In Marriage, Children Don’t Come First

Portrait of married couple and their four young children
In families there are first tier and second tier friendships

My parents are revolutionaries.

They lived as equal partners.

My dad generally cooked the meals and Mom baked the treats. Dad did dishes and laundry and Mom balanced the budget. Mom oversaw cleaning minutia and Dad managed the broader house cleansings. Mom was nurse and homework advisor. Dad gathered the family together for family home evening, prayers, and scripture study, and out the door for church on Sundays.

They both handed out chores to the closest person in proximity—even visitors. Girls took out trash and mowed the yard. Boys folded clothes and made meals. And everyone pulled weeds out of the garden…together at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

And my dad’s favorite hobby besides baking bread to give to neighbors?  Grocery shopping! That man can tell you the cheapest deal on corn-on-the-cob in the county, and the next one over, too.

All of this madness does tend to impact a person. I developed some crazy expectations for my future spouse.

In Marriage, Will Backgrounds Ever Align?

When I first met my husband, I assumed Anthony could cook. And he could cook – a PopTart and steak (not for the same meal.) Anthony’s fridge was stocked with ketchup, steak sauce, and milk. (That was all that was in his fridge.)

I mistakenly supposed he wanted to go grocery shopping as a fun family activity.

I remember his mom’s reaction the first time we had them over and Anthony cleared the table and started the dishes while we finished our meal. (There are benefits to being the slowest eater). He had never had to clear the table, until he ate at my parents’ house.

Preparing for one meal, Mom handed Anthony the silverware and asked him to set the table. He did. After the blessing as she prepared to eat, mom exclaimed, “Who set the table like this?”

He, sort of cautiously, said he did. He had never set the table before, so didn’t know exactly where everything went. Mom apologized for sounding so surprised, showed him where the fork went, and started eating.

Mom and dad were raised under differing parenting philosophies, too. They decided what worked for them, and ultimately adapted as needed for their eight children’s different personalities. Their philosophy was “united we stand.”

Parental Unity Outranks Child Loyalty

Family enjoying time together on the beach
Children are a product of your purpose

I took mutual collaboration for granted because of my parents.

They always sat next to each other. At the table. In the car. On the church pew. They still do. And now that they have recliners, they hold hands across their recliner space.

When dad got home from work, he didn’t sit right down and watch TV like normal dads. Instead, he always found mom first and gave her a big hug and kiss. Then, he got all up in our space putting us to work, asking about our day, and settling squabbles.

I remember asking dad for permission without success and going to mom to hopefully get it. I only did that once. The small evening breeze carried my quiet question for Mom to Dad’s supersonic hearing ears. Apparently there was to be no pitting one parent against another in our household.

One night at dinner soon afterward, Dad and Mom made it very clear that they were best friends with an unbreakable bond. The best we could hope for was 2nd favorite in our family … and all of us kids were equally 2nd favorites.  Talk about crazies.

I fully expected Anthony and me to have the same kind of crazy parenting philosophy. But, as it turned out, God needed our crazy skills for other things.

So, we’ve watched the next generation of revolutionaries develop.

My brothers change diapers and take midnight bottle duty because they love and respect their wives. My sisters haul kids around on hiking adventures and cheer on various football teams.

But clearly, they all co-manage their favorite team, making marriage and family life harmonious.

Never Stop Cleaving, Your Spouse is All You Have

Dad’s dating advice included “Remember that you not only need to love your spouse, you also need to like your spouse.”

Mom and dad taught us that the most important relationships in our lives are with our spouse and children.

The most important responsibility in child rearing is to love your children, while never forgetting that marriage responsibilities are actually your first priority. They told us that relationship with our spouse was the first priority because someday we would want our kids to put their marriages and families first, too. If our marital relationship suffered during child rearing, we would be in trouble as empty nesters.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World describes the way I was raised:

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

For me, the single most important ingredient in my relationship with my parents was my parents’ relationship with each other.  They told me they loved each other. They showed me they loved each other. I knew they loved each other.

Not until recently did I realize what revolutionaries my parents were.

Parents with Daughter
Even after years of marriage, couples are to be united in purpose

Child-Centric Life Equals a Peripheral Marriage

Recently, I read “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage” by Drs. Danielle and Astro Teller. They noted that somewhere along the way, parenthood evolved into a religion.

Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring.

Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.

As a young casual observer of human relationships, I noticed moms who lost their own identities in their children. I wondered how people I knew were in love just stopped talking to each other. I felt the awkward moment when a spouse came home and nobody acknowledged his/her existence.

Now as an older casual observer of human relationships, I realize that nothing changes in an instant, but over series of instants. Instants become habits that change lives.

Drs. Teller concluded that

Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home.

Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood.

Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home.

So, what do you do if you are living a child-centric life? or just want to enrich your marital relationship?

Marriage Responsibility #1 – It’s Not About You

Newlywed couple in front of Bountiful temple
Strive to continually come closer together

Elder Dean L. Larsen detailed nine ways he and his wife enrich their marriage relationship.

    1. Don’t take one another for granted.
    2. Be pleasant. 
    3. Pray together every day.
    4. Study and discuss the gospel together.
    5. Don’t be critical of one another to others, even if there are grounds for doing so.
    6. Discover things you enjoy doing together, and then do them regularly. 
    7. Be patient, charitable, and compassionate.
    8. Govern your finances carefully.
    9. Never give up.

The formula for marital success is concisely taught in The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. … In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

There Are Always Three In Marriage

I believe successful marriages are not only possible, but divinely guided.

And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the promises which the Lord had made unto them (4 Nephi 1:11).

The Lord will bless children and parents in creating strong, healthy relationships.

My parents prayed for divine guidance for themselves and for us.

As a teenager, I didn’t appreciate my parents’ style of parenting. Curfews and some family time (which at the time I felt was coerced) dampened fun times with my friends.

In spite of feeling grouchy then, my  favorite memories as a teenager include sitting around the living room on Sunday afternoons talking about the whys and hows of the Gospel, the inevitable car trouble on every hot, un-air conditioned family vacation, and knowing that my family always had my back.

Even during family economic crises and tragedies, my parents remained best friends consistently. I’ve often marveled at that. Our family endured some crazy emotional upheavals, but I never heard my parents squabble. Maybe they argued in private, but they never argued in front of us.

Another sign that my parents really meant what they said about being best friends forever is their willingness to serve missions.  Each time they leave, Mom tearfully hugs and kisses us. Dad gives us advice.

And then with full purpose of heart, they go on their way. Their devotion to each other and the Lord, and therefore to us, is ever evident.

Anthony and I recently visited Mom and Dad who are currently serving in the Florida Tallahassee Mission.

While Mom was in the other room, Dad stretched out on the couch, smiled at me and said, “You know, I sure love your mom!”  Yes Dad, you crazy, I know.

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love exploring the world, experiencing nature, assimilating truth, and hanging out with my husband. One of my life goals is to visit every LDS temple in the world. I've been to 101.