Kids Are the Icing, Not the Cake, Part 2

By Anne Gagliano

The Gagliano Boys in 1994.

Many years ago, when most of us were kids growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, we entertained ourselves. We roamed the neighborhood till dinner. We ran and played—safely—and without adult supervision. We made friends with the kids next door and went to their houses after school. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere we went; sometimes we went pretty far. We made up games and common, every day items became toys. We used our imaginations, mostly for good, but sometimes for bad—and even the bad became a learning experience. All of these things we did without the knowledge or involvement of our parents.

Sadly, today, we parents can no longer let our children do these things, for the dangers are just simply too great. Pedophiles seem to be everywhere; we even get alerts of their presence within our neighborhoods in the mail. As a result, we have to transport our children everywhere ourselves. We have to check out each playmate and get to know their parents well to see if they can be trusted. We then make “play dates.” We have to create safe, structured activities and be directly involved if our children are to have any kind of life outside the house. Sports, music, arts, church, friends—these things can dominate parent’s free time. Add to our already heavy burden of entertaining our children the problem of overcrowded schools—now we parents must take on lots of time helping with homework if we want our kids to actually become educated.  Parenting today can be so daunting and so all-consuming that it leaves no time for husbands and wives to have any time on their own as a couple.

How to do it all: be a good parent, but still have time and energy to be a good lover? How do we find the strength and the balance? I must again harken back to the title; it begins by remembering that kids are the icing to your life, not the cake. You are a spouse and adult first; a mommy or daddy second. Parenting is but for a short time, marriage is meant to be for a lifetime. My sister-in-law once shared with me a wonderful nugget of wisdom on this topic when she said, “Nobody wants to be married to someone’s mom.” In other words, you should not be so consumed by your children that it defines you entirely, delegating your role as spouse to a lesser position. Children must be viewed as an extension of your love, not the reason for it. Kids will not be around forever, nor do they want to be. Their role in your life is not to fulfill you or to make you complete—that’s your soul mate’s job.

With the view that your marriage needs to come first, it then becomes a little clearer that the kids must not dominate every free minute of the day. Mike and I accomplished this by limiting our children’s activities. They did not play every sport every year; they played one.  When they were older and could drive, then they could do more if they wanted to. They picked either an instrument or an art—not both. Our boys had many talents, but you can only do so much! Family time and couple time must be in the schedule somewhere.

We carefully selected a few friends and their parents whom we got to know through volunteering at their schoolsl. These families became so trusted as to help us transport our boys around, cutting down on the burden of “taxi” time.

Limiting TV, computer, and video game time is crucial if there is to be any room for homework. In our house, homework came first. Games were confiscated on a regular basis if this rule was broken. I still have a stack of games in my closet that were lost forever! I discovered them the other day and had a good laugh. A more drastic measure would be, if you are desperate for better time usage, to get rid of cable. We went without cable TV for eight years and we didn’t miss it a bit! We had family video night instead, and this was a great way to enjoy an evening.

A strict bedtime schedule and limited activities are vital if you’re to have any time left over to be a couple. Without it, kids can absolutely dominate, and they will if you let them. They have their irresistible charms that can run roughshod over the strongest of wills. Parents don’t stand a chance if they’re not determined to set boundaries. A child’s “sweetness” can turn your “cake” into mush with no substance. You—Mom and Dad—are the cake; it is up to you to give the family purpose, shape, direction, and time for your relationship. A strong marriage is the greatest gift you can give your children, greater than any material object, and greater than any activity, for divorce is truly devastating to a child.

In June of this year, the American Sociological Association released the results of a study on the effects of divorce on children.  It followed 3,585 children from kindergarten through the fifth grade.  The children in this group whose parents divorced “…were more likely to struggle with anxiety, loneliness, lower self-esteem, and sadness.  This increase in ‘internalizing problem behaviors’ also begins during the divorce process and does not dissipate.”

The study also showed that children of divorce lag behind in math and social skills, and that they don’t catch up. (Reading skills, however, were not diminished.) The factors that effect children are the stresses of parental custody battles, unstable and shifting living situations, and economic hardships because of split household expenses.

I experienced intense anxiety from my parents’ divorce when I was 13. I’ve heard it said, and I heartily agree, that you suddenly feel like an orphan, that your family has “died,” but you’re not allowed to truly mourn. I, like most kids of divorce do, turned my sadness inward. Children don’t see their parents as separate people but as a unit. When that unite divides, it is gone forever.

A friend of mine once told me that if she had known what the effects of her divorce were going to have on her children, she never would have gotten one. She said she’d have moved heaven and earth to make her first marriage work.

Your kids will be healthiest, happiest, and most successful in life if they miss out on an activity or two in the pursuit of sanity between mom and dad. If you truly love your kids, love each other first.

Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 25 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

 

 

 

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