Putting the kids first will destroy your marriage

Jay Dee

Putting the kids first will destroy your marriage

Nov 14, 2016

I get a fair number of emails where one spouse is putting the kids first in the marriage.  Most often it’s the wife, but I have had a few emails from wives where it’s the other way around. Putting the kids first can show itself in a

Putting the kids first will destroy your marriageI get a fair number of emails where one spouse is putting the kids first in the marriage.  Most often it’s the wife, but I have had a few emails from wives where it’s the other way around.

Putting the kids first can show itself in a lot of ways:

  • Being unwilling to go out with just the two of you, because they can’t imagine “abandoning the kids”.  We’re not talking leaving them alone.  But leaving them with a babysitter or a family member isn’t acceptable to them either.
  • Taking the kid’s side in discussions or conflicts instead of showing a united team as parents.
  • Always making plans that benefit the children, and never the parents.
  • Focusing on your relationship with your children and putting your relationship with your spouse on the back burner.  “We’ll work on us when the kids are grown up.”
  • Spending excessive amounts of money on the children when your budget can’t support it and/or when your spouse isn’t in favour of it.
  • Filling your life with kid’s activities and never having a chance to reconnect.
  • Being unwilling to make the children sleep in their own beds.

And there are many more examples I get from readers.  The basic problem is always the same.  They have put their children above their spouse in the marriage.

Sometimes the children need to come first

There are times when the children need to come first.  Diaper changes, meals, injuries, etc.  They all need fairly immediate attention.  I’m not suggesting you walk away from a bleeding child to go have a cup of tea with your spouse and talk about their day.

Nor am I suggesting that you ignore your children except for emergencies.  But, it needs to be clear that your primary relationship (after God) is with your spouse.  Not with your child(ren).


Children need their parents to focus on each other

What children need more than anything, except the essentials of survival, is to have a loving family environment.  That includes parents that have a solid relationship.  This is why I have a problem with spouses who “stay together for the kids”.  If they’re going to put that much effort into it, they should work on the conflicts in their marriage.  They should “fix the marriage for the kids”.  That would be of more benefit to their children.

Because parents who focus on their children damage their relationship with their spouse.  Relationships always drift apart, they never drift together.  If you fail to put effort into your marriage, it will drift.  Faster than any other kind.  The close, daily proximity of spouse forces a dynamic of either growth or distance.  Spouses are together all the time.  Typically they see each other in the mornings, evenings and weekends.  They sleep in the same beds and use the same bathrooms.  Your options are to deepen the relationship, or to begin to resent each other.  There aren’t any others.

When resentment takes hold, then the relationship is being constantly damaged.  Your children will grow up seeing this as their model of marriage.  They will learn that spouses live together and try to act civil, but really they don’t like each other much.  They just “put up with each other”.  That becomes the model of marriage that they will carry forward in their own lives.

Many couples get divorced once the children leave the home

Unfortunately, a lot of couples have this “kids  first” mentality. It actually ends up damaging the children.  Once the kids move out, they realize that they have based their entire relationship on raising the children.  All their conversations have been about the logistics of raising kids.  Grocery lists, bills, scheduling activities, how they did in school, etc..  Without the children, there’s no relationship.

And both spouses have grown as individuals over the last 20+ years of raising children.  So, now they’re different people.  They find they’ve “grown apart” because they really haven’t been growing together during this time.  They’ve been acting more like co-workers accomplishing the task of farming children.  That’s not the same as building a life together and growing a relationship with that person.

In a lot of cases, they get divorced.  Statistically, this hurts the children significantly, even if they’ve all already moved out of the house.  The children will have a higher chance of getting divorced themselves as well as increased risk of depression.  Kids still in the home are less likely to proceed on to higher education and less likely to get higher paying jobs.

Even if they don’t get divorced, they live out the marriage as a sham.  Staying together because “that’s what you do”.  A small few actually turn their marriage into something real.

Focus on each other if you want to help your children

When you got married, you vowed to love and cherish each other.  Until the day you die.  Not until you give birth.  If you really want to nurture your children in the best possible way, do it by making your marriage solid.  That means following through with what you promised on your wedding day.  Building a relationship that causes you to grow together instead of growing apart.  Focusing on your relationship above that of your children.  Above.  Not to the exclusion of.

Often the spouse who wants to focus on the children will make that argument.  “What, so we’re just supposed to ignore the children?”  No, of course not.  But why does it need to be one or the other?  Why does it need to be your spouse OR the children?

All I’m saying is give your spouse at least as much attention as your children.  That doesn’t mean that if you’re home with your child eight hours during the day that you have to block off nine hours for your spouse.  What it does mean is that after the eight hours, you need to let your child play by themselves for a bit.  Or put them to bed so you can have some quality time as husband and wife.

Too often what I see happening is the one, or both, parents are doting on their child while starving their relationship with their spouse.  That is neither productive, nor helpful, to the child, or the parents.

A child needs to see their parents love each other, and that doesn’t come about by handling the logistics of the child.  It comes about by creating true intimacy with each other.  That takes time and effort.  Most importantly, intimacy takes time alone.  That means time without children.  Be it time at night, date nights, adults only vacations, or whatever works for your marriage.  Find some way to reconnect regularly.

Do not put it off thinking “well do it later when things calm down”.  Things will never calm down, and it’s infinitely harder to repair a marriage after it’s been damaged.  It’s far easier to shore it up while it’s still intact.  So, focus on your marriage today, and every day.  Do it for the kids.

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21 thoughts on “Putting the kids first will destroy your marriage”

  1. Kay says:

    This means SO much more to me coming from someone who has plenty of kids (is it five?). I read a similar guest post on another marriage blog but the guest author had ONE child that was 18 months old and sleeping well. There was nothing wrong with what she said, of course, but I didn’t feel she had the authority to really speak to the issue. You do, Jay. You don’t just have a lot of kids (culturally speaking), you have YOUNG kids. And yet you and Christina are intentional about cultivating your relationship. It can’t always look as grand as we’d like, to be sure, but the direction matters: closer together or farther apart. Thanks, Jay.

    1. Chris Hallman says:

      All it takes is one child to ruin a relationship. I know from experience. My divorce will be final next month. Sad, unfortunate, but a blessing none the less.

      1. Jay Dee says:

        The child doesn’t ruin the relationship. The relationship was already flawed, and the child just pointed it out. You both had the opportunity to fix it, and chose to end it instead. Doing so will already damage the child, let’s not blame the kid as well. That’s beyond unfair.

  2. LatterDay Marriage says:

    Also, if one parent puts the child first, that child isn’t going to have a lot of respect for the other parent. They will feel like they outrank them.

  3. Scott says:

    I get this concept and unfortunately it is used by lots of Mom’s who avoid sex with their husband. She spent 15 minutes planning my 50th birthday but yet spent 3 weeks decorating our daughters dorm room. 🙁

    1. Butterflywings says:

      It’s not just mums. Dads do it too – do anything to avoid sex I mean. Then again, I’d be happy for my husband to spend 15 minutes planning something for special year birthdays. I can guarantee that my husband won’t even remember my 40th let alone spend time planning a party. But yes, I totally understand what your saying. It hurts.

      It hurts to be constantly told by my husband he will never spend a grand total of an hour a week (3x 20 minutes) on sex, but can spend a minimum of 3-4 hours on weeknights and 10+ hours on days off playing on his computer. What a way to make a spouse feel valued *sarcasm*

  4. Mike says:

    My parents had a horrible marriage. People would tell us that they should divorce, they stayed together for 65 years. When we 4 children were asked if we thought they should have divorced, we all said “no.” We saw the commitment they had to stay together and we made the same commitment when we all got married. Three of us after 50 years are not divorced, but my sister after much struggle is. My sister was probably justified in having a divorce since her husband was attempting to sell her for sex. But, she blames the divorce of all her 5 children on her bad example of getting a divorce. So, I agree that a husband and wife should focus on their relationship and not let their children run their life. My father eventually became a Christian and regretted the way he treated my mother. Their ashes were mixed and scattered together on our mountain at his request.

  5. Anonymous please says:

    If there was ever a testimony from the heart, this could be mine. Having been married for over 30 years, we now have one child in the mid teens. For years we chose to not have children, then woke up one day with an about face and God blessed us with an amazing little one. We both work, we homeschool and are involved heavily in a very demanding sport both of time and money. Since we did so much together before parenthood I errantly thought we could now focus on parenting. Surely we would be fine. I mean , we love each other right? Umm, wrong!! Parents, please heed Jay Dee’s warning. There is nothing that is in this post that I disagree. I have lived it. For those of you who are now finding yourself in a hole that you don’t think you can get out, YOU CAN!!! Ask God to let you fall in love again. We had to be intentional about our relationship and our time together. Once we decided to move forward, my husband was very honest with our child. He sat down and said we had made a grave mistake and neglected our own relationship and that we had to change that. Not that we would love him/her any less but our priorities had to change. Falling in love again has been a great experience but a hard road. I never, ever thought I would contemplate divorce but I found myself On the brink. If not for God’s amazing grace and a willingness to love again, we would not be together. Those intimate times together matter and the balance in marriage is important to kids as well.
    Sorry, I don’t want to sound ‘preachy’ but I am passionate about this one.

  6. Anonymoose says:

    Our husband informed me last night his two priorities in life were “the kids” and “surviving” and that having a functional marriage was not a priority.

    I have said to him for years my priority are:

    1. God
    2. Marriage
    3. Kids
    4. Work (including unpaid stuff like being a stay at home parent)
    5. Leisure activites.

    He has made it clear that his priorities are the exact reverse.

    His computer game addiction always comes first (even to the point to leaving me to lie on the ground for several hours a few days after I had surgery and couldn’t get up off the ground by myself, and I had to go through the humiliation of wetting myself more than once because he didn’t want to stop playing his comptuer game).

    Same applies to his work – no matter how sick or injured I am, he won’t take time off work if I need it and he doesn’t feel like it. (He however is quite happy to use up all his personal leave taking days off work when he wants a quiet day at home to himself to sleep and play computer games.

    The kids are his next priority (although games and work come first, he will sometimes take time off work if the kids need and I can’t get time off work, but only because it means he can spend half the day playing computer games). When I was a stay at home parent, no matter how sick I was, even if I needed to go to hospital, I couldn’t get the help I needed because I had to look after the kids because they were “my problem” according to him.

    At the bottom is our marriage and God. He would say his faith is moderately serious, but other than reading weird abstract theological articles on unimportant issues (eg what does the bible say about Nephilim has been one) and going to church once every few months, I don’t see any sign of his faith – not the passionate, attending church and bible both weekly and doing other things for God that he displayed before we got married.

    So I don’t know exactly for him where marriage and God sit, but together they are the least two of his priorities – in action I should say.

    If you asked him, he would put it as

    1. God 2. work 3. kids 4. marriage 5. leisure. But one only has to look at the approximate time in hours he spends on these things to see where his heart lies. On average, he would spend approximately 40-50 hours a week on computer leisure time alone, 30-35 hours a week at work, 10-15 hours a week on kids, 3-5 hours a week on marriage (and even that is a generous estimate) and 2-3 hours a week on God.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t even care he spent more time with the kids than on our marriage – right now the kids need it because they are suffering from how miserable things are at home with a dad who checks out and spends every waking second he can playing computer games. But it’s the fact that the kids and I come a distant third to his work and gaming that is the problem.

    And the real underlying problem is the biggest one – his lack of time or care for God. If God came first, then his other priorities would get sorted, but God is barely a blip on his radar.

    1. Northern Exposure says:

      Grown men who play video games are the equivalent of a man-child. They have severe impulse control problems and typically have little motivation outside of playing their beloved “child” games. I’ve known several women who are married to men like this and frankly, I don’t get it. Two of those marriages ended in divorce because these women saw themselves as video game widows with no future with their men-child husbands. Perhaps your husband should review Corinthians where it says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And as far as your husband putting you behind these other things, that too is broadly unbiblical. Throughout the Bible we are called to put our spouses first, immediately after God. But from what you’re describing, this is a guy who makes up a God and a Theology that are comfortable for him, but in no way impede him from remaining selfish about how he spends his time.

      1. jw says:

        Please don’t blame video games. I’m a business owner (16 years, with 10 employees), father of 4 children (all 6 and under), I write music, read dozens of books every year, and play video games. The problem isn’t they’re playing games. The problem is that they do it at the expense of everything else that’s more important.

        In fact, today, after all 4 kids went to bed, my wife fell asleep on the couch after a long day of rearing kids, and I decided to play a couple hours of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Why? Because it’s more enjoyable than a movie, and sometimes simple fun by myself–without any distractions–is a GOOD thing.

        I also play Heroes of the Storm, but only do that with my guy friends–it’s something we do that builds our camraderie and a platform that allows us to talk about our lives around the time we’re playing.

        Video games, like TV, like movies, like almost anything taken to an unhealthy level is a detriment to your family! But the problem isn’t games. The problem is the person.

      2. Jay Dee says:

        Well, I play video games. I love them. I particularly like to play Minecraft with my kids and some of the best theological discussions I’ve had have been over gaming channels.

        That said, yeah, it’s a little childish, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I prefer to play in a fantasy world than in reality. But, I don’t think it’s any more childish than watching someone else chase a ball/puck/whatever on TV for hours or watching TV at all for that matter. I don’t think that makes it right…but it does make it…”normal”.

        Of course, as jw said, if it’s taken to an unhealthy level then it’s far more detrimental.

      3. Chris Hallman says:

        Dear Northern Exposure,

        You’re rather ignorant. Video games are not the problem. Lack of a moral compass is the problem. I’m currently 49 and I play video games with all my four children (27, 25, 24, 12). I keep my apartment tidy, clothes washed, dishes put away, bills paid on time and participate in visitation with my 12yo. Soon to be divorced due to ALL ‘6 Ways to Ruin Your Sex Life’ (and a few I won’t go into in here). Video games, alcohol, drugs, recreation, sports, etc.; pick your poison. But it boils down to lack of control.

        1. Anonymous says:

          I know I’m a bit late, but it isn’t lack of morals. It’s a lack of discipline.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I am sorry for what he’s doing to you

  7. Anonymous says:

    Communication is the key. Kids need to be told that parents need to spend time together. Just like kids have their play time, we were told that parents need to have adult play time and should not be disturbed when bedroom door is closed. As we grew we were told that sex is integral part of marriage. We knew our parents had sex many times before bedtime and we always felt that this was normal good marriage. After our kids were born we decided to have husband wife time after kids go to bed, this included regular sexual activity .

  8. Mark Ostrum says:

    Our now 18 year old son has an addition to gaming. His mother refused for 8 years to can it. Now the shit kid is intentionally destroying our marriage, and the wife is allowing it.

    I have gone as far as I can with this. He has destroyed thousadnds of dollars of computer equipment over his addiction that belonged to me. Not Him.

    Today, I punched the kid in the face. I will be increasing the violence until he surrenders his will completely to me, or leaves. I have warned him about abusing MY WIFE and MY MARRIAGE. I warned him I was going to deal with him MAN TO MAN.

    I’m done warning. Time now for action. Violent action. I’m a man. I am defending my family and marriage against an interloper.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      No. What you’re doing is feeling guilty and reaping the result of failing to be a good father up until this point, and now you’re going to punish him for your bad behaviour with assault? That’s not man to man. That’s one child raging against another child. But, I’m sure when they try you for assault, it will be “as a man”.

      You really want to teach him? Have a serious conversation with him. Apologize for not teaching him better and work together to find a solution. Teach him how to be a man. Don’t teach him how to be a child in a man’s body.

  9. thatGuy says:

    Spot on. If you let your life be consumed by kids’ birthday parties, sleepovers, vacations “tailored for the kids”, dinner meals “tailored for the kids,… i.e. “Oh, no fish because xxx won’t eat that”, you are doomed. It’s bad enough when they are toddlers, but this often continues on into when they are teenagers.

    I knew it was bad when I was lying in bed with my wife one night and we were talking about the idea of “living each day as if it were your last”. We were wondering what we would do if it were our last day on Earth. I was going to answer first, and my answer was going to be that I would want to spend the entire day in bed with my wife. Yes, partly having sex, but reveling in the relaxation, the closeness, the fact that we had nowhere else to be except to be with each other. But before I could start talking, she went first. To my horror, she described going on a long run and hike with our two dogs. In fact, as she described the last day on Earth, she didn’t even mention me. THANKS A LOT.

    Believe me, you get to this place by letting all the other “stuff” of life become more important than “just doing nothing with your spouse”

  10. Carla says:

    As a middle aged child from a LONG list of women who put the men in their lives ahead of their children, I can say I will ALWAYS put my children first. I will not put my children through what I went through being on the back burner for the flavor of the week or what my mother went through with her father molesting her and her mother not believing her or what my cousins went through when my Aunt caught my Uncle diddling his adopted 14 year old daughter and she blamed the child. This “stand by your man” stuff only goes so far with me but I will always stand by my children. I’m not talking about going out on a date every once in a while. You can still do that and keep your kids as first priority

    1. Jay Dee says:

      There’s a saying: 180 degrees from crazy is still crazy.

      What these men you were describing did was reprehensible, and not alright what-so-ever. I wouldn’t say they put their husband first. What they did was put non-confrontation first. If they loved their husband, they would have confronted them, and possibly left. Loving doesn’t always mean staying. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is take away the opportunity for them to hurt others and themselves.

      So, now to swing too far the other way and put your children first will also harm the children. Too far one way, you hurt them, to far the other way, you hurt them.
      I hope you will see that, or they will at least see it rather than swinging too far in the opposite direction away from your stance and repeating the cycle.

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