Who Comes First: Husband or Children | Rachel Rainbolt

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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. Anonymous says:

    I strongly disagree. If I were to have children my husband would always come first. No matter what. He is my husband and the person I chose to spend my life with. I would leave a relationship in which my partner would put the child(ren) first. End of story. Heck, my horses and snakes will be put before the child as well. That’s not to say I would neglect it, but I am incapable of loving a child the way I love my husband and animals. Also, it sounds like you have something against people who are religious.

    • John Doe says:

      Wait you would put some snakes before a child that you birthed in the world? The same child will grow into a adult and can be there to help you when you old. The love of a animal over your own child, smh…

    • Valentina says:

      Well it’s a good thing you don’t have kids yet. Why would your husband come first? He’s a full-grown man capable of taking care of himself. Why would you leave a partner who’d put their kids first? They’d just be fulfilling their roles as parents. Putting your children before your spouse does not mean you love your spouse any less, it just means you’re willing to accept the fact that your husband can take care of himself, your children need guidance more than he does.
      Stick to your horses and snakes, it sounds like children aren’t for you.

    • Ana Victoria Santa Cruz Wong says:

      I’ve said so many things I would do or wouldn’t haven done prior to having my babies. Just saying, your world will completely change if you ever do have children. Unfortunately, we do not really understand until we are living it.

    • Lucy says:

      I hope you don’t have children.

  2. Ginger says:

    I am currently in marriage counseling with my husband who feels I make my kids (mine from my prior marriage) my top priority and he feels like he has no “control” in his own house. The counseling we are currently in is encouraging me to prioritize him over my children and to allow him to make decisions regarding my children – things such as possible medical treatment or rather or not they are allowed to do certain things. I am having a hard time with this. Before meeting him I was a single mom for over 8 years. I do not feel as though he has any right to make decisions like that regarding my children even if he does portray a father figure to them. I love him, I want to be with him but I do not think I need to relinquish my decision making rights regarding my children to make him happy. Thoughts?

  3. Lakotah Presti says:

    While sitting with your husband while you could be actively playing with your children IS putting him and your relationship first, stopping to help your children with their various needs is nurturing them as you do so. You are putting that relationship first, without even realizing it. It isn’t about dates, vacations alone , or shutting them out and only focusing on your husband all the time (though, as you mentioned, some think so). You’re doing the exact thing you wrote about how much you despise, just properly. You’re right about compartments, no one can function that way. The example you gave at the end should be the example given by those who preach “marriage first”.

  4. 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.

    • john christ says:

      #1 When people say you should prioritize your kids first, it doesn’t mean you neglect your spouse. 🙂

      #2 You tell that : “If one partner is lacking attention, or is feeling neglected, not only will that effect their marriage it will affect how they parent”.

      Why? I think this only proves that he / she is a selfish parent. My mother was always neglected by my father but she was a great parent.

      #3 You tell that “When you get married, you are making a bond, a solid bond”.
      Is not the bond with your kids solid? Won’t you make a bond with your kids also? Won’t you love your kids?

      #3 You need each other but your kids need you “more” than your spouse.

      #4 You focus only on “best marriage”. But best marriage does not mean best kids.
      I know couples who deeply love each other but neglect their kids badly. Parenting is not related with marriage.
      And what will you do if you divorce? Without a marriage won’t you continue to be a parent?

      #5 A parent who puts his / her marriage / future / happiness over kids happiness / future is a “selfish parent”.
      How can kids trust parents who selfishly priotirize themselves over their kids?

      #6 Your spouse can divorce you or die before you but your kids will be always there. But if you selfishly put yourselve over your kids they will probably be alienated from you when they grow up.
      I am a 44 years old male and my mother will always stay as my family & best friend.

      #7 Parenting is probably the most important job we do. We shape humans and the future of the society. What can be more important than this? Really?

      • Raymonn says:

        John Christ, I believe you’ve missed the point again. I believe the comment is saying there is no exclusion of either of your family members. It’s saying you can have both. And having both makes it a better environment to raise kiddos that flourish because the environment is good.

    • Raymonn says:

      Now, this is the greatest advice I’ve seen in regards to this post.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Kiki says:

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

  9. 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.

  10. Alex says:

    I love this article so much!

    • Robert C Howell says:

      I agree.
      I am wondering why one has to be put over the other in the first place. Is one not as important as the other? Why must one be more important then the other. The way I see it is this needs more details. I get not putting a spouse over kids, but at the same time I don’t get putting the kids over the spouse. That just states that one is more important then the other. When IMO “and that is all I have because I don’t know everything”.one is no more important then the other.

      What are the issues we are talking about that are important enough to separate the two? Is he/she cheating? Is he/she abusive, toxic? Or is it just the case where they feel neglected and need attention?

      My opinion is if what they need has the potential to harm my kids, or myself then why would I put their needs first? But if its the second one and they just want to be noticed or some love then why is it so hard to find time to help them feel better?

      We ALL want attention, love, to be noticed, and to feel acknowledged. I just feel like I’ve heard a few times I love such and such. We married each because I love such and such. Then we had kids and I also love my children. When did the meaning of Love divide into different meaning? I am aware of only one definition of the word love. Which I’ll state. I know its not the whole complete definition but ask yourself if that is really important when just showing this much is enough in the first place.

      ” According to the dictionary, love is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary defines love as, “The act of caring and giving to someone else. Having someone’s best interest and wellbeing as a priority in your life. To truly love is a very selfless act.”

      No where in that do I see anything about “until you have children then love means this for one and something else for the other”

      What it really comes down to IMO is the authors priorities. We all have to make decisions in life on what is important and what isn’t.

      I have a couple questions of my own for the author.

      Do you put your work needs before your kids?
      Do you put your work needs before your spouses?
      Surely your not putting your work needs over your kids. If their needs come first then there is no way to justify doing that.. If you did that then by definition your stating you love your work more then your children.

      Same goes for your spouse. By definition of love which is…..

      “According to the dictionary, love is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary defines love as, “The act of caring and giving to someone else. Having someone’s best interest and wellbeing as a priority in your life. To truly love is a very selfless act.”

      By criticizing your spouse by telling them they are not a priority in your life makes them feel unwanted. If they were a priority then would their needs not be important? Now I understand boundaries. The spouses need for something like you know what time, itch my back, back rub please NOW…..etc etc should never come before the children if they are scared or upset. Lets be real though. Unless your doing something wrong your children should not be scared or upset 24 hours a day in the first place. So unless you are putting your work, somebody else, or yourself first there should always be time for your spouse.

      I would also like to add. If the spouse is childish or acting selfish then the question is what kind of role model is your spouse for the kids in the first place? You also need to ask yourself. Why did I marry this person if I feel like this about them? Maybe another question is. Do I hold any responsibility for my spouses behavior?

      Now I understand we are not completely responsible for another persons actions. But we must hold some responsibility for it if we are truly neglecting their needs. We all have needs and when our needs are not met we respond in different ways. A person that is neglected will feel NEGLECTED. A person that feels abused will feel ABUSED. on and on………If we honestly care about the other person then we should have no issues sitting down and thinking. Am neglecting this person? Then trust becomes a question. Do I trust this person?

      Which then leads to if they are this bad then why did I marry them, and why am I with them? How does me staying with a person this bad show I care about the needs of my children?

      I feel like when you discredit or downplay the needs of your spouse that shows your children that marriage and family is not as important to you as you claim. There is nothing wrong with disagreements in front of children. AS long as that disagreement stays respectful. If you can’t respect your spouse enough to work through disagreements in a positive way then your children will not learn how to communicate with others when they disagree.

      I firmly believe we are a product of our environment from when we were children ourselves. If our parents never demonstrated how to communicate even through disagreements then chances are many of us won’t either. We will just repeat what we see. EXample.”You said my dad neglected my mom but she was still a great parent” Did you not understand how much that hurt your mother? Why would you allow your spouse to go through the same thing? Why not think……..

      I know my mother was a great parent and she did the best she did. I know she felt neglected from my father and I seen what it did to her but the strength she had to keep going for us gives me inspiration. Knowing how she felt I never want to put my spouse through that. If I do then all I’m doing is repeating history, dishonoring my mother by acting like my father. I would also ask……..Did your father neglect you? Was he a bad father? What was his father or mother like? What kind of environment did he grow up in? ETC ETC.

      If you truly love your spouse then you owe it to them to not only judge them and their actions. But to look at your own.

      By the way. I grew up in a home that never divorced. They are still together today and they have been for 44 years. When I was a child my father beat the hell out of me and my mother. My mother would put herself between him and I to protect me. She looked at me one day and said. “Rob when you grow up promise me you will not do the same to your wife” While I cried I promised. I went 42 years honoring that promise. I lost it and hit my wife. I lost my temper. I can state the reason but it will just sound like an excuse which it is. I should have never done it. I haven’t since. The point is when it came down to it. I responded to a situation in the wrong way. I had not been in a fight with my spouse in this magnitude ever in our 21 years of marriage. Nothing we ever disagreed on effected me as much as that disagreement. My natural instincts came out. What was my natural instincts and why? My natural instincts where to respond to the situation the only way I knew how. By what I seen growing up. I did not have the tools and neither did she that we needed to communicate in the proper way. Because she was in a similar situation.

      She was not beat, and didn’t witness her father beating her mother. But she also didn’t see her parents have disagreements. So while that is good, I think it effected her more then me. I at least knew what not to do. She didn’t have experience in either.

      I think if we disrespect our spouse, choose one over the other, and we don’t act real in front of our children that actually harms them more. They get a false imprecision of life, love marriage, the importance of honesty, and what respect is.

      If we want to teach them to be honest and to respect others then we need to lead by example. If our kids hear us say one thing but see us do another then does that not effect their perception on what it means to be honest and respectful? Like wise. If marriage is important and living by your word then would it not be in their best interest to not only show them the good but the bad? So they can learn how to work through it and not just give up? IMO what we are doing is telling them that honesty and respect for others are extremely important. We want them to grow up being the best people they can be not only to themselves but for those around them. I heard the other day that we communicate 70 percent through action and 30 verbally. If we are just talking about what it means to do the right thing then doing different with our actions would that not be teaching them to do the wrong thing? I mean unless you are telling them to grow up to be bad verbally but through your actions your telling them to be the best they can be. Yeah I don’t think we would do that either. So if we won’t tell them to grow up to be horrible people verbally then why do it with our actions when that will effect the out come more then the other……..

      I would rather somebody tell me they hate me but show me love then if somebody told me they loved me but always treated me like I didn’t matter. Just saying.

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