When I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, I had visions of our family sharing Hallmark movie-inspired moments together as we sang happy little children’s songs, enjoyed beautifully cooked meals, and ended each day after the kids went to bed with dreamy kisses from my husband (Tim). As you can imagine, Tim and I were completely blindsided when our marriage began to feel the strain of years of sleepless nights and non-stop days filled with mind-numbing children’s programming, spilled milk and spit-up, and days ending in complete and utter exhaustion. Without warning, our marriage was in trouble as our parenting began to overshadow our relationship.
Raising healthy kids takes a lot of work, but the best gift parents can give a child is a mommy and a daddy who love each other deeply. Has becoming a parent enhanced or hurt your marriage? Below are some family concepts for you and your spouse to consider:
Do you connect with your children more than you connect with your spouse?
Loving parents run the risk of giving all their time, energy, attention and resources to their kids, leaving nothing in reserve for their spouse. Couples who are over-attached to their kids and under-attached to each other often experience passionless, roommate-like marriages. Giving your spouse your leftovers hurts your marriage, and ultimately, it hurts your kids.
Levert family value: Tim and I do the hard work to prioritize our marriage so our kids are not saddled with the burden of fulfilling our unmet relationship needs. We do all the “adulting” so our kids can be kids.
Do you allow perfectionism to take priority over relationship?
The belief that there is only one way to do something (and that one way is your way) can stunt the growth of a spouse and a child. Everyone needs time and space to learn and develop their unique style. Healthy couples understand there is more than one way to change a diaper, feed a child, give a bath, wash a dish, put away toys, cut a strawberry … you get the point.
Levert family value: If you didn’t do the work, don’t complain.
Granted, there is always room for coaching along the way; but make sure you take different approaches when talking with your kids and your spouse about task completion. Talking with your spouse in a parental tone is hurtful to your marriage and confusing to your kids.
Do you feel guilty about leaving your children with a trusted family member or babysitter?
Healthy couples prioritize romance, date nights and sex. You need an evening away from the kids, and your kids need an evening away from you. The whole family wins when you prioritize date night!
Levert family value: If leaving the house for a date is not possible, plan a Date at Eight. We work hard to get the kids to bed at 8 p.m. so we can have some alone time. If the kids don’t cooperate, we start the date later. If the kids still won’t cooperate, we throw in the towel and try again the next night. Regardless, we work hard to make time together a priority.
Do you relax rules or give too much privilege and material things in an attempt to make up for rough times at home?
Let’s be honest, all kids want fewer rules and more stuff, but they need strong parents who love each other.
Levert family value: As parents, we match our high standards for our kids with lots of love.
The high love/high standard priority reminds us to value relationship over performance, character over achievement and support over stuff. Overindulging your kids cannot make up for what is lost in a failing marriage relationship; in fact, this overindulgence only adds to the dysfunction.
Note: If you are married to someone who refuses to work on your marriage – all hope is not lost. Relaxing rules and giving too much is toxic, but you can be a strong parent in the lives of your children by giving them high love and high standards. In other words, don’t stop being a parent to your kids. One strong parent is always better than none.
Do you focus on what is good?
We live in a negative culture; complaining and discontentment are poison to a family system. Choose to focus on what is good. What is good about your family? Marriage? Kids? Life? Faith? Friends? Body? House? Finances? Thanklessness is draining and life-stealing, but focusing on the good is life-giving to you and everyone around you.
Levert family value: We eat dinner at the table (electronics off) most nights. One way we focus on the good: we ask everyone to talk about the best part of their day. For those of you with babies and toddlers, surviving a meal where no one throws or spits food at you is a major accomplishment. Hang in there – it gets better!
The baby and preschool season of parenting is tough, and it can take its toll on the strongest of marriages. You have permission to prioritize your marriage, rekindle your passion and look starry-eyed at your spouse again. Remember, parents who love each other are the greatest gift they can give their child; giving them hope to one day experience a great marriage of their own too.
Tasha Levert, Ph.D., is a licensed professional counselor in New Orleans who provides face-to-face and online care. She is a conference speaker, worship leader and the author of Stories of Hope for the Sleep Deprived. Tasha and her husband Tim (Pastor with Students at the Vineyard Church of New Orleans) have three beautiful daughters and a lazy schnauzer named Gumbo.
To find out more about Tasha or her practice go to
tashalevert.com or broomtreecounseling.com.