(I have some basic assumptions about this series. Please read those before you begin.)
The best parenting advice I have ever received has actually nothing to do with children. Among all the amazing things you do for your children, the best thing you can do is......
Put your marriage first.
But, wait, aren't children supposed to be first?? But they require so much?! In an increasing "child-centered" society, this is a radical statement. Yet, it is so true: put your marriage first (after your relationship with God, of course).
Before you were ever parents, you were a couple. A complete family. A husband and wife are the only requirements for a family. Children are a wonderful, welcome addition, but that is not what makes a family a family.
It is not enough to become business partners or roommates, working together to raise children or living separate lives under the same roof. Yes, your relationship can sometimes (maybe even often) feel like that, so it is so vital to nurture your marriage.
Investing in your marriage is the best gift you can ever give your children. When children are secure in their parents' relationship, they are settled in their soul. Knowing that home is a safe place, where Mommy and Daddy love each other, will do wonders for them. If Mom and Dad are not thriving, children will not be secure. It is not enough to tell them you love one another, you have to demonstrate it.
I honestly do not have the stats of this, but trust me: invest in your marriage. Kids take SO much from us, and they obviously require more time/energy/attention than our spouse's do. So you have to be intentional.
Ways to Invest In Your Marriage and Put Your Spouse First:
- Go on dates. Even if it is a huge financial stress, find a way to do it. You cannot put a price tag on nurturing your marriage. You can go to McDonald's and eat off the $1 menu. But get out of the house and remember what it is like to have one-on-one conversation. As much as you can, have adult conversation and refrain from talking about your children (even though that is pretty much impossible, but do your best!).
- You may be in a place, like us, where we do not have a list of babysitters to call and have no family in town. Though I totally advocate dates away from home, dating your mate at home is still great! Put the kids to bed early, get take-out (I do not enjoy cooking, but if you do, maybe cook together?), rent a movie, play a board game, or just sit and talk. Whatever you like to do as a couple, do it! Even if you hang out together a lot once kids are in bed, having an intentional date feels more fulfilling.
(Be sure to turn off phones!)
- Treat your spouse like you did when you were newlyweds. At dinner, I make plates for each of my kids, so it is not that much harder to make a plate for Brett.
When Brett goes for a walk, I make him a glass of water for when he returns. So small, yet it makes him happy. Find out what makes your spouse feel loved and do that!
- Steal away moments. When your kids are all playing well together, have a short conversation. Send romantic texts to one another. Always say, "Goodbye. I love you," when you leave the house. Say "Hello, I'm so glad you're home" when arriving home. Kiss each other. A lot. Sometimes you have to tweak your parenting ideals to build your marriage. It's worth it. Put on a DVD in the car if it means you have connect with your spouse.
- This is definitely most important: pray for your spouse. Pray often and pray, specifically, for your marriage. Marriages are failing a lot these days, but do you know that the divorce rate among Christians who both regularly spend time with God is 1 in 1000? Less than .1%?
Note to single parents: you are amazing!! Probably more than anyone else in the world, I have the utmost respect and admiration for you. Single parents have the toughest job on the planet. So even though you do not have a spouse to invest in, you can invest in yourself (and maybe pray for your future spouse!). I can imagine you barely have enough time to breathe, but if you can get away for some refreshment, you'll be a better person and parent!
So tell me....how do you put your marriage first?