Let’s clear the air, children are a lot of work. Not only does raising children add a layer of stress to a relationship, but a child’s needs usually become the priority within a family. So much so, Psychology Today reports studies reveal within five years after the birth of a first child, over 40 percent of couples decide to go their separate ways. Some studies report marriages fail within 18 months, after a couple’s first child is born.

What does this all mean? Parents are experiencing burnout. Instead of prioritizing their mental health, they exert all their energy into raising their child and their marriage is placed on the back burner. Couples spend less quality time together as a couple – and family time isn’t quality couple time. So, how can couples stop letting their child run their marriage? It’s a three-step process and you must be willing to be all in on all fronts for it to work.

Step One: Move your energy from self-neglect to self-care.

• Schedule time for yourself and stick to it- Make time in your day-to-day and do something for yourself – everyday. Oftentimes, self-care is considered a selfish act or a moot point; however, it’s impossible to take care of others if you’re not properly taking care of yourself. Self-care doesn’t need to be extravagant. Some examples of self-care are: reading a book, taking a hot shower or bath, blocking off 15 minutes and meditating, exercising, or doing an activity you enjoy. Giving yourself an opportunity to be creative and unstressed will provide you with the chance to recharge. If you have a clear mindset you’re less likely to be stressed, react negatively or be short with others.

• Challenge Yourself- Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean your personal growth is at a halt. Having a sense of purpose or mission, that is beyond parenting, is essential to your mental well-being. Moreover, children respect adults who possess a higher sense of purpose. Stop creating excuses and look for ways you can be constructive – outside of parenting. Maybe you’re intrigued with the idea of joining a writing group, book club, continuing your education, embarking on a passion project, or starting a home project. Remember, you are the one that designates priorities and it’s not selfish to challenge yourself with growth. It’s going to be a lot of work, but growth requires you to get uncomfortable.

• Keep Socializing- Parenting can create isolation; however, it’s important to spend time away from your spouse and children. Don’t allow your friendships to fade away. Make the best use of your time. If you have a long commute, call your friend (on speaker phone of course) and be open to video calls during lunch breaks. Maintaining open lines of communication will keep your spirits high. Feeling connected is important for your self-esteem and self-awareness.

Step Two: Create a firm parenting foundation.

• Stick with Your Decision- If you say no, then the answer is no. If you say yes, then the answer is yes. If your child can’t count on you to stand up for your own decision, then they won’t respect you. It’s that simple. Your child asks to go to a friend’s house. You’re cooking dinner and it will be done in 20 minutes. Your response is no, they can’t go because dinner is almost done. Your child pleads and asks several times – eventually you give in. Your reluctance to stick to your initial decision, shows your child that they can wear you down and if they ask multiple times, you’ll give in.

Stop being a push over. Parenting is hard and a lot of times your child isn’t going to be happy with your response. The key is that both parents are on board. If your child detects that one parent will give in, they’ll go to that parent instead of being obedient.

• Communicate with your child- Communicating doesn’t mean only talking to your child when you are giving instructions. Create open lines of communication with your child by making a point to have daily conversation. Here are a few conversation topics: how was their day, what did they learn today, how is their friend doing, what happened on their favorite TV show, what book are they reading, or what is making them sad or happy right now.
If your child feels like they are a priority, they are less inclined to fight for your attention and create interruptions – which bodes well for self-care and your marriage.

• Lay out the consequences and rewards- Be clear about the consequences for your child’s positive and negative behavior. Acting out is a way most children strive for their parent’s attention. However, if they understand the repercussions, they are less likely to misbehave. On the other side, if your child doesn’t receive actions from positive behavior they do not see an incentive to act appropriately.

For parents of younger children, this can be as simple as rewarding good behavior with additional screen time or outdoor play. For younger children, the consequences can be time out or no dessert. For parents of older children, maybe positive behavior can translate to a later bedtime or money towards something they are saving for.

Consequences, for older children, could be being grounded or losing existing privileges that are designated based on maturity; such as having a phone, curfew, or going to an event.

Step Three: Prioritizing your marriage.

• Make time for each other every day- Assign a designated block of time for your spouse without children and distractions. Showing up for your spouse, will let them know they are a priority and your marriage is important. Be flexible. If your spouse has a busy week, maybe this time is in the morning instead of at night. Or perhaps you meet for lunch, instead of catching up at night. Also consider shutting off your phones or at least silencing them, during this time. Having distractions present can make your time feel less valuable.

• Agree to the same boundaries- It’s important to remember, as a couple, you are a team. All teams thrive when they are in sync. Think about it. The teams that won championships are the ones who were on the same page. Talk to your spouse and make sure they are implementing the same rewards and consequences. Not being on the same page can create rifts and imbalance within your relationship. Take the time to be aware of what is going on with your children.

If you disagree with each other, talk about it in private, and come up with a solution. Having a disagreement, about consequences and rewards, can create unnecessary power struggles within your marriage, and your children will pick up on that vibe.

• Show up for each other- Marriage should be created from an element of equality. Each individual should contribute to the family by completing chores, showing kindness, displaying respect and providing resources to help the family thrive. If your children see that their parents love each other, they’ll be inclined to display that same love and gratitude. For the most part, you replicate what you know.

It’s important not to take your spouse for granted and remember that they have feelings, too.

Parenting children is not an adventure for the weak minded. Not only does it take a lot of patience and resiliency, but you should remember that there are definitely three steps to stopping your child from running your marriage. And, it’s totally normal if you don’t have it all figured out – it’s a process.

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