There’s an article making the Facebook rounds called “Your Kids Should Not Be the Most Important in the Family.” Published by family psychologist John Rosemond, it’s a simple reminder to parents not to ignore their spouses in the race to raise exceptional kids. And it’s been shared more than 1.1 million times.
I get a different take on the article each time I read it. First and foremost, I struggle with this concept because selfishly, I feel good about myself when I feel good about my kids. When my daughter comes home with a perfect spelling test (for which I helped her study) or aces a science project (for which I made four runs to Hobby Lobby), it gives me an esteem boost – the likes of which I haven’t really felt since I left the full-time working world to raise these children. My kids are smart, I tell myself, puffing out my chest, and they get half their brains from me.
But this article goes on to say: “The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.” Gulp.
This is a difficult lesson to stomach in an age where many parents – myself included – hinge a great deal of self-esteem on the successes and failures of our kids. I can feel great about myself and sign my daughter’s “Bike to School Day” completion certificate with a flourish because, look at me! I care enough about my child to make sure she biked to school! And wore a helmet, and turned in the certificate! On time! Even if my own backside hasn’t graced the seat of a bicycle in months, I feel fantastic. Winner winner, chicken dinner.
But Rosemond’s point is that when we, as parents, enable our children to feel that the sun rises and sets upon them and their accomplishments, what we are really doing is turning the next generation into a set of disrespectful, irresponsible, entitled human beings. A bitter pill to swallow, that’s for darn sure.
Taking a step back and refusing to allow parenting to become a competitive sport not only means keeping my own mommy-ego in check. Secondly, it forces me to refocus some long overdue attention on my marriage – the relationship, Rosemond argues, that is vital to the success of the household. “The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO,” Rosemond writes. “And the most important person in a family is the parents.”
It’s easier to dole out attention to my kids because they are needy. My husband, at age 42, doesn’t need my help with completing math homework or tying his shoes. He doesn’t need a ride to soccer practice. He doesn’t ask me to help brush his hair. But in the daily chaos of raising and caring for kids, it is that all-important connection with my husband – to co-creator of said kids – that is the easiest to neglect, even though it should be my No. 1 priority.
I know this first-hand because my parents divorced after 36 years of marriage – partly (though not entirely) because as empty-nesters, they found themselves with few common interests. After raising four kids and pursuing busy careers, their lives had become disengaged. It was an alarming wake-up call to me in my marriage. As was this article. Rosemond tells us that most of the problems that parents have with kids these days “are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around.”
Maybe I need to rearrange my thinking. My husband and I celebrated 14 years of marriage last month, and I didn’t make a peep about it on Facebook. Yet I posted half a dozen pictures online about our older daughter’s soccer tournament (in which she played all of about 15 minutes, tops), and filled my Instagram feed with photos of a double rainbow. If that’s not a clue that my priorities are out of whack, I don’t know what is.
I can’t dictate what other parents are going to do, or single-handedly put a stop to parenting-as-a-competition. But I can take Rosemond’s advice to heart, keep my maternal ego in check and give my husband an extra big hug tonight – because I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that the best gift you can give your child is a solid, happy marriage to your spouse.