Finding that perfect balance can be tough. So who takes priority?
Liz Bruckner (Spouse):
As a mother to three young boys, time and experience have taught me this: that loving my husband and giving our relationship top billing is the best way I can nurture my sons, meet their needs and ensure they grow up feeling secure, confident and loved. Let me explain.
Following the birth of my eldest son, it quickly became apparent that if we wanted to stay married while navigating the murky, exhausting, emotional waters of new parenthood, my husband and I would have to make our relationship a priority. It wasn’t easy to carve out time for each other, but with determination and a lot of late-night stroller walks, snuggling while the baby slept, and scheduled evenings out while family watched our boy, our relationship managed to survive and even thrive. Many years and two additional fellas later, we’re still consumed with the logistics of running a household, juggling work and caring for our boys, but we’ve made a conscious decision to do all we can to put each other first.
Of course, that’s not to say we’ve perfected the marriage/child-rearing dance. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted – extracurricular activities for the boys monopolize so much of our time, as does playing chauffeur, maintaining the house, preparing meals, and serving as a homework quality-assurance checker – and shamefully, we often are. But when my husband and I notice that we’re barking at each other or starting to feel an emotional divide, we see that the kids react in kind. Our lack of dedication to making our relationship important translates into them running much lower on patience with each other, and has even lead them to question our family’s overall stability.
If we want our children to see what a happy, connected family looks like – and ultimately find a partner to one day replicate the same kind of love and respect we hope they’ll give and receive – it’s our responsibility to create that relationship reality.
Astrid Van Den Broek (Kids):
“Spaghetti and meatballs for dinner,” I text my husband. “Maybe quarter bowl left? Other stuff in fridge.” That’s pretty much the nut of it – it’s not exactly Ward and June Cleaver around here. See, I made a family pot of pasta for dinner and didn’t quite make enough. And given that work schedules usually have me eating dinner solo with our two kids, well, Dad’s left to fridge forage for himself.
But that quarter bowl of pasta? That lonely, cold bowl is a metaphor for the balance of attention in my house. Honestly, it’s kids first. Dad’s left with sloppy seconds, whether it’s pushing his laundry aside to make sure their baseball uniforms are washed or having enough dinner or even mental energy at night to reconnect after the kids are in bed.
Of course it didn’t start out this way. I firmly planned, as much as a pregnant woman could plan, that our household would be a vision of equals. None of this no-dad-gets-left-behind business once our daughter, and three years later, our son, arrived. It’s not healthy role modelling, I decided. My role as a wife was as important as it was as a mother.
Except that my husband could dress himself. He could scramble a pan of eggs should we run short on dinner. He could toss in a load of t-shirts and Tide on his own. With pressures on both time and energy as a parent, I had to prioritize who in the family would receive these evaporating resources. The kids are still making their way in the world – I have to help feed them, clothe them and more. If that leaves me short on time and energy, I know my partner can feed and clothe himself with perfect competence.
Yet, I still don’t want it to be like this. As my kids get older, I’m hoping the scale rebalances as the physical duties somewhat subside. I do still hope for a household where the adults are paid as much attention as the children. So if you’ll excuse me, I have a bottle of wine ready to split with someone on the couch.
Expert Advice – Heidi Greenfield, a family counsellor in Ontario, weighs in:
The importance of prioritizing your partner and staying connected to one another is critical for both partners’ emotional well-being and absolutely resonates within the family as a whole. However, there will be times when a child’s needs will have to take priority for both partners in a relationship. Whether it is illness, an accident, mental health issues, school or friend problems, there will and should always be times in any relationship where kids need to come first. If you set the standard there permanently, the marriage and the kids will suffer in the long run. So the answer is: it depends. The dial needs to be flexible.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Winter 2017.