Happy Children or a Happy Marriage?
Sarah and Matt have been married four years and have two children, aged three and one. They have a beautiful home in Dalhousie, the kind of house most young couples work for many years to afford. A few weeks ago, they decided to take a ‘break from their marriage,’ because they were both ‘unhappy.’
“I don’t understand,” says Celine, Sarah’s mother. “They have everything any couple could want, a big house, two beautiful children and secure jobs. Why can’t they appreciate what they have and make the marriage work instead of taking a break?”
Celine tries to analyze the problem and says “Maybe they just accomplished too much too soon. They had a fancy wedding and moved into this big, new house just after the first baby came along. They really didn’t have to wait for anything or work and save to get it.”
Or, are Sarah and Matt like a lot of young couples, who have a child-centred marriage, where the children are the priority, rather than each other? Many couples work long hours and come home to deal with cranky, entitled children, not to mention the guilt of having left them with caregivers as well as the pressure of making sure the children are destined for success with coddling and over-stimulation. No wonder, they go to bed exhausted with barely an acknowledgement of each other’s presence.
Lots of terms describe this style of parenting, including hyper-parenting, micromanaging, over parenting. Whatever the term, the rituals of molding these children almost from birth into super-kids is the same. And the intense focus on the kids doesn’t guarantee their health, happiness or successful future. It can create anxiety for the children and the kind of stress on the parents that can threaten the marriage.
Chris and Lydia of Burlington shake their heads when they describe their daughter’s marriage. “She told us recently that she feels more love for her kids than her husband,” Lydia says. “They get along, they never argue, but my sense is that each of them has checked out of the marriage for the time being while the children are little. My question is what happens when the kids grow up and leave the nest? What bond is there left?”
Chris adds his perspective: “When Nancy and I were raising children, we made a pact that while we worked hard at raising our children, our relationship came first. We made time for each other, we had a social life outside the family and the kids knew we were a united front when it came to rules.”
Dr. R.C Dubuc of Ottawa supports Chris’s premise. “When two people make the child the centre of the family, they don’t establish the boundaries a child needs to learn self reliance. Not only that, when a child senses that his parents are not on the same page, he can badger until he gets his way.”
Dubuc advises parents to “build a strong marriage first. A good marriage is the best role model for a child in learning about respect for others, cooperation and commitment. It’s a good lesson for children if you are seen to invest in your own relationship. A good marriage also makes a child feel safe.”