Last Friday, I arrived home after a long day at a seminar in Atlanta. I'd left early in the morning, before my wife and kids were up, and returned roughly around dinner time. As I pulled into the drive, my children rushed to the car to meet me. They were excited to see Dad and immediately started bombarding me with information. I was glad to see my kids. I gave them all hugs and listened with "fascination" as William described how he'd skateboarded down the sidewalk without falling and Emerson shared about the sleepover she'd been invited to that weekend.
As my little paparazzi followed me, begging for my attention and expecting me to stop, I slowly kept moving as I said things like, "Really?... That's wonderful, Buddy..." and, "Sounds awesome, Emerson..."
Entering the house, I found my wife, Meredith, cooking dinner. She was wearing a sweatshirt and pajama pants. Her hair was pulled back in her customary "mommy pony tail." It was obvious from her appearance that she'd been tending to household responsibilities and kids all day. In other words, she looked beautiful as always.
It's then that I did the most important thing any father can do when he gets home at the end of the day. I turned to my children (whom I dearly love) and said, "Guys, I want all of you to go outside and play while Daddy and Mommy talk for ten minutes." That's right; I sent my children away so that I could have a few moments alone with my wife.
Why? What deep thing did I need to discuss with Meredith? What important issue demanded that we talk right away without the kids around? Absolutely nothing. The fact of the matter was, I just wanted to see my wife and have some time alone with her. I hadn't seen her all day, and I wanted to find out how she was doing.
Often, when I write 'Dadlosophies,' I make reference to how important it is that we spend time with our kids and not let the concerns of life crowd out what's most important--our families. I especially think that this is valuable advice for dads, who are often busy pursuing careers and have a tendency to define themselves by what they do for a living. We're usually the ones who can most easily make the mistake of defining what it means to provide for our families in material rather than spiritual, emotional, and developmental terms.
But even parents devoted to spending time with their children can fall into a dangerous and potentially destructive pattern (destructive for the marriage and the kids, themselves). If not careful, our homes can become kid-centric rather than marriage-centric. One of the dangerous trends I often see developing in families is when our households all-to-easily end up revolving around the children instead of the marriage. Before we know it, we parents wake up and realize we've become mommy and daddy first and husband and wife second. Mom's life is more about caring for the kids than being what her husband needs. Dad comes home and immediately engages the children rather than first making sure his wife is okay and connecting with her.
Here's the deal: Your child's greatest need (outside of a relationship with God) is a strong, loving marriage between Mommy and Daddy. Nothing--ABSOLUTELY NOTHING--makes a child feel safer and more secure than seeing that Mommy loves Daddy more than anything or anybody, and absolutely no one (not even his own child) holds a candle to Mommy in Daddy's heart. As my new friend and nationally renowned parenting expert, John Rosemond, puts it: "Mommy and Daddy HAVE A RELATIONSHIP with their child, but they are IN A RELATIONSHIP with one another." Translation: I'm my wife's husband first and my kids' dad second. Meredith is my wife first and my kids' mommy second. Our home must revolve around our relationship as husband and wife, not our kids' schooling, extracurricular activities, children's "needs" (which often are just wants), and so on.
Yes, I take time every day to spend with my children. Of course there are times when the kids get and even require our full attention. But Meredith is number one. In fact, it's no contest. When Meredith is talking to me, the kids know that they are not to interrupt. When I come home at the end of the day, I want to (and will) see my wife first. I'll take some time to play with my kids, but not until after I get quality time with Mommy. And when there is an issue that involves disobedience or requires discipline, the kids know that Mommy and Daddy stand united. We back each other up and trust each other's judgment. Trying to play us against one another is a crucial and, as my children have learned, potentially fanny-painful error.
Does that mean Meredith and I always agree? No. But we act like we do in front of the kids, then discuss any differences of opinion behind closed doors. In short, the most important relationship in the home is NOT parent-child, it's husband-wife. Our children are NOT the center of the household universe, Mommy and Daddy are.
What about your home? Is it kid-centric or marriage-centric? Does your kids' world revolve around your marriage, or do you and your spouse continually neglect each other because of the kids' activities, the children's "needs," or some unhealthy cultural standard you've bought into that erroneously suggests your worth as a parent is gauged by how much time you devote to your children or how much you've helped them accomplish in comparison to other kids?
If your kids are the center of things, then you're setting them up for failure. What happens when they get out in the real world and are met with the harsh realization that things don't revolve around them? What happens when your child, who is used to being waited on, catered to, or given precedence over everybody and everything gets married one day and is disappointed to learn that his or her spouse falls short of adequately "meeting their needs?" Can you say 'divorce after only a year or two of marriage?'
Nope, best thing you can give your kids is a strong marriage and a sober realization that they aren't the main player. Trust me, they'll be more secure and comfortable in that role, and it will provide them with a good, realistic assessment of themselves. One that will better equip them to interact with others, have strong relationships, and do well in life once all is said and done.
And moms, don't buy the lie that the best mothers pour tons of time and attention into their kids. No, the best moms are the ones who teach their kids to be people of character, to care about others, and to fend for themselves because they'll have to in the real world. This means occasionally REFUSING to do for your children, insisting they solve certain problems on their own, requiring them to do some chores around the house, not being afraid to lead and discipline your kids, and sometimes reminding your precious little angels that they aren't anything special rather than constantly shining a spotlight on every little thing they do as if it were some earth-shattering accomplishment. (A dose of humility will serve kids well, don't you think?)
So parents, show your kids some love. Send them away while you hug each other, kiss each other, compliment each other, and ask each other about your days. Chances are, there's a little kiddo who'll be peeking in, smiling, and feeling happy and secure in the knowledge that Mommy and Daddy love each other more than anyone else in the world--even the kids.
* THIS PAST WEEKEND, I SPENT TIME WITH PARENTING EXPERT, JOHN ROSEMOND. WHILE I HAVE LONG HELD THE CONVICTION THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP IN ANY FAMILY IS THE MARRIAGE AND PUTTING THE KIDS BEFORE A SPOUSE CAN BE EXTREMELY DETRIMENTAL, MUCH OF WHAT JOHN HAD TO SAY SERVED AS A GOOD WAKE UP CALL TO REASSESS HOW I'M DOING IN THIS AREA. I CHOSE TO FOCUS ON THIS SUBJECT THIS WEEK IN LARGE PART TO SOME OF HIS REMINDERS. THANKS, JOHN.