So this piece: Who comes first, your partner or your kids? did the rounds yesterday. Go read it if you haven’t then come back…
I was struck by the negative comments to the piece – and also the fact that people clearly seem to think this is an OUTRAGEOUS thing to say. Personally, I read it and thought “er, yeah, that’s absolutely right. Of course it is. How could you possibly argue otherwise..?”
Looking back at 8 years of parenting we’ve always (not with any particular grand plan) done three things that seem to fit what Marshall says:
1) always said a firm and absolute no (apart from moments of illness where it was absolutely necessary and those first few weeks of non-sleep hell when – frankly – anything goes) to having kids in our bed.
2) Had a solid evening / bedtime routine back to very early on which still maintains to this day – thereby giving us “adult time” after the youth are in bed. No pissing about with fussing “I don’t want to go to bed” kids, no “oo, go to bed when you want” (IMO: wishy-washy bollocks that confuses the fuck out of both adults and kids alike), but a known, solid time when The World is No Longer For The Children. I should say BTW that now ours are 8 and 6 we can adapt this bed-time should we fancy a family night at the boozer or whatever – and the boys are very happy now being out and about until late every so often – but it’s only IMO by having a routine that you can break it once in a while…
3) Always been very open in our affection for each other and – more importantly – our solidarity as a married, coherent, loving unit. We spend a lot of time being supportive of each other’s parenting rather than combatative – I think we both know how hard the other works both in work (money-earning) terms and in family work. (To see the opposite of how I think this works, try reading that bullshit article recently about money being the last taboo in a relationship – there you’ll find a childish, gnarly, nit-picky way of being in a relationship which is wholly NOT how this should go if you want stuff to last IMO..)
We have – I know – been pretty lucky. We’ve got kids who (now) sleep like logs every night. They don’t come and find us in the middle of the night. They don’t fuss about bed-time. I really – REALLY – feel for people who have problems with this stuff. But….I also believe that parents are quite often walked all over by their kids, and this can quickly become a vicious circle: needy kids that always get what they want (“I won’t eat vegetables! I won’t sleep!” – er, yeah you will if you’re hungry and tired enough…) end up taking and taking – usually at the expense of increasingly tired and increasingly unable-to-cope parents – who inevitably, obviously, end up giving the kids what they want. Getting kids to eat non-crap, or into a solid sleep routine, or liking reading, or not spending 24 hours a day looking at a screen or..whatever – is bastard hard work – but you persevere, and persevere and persevere. And eventually it works.
The main thing for me, though, is this: If your solid central unit of family – (in our, traditional case, the man and woman who started it all..) – falls apart, then so does everything else. You and your partner are the hub of the whole thing, the central bit that everything else revolves around. This doesn’t mean (OBVIOUSLY – I hope) that you don’t love your children more than anything on earth – but if you don’t give yourselves time to consolidate, be together, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, be intimate, drink wine – whatever – then it’s gonna break. This central relationship needs as much – probably more – help to maintain than the relationship with the kids.