This morning my local radio station polled listeners on the question of who comes first: self, partner or children? A spread of men and women answered and while a couple of people said self, the majority said children and no one that I heard said partner!
So what is the answer to that question? A simple answer for me would be self, partner and then children. But it is not that simple - it is really a case of trying to pick the first among equals. Day to day, in the moment, those with the highest needs tend to get prioritised so it makes sense that most people would say children – they demand our focus and rightly so. It is our job as parents to meet those needs and then teach and empower our children to meet them for themselves so they can grow up. But there are consequences to not also prioritising ourselves and our partner in all of this.
So my rationale for my simple answer is this. Self first is on the basis that if you don’t have anything in your tank you have nothing to give so you need to nurture yourself first (I have written about this before). If you don’t take time to look after yourself you will get easily overwhelmed by the needs and demands of those around you and when we are overwhelmed our best selves hide and grumpy mummy or daddy is more likely to surface!!
Partner coming second is about ensuring that the relationship is prioritised so that it stays strong and healthy so that you, as a couple can give the best to your children. We know from the research that child centred relationships run into trouble when one or both partners feel the connection between them wane, when the children’s needs take over and the couple makes no time for each other. Research from the Gottman Institute shows that relationship satisfaction drops for 67% of couples in the year after the birth of the first child. As John Gottman, relationship expert says, a couple’s emotional connection is the real foundation for our children’s development. One of the biggest challenges for a relationship is to maintain that connection after the kids come along. This takes prioritising your partner and your relationship.
And putting children last does not mean that their needs are any less important in the family system but when you are strong and your relationship is strong you will find it a whole lot easier to meet those needs. It is not focusing on your children that is the issue – it is focussing on them to the exclusion of self or your partner that creates the problem.
It is really all about balance – a very delicate balancing act that can be thrown off track at a moment’s notice. Every age and stage that your children go through throws up new challenges, and from my own experience as an individual, and a wife, and the mother to 4 children (currently aged between 9 and 16) every time I think I have it all balanced something comes along to shake it all up again.
To help keep that balance as a family it helps to have some structures, routines or rituals in place to keep it all working – everything will flow from there. Rituals like family dinner with the television off (children), date nights (partner), having an exercise routine (self) have all been shown to have a positive effect on that balance – everyone feeling like they are getting what they need.
What is one thing you can do today to bring yourself or your partner back onto the priority list?
If you need some help I have two new workshops available from the Gottman Institute that are full of ideas about how to do exactly that. You can find out more information about the workshops here.