Dr. Wall continues his series on roommates vs. husband and wife by looking at the temptation parents have to invest in their kids and ignore each other. This is fine for roommates; not for husband and wife.
Husbands, love your wives.
Whenever a client tells me that his or her kids are their number one priority, I hear that what they are really telling me is that they are hell-bent on getting a divorce. Marriages can’t survive unless spouses’ are the number one priority. For roommates, this is fine. Not for husband and wife. If mom and dad aren’t an item, the family house will crumble. Mom and dad are the house and the foundation. Kids are the furniture. A lot of good the furniture will do you without the foundation and the house. The furniture is very pretty and comfortable, but it won’t keep you warm at night. Or protect you from that cruel world out there. Besides, kids are passing through. They are on their way somewhere. You fill them up with gas, and off they go. It’s awesome and sad. If you do it right, it’s more awesome than sad.
You are a mentor to your kids. You guide and step out of the way. Guide and step out of the way. Then you mostly step out of the way.
Unless you don’t love their mom or dad. Then they’ll mostly ignore you. You are all talk. All hype. Self-absorbed. They love their mom AND dad the same. Both of them. Why can’t you? Your kids realize, the day you divorce, or the day that you say “Sometimes mommies and daddies don’t get along, and daddy is going to move out, but mommy and daddy still love you,” that they (your kids) are smarter and more mature than you. This is a rude awakening for an 8-year old. All of a sudden there’s a cold draft in here. And holidays are screwed for life. And if your kid marries into a divorced family, too, and all of them and you remarried (all four parents), how are we supposed to get to eight Christmases? This is just too weird. And you think this is normal or Okay?
You love and cherish your spouse. Unless you divorce, there isn’t a launching day for our spouse. No one moves out. The kids can come home anytime and you are both there, laughing, teasing and holding hands as they drive away again. You’re sad a bit at them driving off, but the two of you have each other and you go cuddle on the couch and watch the rest of the game. Later, you look at your retirement accounts online and dialog about future dreams and if you are saving enough and should you cut spending here or there.
Here’s a simple test to see if you love your kids more than your spouse: When you come home at the end of the day, who gets a bigger greeting: Your kids or your spouse? If your kids do, then we have a problem. You are sending subtle messages to your kids that the kids are number one. This will play with their brain. No kid should be number one. The Bible warns not to make a servant the king. We’re headed for trouble if we’re going down that route. When Johnny sees and feels the warmth of daddy giving him a great big bear hug and laugh and tickle both him and Sally and then he walks right by mom and mom and dad don’t even look at each other or barely acknowledge each other or act all bored and indifferent or superior or angry or disappointed, Johnny’s little soul gets fairly well creeped out. As does Sally’s. As does mom’s. As does dad’s. We’ve just sent a 15 second reminder to everyone in the room that our family is in trouble and we’re headed in the wrong direction faster than you can spit. So don’t be mad at Johnny when he acts all weird and stuff and fights with Sally or you or your wife and there’s tension in the home. Daddy and mommy just set the tone for everyone.
Hey, look, it’s not all Daddy’s fault. Mommy could have dropped what she was doing and actually smiled and greeted him at the door, too. She would have done that to Johnny and Sally. She’d never think of totally ignoring them when they came home, or scoffing at them when they came home. Or acting as if they didn’t come home or that it didn’t matter. Never. But “their dad”? Frickin’….! He makes me so mad. Can you believe!
Here’s a better way.
Dad or mom comes home and the kids greet you at the door. They are all excited and want you to look at their papers from school and tell you everything. You give them a hug and kiss and look them in the eye and say, “Hey, where’s your mommy? Let’s go find mommy and then you can tell me all about it.” And then you go find mommy and mommy stops what mommy is doing for a minute and the two of you smile and give each other a hug and a real kiss (Please. Aunt Bertha kisses are NOT allowed!), you know, one that you actually MEAN, and then the two of you chat for a few seconds, making sure everything is alright. While you are doing this, Johnny and Sally will stand there watching you, making gross comments, and all the while their little hearts will feel secure, ‘cuz if mommy and daddy love each other, then everything is right with the world. And then you sit down with Sally and Johnny and they can show you all their papers and everything. Notice how your kids aren’t so restless and naughty. Hmmm.
Here’s another simple test: Do your kids ever see a babysitter coming over and you giving her some money for your kids and her to order a pizza and then you and your spouse are all decked out and looking pretty and handsome and both are looking very happy and your kids can see your joy by the way you look at each other and the kids see mommy grabbing daddy’s hand after they’ve hugged all the kids and the two of them disappear, alone, into the night? And this happens, oh, like weekly?
You say you can’t afford it. You say you don’t have the time. You say you have different work schedules. There’s no way.
The average divorce costs $20,000. That’s if you don’t fight about custody. You’ll have to fill out all those stupid reports your lawyer gives you and you’ll have to go to court and sit there and wait your turn and while you are doing that you are not working and then if you don’t get custody you’ll have to get at least a two bedroom apartment so you can have your kids a whopping 4 days a month (every other weekend) and on top of that you’ll have to pay child support and live on way less than half of the money you did before the divorce. A babysitter and furtive glances are pretty cheap in comparison.
Modern day spouses do two things very well: They are awesome parents and they do great on their careers. But too often they put each other on hold. We’ll get to that later. No, you won’t. It could easily slip you by till one day you wake up and you notice for the first time rattling around in your soul little twinges that you despising your spouse. If you are not careful, you’ll wake up one day and could care less about the jerk. Frickin’. But, oh. You just love your kids.
Take the time. Take the time to connect. To talk. To have fun. To tease. To flirt. Just you two. Develop common interests. For heaven sakes, you can have your own interests, but find some things you both can look forward to. We live in a free society. You can do anything you want. Don’t give me this crap that you are incompatible. The only thing that is incompatible is the animosity that will develop if you ignore each other and think everything will be fine.
It doesn’t have to cost big bucks, either. You can get a used inner tube to float the river for five bucks. Grab a blanket and a pair of binoculars and go look at the stars on a cool August evening. Split a Sunday. Attend some of the hundreds of small town festivals across the state. Walk some of the local trails. Find a favorite TV show or sports team or sport or hobby you both love. Go in search for the best onion rings or pizza or nachos.
Chat along the way.
Watch as your kids relax. See your spouse treat you with more dignity and grace. Notice you actually WANT to go home or that you miss your spouse. Be aware that those feelings of despising are gone and are replaced with warmth and tenderness.
Dang. You mean it was this easy? You’d be amazed what a little kindness and consistency can do.
Here’s a couple that’s got it right:
The first three articles in this series on living as roommates instead of husband and wife are:
Dr. Wall takes a sarcastic look at what it’s like to be married, living as roommates. Since this isn’t satisfying, people divorce in spades. Maybe they should have tried living as husbands and wives instead.
In this second blog in a series on living as roommates, Dr. Wall scoffs at the notion that living together is preparation for marriage and suggests it’s training each other to be roommates instead of husband and wife.
This blog is the third in a series on living as roommates instead of living together as husband and wife.
The next blog in the Series: Living As Roommates is:
Dr. Wall continues his series on living as roommates instead of husbands and wives by mocking the excuses people use to NOT be affectionate with their spouses.
Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473. For more information about Dr. Wall click here.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bing in Ames, Iowa click here
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bing in Des Moines click here