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Being a Parent Versus Being a Spouse

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If you feel that you are more parent than spouse and that the connubial part of your life is almost nonexistent, you're certainly not alone. In the year 2010 many couples are feeling the combined stresses of parenting and married life. We love our children, we love our spouses, it should be easy right? Hardly, say family life experts.

You start out as a couple sharing a life you both create that incorporates the interests, needs and plans of two separate people. Having children brings a whole new ingredient to this mix. Whether they're your children together or stepchildren, parenting them can become all consuming and the couple part of your life takes a backseat.

Being a parent shouldn't mean that you put your marriage on hold. If your spouse is always second or third on your life's agenda, your marriage will suffer.

A friend said:

Forget the sexual part of our marriage, I just want to actually sit down and eat dinner with my wife at least once a week. She is so involved in our son's activities, that I never see her. I'm the invisible man. But if I mention that maybe we should cut back on some activities, she doesn't want to hear it. She feels he should be just as involved as his friends are at this age.

During a segment about parenting on a recent "Today Show," Dr. Gail Saltz said that parenting today sometimes seems to be a "competitive sport"; you're competing with other parents running children from one activity to another. Doing this leaves little real time for anything else in your life.

Providing too much of everything for your child places an emotional and physical strain on a partnership. We can become too self sacrificing trying to make sure our child "has it all." Unfortunately, the self we sacrifice for this is the self in the marriage.

Then too there are the financial aspects of parenting a child, which at times can seem overwhelming. We certainly want our children to have the healthiest life and safest environment we can provide; that goes without saying -- it is our obligation. But the money part goes beyond well-being and safety. Extras, such as sports, expensive equipment, and the newest and latest technology can cause an enormous additional financial strain.

If you're the spouse of a partner with children from a previous relationship, you may encounter a different set of parent/spouse problems. Divorced parents who try to overcompensate for breaking up their child's "happy home" often have a spouse who feels neglected and shut out.

A stepmother says of her husband and his daughter:

He spends at least two hours every evening on the phone with her. I don't get to talk with him until I'm too tired to do more than mumble goodnight. It's worse when she comes to visit; then I never see him. To be honest, she's a sweet girl and I would love to spend more time with her but when she's here, he becomes super-dad to make her feel wanted.

Adult children present new challenges for their parents in the form of financial need. Once you become a parent you have the permanent title of "Mom" or "Dad." But that title doesn't mean that you are forever responsible for the financial needs of your adult children, far from it.

We paid for our son's college and post-grad expenses. Now he says he wants to go to law school. He expects us to pay for it! That would mean dipping into our savings, something we refuse to do. Nor will we pay for it from our salaries. We're making good money, yes, but we would like to enjoy our lives too. -- Sally, who runs a real estate agency with her husband Andrew.

Can you survive the dual roles of parent and spouse? With a little practical management striking the right balance between parenting and being part of a couple can be accomplished. You need to remember that:

  1. Your marriage is one of the most important relationships in your life.
  2. Children need to see you two as a couple who will, at times, need to make that relationship top priority.
  3. Limit your child's extracurricular activities to one or two special ones. Let them understand that they need to choose. You'll be surprised how having less "running around" will limit exhaustion and free up some much needed time for you.
  4. If you have children from a previous marriage, include your new spouse in the time you spend with them. It will alleviate tension and resentment.

As for adult children, tell them firmly: "We love you and we're here for you in any emergency. However, bear in mind that not everything is an emergency. You are also an adult. Please act like one."

Being a parent and a spouse is a juggling act. Setting the right parameters for both relationships can keep you sane, healthy and happy!

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen Houghton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog.
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Copyright 2010 Kristen Houghton

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