I found a recent Makchic article written by my friend, Michelle Lim-Chua on “Why My Husband Comes Before My Baby” insightful and inspiring. It reminded me of how easy it was to lose sight of being husband and wife when you become Mummy and Daddy with chores and responsibilities.
Interestingly, putting your partner before your offspring or prioritising couple time over family time can come across as a radical viewpoint but it may be rational thinking after all, as pointed out by Andrew G. Marshall, well known marital therapist and author who also contributes to Guardian, The Times and Daily Mail.
I’m not usually a big fan of the self-help genre but I really enjoyed Marshall’s latest book – I Love You But You Always Put Me Last: How to Childproof Your Marriage. If you have recently had a baby, this book will give you a sense of the road ahead and how to avoid the pitfalls. It also remains relevant if you have older children, as it will help you diagnose where problems may have started and address the root causes.
Marshall found that despite many of his clients doing everything in their power for their children to be happy, confident and successful (the best schools, extensive extracurricular activities and all the latest gadgets), they eventually exhausted first their marriages and then themselves. He decided to write this book to address much of the misery he encounters amongst the patients at his own practice; to help them protect their marriages and avoid turning their children into future therapy clients.
Marshall starts off by asking couples to take stock of and rank their individual priorities. Usually, men find that they come after the children, housework (especially when their wife won’t come to bed because she’s wiping down the kitchen worktops), her job and maybe even the dog. Women frequently discover that they come after their husband’s work, the children (because he’s happy to play with them when he comes home), and sometimes rank lower than his football team.
If it does, Marshall can help stop your relationship cracks from turning into chasms. He can offer you lots of practical advice and tips that will help you talk and listen to each other as well as find mutually acceptable solutions. He boils everything down to 10 golden rules that he shares at the end.
In modern parenting, the established wisdom is that you should prioritise the needs of your children above all else. However, Marshall argues that couples who tirelessly put their children first aren’t only sacrificing each other’s needs and desires, but also increasing the chance of marital breakdown and creating unhappy, insecure kids.
Hence, he advocates two revolutionary ideas. The first is that you should put your children second as children are just passing through while marriage should be forever. He adds that prioritising your partner isn’t only good for your marriage but is also good for your children. He provides many practical tips on how you can put your partner first in your day-today behavior. For example, there’s ‘Guarding comings and goings’ e.g. if your partner is already home when you return, go immediately to where he or she is to greet and kiss him or her first, even if she is busy or preoccupied (rather than settling down for a drink in front of the TV or cuddling your kids). He also advises parents to put a lock on their bedroom door, as it will make children think twice before demanding attention and help them realise that even parents need a private space.
His second idea relates to being just a “good enough” parent, which simply means looking out for your children but not micromanaging them. Being a “good enough” parent is not generally a popular idea with today’s parents who always want the best for their children. These concepts will help you keep your sanity, accept that every parent makes mistakes and also stop you from competing with other parents “in some kind of arms race” over whose child reached which milestones first.
Marshall questions whether, due to our smaller families, we’re today creating a generation of ‘red-carpet kids’ that aren’t resilient and self-reliant. Making your children the centre of your universe and providing them with a pivotal role in the family can actually very easily unbalance and stress them. When children are the main focus in the family, it’s also easy to overlook your marital problems. He illustrates how parents can roll up this ‘red carpet’ and introduce new rules to redress the balance, if needed. Marshall encourages us to use ‘descriptive praise’ i.e. describing the good behaviour and making the feedback as detailed as possible (thereby encouraging your children to repeat the desired behaviour) rather than just giving empty compliments like ‘What a clever boy’.
As Marshall says, children are wonderful and give your life shape and meaning. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get carried away, put your children first and run yourself ragged trying to be perfect parents. Ultimately, as Michelle pointed out in her piece, we need to keep in mind that our children need parents who not only love them, but also love each other.
Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.
Image credit: Pan Macmillan Australia