Relationship Connection: Balancing self, spouse and children

Who do you think comes first– you, your spouse or your kids? How come?

You’ve probably heard the saying, “you can’t draw water from an empty well.”  Applying this saying to your question, it’s my belief that it’s impossible to put your kids and spouse first if you have nothing to give them. 
As a general rule, I believe self-care is critical.  However, self-care isn’t an end unto itself.  The purpose of self-care is so you can be more available to those you love.  If you’re putting yourself first because you think you’re more important, you’ll be one lonely person.  However, if you’re doing self-care for the purpose of being more accessible and responsive to your loved ones, then everyone wins.
The whole idea of “me time” is about regenerating strength to go back to your most important relationships and be there for them.  Focusing on the self for the sake of focusing on the self is a dead-end.  We are the happiest when we know our purpose and gifts and we use them to lift those around us.
Now, when it comes to balancing spouse and children, I believe it’s important to make the marriage a strong priority.  Most days, it’s shouldn’t be a contest between kids and spouse, but children should have no doubt in their mind that mom and dad’s marriage is a priority to both of them.
Children are more secure when their parents have a healthy marriage.  I choose to work on my marriage not only because it makes me a happier person, but more importantly, because it’s the foundation of a strong family.  My kids just do better when our marriage is solid. 
Consistently putting children before self and marriage is a recipe for burnout. Raising children is a full-contact endurance sport.  It’s difficult and exhausting most days.  It’s also full of plenty of joy and happiness.  However, the joy and happiness can quickly get sucked out of these interactions when there is nothing to draw from. 
I draw strength to be there for my children by taking care of my physical, emotional, and spiritual self while focusing on building a strong marriage with my wife.  If I’m not taking care of myself, I have nothing to offer my wife.  If I’m not taking care of my marriage, I won’t be able to offer my children what they really need from me – a secure foundation. 
Now, if you’re single and don’t have a marriage, your children can obviously still feel secure with you as the parent, but it’s going to be even more critical for you to have lots of self-care, social connections, and other ways to recharge your batteries so you can be more available to your kids.  Many single parents feel tremendous guilt that they aren’t spending time with their children due to seemingly impossible work/life conflicts.  However, your kids deserve to have all of you instead of a half-present, burned out, and irritated parent.
Self, marriage, and kids are all important and must be balanced so each one is getting the attention it deserves.  When it’s working, they all support each other to create a healthy life.  
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT.  Please send questions for future columns to: [email protected]. Geoff maintains a blog, article archive, Twitter feed, and Facebook page which are available at

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