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Balancing Act

Balancing Act - June/July 2023 Focus on the Family magazine
Prioritizing your marriage during the parenting years is a balancing act

When my first child was born, I felt miraculous love and overwhelming terror. What did I know about raising a baby? My immediate obsession was her physical safety, beginning with the perilous drive home from the hospital. It was only about 3 miles, but that day the trip took 20 minutes. No telling how slippery a completely dry road might be when your firstborn child is nestled in the back seat.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and I was flinging my children into the air in the pool. As parents, we eventually realize that our children aren’t as fragile as we initially thought they were. That’s a good thing because we also need to give some of our attention to our spouses. If we focus only on our parenting, our marriages can end up weakened through neglect.

A healthy balance is needed between the attention we give to parenting and what we give to our marriages. To help you find your footing in this balancing act, here are two questions you and your spouse can ask yourselves:

What are we going to cut out?

When I ask first-time expectant couples to consider this question, they wonder what I mean.

“You’ll spend 20 to 30 hours a week parenting,” I explain, “but you won’t be given any extra hours in your day. Something has to give. So be deliberate about the changes you make and decide what you can cut out of your schedules.”

After the birth of their first child, Debra and John realized that the schedule they kept as a young married couple wouldn’t work for them as parents. When their third child came along, John made a bold decision: He found an office job five minutes from home so he could drive home for lunch, and he now works just three days a week. Debra works as a counselor, so financially they were able to make the adjustment. Even so, John’s reduced schedule has required them to make sacrifices, including the size of the house they live in and the age of the cars they drive.

To maintain a healthy marriage during your parenting years, you may need to sacrifice some of your visiting time with friends and extended family, as well as some of the activities you enjoy. Two hours of video gaming? An hour every night on social media? It’s all a balancing act. Be deliberate about what you cut. You can’t just welcome a baby into your life and assume hours will magically appear—they don’t.

What will our marriage look like in 20 years?

My wife, Lisa, and I never looked forward to being empty nesters; we loved active parenting. But our empty- nest years have been especially sweet because we’re able to focus even more on each other. If raising children had turned out to be the only thing keeping us together, once they were grown, Lisa and I would’ve been strangers. That would have made these years heartbreaking.

Parenting seems all-consuming, but for most of us, it’s only a season of our lives. Pouring everything into parenting to the detriment of our marriage is like sprinting the first half of a marathon without factoring in the second half.

What will your marriage look like in 20 years? What kind of legacy will you leave your children as they contemplate getting married one day? Will they remember growing up in a broken home or with parents who had a healthy, loving relationship?

What should we do?

Raising children is among the best experiences in life. If you’re neglectful as a parent, you’ll have many regrets. But if you’re neglectful as a spouse, you’ll have regrets of a different sort. Focusing on prioritizing your marriage while you’re a parent is all just a balancing act. You can fall off on either end, so be thoughtful and wise as you keep giving more of yourself to each other even as you give yourself to your children.

If I could give new dads one piece of advice, it’s this: Make a solemn pact with your wife that 20 years after the birth of your first child. You will be closer as a couple and even more committed to the health of your marriage than you are today. That’s one of the best things you can do not only for your marriage but also for your children. Next to creating a home filled with love, faith and worship, a healthy, intimate marriage is the most fertile spiritual environment you can provide for your children.

A Question for Parents of Children with Special Needs

Should we sacrifice our marriage for the sake of our child?

When you have a child with special needs, it’s easy to think you must do everything you possibly can for that child. As parents, we’ll do anything for our children. But sacrificing our marriage for them is the worst possible thing we could do.

Too often, one parent will pour so much time and energy into caring for a child with special needs that the other parent may start to feel neglected or excluded. Making your child’s needs the center of your family never ends well—for your marriage or your other children.

I’ve seen parents become so disconnected from each other while caring for a child with special needs that they end up getting divorced.

That’s about the biggest spiritual blow your child could ever experience.

The best thing you and your spouse can do is to share the caregiving challenges. Contribute what you can to your child’s welfare, but don’t become so wrapped up in your child’s needs that you shipwreck your marriage. Instead, as you do the best you can for your child, also focus on cultivating a healthy marriage, loving your children equally and leaving the rest in God’s hands. —GT

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