Putting Marriage Above Kids
By LESLIE LUDY
While I was pregnant with our first child, Hudson, Eric and I attended a multi-week childbirth education class (not the most pleasant experience, but that’s another story!). There were about six other couples in the class. About seven months after everyone’s babies were born, we all got back together for a “childbirth class reunion” to meet the little ones and see how everyone was doing. All of us were first-time parents, and we were all adjusting to the newness of parenthood. Most of the other couples said that the most difficult part of becoming parents was never having any alone time with their spouse anymore. Many of them said that they had not so much as had a meal together without their baby for the past six months. When Eric and I mentioned that we had started doing weekly “date nights” right after our son was born, the other couples seemed shocked. “How can you possibly leave your baby with someone else for two whole hours to go out to dinner with your husband?” one of the women asked me reproachfully.
The belief system among these new parents was simple — baby comes first, and marriage falls into a distant second place. But as Eric and I studied Scripture on this point, we saw clearly that a strong family could only flow out of a strong marriage. Even though we were called to invest much of our time, energy, and resources into our child, we were not to disregard our marriage under the banner of “good parenting.” We knew that following that pattern would only breed disaster and breakdown in our home. Though it was difficult to leave our newborn son with a family member or babysitter while we went out to spend time together each week, we found that making time for each other was essential to remaining strong and unified in our parenting decisions.
A key part of being a good mother is making sure your marriage remains a higher priority than your kids. This may seem counterintuitive, but kids feel most secure when they sense strong unity and affection between their parents. I’ll admit this is much easier said than done, especially when your children are little and seem to have constant needs. But being purposeful about preserving the unity and closeness in your marriage will help both you and your children thrive.
Here are some practical ways to accomplish this:
1. Have a Regular Date Night
Ever since Hudson was born, Eric and I have done our best to preserve a regular weekly date night. There have been seasons when it hasn’t been possible to go out alone together every week, but whenever possible, we’ve made it a regular routine. Taking time together each week to debrief, process, dream, hope, and plan has kept our marriage strong and thriving — and our children benefit from that strength. On your date night, be purposeful not to only talk about your children — but also spend time talking about personal dreams, desires, struggles, and spiritual lessons you are learning. Some of our best date nights have been the ones in which we unpack a spiritual or biblical truth and talk about practical ways to apply it to our lives. This purposeful time together builds unity and helps keep your relationship strong, despite the ups and downs of daily life.
Even if it is not possible for you and your spouse to get away together every week, try to find a regular time in your schedule (weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, etc.) where you can steal away for some valuable time alone. Your marriage, your children, and your home life will be all the stronger when you set aside time to cultivate your relationship with your spouse.
2. Pray Often with Your Spouse
Prayer has been the single greatest “unifier” in my marriage with Eric. In today’s fast-paced world, it often seems impossible to build purposeful prayer into daily life, but we have found that when we make prayer our highest priority, there is almost always a way to fit it in. Eric and I often create a “sacred list” of things that we are specifically asking God to do in our lives, ministry, and family. It’s incredible to see the impact this has made, not only upon our marriage intimacy, but also in our spiritual lives. We have found the best time of day to pray together is immediately after our kids go to bed. While it’s tempting to want to do something a little more relaxing or “down-time” oriented, we’ve found that when we spend time in prayer first, it puts everything in perspective, reminds us of what is truly important, and grounds our marriage in truth. That is not to say that we don’t do relaxing things together, such as reading a good book, but we do our best to put prayer first — and our marriage is greatly benefited.
3. Create a Marriage Retreat
One of the best ways to make your marriage a priority during the child-raising years is to turn your bedroom into a sacred retreat, where you and your husband can go to be alone, talk, pray, and cultivate your relationship together. It’s all too easy to allow kid-clutter to spill over into the master bedroom, but I have found that making the bedroom a private “parents only” retreat has strengthened our marriage, even during seasons of child-raising intensity. Whenever the kids have felt the freedom to adorn our master bedroom with their toys, books, artwork, and other treasures, or to hang out there anytime they want, Eric and I lose focus, priority, and privacy in our relationship. So it has become my goal to keep the bedroom set apart for our marriage, and to quarantine the kids’ belongings and activities to other areas of the house.
Even if you are a single mom, you will benefit from making your bedroom a private retreat where you can take time to be alone, refresh, and refocus. Our bedroom is the one quiet place in our house where I can journal, pray, or read without constant interruption. Without that quiet retreat, it would be far more challenging to handle the noise and intensity of life with four little kids.
This doesn’t mean we never allow the kids into our room. Sometimes we let them pile up on our king-sized bed to read them stories or to watch an edifying movie together as a family. We nearly always let them sleep on the couch in our room when they are sick or if they wake up in the night with a bad dream. But for the most part, we keep our bedroom purposed for a marriage retreat, instead of letting it be the kids’ adventure land or dumping ground.
4. Cultivate Honor at Home
In our book The First 90 Days of Marriage, Eric and I discussed a common lie many young married couples have fallen prey to — that marriage is the time when you can finally “let it all hang out.” There are plenty of jokes about men who burp, tell obnoxious jokes, and pack on the pounds, and women who let their appearance go once the wedding vows are spoken. Sadly, in many marriages this is all too true. Many people assume that once you have “locked in” your spouse’s commitment to you, you no longer need to work to win his or her heart, that you can now be sloppy and careless, throwing all dignity and honor to the wind.
This approach disregards the value of guiding a home, caring for a family, and cultivating a marriage. If a woman dresses nicely when she’s going out into public but dresses like a slob at home, she sends the message to her husband and children that they are not as important to her as a stranger at the mall. If a man is polite when he’s around his friends and business associates, but is consistently rude and crude in his home, he sends a message of disrespect toward his wife and children. Dishonorable behavior in the home can erode the beauty and romance of a marriage relationship faster than almost anything else.
Eric and I have made it a high priority to set an example for our children by building honor into our marriage and home life. How do we do that? We try to speak only words that edify each other. We don’t put each other down or joke about each other’s faults. We seek to be quick to ask forgiveness for wrongs. We treat each other with respect by listening when the other person is talking, showing interest in what each other is saying, and looking for ways to encourage each other. We don’t “let it all hang out” and allow crudeness into our behavior patterns, even when it’s just the two of us alone together. We protect each other’s privacy. We take time to look nice for each other. Of course, we are not perfect in all of these areas all the time, but when we take time to cultivate these simple habits, they have a profound and lasting impact upon our marriage relationship and our home.