the “kids come first” mindset. In 2005, I took a parenting class based on the wisdom of Kabbalah that changed my life. It made sense to me quickly that our whole family will benefit greatly when my husband and I prioritize in the following order:
- Our Self (that is, our own actualization/spirituality)
- Our marriage
- Our children (the result of our marriage)
Through some simple (not easy) course-correcting, thankfully when our kids were still young, we saw a positive difference when we put us, the parents, into center. By way of this trickle-down effect (self-->marriage-->children), I have seen in action that we guard our children from entitlement and better prepare them to enter society ready to strengthen it. On top of that, we provide them with a good example for how to build and grow a relationship with a loved one.
WE MUST FIGHT FOR OUR MARRIAGE
To receive the unlimited joy and fulfillment committed partnerships can bring us, we need to tend to the friendship, constantly putting effort into the relationship ... truly fighting for it. Michael and Monica Berg are not only inspiring teachers but role models for these universal truths. As they teach in their *relationship seminars:
“No matter how in love you might be at a point in time, there is no relationship that will continue with love without work and fighting for it. Without constant effort you go backwards, and the relationship has no ability to develop. Even the greatest love will not continue to grow if left alone.”
We often live by way of the ego’s deception, that a marriage should run itself, give to us like we are the customer. We must ask ourselves, especially if we are feeling unfulfilled, “Am I treating my partner as the most important person in my life?" We tend to make our beloved a priority in the beginning, but once the enchantment phase passes and we are blessed with children, it’s so easy to put the kids first. Especially women! We are the nurturers and this instinctively moves to the children. As my mother was told when her first baby was born, "Remember, your husband came first." Placing our spouse as our #1 priority, and making sure they know this, becomes an essential choice if we want to maintain and grow the strength of our love. And the children will benefit in quantum measure.
RELATIONSHIP PRIORITY ASSESSMENT T/F
Feel free to answer the 18 questions below with “true” or “false” to get a feel to what extent you are putting your Love first ... in your thoughts, words and actions. Compare your score with the assessment scale below. Let me know how it turns out for you, and which questions surprised you or made you think about changes you want to make in your love and family life. Note: I use spouse, partner, significant other interchangeably. Please use what fits with you.
- I know very well what makes my partner feel #1 in my life; I make sure to check in to be sure s/he is happy.
- Though it’s okay to disagree about parenting, I don’t openly disagree with my spouse in front of the kids.
- In my personal life, I spend more time interacting with my spouse than anyone else.
- If I’m with my significant other and someone else calls, I usually don’t take the call.
- When something significant happens in my life, my spouse is almost always the first person I want to share it with.
- When I go out with my partner without the kids, I don’t have guilt in my voice when I tell them.
- My partner and I go out without the kids at least once a week.
- My spouse and I have personal and authentic conversations at least once a week, often 20-30 mns or longer
- I spend more time with my spouse than I do surfing my phone, playing video games or watching Netflix.
- My children feel loved and a priority, but they also know they do not come before my spouse.
- I don’t let my child play one parent against the other, we stay a united team in our parenting.
- I rarely change plans I've made with my spouse because the kids want something that interferes.
- My spouse and I take a vacation alone once a year.
- Our kids know they cannot interrupt us, they will need to wait, when my spouse and I are having a conversation.
- Throughout my week, I go out of my way to do things unnecessary that I know make my spouse feel loved.
- My spouse and I have a private date night at least 2-3 times a month.
- My spouse and I seek out and nourish our common interests and personal dreams that might but don’t necessarily center around the kids.
- We read books, go to seminars, see a marriage counselor and/or spiritual mentor. We put time into growing personally and in our marriage.
1-9 LOW INVESTMENT: Your protection of the marriage is weak
10-14 AVERAGE INVESTMENT: You'll want to put in more effort, especially if you're in repair mode.
15-18 STRONG INVESTMENT: You're clearly fighting for your relationship. Consider sharing what you've learned with others.