When my boys were little, I’d sit in the cool shade of the playground trees while they climbed and ran and spun, and my friends and I discussed parenting, marriage, and the best enrichment programs for toddlers.
It wasn’t uncommon for my friends to bemoan the lack of intimacy or connection they had with their partners. At the same time, they preached the importance of child-centric parenting, often quoting Dr. Sears, and how it would lead to secure, strong children.
Date nights were mentioned, but usually, as one more thing to check off a never-ending list of tasks. The higher priorities were play dates, preschool selections, and providing healthy and organic food for their toddlers.
Marriage was an afterthought, and most of my friends believed that once their kids left home, they’d have time for their spouses.
I found it odd how they expected to spend 18+ years focused on their kids and wake up one day with an empty nest, ready to have a full and rewarding relationship with their partner.
Whenever I expressed my belief that a marriage-centric approach was healthier than a child-centric one, my friends told me I was wrong and how my children would suffer because I put their wants after the needs of my marriage. But I wasn’t having intimacy or communication issues, and my husband was as fully invested in our children as I was.
What they didn’t understand was that putting my marriage first doesn’t mean I neglect my children.
It means my husband James and I have created a strong foundation to build our family upon. Kids need stable environments to flourish, and by nurturing our marriage, we have been better able to give our boys the type of support they need to become independent, confident, and secure individuals.
But most importantly, my boys are not the glue holding James and me together. We have inside jokes, we love doing things together, we are working toward the same life goals, and we are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.
I’ve always known my days of active mothering were numbered.
From the day my boys were born, they have been learning to live without me. That’s my job — to work myself out of one.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for over twenty years, and I’ve loved nearly every moment (puke and broken bones aside), but at some point, my active mothering will end. And that’s okay. It’s normal. And it’s healthy for everyone involved.
James, however, will be by my side long after the boys have flown, and I don’t want to wake up one day and not know the person sleeping next to me. Too many of my preschool mommy friends have divorced or are veering in that direction now that they have teens and college-aged kids.
Over and over, they’ve confided that they have not only lost their marriages but also themselves.
They don’t know who they are if they aren’t Mom in a moment-to-moment way. There’s a reason “gray divorces” are on the rise, and I suspect it has a lot to do with this issue.
In my home, James and I chose each other, and our love created our family.
Having a marriage-centric family does not mean I am uninvolved as a mother. I’ve been to every sports game, performance, and show my boys have had — except one lacrosse game the day I had to have an emergency gallbladder removal. But other than that, I’ve always been my boys’ number one fan. I’ve also been a room parent, team mom, tutor, short-order chef, and carpool driver.
But most importantly, I am their soft place to fall.
No one in my family competes for time, because James and have created an environment where everyone’s needs are met. We have adult time and kid time, and we are very clear about both. When expectations are set and met, everyone is happier.
Our marriage is not perfect, but our children see us working hard at being married, and they’re better for it.
Twelve years and three kids into marriage, my belief in a marriage-centric family was tested.
In 2010, my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury in a traffic accident, and his untreated PTSD, TBI, and depression resulted in him having an affair.
Shortly after, I completely fell apart and was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder, PTSD, and generalized anxiety. We were mediocre parents at best during this time and relied heavily on our families to provide a stable framework for our boys as we worked through our problems.
But our family survived because we had a strong foundation to rebuild upon. We addressed our individual and joint issues, and as a family, we came out stronger. My boys were only 5, 8, and 11, but we never hid what we were going through (we discussed our issues in age-appropriate ways with our therapist’s guidance).
Once we landed squarely on the other side of that nightmare, our relationship with each other and our boys strengthened. They trusted us to right the ship, and we did — in a better, stronger way.
James and I may not drop everything to do what our kids want, but we always make sure everyone’s needs are fully met — not just the boys, but ours too, and we are all better for it.
But the one thing that tells me that marriage-centric parenting was the right choice for our family was when my oldest son said that James and I are his relationship goals and thanked us for working hard at our marriage and for giving him and his brothers an example to live up to.