Who Comes First: Husband or Children | Rachel Rainbolt

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PNW Adventure Mama and the Sage Family coach, writer, podcaster, and advocate for gentle parenting, natural homeschooling, and simple living.


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Who Comes First: Husband or Children?

Apr 19, 2015
Husband and wife in playful embrace on the kitchen counter.

I’ve been urged to respond to the bad advice that pops up from time to time to put your husband before your children. “The partnership is the cornerstone of the family,” you think, “though this doesn’t feel quite right.” This time around, it is in the form of a gem (insert sarcastic tone) of an article (I use that term loosely) linked at the end of this post, from which I have taken a few quotes to address the most pressing points.

1. “My husband must always come before our children.”

A spouse’s needs should not come first because your spouse is an adult, capable of meeting his or her own needs, whereas a child is completely dependent upon you to meet their needs.

Also, this just reeks of religious patriarchy.

2. “I strongly believe that modeling a healthy relationship for our children sets the foundation for how they form bonds when they get older.”

Having a relationship with your partner that exists separately from your children fails to provide role modeling a healthy marital relationship because they don’t actually see anything but you two walking out the door.

3. “In a few years, our son and daughter will leave our home and when they do, I want to celebrate a job well done with my lover-not sit in a quiet house with a person who has become a stranger…”

Your relationship with your children does last the rest of your entire life. Your children can become your closest of friends in adulthood. They can endlessly enrich your life as they expand their own families. You can relive the best parts of parenting without the day-to-day struggle as a grandparent. They are the ones who will be caring for you when you are old. The devoted love you build them upon today will be matched at the other end of your life cycle. Children are not a short-term investment.

4. “… you will not find our kids in our bed at night. If we can only afford to take one vacation a year, we take it alone, and I feel no guilt about soliciting the help of family so that we can have a date night where we talk about anything but our children.”

Nurturing your children and nurturing your partner are not mutually exclusive! We can invest in our marriages while we invest in our children (and ourselves).

This is the crux for me. You are better off investing your resources (attention, energy, money, time) into creating a life in which you, your marriage, and your children are all nourished.

Husband and wife happily making tea together.

Is more alone time with your partner or children the answer?

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

Seth Godin

Is there anything wrong with taking a vacation? Absolutely not. But the goal should be to live a life that continually nourishes you, as opposed to living a life that depletes you and then needing to get away from it.

Related Side Note: Once my mother left me behind and went on a vacation with her husband to Hawaii. That marriage ended (because as much as we don’t like to admit it, relationships with spouses often do end while relationships with children rarely do) and now she is stuck with a resentful daughter.

The other day I had a lovely afternoon with my 3-year-old while my husband was at work and my 6 and 9-year-old were at the learning center. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying times in the different dynamics of the various people in your life that occur naturally to everyone’s benefit.

The problem arises when you need those times to maintain your connection.

This issue falls under the same category as everyone espousing “more alone time” when you have a newborn, “more special days” with one child when you have another, or “more date nights” when your marriage is not in a good place.

Compartmentalization is not sustainable.

Integration is how you honor the fullness of who you are.

So the question becomes how to nurture those various aspects of ourselves as one integrated being. Our society likes to keep everything separate and boxed. You are a lawyer. Then you are a mother. Then you are a wife.

I call bullshit.

People are not happy when they have to wall themselves apart. It is not sustainable and no one’s needs are fully met. If I have to neglect my children and abandon my journey of self-actualization to nurture my husband’s attachment needs, then it is not going to work. If you are disjointed, you have to choose either/or.

We need to INTEGRATE. Integration begets authentic connection. I strive to help families with this as they transition from a couple to a family through my work but there is no magic bullet.

The suggestion of putting your husband at the top is a weight loss pill in place of a healthy lifestyle. Whatever the “need,” there is a way to meet it wherever you are because that peace has to come from within.

It’s not waiting for you at your vacation hotel. It’s not on the dinner table at a fancy restaurant. It’s right there, wherever you are, for the taking.

Husband and wife kissing in the kitchen.

What it looks like to honor everyone’s needs.

Right now I am sitting in my backyard alongside my husband. I am writing this article while he is painting on canvas and our legs are affectionately entangled. We are chatting about topics that organically flitter like the breeze around us: California’s water crisis, pasta, and then a newly acquired scar. Our three little ones are running all around us, jumping on us for a hug, running past for a high five, passing us an object for assistance, and talk-yelling exciting recaps of their backyard adventures.

I am not choosing a person priority. I am not wearing an occupational hat to indicate a present role. I am my wholly integrated self in all the ways that feed my soul while meeting the needs of those I love.

The key to a long, healthy, happy marriage is not a commitment to remain the same (staying the way you were before you had children) but evolving as you move through various life stages.

Do you lovingly help each other to be your best selves and add joy to each other’s lives while you are getting to know yourselves in early adulthood … while you are focused on caring for dependent young children … while you are helping adolescents to launch … while you are exploring the world as a twosome?

It’s the flexibility that leads to success, not the rigidity. You were both reborn as parents. You will now need to connect in new ways that incorporate your new selves.

If you want to learn more . . .

Listen to this Peaceful Partnership episode of the Sage Family Podcast

Link here to credit the quotes. Please don’t click it as I do not wish to send traffic to the site propagating this message.

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  1. J says:

    As a therapist I see a lot of people I. Marriage counseling due to the fact that the people in the marriage do not have their priorities in order. I think this article really misses the mark, and is not actually arguing the correct point.

    When people say you should prioritize your husband/wife first, it doesn’t mean you neglect your children. It’s more about realizing your a team that is working together. One is the quarterback, the other is the receiver. You make decisions together, you depend on each other, and you need each other. When you get married, you are making a bond, a solid bond. However, if one partner is lacking attention, or is feeling neglected, not only will that effect their marriage it will affect how they parent. It’s a spouses job to nurture their husband or wife, to affirm them, to be that shoulder to lean on.

    Back to therapy. I see the best marriages when the two prioritize each other, that helps them become better parents. When two parents have a deep and profound love for one another there’s an energy and an influence that effects every one in the home.

  2. Norah says:

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying. Why is it not possible for families to weigh the needs of everyone in them, as humans have always done? I go out on date nights with my husband, which we both enjoy greatly; our children spend time with their family members or their babysitters, whom they love and build connections with. Most of the time we eat dinner at home with our children (but not all the time). Why pathologize normal familial affairs? Sometimes we want to be with our children, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes our children want to be with us, sometimes they don’t. It seems to me unhealthy to put any ONE person’s wants/desires (whether wife, husband, or child) first before anyone else’s. Family relationships are complex and require constant give and take. You say:
    “Our society likes to keep everything separate and boxed. You are a lawyer. Then you are a mother. Then you are a wife. I call bullshit. People are not happy when they have to wall themselves apart. It is not sustainable and no one’s needs are fully met. If I have to neglect my children and abandon my journey of self-actualization to nurture my husband’s attachment needs, then it is not going to work. If you are disjointed, you have to choose either/or.”
    I don’t feel like I wall myself off at all; when I go to work, of course I do my work; at home, I am both wife and mother simultaneously – no need to categorize. No one is neglecting their children by going out for a date night or vacation with their partner. This is normal, and it seems you are attempting to write these desires/needs of adults off as somehow dysfunctional or “not self-actualizing”…when it fact it is possible to grow as a human both with and without your children alongside you.
    I believe it is neither healthy nor desirable for parents to be side by side with their children at every moment of the day. Certainly, if parents believe this – they will be hit hard when their children become teenagers, need their own room for growth (alone), and eventually go off to live on their own.
    Perhaps I am misinterpreting you?

  3. Anna C says:

    Thank you so much for this post. We need more of them! What the “husband competing with his own children” articles fail to talk about is the responsibility of the husband. It is so damaging to young mothers. There is so much pressure on us, hardly any support, and thanks to such advice, more pressure to meet another adults’ needs.
    The question should not be asked in the first place! As you said, the family is intertwined and works together, the focus should be on Integration not compartmentalization. I would take the advice further, and make sure both parents are emotionally mature to have children. And should focus on them meeting their own needs. When we receive advice to neglect the children so we can meet our spouse’s needs, it just leads to repeating the cycle. Thank you.

  4. Dell says:

    I absolutely agree with this. I always found myself clenching up whenever reading people’s advice to put the spouse above the children. Some people unfortunately discover a very, resentful, jealous and immature (that can sometimes border on or become quite emotiinally abusive) side to their spouse after having children and whilst I’m all for having compassion for that (childish) side of your spouse, I think it’s a bad idea to pander to a spoiled brat above all others, no matter what their age or relationship to you. Your spouse is mean to be your partner, your equal and hopefully someone who is emotionally mature enough to share the responsibility of navigating the emotional trials and joys of parenting.

  5. Kiki says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this topic! I think there is a lot of wisdom here.

  6. Stephen Mattani says:

    I think the article and that to which it responds misses the mark a little. These priorities are not mutually exclusive but somewhat intertwined.

    I think it is the responsibility of every participant in a primary relationship to prioritize their spouse while in parallel considering the needs of their children. That said, the points you make about adults being able to satisfy their own needs rings strongly. However, I temper that reasoning should a spouse make the repeated choice to relegate a partner automatically behind the needs of children then I would fear for the relationship long term.

  7. Alex says:

    I love this article so much!

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