Am I busy?
I’m a wife, author, blogger, and homeschooling mom to four girls. Yep, you read that right … four girls.
It’s a sibling quartet that elicits unsolicited remarks everywhere I go. Sometimes about teen angst, other times on the increasing expense of weddings, and I even get my share of Little Women comparisons. If you’d like, from here on out, you can just call me “Marmee.”
My two oldest daughters are nineteen months apart. One is a teen, the other inching closer to thirteen with each birthday. Some days the emotional rollercoasters that race through our house leave us all either crying or wanting to. Well, except my husband Ted. I think he’s mostly just confused by it all.
Third in line is my strong-willed, out-of-the-box thinking, nonconformist fourth grader. The one who occasionally completes her homework in invisible ink. The good news is that at least she provides me with a black light so I can grade it.
And the last in my Fab Four? Well, she just hit the first grade. She’s the baby of the family and has all the charm and occasional sass to prove it.
Emotional rollercoasters and all, I love my girls dearly. Each of them has a unique, God-given personality with individual strengths and weaknesses. As their mom, I’m excited to watch how the Lord uses and continues to use the ways He’s hard-wired them for His glory.
But they aren’t arrows ready to be sent out yet.
Right now, I’m still in the daily trenches of training them. The trenches filled with temperamental rollercoasters, invisible ink, and sass. And it’s serious business. It takes a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy to, as Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way he [or in my case, ‘she’] should go.”
That’s why judgment was the last thing on my tongue when I read an article a few years ago titled, “I’m 99% Mother and 1% Wife – And It Has to Be That Way.” You see, as a fellow mom, I understood this mom’s point: parenting is exhausting and time-consuming. It is. I get it. I bet you do too.
Here’s the thing, though: No matter how exhausting or demanding parenting may be for me, my husband and our marriage will always come before my kids. Always.
What does that mean exactly?
It means that to me Ted is #1 (after God, of course), not #5 (after four kids). I will always make time for him and the growing of our relationship. No matter how demanding parenting may be, I will never tell him, “I don’t have time for you” or “the kids are my highest priority.” Not with my words, my attitudes, or my actions.
Does this mean I’ll neglect our kids and their emotional and physical needs? Absolutely not.
Sometimes the time I devote to Ted and our marriage comes after I help my six-year-old pour a cup of milk or after I comfort the bruised feelings of a nine-year-old left out by her sisters or even after all the kids are in bed. But time for him and our marriage will always come consistently.
Here are three reasons why I’m 49% mother and 51% wife and why it has to be that way.
- My marriage is a lifelong commitment to “Team Us”
When Ted and I said “I do,” we made a lifelong commitment to each other. We became a team for better and for worse. We determined that we’d increasingly grow more mutually dependent. Our lives and our stories would slowly and steadily become intertwined.
The commitment we have with our kids is intended to be different. When each of our girls was born, yes, we pledged to love and care for them. But our relationship with them isn’t meant to be interdependent. Instead, we’re meant to raise them to become increasingly independent from us. To one day make homes of their own.
This fundamental difference of interdependence versus increasing independence is biblical. Scripture introduces it in the early chapters of Genesis when God first creates woman and presents her to man. We read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). From the beginning, God intended spouses to prioritize one another over others, including kids.
- My marriage isn’t static
The Ted I’m married to today isn’t the same Ted I said “I do” to twelve years ago.
Sure, he has the same blue eyes. The same crazy hair worthy of his middle name Wolfgang. Yes, he still often stuns people with his dry, witty sense of humor. And, all these years later, his passion for soy sauce and politics remains rock solid.
But he’s also changed over the years. So have I. Neither of us is a static individual.
Our marriage isn’t static either. It will change with time. And it’s up to us what that change will look like. Will we put the effort into consistently growing together? Or will we put our relationship on the back burner only to find out a few years from now that the “us” has slowly become “you” and “me” again?
For us, there’s no question. We are going to grow together, not atrophy apart.
And that takes making our marriage #1, not #5 after our kids. It means adjusting and balancing our schedules so we have daily shared time together. It means hiring a babysitter so we can have a leisurely dinner, or leaving the kids with a trusted family member for the weekend so we can get away, just the two of us.
- My kids need it
Making my husband and marriage #1 isn’t simply the best thing I can do for Ted and me, but also for each of my girls. My kids need me to put their dad first, not them.
I’ve read countless articles citing research that shows a strong, happy marriage benefits children. It gives them security, it models healthy relationships for them, it teaches them that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their needs. Conversely, if a marriage isn’t getting the attention it needs, kids feel this too. It negatively affects their emotional state, their sense of security, and their perception of marriage.
When the day comes that these arrows of ours are ready to fly, it’s my hope that our girls will have parents who love each other more deeply. That my girls won’t find themselves adult children of parents who are strangers because they never put “us” first. Who, sadly, don’t even remember who “us” was.
If the day ever comes that I don’t have time for Ted and the growing of our marriage, that’s the day things need to change. That’s the day something other than my marriage needs to take a backseat.
And that’s just the way it has to be.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of “Team Us: Marriage Together” and “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard” (coming October 2017). Find out more about Ashleigh at AshleighSlater.com or follow her on Facebook.