Is Parenting Taking Over Your Marriage?
- Sarah Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2022 26 Apr
You might be a parent if you've ever looked at your spouse and wondered when was the last time you had an adult conversation with just two of you without the kids horning in. Becoming a mom or dad is wonderful and scary all wrapped into one bundle of joy. It can also spell the beginning of the end for some marriages.
According to 2011 data from the Relationship Research Institute of Seattle, around two-thirds of couples have a decline in the quality of their relationship within three years of a child's arrival into the family. "Conflict increases and, with little time for adult conversation and sex, emotional distance can develop," according to the Wall Street Journal article "So Cute, So Hard on a Marriage," which discussed the data.
Strong Marriage, Strong Kids
Before we delve deeper into whether parenting is taking over your marriage, let's briefly talk about why having a strong marriage matters to kids. "Children raised by married parents do better at school, develop stronger cognitive and non-cognitive skills, are more likely to go to college, earn more, and are more likely to go on to form stable marriages themselves," according to a 2014 Brookings article.
So you're doing something right just by being married with kids! But all too often, as soon as husbands and wives become fathers and mothers, the marriage gets shoved to the sidelines. This is why divorce rates for couples older than 50 have doubled and tripled for those older than 65 since 1990—the so-called "gray divorce," according to the Collins Family Law Group. These are the couples whose children have left home (empty nesters) and who find they have nothing left in common with their spouses.
If you're wondering if your parenting might be consuming your marriage, here are four signs being mom or dad might have become more important than being husband and wife—and how to change things to a more marriage-centric structure.
1. Weeknights and weekends are stuffed to the brim with children's activities.
Let me start by saying there's nothing wrong with your kids playing sports, a musical instrument, or being involved in a scout group. However, if your family schedule makes military operational plans look easy in comparison, you might be overscheduled—and entirely focused on the kids for too much of your free time.
Solution: Scale back the number of activities each child is involved with to build in more family leisure time and use that time to reconnect with your spouse and for family activities. Yes, your kids might whine about not getting to play a sport and participate in the school play, but they'll eventually thank you for having margin in their lives.
There's a great story in Bringing Up Bebe (about an American raising a child in France), which I think illustrates this nicely. The American mom asks her French counterpart why the French girls aren't taking tennis lessons anymore. The French mother calmly replies it's because the timing of the lessons didn't suit her schedule anymore. What American mother would say to her child—"you can't do X because it doesn't work with my life"? This American mother certainly would (and has done) in order to both preserve my own sanity and save time to interact with my spouse as a wife rather than a mother.
2. Every conversation centers around the kids.
This is so easy to do, especially when the children are young, but it's not healthy for them and their parents. If you have a date night, do you spend the time comparing notes on Junior's soccer performance or Jane's academic success? Can you barely get a word in edgewise at family meals because the children dominate the conversation? Do you only talk about what your kids have been up to during fellowship time at church?
Solution: Start by having at least one conversation with your spouse each day that has nothing to do with the children. Make a pact to take a walk with your spouse and discuss movies, books, trips, or anything other than your kids. Everyone gets a chance to have the floor to talk about their day at our dinner table, but sometimes, my husband and I will talk about something that has nothing to do with the kids right in front of them. Put that into practice too. Children need to know they are not the center of your universe, and being quiet while the parent's talk is a great start.
3. Children are consulted about every family decision.
Do you constantly ask your children to give opinions on where to go on vacation, dining out, whether to attend church, or numerous other decisions impacting the entire family? Marriage is not a democracy, and children, no matter their ages, don't get to vote on decisions affecting the whole family. That's not to say we don't ask for their input from time to time, but on the whole, decisions about the family should be made by the husband and wife, with little to no input from the kids.
Solution: Stop asking your kids for their opinions on nearly every decision, but start letting them make decisions—and take full responsibility for those decisions—for things that impact them alone. For example, don't query the children on where to go on vacation but do let them figure out what classes to take in middle and high school (and college too). This is actually a gift we give our kids by removing the pressure of being adults making adult decisions (as if they were equal with the parents) from their small shoulders.
4. There's rarely regular husband and wife time without kids.
What happens when baby comes along? Sleepless nights morph into tired days, and the demands of keeping baby happy and fed add to the exhaustion. But unfortunately, many of us don't regain our adult time even after the baby starts sleeping through the night. For those of us with more than one child, having consistent time together as husband and wife can be difficult to manage.
Solution: While having regularly scheduled date nights can be refreshing for a couple, it's not feasible for many parents for various reasons. Here are some other options for recapturing that time together without kids. When your children are small, take advantage of their early bedtime to snatch a few minutes with your spouse. For older kids, set a timer for the half-hour before or after dinner for them to play quietly in their rooms or outside while you finish dinner with your spouse or enjoy an after-supper cup of decaf coffee on the couch to catch up on life. Exercise with your spouse by taking bike rides, runs, walks, rock climbing, or whatever activity you both enjoy.
Seasons of Parenting
One thing I've found helps keep the marriage at the center of your family is to think of parenting as having four seasons (with a nod to John Rosemond, who pioneered this concept). Season 1 (birth to age 2) is the Season of Service, in which the parents, primarily the mother, circle around the child, doing everything for the child. This is the only time when the child should be the center of the family.
In between Season 1 and Season 2 (ages 2 to 3), the parents should gradually remove the child from the center of the family and put the marriage in the center of the family. This is accomplished by allowing the child to do more for himself while encouraging the child to entertain herself.
Season 2 (ages 3 to 13) is the Season of Discipline. This is where you make disciples of your children by imparting to them your family values, rules, and what makes your family unique. During this period, you are training your kids on how to behave as well as how to do chores, among other things. You are also reminding them they are not the center of the home—the husband and wife are the center of the home.
Season 3 (13 to emancipation) is the Season of Mentoring. This is when the parents start stepping back and letting the teenager make more decisions about the teen's life, including classes and sports. Mom and dad become more like trusted advisors who allow the teenager to make mistakes and find success. This is also when the parents begin discussing what their lives will look like after the children fly the nest.
Season 4 (adulthood) is the Season of Friendship. This is where all your hard work as a parent comes to fruition, and you can become friends with your now-adult children. While you'll always be their mom or dad, this is the time where you slip more firmly into husband and wife mode with your spouse.
It's easy to get off course when raising kids, but no matter where you are along your parenting journey, you can do a course correction and reconnect with your spouse.
What Does Your Marriage Teach Your Kids?
Are You One with Your Spouse or Your Kids?
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/YakobchukOlena
Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She's a biblical parent coach and certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ with a heart for helping parents develop stronger relationships with their children. For more on her encouraging and commonsense approach to raising kids, visit her online at sarahhamaker.com.