What does your marriage have to do with parenting? Everything. If you have read any of the Ezzos’ books, then you are no stranger to the idea that the marriage, the relationship between you and your spouse, must come first. As Ezzo says in On Becoming Childwise, “Great marriages make great parents,” (page 43).
There is this pervasive idea in our culture that everything we do is for our children. We will sacrifice our health, our happiness and even our marriage as long as it’s what’s best for the child. Among some moms, it’s a competition to see who can be the biggest martyr. These moms equate martyrdom with love, in effect saying that the more you sacrifice, the more you love your child.
In the media today, there are examples of parents choosing divorce and saying that it is what is best for the child. Jon and Kate Gosselin from the reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8 is one example. I think the Ezzos would agree with me that if you really want what’s best, you should work on your marriage and heal that relationship—for your child.*
Ensuring stability and security
The reason the Ezzos say to make your marriage your first priority is not to satisfy your own selfish desires. Nor is it to put your spouse on a pedestal. It is for the sake of the child that we put our marriage first. Your child’s whole world is dependent on his parents. He depends on you for his health, safety and emotional well-being. Your marriage is the ground upon which your child stands. You are his foundation.
Ezzo says it best: “Where there is harmony in the marriage, there is stability within the family. Healthy, loving marriages create a sense of certainty for children. When a child observes the special friendship and emotional togetherness between his parents, he feels secure. He doesn’t wonder about his parents’ commitment to one another. There is no disconnect between what his parents say about their love for each other and what he sees and senses in daily life. Successful parenting flows out of this rock-solid bond,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 36).
Think about what happens during a divorce. Your child’s DNA is made from both of his parents. He is equal parts of the two of you. When your marriage suffers, he suffers as well. When the two parts that make the whole child are split into two, the child is, in essence, torn into two.
Here’s an analogy. Imagine your child standing on a sheet of ice with his weight evenly distributed on both feet. Now imagine that the ice gives way, and a wide crack splits the ice right between his feet. What happens to the child? He either falls through into the ice or he must jump to one side of the crack and run to safety. If your marriage is the ice splitting in two, your child’s stability and safety is in jeopardy. Add to that his need to jump from one side to the other. In that split second when the ice is cracking, he must choose which parent to jump to for safety.
Creating a family identity
One phrase you will hear in Ezzo circles is that the child is a welcome member of the family but is not the center of it. Putting your marriage first not only creates security for your child, but it also creates a sense of togetherness. It builds the family identity.
Here’s another analogy for you. Imagine yourself on your wedding day holding both of your spouse’s hands. There you are, looking into each other’s eyes, standing close together and feeling loved. When you bring a child into the family, where does he go? Do you continue to stand there together still holding your spouse’s hands and let the child stand between you? If so, what happens when the child gets bigger? What happens when you have more children? Eventually, you find that you can barely touch each other’s fingertips much less hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes.
Rather than putting the child in the center, let your child stand next to you with the three of you holding hands in a circle as a family unit. Look into each other’s eyes. Talk to each other. And let your family circle grow as you bring new children into it.
Setting an example for love
When your child is raised in a home with two parents who visibly love each other, the child learns how to love. As in all aspects of parenting, we are models for our children. We set the example that they are to follow. Show your child what it means to have a healthy, happy marriage so that he can grow up to achieve the same for himself.
Feeling loved allows you to give love
When your marriage is happy and healthy, your spouse shows love for you on a regular basis. You feel loved. As a result, you are better able to express love to your child. If you feel depleted, then you have nothing to give. As they say on the airlines: put your own oxygen mask on first. When you are happy and healthy, your child will be happy and healthy.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some practical ideas to help you make your marriage a priority.
*A little caveat here: staying in an abusive marriage is not what is best for the child (or you).