Marriage Vs. Kids: Parents Reveal Which Comes First in Their Families

When my husband and I got married, a wise older friend wrote me a lovely letter about the joys and struggles of married life. In the letter, she offered several pieces of advice, including this, “Take care of your husband first and your kids second. The best thing you can do for your kids is to make sure they grow up in a home with a happy marriage.” At the time, this advice seems so perfectly reasonable and so easy. This man was the love of my life! How could anything take priority over our relationship? And then came baby #1.

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When you haven’t had a child before, it is impossible to anticipate how all-consuming the experience will be. This tiny perfect person arrives and, for me, I fell madly in love. His needs were so immediate and, as a nursing mother, he depended entirely on me for survival. My husband was, well, demoted to the #2 position in terms of my time, my emotional energy, and access to my boobs.

Even now, with two kids and my nursing days behind me, I still struggle to find that balance between prioritizing my kids versus my husband. Unsurprisingly, I’m not alone in that struggle, as these other parents candidly shared:

1. “Kids come first. Kids should come first. However, that doesn't mean that my husband shouldn't get any attention, and I shouldn't have any ‘me time’. Kids come first, but not to the exclusion of us. And that's where we struggle with making it happen the way it should. It's too easy to get into the vortex of ‘kids only, then sleep.’ I do feel like my emotional bank is empty! I couldn't love my husband more. I couldn't ask for a more supportive spouse or a better dad for the boys. And we spend time together at home. But we should get out, and get that thing we used to have back.” -- Willow T., mother of two

2. “I am trying to be more balanced about it, but lately husband has been last. Until recently I was always, always, always last. Our kids are getting older and more self-sufficient, so perhaps it is easier to do more things for myself. It helps me to be a better, happier, healthier woman, wife, and mother.” -- Paula N., mother of four.

3. “Well, we haven’t had sex in four months and last night I slept on the couch because there were two kids in bed with my wife when I got there, so, you tell me where I rank.” -- Dan P., father of three

4. “Well I would say my hubby first, because honestly, after nearly two decades together, I know that without each other investing time in one another, the entire family suffers. The kids ultimately are very important but it is a trickle down effect in my opinion. Even when we had younger kiddos (now 8, 10, 18), we scheduled a date night every week outside of the house. Even if it was just for a half hour walk alone, or coffee. Sometimes I was so exhausted from the kids to even want to go on date night but reflecting back, those quiet times together forced us to not talk about kid stuff and enjoy each other. Now I look forward to our time together every week!” -- Mary L., mother of three

5. “My kids are first. Hubby is a big boy; he understands that this is just where we're at in life. We love and support and help each other. As the kids get older, things will start to shift, but right now they're little and extremely dependent. I DO think it's very important for us to be sure to connect (physically, emotionally, etc.), though, not just live like roommates.” -- Abigail J., mother of three.

6. “I admit in my house it is me, kids, then partner. I actually feel bad for my husband after just thinking about it. I'd like to add that when my children were newborns to 6 years old, it was kids, husband, and then me. When youngest got into first grade, I started putting me first for the first time in 15 years.” -- Patty A., mother of three

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7. “Kids come first. Which is not to say it doesn't take its toll, and that the marriage doesn't have ups and downs. But there is definitely not enough of me (or him) to go around, and we both kind of understand that we can keep ourselves (individually) afloat while we keep the ship afloat. The ship being the home full of tiny, sticky, emotionally volatile pirates. But we might not be able to tend to the co-captain much.” -- Nancy C., mom of two.

8. “I’m pretty sure I am second on the list for my wife, if not third behind the dog some days. I’m trying to step it up in terms of taking care of the house stuff so she isn’t so tired all the time, but I still think she’d rather snuggle with the kids than me. It is kind of a bummer, but I hope it won’t last forever.” -- Kent B., father of two.

9. “I think YOU should come first, then equal between partner and kids.” -- Brandy L., mother of two.

10. “I often feel like [we're] roommates, but trust the shift as the kids get more independent. We support each other, but ‘life’ doesn't allow much time for us.” -- Mary K., mother of two.

11. “My priorities are me, then our marriage, then kids. Sometimes I feel bad when our toddler is clamoring for attention, but it is so, so important to me that our kids do not encompass our lives entirely so that when they're gone we'll know that we have our own lives to celebrate and live and that we've raised self-sufficient and independent kids!” -- Hailey K., mother of two.

12. “Kids come first, every time. I am a hell of a good mother, but mediocre, at best, as a wife.” -- Karen J., mother of two.

13. “So, huge eye opener for us in marriage counseling was this sort of conversation, and turns out marriage has to come first. Your goal in raising kids is to eventually get them the hell out of your house! And that they'll be happy, healthy successful individuals, of course, but your partner is there for the long haul and will be there long after the kiddos. If you don't nurture that relationship or nurture common interests beyond your kids, what will you have left in 20 years? My husband and I were fighting against each other and butting heads so much that I thought it was the beginning of the end. Then we realized that we were a team and we hadn't been putting each other first. Don't get me wrong, my kids are extremely important to me, but they don't get to interfere with our marriage. In the end, while the kids get most of the time, emotional energy first goes towards marriage, which in turn gives strength to the emotional energy we need for our kids.” -- Rachel M, mother of two.

How do you prioritize your time and energy these days? Kids first or partner? 

  

Image © iStock.com/skynesher

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