NB added 8/25/11: Sometimes when I write, I assume that the people reading already know us and our back story. How we are homeschooling our children because we can't bear to send them away for hours on end. How we've never hired a babysitter because doing family activities is always way more fun than doing alone activities. But the truth is, the internet is a big place. Apparently people I've never met are reading this and a lot of them will just read the post and not click around further, so I apologize for not originally giving more history before my list. I do plan on doing a follow-up post soon: 5 Simple Ways to Put your Spouse First, and I hope you'll see it has nothing to do with not caring for and loving your children. It has to do with the marriage being the FOUNDATION upon which their happiness and security is built.
5 reasons my marriage comes before my children
1) I am not married to my children.
See, my husband and I chose each other. We made a plan and an agreement and a promise. Because marriage is hard work, we had to vow, in front of all our family and friends, to put up with each others foolishness and care for one another despite any challenges that might leap out to derail our happy union train. My first and most important promise was to him and his to me. My children are the result of that promise.
My kids can be pretty selfish sometimes. They can take me for granted. They can look at everything I've done for them and find the one thing that they wish was different. Or better. Because they're children. They are naturally selfish and unreasonable, which is why they need parents to guide them and feed them. And that is also why I'm not married to them.
2) My kids want joyful parents
Despite what they might sometimes think or claim, there is no material thing or sport or event or place that would make my children happier than the feeling of having content, peaceful parents in a joy filled home. When my husband and I put each other first, everything else in our home falls into place.
3) People spend most of their lives as adults.
Oh, mama...you and I both know that sometimes those hours, even those minutes, can seem to drag. When your house is a wreck and you haven't bought anything but primary colored plastic objects and waterproof undergarments for years on end, it can seem like your life will always only ever be about kids and that your kids will always be taking up every ounce of your time and energy. But it won't and they won't. So as a responsible parent, my primary goal can't be to make sure their childhood is super fun. My primary goal has to be that they go into the world as responsible, good, loving people. Because we are not raising children here. We are raising adults. When I put my marriage first I'm showing them how to be responsible, good, loving people.
4) Kids are humans. They have free will.
Raise your hand if you've ever met someone who had a "normal" childhood and grew up to be an unpleasant jerk. Now raise your hand if you've ever met someone who had a dysfunctional childhood and grew up to be a happy, productive member of society. What about the opposite of the first? And the opposite of the second? If you're anything like me, you raised your hand all four times. Which means that despite what we parents would like to believe, we don't have as much control over how our kids turn out as we might hope.
As much as we WANT to raise those responsible, good, loving adults, we can only control ourselves and our choices. Model the kind of behavior we'd like to see in our kids. Show them how to be selfless and kind and loving. Show them that by being so, we are happy and peaceful, thereby encouraging them to do the same when they grow up. Putting them first always as children might not result in self-centered adults, but modeling the kind of behavior you want to see in the world and showing them the kind of fulfilling relationship you hope they will enjoy some day is an infinitely better strategy.
5) I was not meant to be miserable
My husband is funny and smart. He would surely say the same about me. We have hopes and dreams and inside jokes. We have favorite foods and favorite movies. We have 13 years of memories together. We make each other feel important and useful and happy. I can't always say the same about my children. Because again, they're kids. It's not their job to make me feel important and useful and happy. By putting my marriage first, I am saying "I deserve to be content and fulfilled. I was not meant to be miserable." And my husband can say the same.
And it seems to me that children with happy, content, fulfilled parents have the best chance of growing up to be happy, content, fulfilled adults.