There’s no doubt that a child changes everything when he or she bursts onto the scene. Sometimes these changes are planned for, and others aren’t.
“One third of all pregnancies in marriage are unplanned. That means a lot of couples who weren’t sure how they felt about kids are sent headlong into parenting without a lot of vision or preparation. These parents often end up like people who are ‘taught’ to swim by being thrown into the water; fear and desperation can work wonders. But learning to swim that way is all about survival —there’s little, if any, enjoyment. Not surprisingly, we see a lot more flailing among parents today and a lot less visionary parenting.” (From Focus on Family article, Preparing to Start a Family)
Are you there; or have you been there? We sure have! There was a lot of “flailing” going on trying to figure out how to do this and that. And there was very little “visionary” parenting going on when we first had our children. Both of our sons came as heavenly surprises to us. And needless to say both are very loved. But balancing marriage and parenting isn’t easy. A child changes a lot of the dynamics of our marital relationships.
Child Changes the Marital Dynamics
Once children come on the “scene” it’s difficult not to center our lives around them. After all, their demands or “needs” cry out so much louder than ours. Our needs as a married couple, to continually grow closer together, are put on the back burner—usually for years. And that can be problematic in so many ways.
“Children can bring significant challenges for couples who married with the hope of spending their lives enjoying a soulmate connection. ‘Most Americans today don’t marry in order to have children,’ writes author and researcher Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. ‘They marry in order to have an enduring relationship of love, friendship and emotional intimacy.’ But therein lies the rub.” (From Focus on Family article, Kids Can Be Good for Marriage, Really)
Even though our children weren’t planned (by us), there were many times when we could relate to what author Tony Ranking wrote:
“Most couples make a joint decision to create the very gift that can separate them. Together they plan and dream about the child and his future.”
Healthy Children, Yet an Unhealthy Marriage
But then those dreams backfire as the marriage becomes child-centered. It’s then that the marital relationship takes a back burner. The problem is, many child-centered marriages burn out before or shortly after the children are grown. The reason is because both spouses forgot to grow their own relationship along with raising their children.
That’s what author Jill Savage realized. Her marriage was almost destroyed because they gave so much to their children. They had totally neglected their own relationship. In a Marriage Partnership Magazine article titled, “A Child Centered Life” she wrote:
“Our life had been revolving around our children —a huge factor in our marriage mess. It was throwing us off balance. Mark and I had begun to let our children run things at home, including how much time we spent together as a couple. We didn’t want to leave the kids because they’d have ‘separation anxiety.’ We both feared that something might happen to them if we left them in the care of someone else. We didn’t live near family, so childcare was always a problem.
“We’d become so child-centered that we didn’t have time for each other. And our marriage was deteriorating because of it. We didn’t realize the very thing we desired to give our children —a secure home environment —would happen only when our children knew they lived with a mom and a dad who loved each other. This knowledge would provide the stability for which they longed.” (Jill Savage)
Wisdom Needed When a Child Changes Everything
Here’s some wise advice Tony Ranking gives to help combat this problem:
“Love your spouse more and differently than you do your child. Think about the instructions a flight attendant gives before take off. She reminds you to place an oxygen mask on your face before you place one on your child. You are of little benefit to your child if you’re not vibrant and full of life. The same is true of your child and his relationship to your marriage. Your parenting will be more desirable and immensely more effective if you first (and continually) breathe vibrancy into your marriage relationship.”
To learn more about these child changes to marriage, read:
The Balancing Act
But how do you invest in growing your marriage relationship when the demands of your children are always before you? There’s no doubt that it’s a continual balancing act. If you aren’t careful, taking care in raising your children can consume most of your time. The demands can shove you and your marriage “partner” away from each other.
And yet, have you ever thought about what that does to the children’s out-look in life? What does it do to them emotionally when they appear to be the continual center of attention?
And have you thought about what does it do to your marriage? What happens when you keep shoving aside the needs of your marital “partner”?
“If you are always pushing your spouse aside for time with the children, you may want to consider just what you’re teaching your children. By the way you treat your spouse, are you modeling for your children how you hope they will treat their future spouses? Probably not. Spending time with your spouse not only draws the two of you closer together, but it also teaches your children that the marital relationship has to be our number one human relationship.” (Dr. Debbie L. Cherry)
Is your spouse simply a partner in producing and parenting a child? Or is he or she your partner in every aspect of your life?
What About Later?
Someday (if both of you and your marriage is still alive) you’ll end up together —just the two of you. What have you done to plan for that? Here’s some great advice to prayerfully consider:
“Don’t put your marriage on hold while you’re raising your kids or else you’ll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage.” (Dave Willis)
So, below are some articles I encourage you to read to help you to grow your marriage even though a child changes everything. How I wish my husband and I would have had them when we were raising our sons. We had to struggle through to get to a better place. Fortunately, our marriage survived. Many don’t. But why do that when you can learn from others that can guide you onto an easier path?
So first, here is an article that was recommended by two friends. They both found it very insightful. The author starts out talking about some of the mixed feelings spouses can experience before pregnancy. She then gives tips for new parents and those who are a bit more “experienced” but could use even more insights.
Concerning child changes, read:
And then below is something Whitney Hopler wrote on how a child changes their parent’s relationship. It is featured on the CrossWalk.com web site. In this article Whitney writes about what happens after a child enters into the marriage. She then gives tips you can use during this exciting and yet challenging times. Please read:
In this next article, author Jill Savage confesses something that sadly, too many parents find relatable:
“Seven years into our marriage we found ourselves sitting in a counselor’s office acting as if we took a wedding vow that said we would love, honor, and cherish each other until ‘children do us part.’ What we found out is that we had become so focused on the children that we didn’t have time for each other. And our marriage was deteriorating because of it.”
But through this experience Jill and her husband learned some things that you may find helpful. Please read through this Crosswalk.com article and glean from it what you can use:
Navigating Child Changes
An article posted on the web site for Family Life Today discusses how children can dominate your marriage if you don’t find creative ways to make that less so. This article will help you to discover some of those creative ways: Please read:
And finally, there is a lot of controversy about having your children sleep in your marriage bed overnight, but one thing for sure, if your marriage isn’t nurtured (as well as your children) the marriage may not survive, and then the children as well as both of you lose out BIG TIME!
Please prayerfully consider what author Dave Boehi writes in the following Family Life Today linked article:
In closing, below is something that Dr Debbie Cherry wrote in her book, “Child Proofing Your Marriage.” I hope you will read and prayerfully consider the wisdom given.
Dr Cherry writes:
“One of the best things any of us can do for our children is to provide them with a strong marital model. Children need to know that their parents love not only them, but each other. The child’s sense of security grows as he/she sees parents loving each other. To put your marriage on hold for 18 or more years while you raise the children is not only detrimental to the marriage, it’s devastating to the children. We must learn to ‘childproof’ our marriages during those parenting years. If we don’t we’ll learn that the marriage withers and dies.
“When the parental team breaks down and begins to disintegrate, the children become the biggest losers. They lose their family unit, which is where they build their sense of security. When children don’t feel secure, their whole world seems to unravel. No amount of baseball, dance, piano lessons, or toys can make up for that kind of loss.”
We have a lot more articles throughout this web site that can help you with other aspects of growing your marriage. But please know that what has been written in this article is up to you in how you respond. It’s something that sure needs a lot of prayer and marital teamwork!
If you have additional tips concerning how to navigate marriage as a child changes it, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
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