The great debate: Should you put your partner or your kids first?

Posted in Relationships.

Life changes significantly once you become a mum. Suddenly there’s a little person in the picture who requires a lot of love, time and attention. So where does your partner fit in? Is it wrong to put the kids before them?

We put this thorny question to our community and judging by the divided responses, this tricky topic really hit a nerve!

The jury is still out

Recently one of our readers asked for advice on how to approach her husband’s complaints that he was feeling like all her attention was being given to their two young kids, with nothing left for him. We posted the the call for help on Facebook and were inundated with varied opinions and advice (thanks to all you wise and wonderful mums!).

Surprisingly, around half of you felt that your partner’s emotional needs should actually come before your kids’ needs, with many justifying the reader’s neglected husband’s feelings. The other half of our readership had a very different opinion. They were adamant that children should always take priority, and that dads just need to grow up and accept they are now second best – at least, for the time being.

A juicy debate indeed! Whether they were for or against putting their partner before their kids, both sides of the debate had some very valid reasons about why they felt the way they did.

Couple leaning over kitchen bench to kiss - feature

Stand by your man

For starters, a lot of people thought it was great that our reader’s husband was able to speak up about his feelings to his wife. Whether he is right or wrong, it’s important to communicate your feelings to your partner. And that’s certainly true! Many believed (or had firsthand experience in the matter) that not making time for your partner could result in jealousy and resentment, with the potential for infidelity to occur or the relationship to break down.

While they acknowledged that children were of course important, they pointed out that they wouldn’t be living at home forever and one day it would be back to being just you and your partner, which could only work if you had remained connected and made time for each other. One reader also thought it was healthy for children to not feel like they’re the centre of the universe.

In the kids’ court

In the other camp, a lot of our readers thought that children should take priority, especially when they’re little, because their needs are greater at this age. They argued that kids are only little for such a short time and spending less time together as a couple during this period is something that men need to accept (with women generally being more in demand due to breastfeeding and being the primary carer).

Some mothers even went as far as to suggest that the dads who complain the loudest about being neglected by their partners are usually the ones who are doing the least to help out around the home, and if they want more time with you then they need to help out more. 

Parents sitting with two children on verandah - feature

An expert weighs in

So what is the best approach to balancing the needs of both your partner and your kids? We asked relationship specialist and psychotherapist, Melissa Ferrari, for her thoughts. 
Melissa says that in her experience of working with couples it is always better if they put each other first. “If mum and dad do well then that trickles down to the children also doing well. Because when partners show deep care, respect and consideration for each other it means the children in turn feel safe and secure. And when children feel safe and secure, they’re free to explore the world and learn and grow without being concerned about whether mum and dad have each other’s backs,” she says.
And what happens when partners aren’t made a priority? “People who put kids first and neglect their relationship will most likely run into problems, because if one partner doesn’t feel special and cherished, it will inevitably create tension and difficulties, which is not good for the couple or the kids,” she adds.

Finding the right balance

Melissa highlights the importance of putting time into your own relationship, but does this also mean that the kids have to be pushed to the side to make way for more adult needs? Nope – and our readers agree. They  also had some helpful advice up their sleeves.
Tips for mums suffering from a priority crisis:
  • Be sure to communicate: Find out what your partner’s needs are and what their ‘love language’ is – how they prefer to be appreciated and loved – so you can focus on the activities and things that matter most to them. And the same applies for you too! So be sure to speak up about what you need from your partner as well. Readjusting expectations on either side might also be helpful.  
  • Praise him like you should: The more you show appreciation for your partner and praise them for being a good dad, the happier he’ll feel and the more inclined he will be to show his appreciation for you too and more likely it will be that he will help out with the kids, which will allow more time for you to spend together.
  • Find a balance between being a partner and a mother: Making your partner more of a priority doesn’t mean they necessarily need to be put first or even have more time with you than the kids. It’s not a competition; you’re on the same team after all. And while kids are demanding, it’s important not to let them become your whole world where your partner has none of your love or attention.
  • Work with your partner to find a solution: Perhaps they could help out more at home, or with the kids, or with planning date nights. Remember it’s an equal partnership and you both look after the kids. Set routines and get the children into bed early which is not only good for them, but allows more adult time.
  • Make time for yourself: Don’t forget about you! A happy, healthy, relaxed mumma is the best kind of mum and partner there is. 

The final word

So after all that, the overlying verdict is that while kids may appear to be the top priority for mums, whatever you do, don’t neglect your partner or yourself either or you’ll be headed for trouble. Okay, we’re off now to find some more hours in the day …  

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