We live in an age when love, sex and intimacy seem to be many people’s epitome of happiness. Yes, we seek other ways to find happiness and fulfillment, but the rate of divorce and the percentage of single parent families compared with two-parent families tells me that parenting is either of less importance to parents than marriage or that they are uninformed about the effects of divorce on their children. Parents who leave an unhappy marriage for the sake of their children are not in possession of all the facts or are misguided in their belief that divorce is in the best interest of the children. The best wisdom out there says that children of divorce suffer more than children of unhappy marriages.
Here are 7 reasons why parents should put parenting before marriage.
1. Children need two parents more than they need a perfect home
The influence of both a male and female parent on a child’s development cannot be understated. A good mother, on balance brings a nurturing, protecting and comforting aspect to a child’s life, while a good father brings his child stability, security and strength. Mothers tend to be more emotional, fathers more rational. Mothers tend to be more understanding, fathers more decisive. A good mother may offer her child a shoulder to cry on while a good father may show his child how to get up and move on.
Of course, a good parent possesses all these qualities and shares the responsibility for providing their child with all their needs. But it is in the nature of a male parent to provide a child with answers and solutions and direction while it is more inherent in a female parent to be protective of a child’s emotional well-being and to be a good listener without feeling the need to give her child a logical solution to their problem.
Having both a male and female parent present in the home teaches a child how to explore and develop both the masculine and feminine aspects of their own character. In balanced adults there is a healthy presence of both male and female characteristics. In women, the balance will tend to be more feminine and in men, more masculine. If a child is to have the best chance to develop emotional stability then two parents are needed on a daily basis. Even the slightest change in the balance will have an adverse effect on a child’s emotional and intellectual development.
2. A child has a right to be brought up by two parents
Marriage is a choice that two people make for themselves. It is rarely a selfless or altruistic act. People marry because they find someone who brings them happiness and fulfilment in life. Of course, there is also the promise to live to make the other person happy. Even though the phrase “for better or for worse” is still often said in the marriage vows, more and more this promise is being broken as married couples find it’s a promise they are unable or unwilling to keep.
However, when a child is born into the marriage, it has rights which far outweigh the needs of the parents. Even though a couple desire to be fulfilled in their personal relationship with each other, a child has the right to be brought up by two loving, caring, selfless parents: parents who put their child’s interests before their own.
Parents rarely make a commitment to their children when they are born, but children ought to expect that their parents will do whatever it takes to give them a stable, loving home in which to grow and develop. In a good parent, the rights and needs of their child will always come before their own, whatever the cost to themselves.
3. To be a parent is a moral obligation – not a choice
There is never a time as long as a parent and a child are living when they will not be connected. Even if estranged, a parent will always be the parent to their child. There is no divorcing a child. There is no saying to a child ‘I’m sorry, I don’t love you anymore, this simply isn’t going to work’. But when two parents say that to each other, they are in some measure saying it to their child. Parents may put a spin on divorce by saying to the child ‘it’s better for you in the long run’ but the truth is – it isn’t. A child’s perspective will be ‘you don’t love me enough to stay together and make your marriage work’ – even if only subconsciously. While some may say ‘I’m glad my parents split up – I couldn’t stand the shouting’, what would they have said if their parents had found a way to make the marriage work in order to keep the family home together? Or are they even aware of the effects that growing up in a broken home has had on them?
The love between a husband and wife can wane or even be extinguished, but the love of a good parent is unconditional and unmovable. A marriage can breakdown and be dissolved, but the love that a good parent has for their child can never be diminished and their commitment to their child can never be undermined or broken. The commitment that a parent has to their child is not one based on choice, it’s one based on moral obligation. It would be even better if it were based on unconditional love. What lengths would a good parent go to to provide their child with the very best upbringing they could if they truly loved them more than themselves?
4. A child deserves and expects it
During their formative years, children depend upon both parents to show that they are committed to them. They need to see that they are loved and to know that their home is stable and secure. They need to know that no matter what storms the family has to face together, the foundations of the family home cannot be shaken. Children need the certainty that the love their parents have for them comes above their own personal happiness – that it indeed comes before their love for each other. When a parent puts a child’s interests second to their own it will make their child feel unloved and second-rate. The child will begin to doubt their own worth and their value to the parent. After all, what kind of love puts someone else second?
If a child doesn’t deserve a parent’s unconditional and undying love then who does? Children are vulnerable and need protecting. Parents have a responsibility to give their child the best parenting they possibly can whatever the cost to themselves. A child has no reserves on which to draw to cover the emotional shortfall which results from growing up in a broken home. Parents, on the other hand should be prepared to go into emotional debt if they have to in order to make sure their child does not grow up emotionally poor or crippled.
5. Spouses can expect too much from each other, but children never expect too much from their parents.
Marriages are not perfect, neither are parent-child relationships. But a child deserves understanding, provision, support, affection, and security moreso than a spouse. After all, when two people get married, they make an agreement to love each other and provide for each other’s needs. When a child is born, no such agreement takes place. A child simply grows up expecting all that’s coming to them. When one person in a marriage fails to uphold their part of the agreement, the other has every right to withdraw their own part of the agreement. So often, when the love that one has for the other depends on what they ‘get’ out of the relationship, if they ain’t ‘getting’ then the love dies. But this only works one way with a child-parent relationship.
When a child fails to be a perfect child, a parent cannot abandon them or withdraw their love from them. The child still has the right to expect to be loved unconditionally. Children owe nothing to their parents, but parents owe everything to their children. If a child fails to love a parent as they would like to be loved, the parent must go on loving their child nonetheless. The child has no debt of love to pay to the parent. But if a parent loves their child unconditionally, that child will grow up to love their parent too. If a parent fails to love their child more than themselves, the child will withdraw from the parent to a greater or lesser degree.
Even though good parents will fail their child in some measure, a child’s expectations of the parents are always right – even if unrealistic. Good parents will always understand that they are not married to their child – they are inextricably connected and committed to their child and that a child has a birthright to expect unreserved love and commitment from their parents regardless of how much a child returns their parents’ affections or lives up to their expectations.
6. A broken home results in a broken child
Somewhere along the way, when a child is brought up by one parent or by two parents who live apart, something in the child is lost or broken. Having two parents who could not find it in themselves to stay together to give them a stable home will have a detrimental effect on a child. It may not emerge till later in life, but a person from a broken home may find it difficult to make strong emotional connections with others. Statistics show that people from single-parent homes are less successful in life – even years afterwards – than those from two-parent families.
While parents may argue that they split up for the child’s sake, in actuality, it’s rare that divorce ever benefits a child. Growing up in a home even where parents are disconnected or in constant disagreement gives a child more stability and normality than growing up where they have to deal with the loss of the two-parent home. A child growing up in a broken home grows up grieving for the intact home where two parents are available on a daily basis to provide them with the moral, emotional and intellectual support essential to their development and nourishment. The best parenting cannot be done over the telephone or on weekends. The best parenting is done on a daily basis and in partnership with the other parent. No matter how parents try to justify divorce, it will nearly always result in a broken child.
7. Putting parenting first may save a marriage
Children should never be used as an excuse not to leave a marriage, but they can be the reason why a parent would stay in a marriage. The difference is that if a parent knows that to provide their child with a stable, loving and peaceful home in which to grow up will give them the best possible start in life, it may give them the resolve they need to work harder at their marriage than if they had not been a parent. Whereas, not leaving a marriage for the sake of a child is a mindset which can result in a parent putting too much responsibility on their child to bring them personal happiness.
If parents can proactively take steps to make a marriage workable so that their child has the home they deserve, they may find that their marriage becomes less of a disappointment. Focusing on the needs of their child and resolving to work at their relationship for the sake of their child doesn’t necessarily mean that the marriage is false or a sham. It merely shifts the priorities of the marriage. Nor does it mean that the child carries the burden of keeping the marriage together. It merely requires a level of giving to the child that supercedes the parents’ desire to take from each other. Providing a child with a good home is one of the best reasons two people can stay together.
Who said that romance or sex or a great social life are the only reasons to be married? Surely, providing a child with a loving home is as good, if not, a better reason for working at a marriage than all the others put together? The result of working at the marriage wouldn’t be to prevent the pain of separation for the parents, it would be the enduring and immeasurable investment that they make in the well-being and personal development of their child. If parents can keep their child the focus of their ambitions and desires, they can find ways they otherwise wouldn’t have done to make their marriage workable and as enjoyable as possible and thus provide their child with the parents and the home they deserve.
Having worked at a difficult marriage for 20 years in order to bring up my two children my desire is to encourage and help other parents in a similar situation to do the same. My core belief on parenting is that a good parent can find ways of making a marriage work – even if not fulfilling – in order to provide their children with a stable, happy home in which to grow up.
The modern belief that leaving a bad marriage for the sake of the children has no evidential basis. In fact, studies on both sides of the Atlantic have shown that children who come from homes where both parents are present even if the marriage isn’t a good one, develop better emotionally and intellectually than those who come from broken homes. Parents who are considering divorce should take notice of this evidence if they truly want the best for their children.
My book “How To Be A Good Parent In A Bad Marriage” provides encouragement and support for parents who find themselves struggling to cope with the stresses and traumas of being a parent in an unhappy marriage, and shows how you can find happiness and fulfillment in life while being a great parent to your children.