Putting Kids First in Families Harms Children

Making time for the marriage when you have children is a constant battle for many parents. It is for me. Whether you have kids or plan to in the future, the following may help guide you. A new book suggests putting the kids first not only harms the marriage, it also harms the children. And putting the marriage first not only benefits the marriage relationship, it also benefits the children.

“To raise healthy kids, simply put your marriage first and your children second,” says David Code, author of To “Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First” in a Boston Globe interview.  (Read the full interview here.) Code adds that many individuals escape from their marital problems by focusing on the children. “The truth is, we often find it easier to be with our kids than our partners,” said Code. “This seems child-friendly, but we don’t realize we’re using our kids as an escape from our spouses.”

A minister and family coach, Code found couples coming to him to save their marriages when they were already on their way to divorce court. Others wanted him to fix their children, but he saw it was the household that needed repair.

The biggest myth of parenting, says Code, is that the more attention we give our kids, the better they’ll turn out.  He says we’re killing ourselves to create perfect childhoods for our kids. “Where are the results? Studies show today’s parents spend more time with their kids, and yet…they seem more troubled, entitled and needy.”

How does this slide happen? Children’s needs seem more urgent and constant than the marriage, which is important but not urgent. Little by little, parents pull away from the marriage to focus on their needs. The damage is done slowly, often without even realizing it. “Not only do we lose our marriages, we set a poor example for our children’s future marriages, and we also create highly anxious households where our kids soak up that anxiety and then act out,” said Code.

Code suggests overparenting can lead to anxious children who are over-praised, over-protected, and under-developed on skills of teamwork and cooperation. They’re less happy, and they’re less successful. Kids need to learn how to self-soothe, how to deal with setbacks, and how to be resilient. These skills train us for adult life.

He advises that parents need to make decisions about activities and priorities, saying, “Kids are too young to drink, vote, or drive, and they’re definitely too young to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.”

Couples need to address their problems directly, understanding there is no such thing as a conflict-free marriage. In addition to placing too much focus on the children, issue avoidance can also come in the form of working long hours, being involved in too many children’s activities, focusing on electronic devices (from TVs to iphones), and making up “excellent reasons why we never have sex anymore,” explains Code.

Code doesn’t see the issue as the spouse’s needs outweigh the child’s. Rather, he sees that prioritizing the marriage benefits the whole family in the long run, even when it’s not clear in the short-run.

Even small changes can benefit the family, he says, including making time as a couple to talk about your day’s highlights and lowlights, taking regular walks together, and making weekly appointments for sex. “I’m not about going from chaos to perfection,” Code says, adding a five perfect improvement can pay huge dividends. “Over a lifetime, that five percent improvement could make the difference between your child graduating from college, getting divorced, or raising a child with mental illness.”

Far from being a perfect parent, Code says his research has changed his parenting, saved his marriage, and made his children more self-reliant. If you missed it, read Who Gets More of Your Attention–Your Children or Your Spouse?

I think his points are on target. I’ve talked to a few people who admit their marriages failed because they became fully devoted to their children at the expense of their spouse and marriage. Kids are so loveable, so easy to forgive, and so willing to take all your time and adoration. Their futures seem so full of promise that we believe if we only do all the right things, they will be successful. Instead, helicopter parenting (hovering) stifles the realization of their potential. We need to create limits (bed times, time to be with just our spouse) and allow them to develop independence while reuniting with the person we married.

What are some ways you can achieve a five percent improvement by shifting attention from your kids or other activities to your marriage?

20 responses to “Putting Kids First in Families Harms Children

  1. Kudos on another outstanding post. I will copy it and post it on my blog as well, giving you credit of course.

    You are singing my song and preaching my gospel.
    Studies iindicated that 60% of women with children have their husbands on a starvation diet of sex once a week or less. This is stupid in the extreme. Dr. Phil says that if any woman places her needs or the needs of her children ahead of the hubsband’s needs that the husband won’t be around to raise the children to adulthood.

    It leaves the husband stressed, rejected and feeling unloved and unworthy. Men get the bulk of their affecitonal needs met through sex with their wives. It also leaves him vulnerable to cheat on the wife.

    I tell women clients that if they gave their husbands sex 4 times a week at a half hour per session that only amounts to 1% of her total time in the week. If you can’t devote 1% of your time to nurture your husband and your relationship, your priorities are seriously screwed up.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  2. I love this! Kids should always be behind your spouse! It seems there are to many in society and the media who get this backwards.

    We only have one small child, so far we have been able to avoid this trap in our marriage.

  3. We were married young, had our first child on our 1st anniversary and the second child four years later.

    We’ve been married 26 years now and chose to put each other first. Money was very tight, but we always went away and spent time alone (just the two of us) to make sure our relationship was solid.

    Now that the kids are grown, it’s not a shock to find it being just the two of us… we’ve always seen ourselves as a couple first – then as a larger group of a family.

    Our kids both express how thankful they are that we (Rob & I) have a good relationship. As they view their future spouses, (they tell us) they have good models on how to be a “husband” & “wife”.

    From my experience, young adults can be better people if they have parents who are happy together – who talk and share and build a good life.

  4. I 100% agree with Code and this article. I’m a mom of 3 with 2 step daughters. The ex wife thinks her whole world revolves around her daughters spending maybe 15 hours a week at home with her new husband and his child, she thinks that keeping her life busy in the shadow of her daughter in sports is the right way to raise children today. When the girls come to visit for the weekend. It’s all about “the whole family” not just them and the life they live with mom. My husband and I make every Wednesday night date night.”Just us”!!! A good strong marriage succeeds with communications, love and trust. All married people should have date night. I love it.

  5. This article is 1000% correct. I’m the husband in a marriage where my wife vehemently disagrees that the children should come second to the marriage relationship. This has been one of the primary contributors to the problems in our marriage, which is once again on the verge of ending (her choice, not mine). The top comment called once a week sex “starvation”, to which I would agree, but also would say starvation is relative. After we started having kids, we probably averaged 3 times/year, and currently it’s been almost 2 years since we last made love – that’s real starvation folks. Once a month would seem like nirvana to me. Anyway, the point of my comment is to hopefully wake someone up to realize their spouse has to come first. Has to. You can’t build a house on a foundation made of paper, and you can’t raise a happy, well-adjusted brood of kids on a marriage that’s fundamentally flawed because the partners refuse to prioritize all the things necessary to make it strong.

  6. Alan, I offer half hour complimentary sessions. I would be happy to chat with your wife if you like.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  7. Great article but totally disagree about the comment that defines “sex starvation”.

    Even when my husband and I got from our honeymoon (first time we had sex) we only had sex 2-3 times a week. I’d have happily don’t it more but he wanted me to work around uni as he was only working part time and even after he lost his job, he wanted me to the housework and work full time while studying full time.

    I’d have gladly preferred sex to housework and work but whatever made my husband happy, I did.

    Realistically though, even when I quit my job due to an injury, and had much more time on my hands, he never wanted sex more than 2-3 times a week.

    I also am a teeny bit annoyed that the implication is that it’s women only who put kids first, or it’s women that “starve” a guy for sex. I know plenty of families where it’s the dad that ignores his wife and only cares about the kids, and I know a LOT of very frustrated women who aren’t getting enough sex.

    Some like me found out the hard there husbands preferred quantity over quality (and some sadly like me, also found out their husbands weren’t just into women).

    While we tried everything to get a little sex, our husbands preferred sport, prostitutes or dudes.

    Lack of sex can leave the WIFE “stressed, rejected and feeling unloved and unworthy.”. When you’re doing your hardest to get husband into bed, doing all the things that would attract any normal man, and the husband would rather light up his bong and play playstation instead.

    As for the comment about leaving him to cheat on his wife? seriously, that is so 1950s. Guys can have a sexy, hot loving wife who makes love to him twice a day and still will cheat. It happens all too often.

    That’s what happened to my husband – one woman wasn’t enough and still isn’t. He’s had so many engagements and is married for the second time, but he continues to sleep with dozens of men and women despite getting a heap of sex at home. Admittedly, wife number 2 uses him as a punching bag and a salary, but he had unconditional devotion and love from me and sex any time at all he wanted (in fact he frequently turned me down) but it’s not enough.

    He doesn’t feel “manly” unless he is involved in several sexual relationships at once. He has a massive ego problem where he feels worthless if he isn’t sleeping with a stack of women.

    Sadly all the sex in the world, the greatest/hottest/sexiest/most devoted/most loving/etc wife in the world isn’t enough for some guys. A guy who uses lack of sex as a reason to cheat, would have cheated anyway and just found some other excuse to justify their adultery.

    • Julie, I’m glad you added your viewpoint. It is important to remind readers that it isn’t always (or even usually) the woman who puts kids first (or fails to put the marriage first). And, in many cases, females are more interested in sex than males. As you point out, there are many other issues that can be going on under the surface to contribute to sexual problems within a marriage. The issue is about achieving true intimacy, about caring for one another’s emotional and physical needs on an ongoing basis. Having one spouse reluctantly “give in” once a week or whatever the number is…is not a formula for true intimacy. Trust and vulnerability are cornerstones to achieving intimacy, and adultery prevents both.

  8. Hey Julie:

    I fully recognizse and understand that there are women 0ut there who have a higher libido than does the husband. I Cor 7 also recognizes this and says that it is up to the man to put out when the wife is in the mood and he is just as wrong for denying her as the wife is for denying the husband. The bible was for equal rights for men and women long before feminism. I should have stated that in my reply but I deal with the majority. I suggest that you read the Sex Starved Wife by Michelle Weiner Davis.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  9. Thought provoking post! I especially liked the point about how children can be possibly used as an escape from working on a marriage. My experience at Power of Two (www.poweroftwoMarriage.com) has shown me that maintaining and building a relationship that lasts for decades takes great self-reflection and skills that many people are not exposed to growing up. One of the best things I could do for my kids is expose them to how a healthy, functioning relationship works. They can take a backseat at times, while my future husband and I continue to explore and develop our relationship.

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  11. in respect to what those that believe in putting their husbands first it has to be in context to first, you are honoring God by doing it and second you aren’t neglecting your children in the process. If in the end and you were made to choose who would you choose? your children or your husband? You brought your children into this world don’t throw them away like they flies on a wall. A marriage balance cannot be built on sex for if it is, one has already lost the relevance of what a marriage is about. God have mercy on anyone that says their husband is far more important than their child. I know if i had to choose between my wife and my kids well she would have one cold bed to sleep in. i will honor and respect her but if she was to make me choose, it’s a nobrainer.

    • No reasonable parent should ask you to choose between your spouse and your child. Both parents are hopefully willing to sacrifice and even lay down their lives to protect their children. Neglect or inattention isn’t the issue, the issue is that parents can allow every single minute of their day to be consumed by their children, and that isn’t healthy for the family or the child. Children have the opportunity to thrive when they see their family situation is rock solid. And that means parents spend time and attention on each other as well as the children.

  12. John, thanks I will look into that book. It may become relevant when I marry again later this year.

    I don’t think a difference in libido was the problem in my first marriage. My now-ex husband wanted sex just as often, but he wanted sex with lots of women and men, whereas I just wanted it from him.

    He had an endless supply available at home (and I was his best according to him), but it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted the thrill of having lots of sexual partners.

    I’d just like to make some people understanding, cheating is NOT about someone not getting enough sex at home. I was beyond starved for it, but I didn’t cheat, and as much as I love sex, I also haven’t had any in the five years we seperated either. Cheating is never about not getting enough sex at home. It’s always about the cheater’s selfishness and irresponsibility. Focussing on their own pleasure to the detriment of all else.

  13. Well that is completely wrong. When I speak, I speak about the majority and yours is clearly the exception to the rule. I can see from your perspective that it was your problem and you had a lousy husband. Most men would love to only have sex with their wives.

  14. im new here and not sure if marriagecoach1 or others will reply. but…i met a wonderful man several years ago who had the same principals regarding children as I did, that being children are to be loved, supported and come first (that is after the spouse). I am in my mid-40’s with four children ages 16 down to 10, three involved with competitive sports. He is exactly 10 years older and he fell in love with all four children and strangly all four fell in love with him. We were both very active and enjoyed soccer, hiking and running. He taught me how to ski and we have been every year since. While dating and during the first year of marriage, sex was non stop. It seemed he would seek me out just for a kiss and I the same. We went to all the competitive games for each child, making sure they had someone there to cheer them on. If it was not my weekend with the kids, we would leave the games and do domething for us, like hike or run. Sometimes we went dancing, others just sit by the river, drink wine and make love. Then the reasons of his heart medicine, which he had been on since we were engaged were causing him to not maintain an erection and lowering his sex drive. He was given viagra. Great! Then the reasons of he was tired, came about. Sex dwindled from a minimum of 8 times a week to 1 time a week. The second grandchild came into the world and more reasons of why the sex dwindled: he must have low testosterone. This checked out just fine by the doctor. So then it was the snoring. The sleep center stated very low sleep apnea, so no real issue there. And sex? may once every three week s after I complain. But complaining is not worth it. Why? There is no foreplay, its just hurry and get it over with. I have tried many times to talk to him. He says he loves me more today than when we met and he still desires me. WHAT??? I get a hotel room and he doesnt make a move on me. I asked about emotional affair, physical affair both of which he denies. He comes home every night. Does everything around the house without me asking, helps get the kids to practice and pick them up from school and plays soccer with me once or twice a week in the evenings. He sees his grandkids once or twice a week, but says they only get the left-overs. I think he wants them all week, or close to it. Dates? We may go to dinner (which has never been my thing) and then home and he turns on the tv and falls asleep. Claims exhaustion. But if my kids need him or the grandkids? He is up swimming, playing soccer, whatever it takes. Me? He is too tired for anything with me at all. HELP ME What do I do?

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  16. I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else encountering issues with your site.
    It looks like some of the text on your posts are running off the screen. Can someone
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  17. Wait, John is a marriage counselor? Yikes. His first post should have read . . .

    “If any man places her needs or the needs of her children ahead of the wife’s needs that the wife won’t be around to raise the children to adulthood.

    It leaves the wife stressed, rejected and feeling unloved and unworthy. Women get the bulk of their affecitonal needs met through sex with their husbands. It also leaves her vulnerable to cheat on her husband.

    I tell men clients that if they gave their wives sex 4 times a week at a half hour per session that only amounts to 1% of her total time in the week. If you can’t devote 1% of your time to nurture your wife and your relationship, your priorities are seriously screwed up.”

    Please get with the times John!

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