Dinner with five kids is usually quite the noisy affair at our house. On night a few years ago, I noticed that my husband was quiet, which even for my mellow guy isn’t normal. After dinner, I asked him what was up. I could tell he hesitated even beginning the conversation and he had this “I shouldn’t be feeling this way, but I am” look about him. He confessed that he was feeling bad because when he and I were talking, almost without fail, when a child interrupted or demanded attention, I would immediately stop our conversation, focus on the child, and not come back to what we were talking about. He followed this with assurances that he thought we should include kids in conversation, that family dinner was a time for everyone to share, and that sometimes kids needed immediate attention. But he said, “I just need to feel like you occasionally want to talk to me, too.” It was like a light bulb went off in my head. Now, I knew he had feelings—he’s even on the sappy side—but I honestly admit that I hadn’t thought I could hurt his feelings so easily. I realized I had been taking for granted his stable and strong nature and had let my mothering get in the way of showing even common courtesy towards this good man I loved so much.
There is a media flurry right now about parenting styles and the “right” way to raise children. One thing that doesn’t seem to be part of the conversation is the effect parenting choices have not only on children, but also on marriage. I’m not going to jump into the fray about long-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, or “helicopter parenting”, but I do believe very strongly that whatever style of parenting you choose, it must be one in which the marriage can flourish. It is so easy to invest all our emotional energy into raising our children well that we leave our marriage, the most stabilizing force in that child’s life, unprotected. Husbands are just simply easier to ignore than babies. They don’t cry when they need more attention. But in order to have a marriage that is vibrant, strong, and lasting, we need to be as committed to nurturing our spouse as we are to nurturing our children. We need to be able to go out alone together, talk by ourselves, and have fun. We need space to be a couple, instead of just co-parents. These investments in time together are not selfish pursuits that draw us away from our responsibilities as parents, they are the essence of what makes us effective parents and healthy human beings.
So plan a date, kiss in the kitchen, send a love note, start a project, or take time to laugh together. Safeguard your time together and protect the most important component in your family–your relationship as a couple.
Try it Today: Could your marriage use a little more time? Do you feel like you always choose your children’s needs over your spouse? Is there anything about the way you parent that is pulling you away from your commitment to your spouse? It’s time to have some fun nurturing your love…your kids will thank you for it.