An Old Myth Exposed
The idea that to be a parent means to sacrifice it all is nothing new, it has been around a long time. First, let me clear one thing up- of course a parent would (and should) sacrifice for his or her children. If it came down to the welfare of a child, any good parent should lay down their own interests to protect and keep safe their children. This article is not about the real issue of neglect, and I am by no means advocating parents ignore their children. What I am countering is a philosophy that states "to be a parent, you have to 100% self-sacrifice"...and this just isn't true at all. In fact, I believe it can cause more harm than good. First of all, what are some ways that parents implement this idea of sacrificing everything? Well I can think of several off hand. How about the idea of putting the needs of a marriage "on hold" for the sake of a new baby? Maybe the husband no longer matters for a while, and his need for friendship and time with his wfie can take a back seat for 9 months during pregnancy, and then at the arrival of baby, he gets to put his needs on hold another 9 months while all priority goes to the newborn. And after nearly a year and half of having his needs put on hold, by that time, he is so used to it, that nothing really changes, and it simply continues. Or how about the mom, who, once baby arrives, gives up all the things she used to love. She suddenly feels selfish to enjoy "me-time" as if doing so means neglecting her baby. And what about the parents of toddlers, and children as they grow, who have to deal with so many needs and demands that an entire family structure is built around the children, rather than a deliberate direction set by the parents? Hobbies get scratched, personal needs go unmet, friendships fade, and husband-and-wife quality time together gets tossed (and by quality time, I do not mean spending time together while running a Costco errand, quality time means time together is focused). If any of this sounds famliar, or you are in a great marriage about to have your first child, please read on!
The First Challenge Of A Newborn
Expecting change as you embark on parenting helps you to safeguard your marriage against the natural attrition that can take place as your focus shifts to the new arrival in your life. Out of sheer necessity, the constants needs of a newborn, the lack of sleep, the desire to do the very best for your child, focus can move away from the relationship with your spouse causing disconnect and distance. Additionally, if you and your spouse have different views on raising your child, this can further create a sense of separation in what was once a connected and unified marriage.
So how do you safeguard your marriage against these changes? The first is recognizing that the marriage existed prior to the arrival of the baby and is the foundational component to your new family unit. Prioritizing this relationship, both in time and importance allows room for disagreements without turning into a battle of wills between you and your spouse. If husband and wife both feel they are respected for their views and loved regardless of their opinion, then a safe environment is established where you can each share your ideas about baby, your hopes for the future, and your fears over the immense responsibility of parenting. While this may seem simplistic and trite, it begins with finding time for each other.
Prioritizing Your Relationship
The arrival of a baby does not suddenly mean the marriage is on the back burner. It does not mean a wife doesn’t still need affection from her husband. Nor does it mean that hubby should have all of his needs sacrificed and put on the back burner. If you do not nurture your marriage together, it will decay. A baby may be a wonderful blessing, but be warned! The arrival of a newborn will not enhance your relationship, it will actually cause great strife and unless you nurture your marriage together, you may look back one day and see that the turning point where things began to go south between you….was at the arrival of baby. It is important to still place priority on your marriage while you enjoy- together – the blessing of a new child. So how do you prioritize your marriage when you have a clingy, needy infant that demands more time from you than you possibly have available? What does prioritizing a marriage look like with a baby around?
Well, initially, this may not look like a traditional “date night”, the dinner and movie evening out. As simple as having a trusted relative or friend watch the newborn for 30 minutes to allow you and your spouse a chance to go for a walk around the block together gives you couple time to connect. Take advantage of nap times. Plan a “picnic at home”, when baby is asleep lay out a blanket on the family room floor, and enjoy a weekend mid-afternoon snack. Buy a special dessert and sit together, “eyeball to eyeball” taking a few minutes to talk about how you feeling and your thoughts about the future. Make sure you eliminate distractions, turn off the television, ignore the phone, email can wait. Setting aside as little as thirty minutes a week during these initial weeks of adjustment can do wonders for your relationship and give you time to connect and remember the reason this little bundle of joy is in your life.
100% Self Sacrifice: The Myth
One of the myths of parenting is that it requires 100% self-sacrifice in order to meet the needs of the child. If this were true, the process of achieving this would leave the parent with nothing left of who they uniquely are to offer to their child. Do not sacrifice everything for the child, or you will find yourself empty, and your external relationships evaporated. The “100% self sacrifice” model of parenting is dangerous and unhealthy for the entire family. This philosophy leaves the mom or dad giving up their hobbies and interests, losing important and supportive friendships, placing their marriage as low priority compared to the unyielding needs of their children. Additionally, your children will grow up in a household that puts them at the center of the universe- an unhealthy way to prepare for adulthood. Not only will you be empty, but they will be empty as well. Children need to see that their parents have active hobbies and interests. A parent can invite a child along in his or her adventures and hobbies. If a parent has sacrificed it all, then the child will look to peers for role models. If you want to be a role model to your child, make sure there is a whole person there, and not an empty shell. Take care of yourself, enjoy your hobbies….but don’t enjoy them alone. Invite your children along, you may be surprised at how much a child clings to, and loves, the hobbies of his or her mom and dad.
Who you are is critical to how your children will learn, grow, and develop. Children look to their mom and dad as their primary example of what is good and right in the world. Parents who have hobbies that reflects who they are as a person gives your child an opportunity to experience life with you rather than just around you. This is a significant difference in parents being a part of their child’s life through shared adventure of themselves versus leaving the child to acquire these experiences through other means. Children are sponges just wanting to soak up the world around them and while parents may try to monitor or limit the influences, a much more direct and beneficial approach is to provide them opportunities to learn through their parent’s own enjoyment in life. If you enjoy playing the piano, hold your baby on your lap as you play, have your child be a part of who you are. Introduce your child to life, through your interests, allow them to develop their own likes and preferences, but start by sharing yours. Your child may not love playing piano, but an introduction to music can create an appreciation for many aspects of this area of life that they would not had, had you given up this interest of yours.
The Deep Needs Of A Child
Children, like all of us, want to be a part of something greater than themselves…they are not served when they ARE the something. Think of people you know who always have to be the center and focus of everything around them. Most likely, these are not people you enjoy being around. A child is a person just like you! The exact same needs you have, are the needs a child has. Perhaps the child doesn’t understand to the depths you do, but those needs are still there. And as adults, isn’t it much more fulfilling when we “belong”, and we are a “part of” something more than just ourselves? All of us want to belong, and fit in, and know that we are important. But few of us want to feel like everything revolves around us, as if the world stands or falls on our shoulders.
Imagine for a moment that all of your friends and family looked to you for their happiness. Imagine that your life was suddenly the center of the universe for everyone around you, and you were the Leader of them all. Think of all the stress and pressure on you that would create. What happens when you make a mistake? It is magnified. Now perhaps there are people out there who can tolerate having a kingdom and being a queen or king and still be good people, but a child is not mature enough to handle that kind of pressure. It is an unhealthy world to raise a child in- a world where the child is King or Queen, and the parent sacrifices everything at the throne of the children.
Your children are part of a family, raise them that way. Don’t put them at the dead center-and-focus. The universe should never revolve around a child, it doesn’t help them at all in life. If all of your identity, if all of your purpose, if all of your happiness depends on your children….wow! What a burden they must carry!! Be a whole person for them- a person with hobbies, interests, wisdom, love, friends, and adventure. Don’t self-sacrifice 100% of yourself. Don’t put on their backs, the weight and burden of all your identity and happiness in life. Be independently happy. Let them share in your joy rather than grow up under the immense burden that your joy depends on them. This will be tremendously freeing for your children. They can be free to be children, to discover the world around them in love, and in safety. Be whole. That is what they need from you. And most of all, treasure these moments….they will not last. Before you know it, you will turn around, and the time will be gone.
Christie is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) with the CMA Society of Canada and a Registered Clinical Counsellor (R.C.C.) with the British Columbia Association of Clinical Counsellors. She holds a dual specialty in Marriage & Family Therapy and Trauma Resolution.