How Parenting Can Take a Toll on Partnering

Parenting is supposed to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life. It’s supposed to bring spouses together. But without care and attention, just the opposite can happen. If you’re not careful, parenting can take a toll on your partnering.

LOSING YOUR PLAYMATE

When spouses come to me with problems in their marriage, I typically ask them when they feel the problems started. More often than not, they can trace it back to when they started having kids.

Prior to the kids, the couple would:

  • Spend lots of time together.
  • Go out on dates.
  • Take trips.
  • Have frequent and leisurely sex.
  • Talk a lot
  • Do fun things.
  • (Fill in the blank)

In short, before the kids came, they were playmates.

But, from the time the couple finds out they’re pregnant, the child begins to change everything. Even before the child is born, parenting starts to trump partnering and playmates turn into roommates.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Though my kids are adults with kids of their own, I remember how it was for us. When my wife was pregnant, things started to change. Suddenly…

  • I couldn’t make breakfast in the morning, because it nauseated my wife. So I had to start getting my breakfast at a drive-up window on the way to work.
  • Instead of saving for things we wanted, we were now saving for things for the nursery and the baby.
  • I had to trade in my compact pickup because there was no room for a car seat.
  • Instead of satisfying late-night cravings for sex, now I was making late-night runs to satisfy her cravings for chocolate milkshakes.
  • And instead of going and doing things like we use to, now our activity was restricted by her fatigue and discomfort.

And that was just during the pregnancy! Little did I know that pregnancy was just a preview of coming attractions.

After the child was born, life was all about the kid! This child controlled everything…

  • Our sleep schedules (or lack thereof.)
  • Our sex lives (or lack thereof.)
  • If and when we went anywhere.
  • What time we had to be home.
  • How loud we could be in the house.
  • The way we budgeted money.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

But perhaps the biggest change was the change in our relationship. Parenting changed our partnering. Here’s how:

HOW PARTNERS DRIFT APART

Before our first child came into the picture, my wife and I were playmates. But after our child was born, my playmate became a mom, and moms are focused on the child. They responsibly give all her attention to tending to the needs of their child.

But, I missed my playmate. So I would attempt to get her back from time to time. But it rarely seemed to work. She was either too focused on taking care of our child, or too tired from the demands on her, or too distracted with mom stuff. Though she never said it, it often felt like I was getting the message, “You’re a big strong adult who can take care of yourself, but this child needs us.

When husbands lose their playmate, they have three options:

  • They can keep trying to get their playmate back, (which tends to aggravate their wives.)
  • They can find another playmate, (which always ends badly.)
  • Or they can switch from being a playmate to being a dad. (And dads tend to focus on providing by working and keeping things up.)

And this is where the parenting starts to take its toll on partnering. As moms focus on children and dads focus on work, they begin to slowly drift apart. Gradually, they become more like roommates that only have one thing in common…the needs of the kids.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. This is normal. And the good news is, you can turn this around! We’ll get into how to do this in the next post. So be looking for it.

If Your Approaches to Parenting Differ…

When people come into my counseling office with marital problems, I always ask them, “When did these things start to be a problem?” The majority of people trace it back to when they started having kids.

This makes sense. When kids come along…

  • You have to share your spouse’s attention with a very needy child.
  • The demands of parenting, leave you with less energy for marriage.
  • Money is tighter, leaving less to spend on the relationship.
  • Free time becomes a thing of the past and things like dating often go by the way-side.

But there’s another reason why kids disrupt a marriage as surely as pulling the pin on a grenade. When kids come into a marriage, we become parents. And although we’re parenting the same child/children, our views on parenting often differ. These different views on parenting can create a lot of conflicts.

DIFFERING VIEWS ON PARENTING

Where do we get our views on parenting?

Gender differences.

There are distinct differences between the genders. Some of these differences are the result of genetics and some are the result of socialization. But the differences are there and they affect our views and approaches to parenting. Men and women will always view parenting differently on some level.

Family of Origin Differences.

But most of our views on parenting come from how we were parented. You and your spouse had different parenting experiences growing up, so it makes sense that you would have different views on parenting now. Let me give you an example…

One of the biggest disagreements between my wife and me centered on how our teenage girls kept their rooms.

Walking into our girls’ rooms was like going on a safari in the jungles of Africa. There were so many clothes on the floor you needed a machete to cut a path. Bras and scarves desperately hung from mirrors as if they were afraid of falling to the floor and getting lost in the undergrowth. School books were scattered around the room as if their book bag had suffered from projectile vomiting. And there were drinking glasses and dishes that had been there so long, I had forgotten we had them.

My wife and I responded very differently to the girls’ rooms. I would look in their rooms and shake my head, much like you would when you see someone pushing on a door that says “pull.” Then I would shrug my shoulders and keep moving. But my wife would look in their rooms and respond so heatedly it would set off the smoke alarms and send the kids into a duck-and-cover mode.

Why did we react so differently? Because we were raised by different parents.

As a boy, I shared a very small and well lived-in bedroom with two other brothers. My mother sensed it was futile to expect it to stay neat all the time, so she gave us our space…asking only for an occasional cleaning.

But my wife was parented differently. Her parents believed that children showed respect by keeping everything neat and in its place. To do otherwise was considered disrespectful. So she always kept her room neat and clean.

You can see why we reacted differently to our girls’ messy rooms. We viewed room cleanliness based on how we were parented.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR APPROACHES TO PARENTING DIFFER?

I can sum up the answer to this question in one statement…

If your approaches to parenting differ…you must parent differently.

It took us a while to come to a mutual agreement on how our kids should keep their rooms. I wanted an approach in which the kids were not always complaining about living with a room nazi. My wife wanted an approach in which the kids respected her enough to keep their rooms from looking like a toxic waste dump.

To find a solution, we both had to change our approach. We both had to parent differently.

We came up with a solution that was different from what we each wanted but had enough of what we each wanted to satisfy us. Here is what we came up with…

Six days a week, the girls could keep their rooms pretty much the way they wanted, with two exceptions: they couldn’t leave food lying around, and they had to keep their door closed so their mother didn’t go into cardiac arrest each time she passed by their rooms. But one day a week, they had to clean their rooms to pass mom’s inspection…and mom’s inspection could be tough! And if their rooms didn’t pass her inspection, then they lost privileges.

You see, my wife and I had to parent differently than we wanted to accommodate each other’s parenting views.  We had to find out what was important to each other when it came to parenting, and then find approaches that honored us both.

It’s easier said than done, but there’s no other way. You each will approach parenting differently, which means you must each parent differently.

On a side note: both girls survived. They grew up to have kids of their own and now have to fight their own room battles. There is some poetic justice in life! 

If You Don’t Want to Hurt your Kids…

 

Here’s the story of two couples…

Couple #1
It was a Saturday afternoon when some friends of ours called in great distress. They asked if I could come over as soon as possible. I could tell from the voice on the phone that something bad was happening.

When I pulled up, one spouse was on one side of their yard, pacing back and forth and waiving their arms. The other spouse was on the other side of the yard, shaking and sobbing into their hands. And near the side of the road, was their small son, frightened and sobbing.

After parking the car, I scooped up the son and tried to comfort him before turning my attention to the couple.

Couple #2
This was a couple who came to my counseling office because the husband wanted a divorce. He was so disengaged, he couldn’t even sit on the same loveseat as his wife. (The term “love seat” seems very ironic here.)

The husband spent a good part of the session making his case as to why he felt they should divorce. The whole time he was talking, his wife (who didn’t want the divorce) sat sobbing on the other side of the room.

It was clear I wasn’t going to change his mind about getting a divorce, so I proceeded to walk them through what they could expect if they went down that road. When I talked to them about the impact it would have on their children, he looked me in the eye and with a straight face said, “Our children will be better off if we divorce.” (I almost lost my professionalism over that one. )

Here’s the point…

Compared to these two examples, you may be feeling pretty good about your marriage. You may be thinking, “We don’t have it that bad. Neither of us has done anything bad enough to bring things to that kind of hurtful climax.

But before you start thinking too highly of yourself and your marriage, here’s the punch line…

The couples in these examples didn’t get to that point because there was some big indiscretion, or abuse, or infidelity. They got to that point because they had hurt each other; gradually, in little ways, and over a long period of time. They had taken each other for granted, stopped putting each other first, stopped being careful with their words, stopped pursuing one another.

These hurts gradually built up to a point that felt insurmountable, and the result was not only the mortal wounding of their marriage, but also the mortal wounding of their children.

Every parent will tell you they would never want to hurt their kids, but then those same parents will treat each other in ways that wind up hurting their kids. Because, when things are bad between you and your spouse, things are bad for the kids.

Why?

Kids get their sense of well-being from how well things are going between their parents.

You may say, “We don’t let our kids see our problems,” But kids are empathic, and they have have an incredible emotional radar. They know when something’s not right between their parents…even when those parents are trying to cover it up. And it doesn’t have to be a big, blowout fight for kids to know something’s not right.

Also, kids get their sense of stability and safety from watching their parents. (And this is true no matter how old you are, or how old your children are.) When things are good between their parents, kids are less fearful and insecure. But when things are not good between parents, the kids’ world feels fearful and uncertain.

But there’s another reason why when things are bad between you and your spouse it’s bad for your kids…

Kids will judge and model their future relationships based upon what they see and feel in yours.

Your kids are watching you. They’re watching to see how you treat one another, how you help or don’t help one another, and how you show affection to one another. They’re watching to see if you’re willing to serve one another and sacrifice for one another. And they’re watching to see how you deal with conflict, whether you treat one another with respect, and whether you’re willing to quickly apologize.

What your children see in you and your marriage sets the tone for their beliefs and expectations about their future marriage. Right or wrong, you’re currently training them on what kind of spouse they will be.

So you see, when you’re not taking care of your spouse, you’re not taking care of your kids. Or to put it another way…

If you don’t want to hurt your kids…don’t hurt your spouse.

Here’s a good rule of thumb…treat your spouse in the same way you want your kids’ future spouse to treat them. It’s one of the best things you can do for your kids…and your marriage.

1 Samuel 5-6 – When God Parents Teens

Parent is a difficult job, no matter the age of your children. But it is especially difficult to parent teens. Teens strongly demonstrate and exercise their self-will. They are also very good at diverting blame and misrepresenting loving discipline as punitive retribution.

1 Samuel chapters 5-6 portray the Israelites much like teenagers. In chapter 4, the Israelites independently do what they want to do, without consulting God. Because of this (and previous offenses,) they bring about a disconnect in the relationship…symbolized by their separation from the Ark of the Covenant.

As a good parent, God works behind the scenes (unbeknownst to them) to reconnect the relationship and return the Ark. Like teenagers, the Israelites are happy to receive the blessing of the Ark’s return, but they continue to do what they want to do. They continue to treat God with casual disrespect. And when God disciplines them for this attitude, the Israelites respond as if God is to blame (1 Sam. 7:2)

Too often, I respond to my Heavenly father as if I’m a teenager. I want what I want, when I want it. I’m glad to receive His benefits, but hurt when He disciplines me. And I’m usually more concerned with Him not leaving me, then with me not leaving Him.

I tend not to recognize:

  • All He did behind the scenes to restore our relationship.
  • The fact that He, more often than not, is the one who makes the first move to restore the relationship.

Yes, 1 Samuel chapters 5-6 make theological statements about the omnipresence of God in a pagan culture. And yes, you see teachings about God’s sovereignty and holiness. But mostly you see a God who goes out of His way to move towards His children…even when they have rebelled and disconnected from Him.

Be grateful God has a heart for teenagers…like us!

Things I Would Tell My Newly Married Self

I have done a lot of premarital counseling, and I’ve found it to be both enjoyable and frustrating. Enjoyable, because you get the opportunity to walk with a couple and to speak into their present and future lives. Frustrating, because many of these couples have no frame of reference for what you’re telling them…and they’re often too “in love” to hear it anyway.

Engaged couples mean well and they want to have the best marriage possible. It’s just that the excitement of becoming Mr. and Mrs. makes it hard from them to really imagine the feelings and frustrations they will face down the road. The light in their fiancé’s eyes blinds them to the issues that are there. The blood that rushes to their head (and other places) keeps them from hearing things they need to hear.

Remember when you first realized that marriage wasn’t what you thought it would be? Maybe it was the first time you realized those quirky parts of your spouse’s personality weren’t going to change like you thought/hoped they would. Perhaps it was when you discovered that their approach to money felt less like pulling together and more like tug-of-war. Maybe it was when you realized the sexual tension and excitement you felt during the honeymoon phase had morphed into a dull predictability that was just a notch above doing the laundry.

We’ve all encountered things in marriage and found ourselves thinking, “I wish someone had told me about this.” So I’ve thought about it, and here are some things I would tell my newly married self:

  • You don’t need to be right all the time…even if you think you are.
  • Dirty clothes go in the hamper, not on the floor beside the hamper.
  • Just because they say they’re fine, doesn’t mean they are.
  • “I wish we were closer” probably means something different to them than it does for you.
  • When they say, “There’s nothing in this house to eat,” it doesn’t they want to go get groceries.
  • They can criticize their parents. You cannot!
  • People’s standards for cleanliness vary greatly.
  • Just because their personality is different from yours doesn’t mean they are brain damaged.
  • Your sex life will occasionally ebb and flow, but it will always take work.
  • If you don’t look at them, you’re not really listening to them.
  • It’s ok to disagree on how to raise children. They will grow up anyway.
  • Compromise is not surrender.
  • It won’t hurt you to watch what they like to watch. (I’m still learning this one.)
  • The more you’re willing to release, the more you’re able to receive.
  • When you say, “Where do you want to eat,” and they say, “Anywhere’s fine,” DON’T BELIEVE IT!

These are just a few of the things I would tell my newly married self. I’ll bet you could add to the list. What would you tell your newly married self? Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s see how many of these we can collect…for all those people who don’t know what they’re getting into!

Deuteronomy 31 – God Knows You Better Than You Do.

“I know you better than you know yourself.” My teens would bristle every time I said this to them. Yet, with a few exceptions, it was usually true. I had observed them from the first minute of their life. I knew their temperament, their personality, their facial expressions, their tone of voice, their likes and dislikes…I knew them. Even during their teen years, when they were changing so rapidly and intensely, the basic thumb print of who they were continued to shine through.

But even though I knew so much about them…even though I knew both their strengths and weaknesses…even though I knew when they made mistakes, or lied, or rebelled…

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How Parenting Can Improve Partnering

In my last post (How Partnering Can Improve Parenting,) we looked at how improving your marriage could improve your parenting. It stressed the importance of making sure your partnering takes precedence over your parenting. (If you’ve not read that post, I encourage you to go back and read it.)

Now, we need to answer how parenting can improve partnering, and the answer is simply this…

 “Your parenting should instruct your partnering.” 

Yes, your partnering should take priority over your parenting, but your parenting can teach you to be a better partner. Here’s what I mean by this. If you listed the things you do for your kids, your list would look something like this…

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How Partnering Can Improve Parenting

We don’t often think of how parenting can improve partnering. Usually, we think of just the opposite…how parenting makes partnering harder. We instantly think of all the demands parenting makes on our time, money, energy, and resources, and how those demands complicate marriage.

It’s true that being a parent can make being a partner more difficult. This is why I always tell spouses, “You’re partnering should  take precedent over your parenting.” I firmly believe this to be true for every marriage…

  • Young spouses as well as senior adults spouses.
  • Spouses who have biological children as well as those who have step children or adopted children.
  • Those who have just one child as well as those who have twelve.

No matter the situation, the principle is the same. You’re partnering should take precedence over your parenting, because:

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Kids and Marriage – What Were We Thinking?

There are some things in life that seem like a good idea at the time, but later cause you to ask, “What was I thinking?”

Maybe it was that person who seemed so good on the first couple of dates that later left you asking, “What was I thinking?” Maybe it was training for that half marathon that caused you to say, “What was I thinking?” Or maybe it was that job change that looked good on paper, but left you wondering, “What was I thinking?” (For more ideas, take a look at your high school yearbook pictures.)

Having kids can be one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time, but can leave you wondering, “What was I thinking?”

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How to Put Your Kids and Your Marriage in Their Proper Place

When I stepped into the waiting room, I noticed that Bryan and Christine (not their real names) were sitting in separate chairs and weren’t talking. As they took separate seats in my office, I asked them why they had come to counseling. The question was met with sighs and silence. After some awkward attempts to get Bryan to go first, Christine finally said, “We’re really struggling in our marriage. ” From there, the story began to roll out.

They were once good friends and playful lovers who talked, laughed, and spent time together. But now they were more like room mates who only talked when they needed to. Christine was focused on their 3 active kids and the mounds of laundry and homework that came with them. Bryan was focused on the increasing demands of providing for their family, and the occasional game of golf. Their time together was spent discussing kids, schedules, or money. This seemed to be the only thing holding them together.

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