When it comes to balancing our marriage relationship and our relationship with our children, many parenting and marriage experts, counselors, pastors, and parents believe that our marriage must be the priority relationship, that our marriage should come first, even that our husband should come first. I don’t agree–I don’t see these relationships in a hierarchical fashion which, priority-wise, puts marriage at the top and our children underneath. I don’t believe the issue is that simplistic, and I can’t imagine choosing one relationship over the other as the priority. Neither can I imagine choosing to put my husband first all the time or to put my children first all the time.
Each family has unique needs and each family member has individual needs, so a healthy balance will look at least a little different in each family. Sometimes the needs of one family member are more pressing than the others, and there will be times when we feel lead to give sacrificially of our time and ourselves to our family, and it is an honor to be able to serve our families, but we need to be careful to remember that even our own needs are important. When God gives us the gift of children, they join our family bearing needs that deserve to be met. My needs or my husband’s needs are not more important than theirs. When balancing needs, we can look not only to see whose needs are more pressing, but we should also look for solutions in which each family member can have their needs met. A healthy family works together to best meet each member’s needs.
Not laying aside our needs, there are seasons and times when our children’s needs will necessarily be at the forefront. When they are babies is such a season, and it can be a really tiring season for parents. Being quite the picture of helplessness and neediness at birth, in a practical sense babies can’t for obvious reasons work to help the family team, though they bless their families in other beautiful and amazing ways, and it can seem as if all parents do is give, give, give, especially as a new parent. A new mom’s needs can be very high at this time, too. Fathers who are supportive of their wives during this time, and who encourage their wife and work together with her caring for their baby, helping with diapers, holding their little one, helping keep mom nourished and hydrated, not expecting a clean house, are like gold.
Listening to our babies and responsively meeting their needs is an investment worth giving. They live in their mother’s womb for 9 months, constantly hearing her heartbeat, always feeling warm, always being held snugly and securely, receiving continual nourishment. At birth this high level of constant care, companionship, and closeness stops abruptly! We can help ease their transition by continuing to hold them close, by giving them our milk to provide both bodily and emotional nourishment, by listening to them and being there for them and not leaving them alone when they need comfort.
They won’t always be so needy. This high level of neediness doesn’t have to be trained out of them, though. On the contrary, when a child’s needs are met, those needs naturally diminish, and some needs simply fall away or change as they grow and develop. Meeting our children’s needs blesses the whole family. When their needs have been responsively and consistently met, they learn to trust that their needs will be met. What we model to them, they will learn; they learn to be giving by being a recipient of giving. As their trust grows, they learn to wait and eventually to work together as part of the family team.
Parents shouldn’t feel burdened or guilted into making decisions that they don’t feel are in the best interest of their children. Sometimes under the umbrella of “putting marriage first” mothers feel pressured to leave their baby to cry or leave their child, when neither they or their child are ready, with a babysitter so they can go on a “date night” with their husband. When the time is right, going on a date night can be a blessing, and having time with your husband is important, but there are other ways to get that need met that don’t involve leaving your child to cry, or even leaving home. Our marriage and the relationship with our children do not need to be at odds.
I’ve been married for 21 years to a wonderful, giving, and gentle man, and I’ve been a mom for about 17 years. What I’ve described here is what we have found to work for us and our family. There is really so much more to it. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. To be clear: I’m not at all saying that the marriage relationship shouldn’t be nurtured–marriage is very important and of course it should be nurtured. We don’t believe, though, that the choices we make to nurture our marriage should be made at the expense of our children. Our marriage relationship and the relationship with our children are equally important. We have found that we don’t have to pick one over the other.