Myth Busting 5: Put the marriage first

This post is part of a mini carnival. Here’s Barefoot Betsy’s take on the subject.

A lovely lady at playgroup was enthusiastically telling me how helpful Growing Kids God’s Way has been to her and her husband, “especially what they said about putting our marriage first.” I have to admit, I was predisposed to be critical of almost any advice from Growing Kids International, as I’d been reading up on that particular ‘ministry.’ Otherwise I might not have spotted the flaw. Certainly, before I had children of my own, I would have simply nodded along. Instead, I said, “But in my experience, children are a source of intimacy – not a threat to it.”

I went home later and mentioned to conversation to my husband, who disagreed. His love language is Quality Time and he feels the effect of having toddlers constantly interrupting our conversations. I didn’t argue (unusual for me) – I watched and waited. The next day, he took the kids to the park for an hour or so while I caught up on some reading… I mean, housework ;). When he came home, he spent five minutes eagerly detailing all the cute and funny things our children had said and done in the last hour. I grinned. “See?” I said. “They provide us with endless conversation starters. We share the ups and downs of their lives together. They add to our intimacy.”

The idea that the needs/wants of our spouse should be a higher priority than those of our children seems to be very common in Christian circles.

Some preachers have been heard to say that a man ‘should love his wife more than his children’.

I think most parents would agree this is just silly. The love we have for our spouse is different from the way we love our children, and there is no way to measure or compare the degrees of those loves. No reason to ever diminish one love in favour of another. My mother-in-law was afraid, when pregnant with her second child, that she wouldn’t have enough love for two – she already loved her first child so much. But when her second son was born, she discovered that our capacity to love grows with each new object of love. In the same way, our capacity to love each other as husband and wife will not be diminished, in a healthy relationship, by the arrival of little people to love as a couple.

Some say it’s extremely important to go out for a date night without the baby soon after its birth to show each other (or maybe the child?) that you, the couple, still come first.

I can just imagine the newborn reasoning to itself: “Oh, Mummy and Daddy have left me with a relative stranger. I wonder where they went and why? I know! They must be going to have some special time together. Isn’t that lovely? I am so blessed to be the child of such a devoted couple!” Or maybe not.

I’m not saying it’s never appropriate to leave a baby with another carer for a short time. I know there are situations where a couple really does need to take some time out for themselves. But I’m not happy with the idea that it is necessary for all couples in order to maintain healthy functioning relationships. That implies that the baby is an invader, bent on coming between its parents who need to maintain a certain emotional distance, instead of being a precious person invited into our lives for the purpose of nurturing and growth.

Or there’s a hypothetical scenario in which you’re asked to choose whether to save the life of your wife or your child. Apparently, the correct answer is ‘wife’ – and apparently it’s very important that your child knows that you would hypothetically make that choice.

Now, I don’t really think there is a ‘correct’ answer to a scenario like that one – I’m the sort of person who starts asking complicating questions like, “Who is in the greatest danger? Is there a reason the adult can’t save him/herself? Who is easiest for me to reach? Is there a phone nearby? I’d probably be better off calling emergency services…” etc. But I have to say, the thought that I would expect my husband to choose my life over my child’s just sounds selfish to me. Jesus gave us an example of servant leadership that chose to die on behalf of his children. I would hope that, if I were given the choice, I would be willing to die so my children can live. I hope my husband would feel the same. I have a feeling if I woke up in hospital to discover my husband had (all other things being equal) saved my life at the expense of our children, our marriage might not survive the shock. Could I forgive him? I don’t know…

But regardless of how we imagine we would feel in such a hypothetical scenario, the idea that our child needs to be told, “I value your life less than your mother’s/father’s” is horrible. Every person and every life is of equal value to our God, and if he is willing to give up his most precious Son on our behalf, then we have no right to play favourites in our earthly relationships.

I realise there is some basic underlying truth behind these messages: A strong marriage is a good foundation for a strong family – I really believe children do thrive in an atmosphere of trust and loyalty and confidence in their parents’ relationship. BUT

Who says we’re in competition? Why not take the baby with you on the date night, or have a date at home? Why can’t we see ourselves as a unit – we are a family – no ‘us’ vs ‘them’, no hierarchy of importance – just ‘us’, a team, with Christ as our centre and coach, drawing us together as we draw near to him. Why not view our shared parental role as serving our growing children – as Christ came to serve?

Now, if that foundation of a healthy marriage is showing cracks, we need to work on repairing it. But we cannot neglect our children’s needs, especially their most basic need, for love, while we do that. Our children don’t deserve second-best just because they are children. Perhaps at times that will mean being creative in finding ways for everyone’s needs to be met. And sometimes it means realising that in any family there are times when, as the adults, my needs or my husband’s will have to wait.

After all, it is God who supplies all our needs, and we as adults can (and should) rely firstly on Him.

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About Claire

I'm part-time stay-at-home mum to 3 children under 6. We're trying to raise them with the gentleness and creativity God uses with us. I'm also a part-time nurse and a volunteer breastfeeding advocate. We live not far from the beach or the bush in NW Tasmania.
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11 Responses to Myth Busting 5: Put the marriage first

  1. Pingback: Husband vs. Children? | Dare to Disciple

  2. Young Mom says:

    I would totally ask the same questions if asked the “who do you save” question.

  3. How funny! I JUST wrote about this. Check out my post that was inspired by an attack from another mom who puts her husband first. http://hybridrastamama.blogspot.com/2011/05/i-am-mother-first-and-always.html

    Loving your post and sharing! :)

  4. Emily W says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this. This has been one of those false-dichotomies that has left me feeling squirmy nauseated. It doesn’t make sense to pit love of spouse against love of children or to measure and mete out different amounts of love. It’s utter nonsense. The craziest (at least the craziest one coming to mind) is: don’t share your bed with your baby because it’s your “sacred marital bed.” Riiiiight….which is exactly why that baby exists. Let’s not “sully” the sacred marital bed with new life that the marital bed enabled us to co-create. That’s just down right scandalous!

    One tiny point of disagreement, though. It doesn’t seem accurate to say that children are the source of intimacy. I see what you’re saying about connecting with your spouse through your children (and that’s such a beautiful reality!), but I wouldn’t connect with my spouse through random children. (“Oh honey, some little boy at the park named Jimmy was trying to tie his shoes today and almost got it! And he spent most of the time on the swings, I think they must be his favorite” would mean very little to either of us, but tell the same story about one of our children and we gush over it.) It’s through OUR children that we really connect. Our intimacy is one of the sources of their existence. It would seem like some cruel, disgusting joke for God (or nature, the universe, or whatever) to set things up so that our marital intimacy would produce the very means to tear it apart. Children are the fruit of intimacy. The life of intimacy–literally! In our children I see the love my husband and I share living and breathing, a new life of its own. Any intimacy that claims that it’s fruit can (and will, if not defended against it!) destroy or harm it is a frail and self-destructive intimacy. To place the blame on the presence of children is a weak cop-out. If loving kids can destroy it, it was already destroyed.

    And just to clarify, I am in no way discrediting the pains and struggles of being married or having children. It’s hard work and conflicts abound in all elements of life.

    • Claire says:

      I’m glad you found us, to, Emily! :D
      And you’re absolutely right, of course – I did mean that OUR children are a source of and contributor to our intimacy. Although once you have children, I do find that other kids can be a sweet opportunity to reminisce about our own ;)
      Do drop by again!
      Claire

    • Rita says:

      What she said.

  5. Ginger says:

    Your Spouse Always Comes First…… if you know what it means.
    Your theory can be harmful to a marriage and children, so I hope your readers can see the difference between not loving your spouse and the true meaning of puting your spouse first. You don’t know the meaning of puting your spouse first, because it doesn’t mean that your child’s personal needs would come last to your spouse, it’s more about making sure the martial foundation is solid and understood. When you and your spouse’s happiness is priority, everything else falls in place much, much better. This does not take away any love or care your child receives, if anything it’s more fulfilling for all parties.
    As for your take on date nights and neglecting your child, Are you Serious?! I can’t express more how important they are and NO child will suffer if you have them. The fact that you’ve convinced yourself that, is actually part-psycho. Having alone time is vital and if you’ve told yourself it’s not good, then you must truly not love your husband & shouldn’t be giving this advice to happily married couples with children because it will hurt society not help.
    I love my children. I have nurtured and cared them like any loving mother should. One thing I did wrong when they were younger, was I put them first and boy was that a mistake. I could have still put my husband first without changing how I cared for them the way I did. All that would have entalied was, to give more of myself and attention to my husband, whom was neglected at the time.
    Once they reached elementary age, luckily I saw my mistake and began changing my ways. It has been a blessing ever since! Our family has been better than ever and the children have even benefited and are blossoming more than I could have imagined.
    Your spouse and marriage come FIRST. It you’ve convinced yourself otherwise, than maybe you don’t want to love them anymore and need to get out before you hurt the children too, because it WILL affect them.

    • Claire says:

      Hi Ginger
      I really don’t know what you’re talking about here, as I didn’t say any of these things in my post. If you want to disagree with an actual quote, please feel free to come back and comment again. I will be happy to respectfully discuss my perspective and accept that yours may be different.
      However, if you do comment again, please keep in mind greenegem’s Courtesy guidelines. Specifically: “Insulting, slanderous, hateful, or sarcastic comments will not be approved for display.” Several remarks in your comment border on insulting or hateful, imo, and I will not approve or engage any further comments that are not more respectful in tone.

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