Does Parenting Get in the Way of Your Marriage?


Have you gotten so involved in parenting that your focus is on that rather than on your marriage?

I’ve heard guys joke around about how you can have either kids or a sex life, but you can’t have both at the same time. In our marriage, this was no joke.

As I’ve written about the things that turn our hearts away from home, this particular subject has been hard for me. It hits too close.

Parenting turned my heart away from home more than anything else in our marriage. It gave me challenges that became excuses that became habits that became problems.

Parenting changed me in ways marriage hadn’t. The moment I held my first child in my arms, I became Mommy. I forgot that the foundation under that was Wife, and that Wife was on top a foundation of Child of God. (A wonderful reminder of this foundation can be found in this post at Scissortail SILK.)

You know how everyone says your kids shouldn’t be more important than your husband? It’s true. But I refused to follow that advice.

Every decision I made at home centered around my kids and their happiness. My husband became a second-class citizen in his own home. He was not king of his castle, and he was not leader of our family. I was too stubborn to budge. I wouldn’t even look to the Bible for verses on parenting because I didn’t want to have to hear that I was doing anything wrong.

The kids were more important to me than my husband was. It was bad enough that I didn’t foster his relationship with our kids. I also took their side over his. I didn’t back him up. Even once I began to wonder if this had been a mistake, I had developed habits that I didn’t know how to break. I didn’t know how to become a different kind of mother.

I had an impractical vision of what an ideal mother should be—always calm, filled with purity, always selfless, with a halo of sexlessness above her head. All those pictures of Mary holding baby Jesus with a serene look on her face and a halo gave me a false image of what kind of mother I should be. Did I really think that Mary was serene when her baby was teething or when He went missing and it took three days to find Him? I expected myself to be some pure spiritual motherly being, and sex just didn’t fit with that in my mind.

Out of Focus

My focus was on the here and now and on whether my children were happy right this moment or this week. I was so focused on the present that I neglected to look ahead to the future. Somehow, it rarely occurred to me to ask myself what kind of marriage would be left when the kids left the house and it was just my husband and me. In the moments when I did ask myself that question, I was scared.

We can be so involved with parenting that we don’t even see what is happening to our marriages. My focus was not where it should be, so I wasn’t able to see what was crumbling around me. I couldn’t see my marriage because I was so busy looking at the Big Important Job of Parenting.

I was Mama. I thought that made me queen.

I’ve heard countless women take a similar stance on who has the parenting power in the family. “He doesn’t really know what to do.” “I’m the one who spends the most time with them, so obviously I know what’s best.” When I heard other women (including some in church) talk about their approaches to parenting, it made it easier to believe that I was right.

When my children were small, I knew some women who had stepped away from high-paying jobs to stay home with their kids—and they were just as structured and driven in their parenting as they had been in their careers. Their day planners were booked solid with lessons, play dates, library time, tummy time, curriculum time, and sports activities. I asked one woman about this, and she said that she should take parenting no less seriously than she had her career. “I’m not a paid senior manager anymore, but I’m the manager of my children’s lives. And my husband’s. He just has no clue how to fit into the kids’ lives.” Parenting was more important than her marriage, too.

Excuses, Excuses

Now, to be fair, parenting can be overwhelming. With three kids under the age of three for a while, simply attending to basic survival needs every day left me exhausted. I was all touched out. I was worn out. As the kids got older, these survival needs were replaced by helping the kids with schoolwork, soccer, and scouts. I always heard that the childhood years are physically exhausting, and the teenage years are emotionally exhausting. So yeah, for me, parenthood=exhaustion.

I rarely found time for my husband. I was tired. I always had “just one more thing” to take care of for the kids. I needed time to just rest and remember who I was besides Mom. I needed to breathe. All these things were true—but they grew into excuses.

Parenting always seemed to be a justifiable reason to not have sex. When my husband approached me for sex, if I said, “Oh, I’m not interested,” he would keep at me. If I said, “Oh, I have this [parenting thing of the day] to do,” he would back off.

As my gate-keeping and refusing began to develop, I became adept at deflection. Rather than wait for my husband to initiate and then have to rebuff him, I learned to be pre-emptive. “I need to stay up and write out my plans for tomorrow’s scout meeting. Don’t bother waiting up for me.” “Honey, you know I can’t relax enough to enjoy sex when one of the kids isn’t feeling well. Don’t you want me to enjoy it?” “How can you think about sex when your son was picked on at school today? What kind of father doesn’t care about his children?” I operated under the guise of “the best defense is a good offense.” Because it was all about parenting, I felt justified.

Parenting > Marriage?

Parenting trumped my marriage, every single time. Parenting always trumped sex.

The challenges of parenting became excuses I used to avoid sex. I used those excuses so much that they became habits. And those habits became so ingrained in me that they became hard to break.

As the kids got older, the parenting-based excuses changed. “The kids are home.” “What will they think if they know we have sex?” “How will they be able to look their mother in the eye?” “What if they see the lube in the cart at the drugstore?” My husband would say, “Well, they know how they got here. What’s the big deal?” I had no answer, but I was sure it was a big deal even though I couldn’t explain why.

Parenting pulled my heart away from where it needed to be. Sadly, I am not the only woman who has allowed this to happen. I’ve heard from many women who tell me how much their kids need them. “I’m the only mother they have.”

I understand that. I used to tell myself that all the time—but I forgot another important fact. I’m the only wife my husband has. I am the only one he is allowed to know intimately.

My husband needed me just as much as my kids did.

The problem isn’t an occasional exhausted day or a night with a sick kid. The problem is when parenting interferes in the marriage repeatedly. When my husband knew that initiating sex was more likely to elicit a “no” than a “yes,” it was a problem. The fact that he knew it would often be a parenting excuse is just sad. The fact that he has a good relationship with our kids and doesn’t resent them is a testament to him and to God. Parenting interfered with our marriage on a fairly constant basis.  I sometimes wonder what excuses I would have used once the kids were out of the house.

Is a Crumbling Marriage All That Is Left?

Sadly, the parenting that can make a marriage crumble when used as an excuse is sometimes the thing that keeps a marriage intact, at least superficially.

Over the past week, I’ve heard from three readers who are in marriages where the husband intends to leave after the youngest child graduates from high school. One was a woman who realized that she needed to make some changes and that the clock was ticking. The others were men who just can’t bear the lack of intimacy any more. Once the daily demands of parenting are out of the picture, they see that there will be little left.

Ask yourself if you have gotten so involved in parenting that your focus is on that rather than on your marriage. When your kids move out, what will be left in your marriage? Are you letting parenting pull your heart so far away from home that you’ll have no marriage left when your children are grown?

When my children were little, I would sometimes wonder who I would be once I no longer needed to be Mommy/Mom/Mother on a daily basis.

Before I was Mommy, I was Wife, and before that, I was Child of God.

I still am.

Do you remember that you are, too?

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. Proverbs 14:1

Turn Your Heart Toward Home

Have you gotten so involved in parenting that your focus is on that rather than on your marriage?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

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10 Comments on “Does Parenting Get in the Way of Your Marriage?”

  1. Parenting is so much harder that I thought it would be. My parents made it look easy, but looks can be deceiving. I am a fortunate husband who’s wife is a wonderful mother. It’s true as you say, at times I felt like a second class citizen. I was far down the priority list. It was difficult to reconcile me feelings for my children and my need for my wife’s attention. I do understand a mother’s instinct for her children. Husbands appreciate all their wives do for their children.

    It’s easy to sit back and be grumpy. What’s hard is to put things into perspective. A good marriage is a partnership where each of us utilize our different talents and skills together to raise a family. A husband needs to work hard to provide for his family and to be an active parent and an equal partner.

    Intimacy is a destination at the end of a long hard road. It’s a destination worth the work.

      1. Ah, yes! Spoken like a loving wife. My male brain is very results oriented. You are right (I was wrong?). Intimacy is caring for children together. Intimacy is building a life together. I guess my point was that a husband shouldn’t expect intimacy without sharing the work load.

  2. Simply wonderful. I know in my brain that my marriage comes first, but you’re so dead on. I don’t ACT like it. Thanks for this swift kick in the pants (which apparently I constantly need)!

  3. Have you written a book yet? Your perspective is SO valuable and you are extremely perceptive of this issue – which strangles so many contemporary marriages.
    Thank you for your blog.

  4. Gosh – Chris – we have got to figure out how to get your message to a wider audience. It could honestly be life changing.

    I just couldn’t believe the emotional backmail of – your child is sick or got in a fight – how could you not care and still want sex?? Ugh

    I am a high drive wife and I really cannot imagine my husband saying something like that to me. It would be so hurtful – and, actually, I often find myself wanting sex when things are stressful or uncertain because the sex to me represents safety and a time to not worry about problems. Also, it means to me that we [me and my husband] will face whatever comes our way in unity.

    I am so glad that you have grown past this – I’m happy for you.

    My husband made an interesting comment – he said that he didn’t think your husband was high drive because he couldn’t see how your husband could put up with 20 years of refusal/restriction. How did Big Guy cope? Maybe that is in a different post.

    Blessings to you

    1. I just couldn’t believe the emotional backmail of – your child is sick or got in a fight – how could you not care and still want sex?? Ugh

      To an extent, asking my husband how he could think about sex when our children were sick and hurting was a genuine question. I couldn’t think about anything other than the children’s situation, and I truly couldn’t understand how my husband could. When I was feeling scared, I was least able to allow myself to be vulnerable to my husband since he was not an emotionally safe place for me. His dismissal of my feelings (not because he was a dismissive person but because he didn’t understand me) made it hard for me to do what I should have been doing. One of the greatest blessings for me has been to experience the feelings of emotional safety and comfort that I have with him now.

      My husband put up with it–and me–for several reasons. Most important, he believed in marriage so much that he wouldn’t entertain the idea of divorce. Also, it wasn’t 20 years of constant refusal and restriction. It didn’t start out that way, and it worsened gradually. Like the frog in boiling water, he slowly got used to a worsening sex life. On top of that, it wasn’t bad constantly. We still had sex at least once a month, and every once in a while I would be somewhat engaged–so my husband always had some hope that things would turn around. We had two or three years when it was especially bad, and if he’d had twenty years all like those years were, I’m not so sure he would’ve put up with it. I know of marriages with absolutely no sexual activity for months and even years at a time. It never got that extreme for us.

      I have no idea if my husband was high drive or not. I thought he was, because he always seemed to want sex–but honestly, that was more a reflection of the fact that he hardly had any sex. Every day he wanted sex because he hadn’t had sex the day before that, or the day before that, or the day before that, and so on. After about a year of me working on sex, his sex drive settled into a rhythm that was more natural than controlled by a seemingly constant lack of sex.

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