For a lot of kids, the cup of parental devotion runneth over. Unfortunately, from helicopter parenting to nation-wide college admissions scams, that devotion isn’t always for everyone’s benefit.
As it turns out, it is possible to love your kid a little too much — particularly if you love them more than your spouse. Giving just as much attention to your relationship with your spouse as you do your relationship with your children is crucial to the happiness and success of the entire family, argues Belinda Luscombe in an excerpt from the forthcoming book Marriageology: The Art and Science of Staying Together, which appeared in Time on Thursday.
While Luscombe maintains the obvious — you have to love and care for your children — she points out that parental love and support often come more easily out of sheer necessity, leaving spousal relationships to get pushed to the back burner. “Loving your kids is like going to school — you don’t really have a choice,” she writes. “Loving your spouse is like going to college — it’s up to you to show up and participate.”
Putting in the harder work of spousal relationship maintenance is far from a selfish diversion from parental duties. In fact, as Luscombe points out, it may even be crucial for the children’s wellbeing as well. “Research strongly suggests that children whose parents love each other are much happier and more secure than those raised in a loveless environment,” she argues.
A children-before-spouse parenting mentality may also be to blame for the increase in divorce among older couples, which Luscombe calls “an empty-nest split.”
“Parents can get so invested in the enterprise of child rearing, especially in these anxious helicoptery times, that it moves from a task they’re undertaking as a team to the sole point of the team’s existence,” writes Luscombe, who urges parents to remember that their children are not the reason they got together. Rather, “they’re a very absorbing project you have undertaken with each other,” she writes. “You don’t want to focus on it so much that you can no longer figure out each other.”
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