Thursday, April 5, 2012

Loving Your Spouse More Than Your Kids

A few years ago, Ayelet Waldman wrote an article in the New York Times about how she loves her husband more than her children. It caused quite an uproar in the community of moms who called her a "bad mother" (and a lot worse) because of this.

Well, it's happened again, but this time, it is a dad saying he loves his wife more than his children. It also happens to be a very famous married couple, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman. Urban recently revealed in an interview that he loves Nicole more than their two children. To do justice to what he said, I have copied the entire quote here:

"We're very, very tight as a family unit and the children are our life, but I know the order of my love. It's my wife and then my daughters. I just think it's really important for the kids...There are too many parents who start to lose the plot a little and start to give all their love to the kids, and then the partner starts to go without. And then everybody loses. As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn't feel like they are being favoured. It's a dangerous place."

Urban may not even realize it, but what he said is incredibly profound. His family is in Australia, so things may be different there, but here in the U.S., we have become so child-centered that you are attacked when you make such statements (Editor's note: I realize this sentence can be misconstrued. Being child-centered is great. The point is that the most child-centered thing you can do is have a great marriage. So maybe "child-centeredness" is not the problem as much as "anti-marriageness" is). Some respondents to Urban's statement suggested that it is inappropriate to not love your own flesh and blood more than your spouse.

But research seems to back Urban's mentality. Generally speaking, the most important relationship in the home is the one between mom and dad. As Urban states, if their relationship fails, everyone loses. While we don't yet have research that shows specifically that marriages in which the spouses love each other more than the kids produce "better kids," we do know that kids who grow up in married homes do better, on average, across every measure of child well-being. We also know that divorce is not good for children. We also know that parents who are married to each other are closer to each other and to their kids than parents in any other family structure. Put that all together, and what Urban says looks pretty good.

Back in 2005, Ms. Waldman appeared on Oprah to defend this notion of loving one's spouse more than one's children. Our very own president, Roland Warren, was on the show to affirm her position. It was very much her (and Roland) against the world. None of the moms on the show agreed with them. But I would ask those who are angered by this notion if they have "checked it" with their children. As Urban so eloquently states above, the only thing that mattered to him was that his parents were "solid." That is where children get their sense of identity and stability from.

So, when we dote on our kids at the expense of our spouse, are we doing so because we know our kids want that, or are we really just fulfilling our own selfish needs? After all, it is "easier" to love a child, who typically loves you back without question. Things are messier with adults and they take more work.

So, before we jump on the Ayelet Waldmans and Keith Urbans of the world, let's at least consider this question from the perspective of what kids really need.

What do you think? Who do you love more, your spouse or kids?

25 comments:

  1. I'm sorry, but I think this is the wrong message. The love of your wife and your children should be equal - it's the relationship that's different. It is not a matter of choosing one over the other, or preferring one over the other. It is rather a matter of creating the appropriate relationships. Should parents work together to create the right atmosphere in the house, where it is clear that the parents are in charge? Absolutely. But that is far different than sending a message to your children that they are somehow less loved. Kids can be overly doted on, and parents can lack the ability to be the authority figures they need to be, but that is a much, much different issue than loving one more than the other. You are confusing the proper raising of kids and the need to have a strong relationship with your spouse with a hierarchy of love, which should not exist. The research shows that a strong spousal bond is imperative, not that preferring one over the other leads to a better outcome.

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  2. Did you know that Waldman received death threats over the article? She really did. Death threats. Wow. She's got a book deal now. Hope she doesn't disclose her address:)

    Check out my Waldman thoughts:

    http://www.themommypsychologist.com/2012/02/29/whats-wrong-with-us-part-iii/

    Who do I love more? Today, it's the kiddo. Tomorrow it could be the hubby. Depends upon whose nicer to me:)

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  3. I love Keith and Ayelet. And, I am picking up what they are laying down!
    I appreciate their honesty and their talents. Yay for the freedom of speech and double yay for LOVE! All of our kids will be better for it.
    -Nonnahs

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  4. A Father's Conscience - I basically agree with you on what you are saying except for the notion that there should not be a hierarchy of love. I really do believe that the love between spouses needs to be atop the hierarchy, as it is the foundational relationship in the household. This by no means indicates that parents should not completely love their children. The point is that the most child-centered thing you can do is have a great marriage!

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  5. I have reread Keith's quote several times and nowhere does he say he love his wife "more" than his kids; he says "I know the order of my love." To me, that means something entirely different. It implies that in order for a family unit to be strong, the bond between parents must be strong and continually nurtured. As the daughter of parents who "stayed together for the sake of the child," I respect and admire Urban's commitment to his wife as his partner in the family unit. He is completely devoted to wife AND his daughters - his face beams whenever he speaks of them.

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  6. Doesn't the military teach you to embrace your wife first then your kids when you come back from a tour of duty? Seems logical to me. To each their own.

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    1. I was in the military for many years and never once was I told that to embrace my wife first and then my kids. In the Marines, they taught us God, County, Corps. Nowhere did they include family.

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  7. people act like he's saying he loves his wife and not his kids at all. settle down everyone. the bible says that a man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife and they are one flesh. eventually your kids leave and get their own lives and spouses and do the same. i think what he's really saying here is the number one commitment is the marriage because if the parents are strong and stable and take time to love each other then the family is better and more secure because of it. i can't count the times i've seen couples who have devoted everything they had to their children only to end up divorced before or after the children left the home because they had done nothing for themselves. sometimes you gotta tell the kids, me and mom need some alone time or an activity/vacation just for themselves. children who are raised as the center of the parents universe never learn how to grow up and take care of their own relationships because they learn that everything is all about them. to everyone jumping all over this guy stop and ask yourself if you REALLY REALLY REALLY believe his children are suffering or being neglected because he's making sure his marriage (the rock on which you build your family) is first priority? i appreciate urban sending a strong message for marriages and families, thanks for sharing this!

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    1. I am sorry, but I don't agree that parents that devote to their children only end up divorced before or after the children leave home. I can also count on how many parents that don't devote everything to their children or don't have children that end up in divorced. I believe that we have our children on temp loan for 18 years and you do what you can with them. Being parents you make sacrifices and when your children are grown up and married, you will have all the time in the world for each other. That's my two cents.

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  8. What I feel for my wife is very different from what I feel for my kids. It's a different kind of love. I will say however, that as a parent I am obligated to put the needs of my young sons above the needs of my wife or even my own needs. We are two adults; they are only children who cannot fend for themselves yet. So I understand why people were upset by Ms. Waldman's statement.

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  9. What has modern parenting brought us to? When kids are allowed to divide and conquer with the parents vs knowing their place and growing up accordingly? A successful marriage provides a lot of love for children to see and participate in vs the often distant or conflict filled situations today. Think infidelity on account of spouses being placed second is healthy for children? How does it benefit the child to have their egos become overdeveloped? And yes, I speak from experience here so Keith is on to something....

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  10. I think many parents, in fact, I might even take the risk of saying most parents that I have met get this parenting concern dead wrong. This, unfortunately, is a major reason why so many families in America are so screwed up...and, most of this foolishness seems to have come from the women's movement and from single mothers, many of whom feel that children should come first in relationships. Of course! they feel men are only useful for sperm donation and that they alone can raise well-adjusted children. The truth, however, is that children do need both parents to be actively involved in their lives and to gide them and set appropriate examples for them. When only parent is present, the perspective of the other, which is so very important, is lost and children are irreparably harmed. Ask any honest adult who was raised with a single parent or was raised in a family in which one parent did not understand his/her role in co-parenting. Both adults were there before the children arrived and if the children ever grow up and leave, the adults will still be there afterwards. So, both parents decided to bring the children into the world and they are expected to nurture them and set good examples for them so that they can experience life fully and do well, even better than they did. The rule therefore should be that parents put each other first and together they take care of everything else, including the children. When things go otherwise, there is bound to be trouble. Most parents do indeed get it wrong and they will be the first to defend their position, explaining how they are "good" parents and how they are doing their best. What's the message, really, when one parent neglects the other and starts focusing on the children. Perhaps even more importantly, what is expected to happen when the children grow up and finally leave? Truly, many of those parents have a political agenda. They live vicariously through their children and they are trying to buy their loyalty and their love, thereby instilling guily in their children and messing them up in the process. This is shameful, just shameful.

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    1. Wow, that is so wrong. SO only parents that devote to their children screw them up. I know self centered parents that only think of themselves and their children turn out much worse than the ones that the parents devoted to their children.

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  11. Isn't it the love (in most cases) of a man for a woman and vice versa that creates the children in place? Why is it so hard for some to understand that in order to maintain the family you must continue to build on the family's foundation which is the relationship between the man and woman? That means, as Keith put it, knowing the order of things and could very well mean loving your spouse first and foremost. I don't think anyone meant to insinuate that the love between parents should supercede the kids in any way that would put them in harm's way, but, as pointed out, it definitely doesn't hurt the children that the adults are in a loving relationship.

    No wonder so many marriages fail in this country. Clearly, the ability to discern what's important, how our actions affect those around us, and how to prioritize are skills that most folks don't have.

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  12. God first, then my spouse, then my kids, then my job. That's the ideal and when we get it right, the whole family feels loved, safe and secure. "The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother." (and vice versa...can't remember who said that quote but it is so true.)

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  13. You MUST love your spouse MORE....we are with them for a lifetime (except of course those folks that choose to throw away a marriage rather than work at it) We have our children with us for 18 years until they are off on their own, loving someone else more than us (their parents). I Love my kids dearly and want nothing but the best for them, but my wife is on a whole other plane, she is my soul mate and I can confide in her. My children know how much I love them and I also know they love me, we ALL know that one day soon they will leave home and fall in love with their soulmate and it is unquestioned that they will love that person more than us. AMY you said it right for sure.

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  14. When children are the 'center of the universe', they know it. That knowledge tempts them to believe they can do no wrong, which has innumerable negative consequences for themselves and society. When children see that mom or dad is neglected -- and they are lightning fast to pick up on such things -- no amount of 'stuff' or 'quality time' is going to overcome the insecurity that brings.

    What do couples that put 'children first' do if/when the children finally leave? They try to 'rekindle the spark', but have no idea how to do that; all their relational skills are geared to people younger than themselves. They discover that their reason for being as a couple was the children, and they split. The bond between man and wife is the reason for children, not the other way around.

    The knowledge that mom and dad are a solid unit is most important in early childhood, but it once again takes on special importance in early adulthood, when people are starting families of their own and need role models -- they need to know what a good marriage 'looks like'.

    God, spouse, children. Any other order is a house built on quicksand. "A man who does not provide for his family is worse than an infidel," but provision is much more than simply bringing home a paycheck.

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  15. I agree completely with Keith Urban (and the commentor above "Craig") even our priest has informed us that the relationship that comes first after God, is the marriage because without a healthy marriage and relationship to your spouse then the children lose out. So often parents do lose sight of their relationship w/ their spouse because they are so centered on their children. Yes children deserve to have attention but they should NOT be the center of attention all that really does is create unreal expectations of the world and once they become adults the real world is going to have a harsh place. Parents who's relationship comes first create a healthier vision for their children of what a healthy relationship is like and how they can create healthy relationships in their lives as they become adults. A healthy relationship with your spouse = a healthier family.

    Keith & Craig well put

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  16. Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments so far!

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  17. The perspective of this article brings to mind a quote that was shared with me many years ago. Since I can't recall it verbatim, I'll paraphrase it:

    "One of the very best things any father can do for his children is love their mother."

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  18. I have seen families broken because of child-centered marriages. I grew up in a God-centered home which built it's foundation on God' plan for marriage, which didn't "take a break" when kids came along. I only hope that my marriage will continue to grow stronger when we begin having children. That means that the kids may not be able to sign up for every activity under the sun so that Mom and Dad can spend some quality time together at least once a week.

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  19. I agree with the fact that there has to be a great great bond between husband and wife and if not the family will fail. Ours did because i never got any attention from my partner. I wish things were different.

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  20. I found myself at this page because I was searching for other people's thoughts on the healthy order for relationships when it comes to spouse and children. I appreciate all of the excellent comments! My situation is a bit more challenging in that I AM the single mom raising two teenagers without much interaction from the dad. I am the one who chose to end the marriage because of anger issues with their dad and as difficult as that was to do, I know it was the right thing to do under the circumstances. I had stayed in the marriage for 20 years hoping the anger issues would get resolved but in fact they got worse. In hindsight I can see that the more I pulled away from my spouse, the more I put my children first, and therefore the more frustration and anger my spouse demonstrated. So I have first hand experience at being the mom that gave more affection and attention to my kids when perhaps I should have made more effort to focus on my spouse. Maybe that would have helped curtail his temper...I will never know. Now four years later, I am a FIRM believer that the spouse MUST come first. I am entering into a second marriage with teenage/young adult children on both sides and we are in the process of aligning these values so we can be a strong marriage model for both of our sets of children even if they have not had the benefit of seeing that healthy marriage model from their natural parents. I agree with all of the logic that from a healthy parent relationship (or parent-stepparent relationship) the kids will feel loved, respected, and capable of modeling that healthy relationship in their own future relationships. We all make mistakes, and I own up to mine, I just plan to LEARN from my mistakes!

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  21. I've been married for 34 years and still going strong even though we had our up and down. Naturally mother's love for her children is unconditional. But sometimes she's so engrossed in her children that she forgot her attention to her husband and that is bad for the marriage. Husband should love his wife more and that will set good example for the children. Father loves his children too. But how much? We can never measure. It's very subjective. The love we show to our children and spouses are varied from one person to another, from one marriage to another. Love, responsibility, caring, give and take cannot go without in good marriages. So I think there's some truth in what Keith said.

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