Do You Always Have to Put Your Husband Before the Kids?

by | Sep 20, 2022 | Parenting Young Kids | 80 comments

Should the Marriage Always Come Before the Kids?

When I was speaking back in the early 2000s, I remember asking women if they were a better wife or a better mother.

Almost everyone put their hands up to “better mother.”

And I remember saying, why don’t we realize that what kids really need is a strong marriage? Why don’t we realize that to be a good mom, you’ve got to be a good wife first?

While there is a kernel of truth in that, it’s also a distortion. It pits being married against being a parent, when really they should enhance each other and go together. And the children aren’t just her responsibility; they’re his too. Parenting together should enhance your marriage.

Yes, we can get so busy with the kids that our focus can be off. But there’s an opposite problem: A husband can feel entitled to his wife’s time, attention, and sexual availability, while simultaneously feel entitled to not having to do much with the kids. And thus a husband will feel threatened by the child, and blame this on the wife.

We don’t talk enough about that opposite problem.

We’re in the middle of Marriage Misdiagnosis month on Bare Marriage, where we talk about how evangelical conversations around marriage often diagnose the wrong problem, and thus offer the wrong solutions. Today I want to look at this idea that a husband and a baby are in competition with each other, rather than believing that the husband and the wife should parent and love the baby together.

Here’s an example, with a recent Fixed it For You from Gary Thomas’ book A Lifelong Love (this quote was present in the 2021 updated edition):

 

 

Gary Thomas on Parenting

And you can see this on both Instagram and Facebook–the comments are amazing. 

The response to this one was swift and outraged.

Notice what he is saying: If the wife tends to a helpless infant’s cries, she is neglecting her husband, and she has power over her husband.

There is no talk about how the husband can help too. There is no talk about how the baby SHOULD come first–because it’s a baby.

There is only guilt trips thrown at a woman for wanting to tend to her helpless infant in distress, because somehow this is taking away from her relationship with her husband.

What kind of man feels jealous of a baby? What kind of man sees a baby as a threat, rather than as someone to nurture and love? This boggles my mind.

In context, it’s even worse.

In the chapter where this quote appears, Gary is talking about power shifts in marriage, and how the power rests with the one who is the least invested in the marriage. He points to different times this can happen, when power shifts back and forth.

But what he is saying is that caring for your infant means you’re less invested in the marriage. 

Who says that?

What gets me is that I didn’t pick up on this when I read the book in 2014.

I even praised the book, and shared graphics I made of it on social media!

But I was so used to seeing this theme in Christian books–that the wife spends too much time with the kids, and doesn’t realize how her priorities are being misplaced–that I didn’t even notice this.

And, of course, I used to teach a variation of this, because virtually everyone did.

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Do we not see that as a huge indictment of the church?

How could we think it’s okay to make the mother of a newborn (and in context, the baby is just 6-7 weeks old) the villain for getting out of bed to tend to a crying infant? Why are we putting that kind of burden on new moms–rather than telling new dads to help with parenting?

Why are we encouraging men to feel neglected when the baby comes?

I’m not going to say much more about this, because I welcome your feedback. But here’s what I wrote in the caption on social media last night:

Every now and then I find a terrible quote from a book that leaves me in shock for a few days.

This was one such quote.

I cannot imagine a man feeling that he stops existing because the wife decides to respond to his baby’s cries.

I cannot imagine a grown, mature man saying that the “power has shifted back to the wife” simply because she cares for his baby–even if they are in the middle of making love.

I cannot imagine a man wanting to continue intercourse when his own baby is crying.

Yes, it’s easy for a parent to get so caught up in the kids they lose sight of their spouse. Yes, we need to keep the marriage alive.

But you know what keeps the marriage alive the most in those first few months? Parenting TOGETHER.

What if HE were to get the baby when the baby is crying? Change the diaper before bringing the baby to the mom to nurse?

What if HE were to focus on responding to the baby’s genuine needs?

What if HE were to understand that women’s bodies were physically made to respond to a baby’s cries–that hearing your child’s cries triggers the letdown reflex, and this is something that God created in women?

If a man sees the baby as a threat to him, then you have to ask if he wanted to be a father at all.

My husband never felt in competition with the babies. On the contrary, our love grew because now we shared a deep, transcendent love for these tiny creatures we created together.

I’m so grateful that Keith didn’t think the babies stole anything from him, but instead understood that he gained so much by having them–just like I did.

I hope Christian books will stop making mothers feel guilty for caring for their infants.

And I hope Christian books will stop infantilizing grown men, and instead expect them to act like responsible adults.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

on Facebook

I’m not going to say much more about this, because I like to do shorter posts on Tuesdays (or not post at all), and I’m in the middle of packing for a huge trip Keith and I are leaving on tomorrow! We’re going on my 50th birthday/30th anniversary trip, even though I’m now 52 and we’ve been married for 31 years just about. Everything got delayed with COVID, and now we’re finally leaving.

Follow me on Instagram to see updates! And I’ve got posts and podcasts scheduled which will be coming out when I’m gone.

But for now, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this pressure women feel to not put the baby before the husband!

Should the Marriage Always Come Before the Kids?

Have you felt pressure to put the kids’ needs on hold? Has parenting and marriage been presented to you as being in competition with each other? Is that the reality in your life? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Marriage Misdiagnosis Series

 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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80 Comments

  1. Amy

    Isn’t Gary Thomas the author who used the example that the wife had four kids, excluding the husband from having responsibility towards these kids? Maybe Gary Thomas thinks that fathering children is essentially sp*rm donation, and that the actual parenting work and responsibility belongs solely to the mother, because I’m starting to see a pattern here…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, same person!

      Reply
    • Anon

      Something I’ve been wondering about since reading this post: Maybe some women were afraid to say they felt like better wives? Or even like they were doing OK in both their wife and mother roles? I know I would much more readily admit to short-changing my husband than my kids, especially in a group setting. And I would have a much less favorable knee-jerk reaction to a woman who admitted to her motherly shortcomings vs. one who said she sometimes drops the ball as a wife.

      This is not casting aspersions on you Sheila! I just think it’s a bit of a “gotcha” question.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Sorry, that’s “admitted to her wifely shortcomings” and “sometimes drops the ball as a mom.” It’s late here LOL!

        Reply
  2. Brielle

    We are really struggling through this in our season of life right now. This message is often aimed at new parents with babies but we are 10 years in with a 7 year old with significant behavior struggles and I am WIPED out by the end of the day. I’m homeschooling and his job is seasonal so the summer and early fall has been essentially solo parenting for me. So many nights of tears and begging him to understand that I’m not actively trying to neglect our marriage, I’m just exhausted with trying to cope and stay afloat. I’ve spent hours trying to come up with word pictures and examples of seasons of life and ways to help him understand that he can’t always have my 100%. The message of the church was always that “marriage comes first” but what if your kid is draining the life out of you and you’re on a hundred waiting lists for professional help? I can’t neglect my kid, I can’t neglect myself, but I only have so much of me and my energy to go around. It’s been such a damaging message for us in this season. We’ve unlearned so many things, but this? This is haunting us.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Brielle, that’s so hard! It’s okay to say, “I need time and space because I am drained. We can’t have a good marriage if I am running on empty. Help me not run on empty.” Like, you need to be a well person before the couple can be well, and you becoming even more exhausted will not save the marriage.

      I’m so sorry for what you’re walking through!

      Reply
    • Anon this time

      Brielle,
      As a dad, I have been exactly where you are. The doctors waiting lists, waiting lists for the developmental pediatricians, the waiting lists for the learning disability assesors, all the tests they give your kid that stresses him out even more……the endless questionnaires with the million little boxes you have to fill in, the kids teacher has to fill in and all that crap you have to do to try to figure out why your child is acting the way he is…..all done under the watchful and doubting eye of all the other parents who think you and your wife are bad awful people who can’t control your childs issues. I have been there Brielle. You are not alone. Praying for you.

      Reply
    • Re

      I wonder how much of this goes back to like-minded parenting authors who believe a babies cries are a form of manipulation of the parents. If she is responding by givinging into the babies manipulation instead of meeting her husband’s needs then she is not disciplining the child (aka letting the baby cry it out) and sinning against the husband at the same time. I don’t believe in this line of thinking but have heard it promoted since I was a child myself.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I think this could be a large part of it. When you believe babies are evil from birth and are just selfish, then, yes, this is a logical conclusion to come to.

        Reply
  3. Stefanie

    Yes, this parenting vs marriage mentality is very ubiquitous in evangelical Christian spaces. It’s in the Enzo books too, which I read in preparation for my kids. (Glad I don’t subscribe to that philosophy anymore). More than that, the Enzo book makes it sound like Christianity vs the godless hippies who believe in attachment parenting. Like if you don’t militaristically implement these rigid schedules for your baby you contribute to “the breakdown of the family” and “the moral disintegration of society.”

    I wonder, Sheila, just as your research found that women don’t just give up sex for no reason, if mothers who neglect their husbands in favor of their kids don’t do that in a vacuum. There are contributing factors, maybe? Like maybe the marriage wasn’t strong to begin with or something like that. And how prevalent is that problem anyway? Maybe it’s a straw man argument to distract everyone from the real problem of male entitlement.

    And yes, the opposite problem: the husband who leaves all the childcare and housework to the wife and then resents that she doesn’t have time for him.

    That sounds like another interesting area of research for a sociologist. What is going on in a marriage where the children come between the parents? Is it the wife’s fault, the husband’s fault, a combination?

    Anyway, happy anniversary! Happy Birthday! Enjoy your trip!

    Reply
    • Stefanie

      I guess I should explain for those not familiar: Enzo wrote the book Babywise, in which he advocates for mothers to put their babies on a sleep-wake-feed schedule. This instills “discipline” in the baby. 😬 He advocates letting the baby cry in the crib to teach the baby “when it’s time to sleep, it’s time to sleep.”
      He’s also strongly opposed to hippie attachment parenting practices such as breastfeeding on demand, cosleeping, babywearing, pacifiers, and generally any other comforting measures a mother would offer a baby because that will “spoil” the baby.

      Reply
      • Jan

        Look up Truby King. His methods were very popular mid 20th century. Sounds a lot like Enzo. He advocated for leaving babies to sleep outside in all weathers for hours on end, only bringing them inside to feed and change them.

        Reply
      • Lynn

        I just want to note that the author of Babywise and Growing Kids God’s Way is Gary Ezzo, not Enzo. So if someone is googling, they’ll find it 🙂 Really, it’s a 🙁 if you find it, and it’s terrible advice that sabotage breastfeeding and everything else.

        Reply
        • Andrea

          I read somewhere that his grown kids won’t speak to him. Can anyone confirm?

          Reply
          • Lisa M

            Yes, I can confirm that the Ezzos have been excommunicated from at least two churches for something involving money and they’re adult children do not see them nor let them around their grandchildren. Although the grandchildren may be adults now and making their own choices.

            You can read more at http://www.ezzo.info

            There is also no evidence that Marie Ezzo was ever a pediatric nurse, as claimed on the back of their books.

        • Stefanie

          Thanks for catching that

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Those would be great things to research! When we do our matched pair survey early next year we’ll try to tease some of that out!

      Reply
  4. Jim

    I think that what men struggle with is when it feels like the kids get more attention from the wife. And this can happen even when you have dads who are involved. I know that my wife and I are going thru that now.

    My wife just gave birth to our 4th child last week. She had a tear during birth, thank God it was not serious but it did require several stitches. I work from home so I am able to help out more than I would if I was in the office. However, between middle of the night feedings and our older kids activities, we are both exhausted. Her more than me since she is breast feeding and recovering from delivery. I can’t help feeling isolated because she doesn’t have much left in the tank at the end of the day.

    And before any of the ladies say that I am not involved, I do change diapers, I am assistant coaching one of our sons baseball teams, a leader in another’s troop and I do the majority of the cooking and cleaning.

    But it is difficult to not miss what we had. It will get better with time but the interim is what is difficult and frustrating. Some acknowledgement that men have struggles would be appreciated.

    Not all men are deadbeats.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Jim, I’m sure you do feel isolated! But you do understand that she likely does too, as well, right? Like she is not deliberately ignoring you, any more than you are deliberately ignoring her.

      I think that’s the problem with how this is often presented. If he says he’s feeling isolated, it does assume that she is the one making him feel that way. I’m not saying that’s what you’re implying, but it often does come across that way.

      How about just simply saying, “The early days with babies are hard for both parents! It’s hard to stay connected, and we’re both so exhausted.” Like, just realize you’re in this together, and what you’re experiencing she also is experiencing? I think that’s the difference and that’s what makes it come across better.

      Reply
    • Suzanne

      Its concerning that one week after having a baby you are complaining that you feel isolated because she doesn’t have time for you, of course she doesn’t. Your wife just gave birth, she still has weeks of healing ahead of her all while caring for your new baby and the 3 older kids. I don’t think we need to bring attention to any husbands struggles because she should be the one who is focused on right now, she just carried a child and gave birth, sorry honey but right now its abut helping her, raising your kids and letting her sleep, not focusing on what you are missing in this very very brief period of post partum.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Newborns are hard for dads too. Yes mom’s physical and mental health should be priority. But that doesn’t mean dads don’t need support too. Not from HER, which is part of the point of this article, but I think it’s perfectly fine to pay attention to dads’ struggles. It can be a both/and!

        Reply
        • Suzanne

          My response to Jim in telling him that he is not the focus right now is based on his first sentence, “I think that what men struggle with is when it feels like the kids get more attention from the wife.” He is upset that his 1 week post partum wife with a tear that required stitches and a nursing brand new baby is giving more attention to the kids than him. That is not her problem, that is a jealousy problem he needs to get a handle on and not burden his wife with. He is feeling isolated 1 week after they welcomed a new precious baby to their family because he is not getting the attention he wants from his wife. That is a serious problem he needs to get a handle on, and he needs to focus more on how can I support my wife while she recovers from carrying, birthing and nourishing our child, not focusing on feeling like she is not making him a priority. Yes newborns are hard, but his comment was not about exhaustion and learning a new baby, it was on his wife not giving him attention.

          Reply
          • Nic Bleeker

            Some women may freak out by what I say now, because unfortunately un-Biblical teaching on human nature, sexuality, marriage and parenting are being pushed both from the pulpit and by the world.

            A woman who has no time to draw near to her husband when she needs to lean upon his large affections at a time like this, but feels that she now has to go it alone, that the child comes first, her health comes first and hubby is a tag along, the last one on the list of priorities, that woman does not understand Biblical marriage. Is still more in love with herself than her husband and therefore will not be capable of raising her children to be well balanced, loving and caring people, and the marriage will become a 4×4 obstacle course.

            Marriage is about togetherness. They start a new life together. They work towards shared goals together. They pass through sickness and health together. They experience poverty and wealth together. They procreate a child together. They face and pass through the challenges, pain, disappointments, successes together. Its like a row boat. If you try rowing a row boat with one oar, you will not make much progress. Be prepared for endless circles and never reaching your marital goals. Rowing equally strong and synchronised is essential to the direction and progress that will be made. Husband and wife each have AN oar. If one tries to take over both oars, or withdraws from sharing in the responsiblities, and fails to continue to acknowledge and appreciate the partner’s contribution to their life together, that marriage is in for a rough ride or end in a divorce court.

            When Paul said “I die daily”, he was not expressing a Christian parlour joke. The human heart, described by God to Jeremiah in chapter 17, is a Faithful and True Testimony by the Faithful and True Witness. Which is why, presenting the beauty of the Gospel, God’s Salvation, Paul would say, I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. This personal experience in the heart, on an individual basis, in the husband and the wife, will result in a holy wedlock rather that unholy deadlock.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            “They go through health and sickness together”

            What part of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery does the HUSBAND go through? Oh, that’s right–none of it. This sounds so lovely and spiritual until you realize what you actually just said–“You vowed to be with me in sickness and in health, so even though you just went through sickness, you still have to help me with letting me ejaculate into you enough that I don’t get uncomfortably horny while you’re recovering from having a baby.”

            The way the husband goes through this “together” with his wife is by not groaning about being a “tagalong” when his wife is literally recovering from one of the most traumatic things a body can go through. “Her health comes first” is not an excuse–it’s reality. A husband who feels like a tagalong because his wife isn’t able to sexually serve him while recovering from childbirth, frankly, needs to grow up. It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed, lonely, overwhelmed–Connor and I both experience that postpartum! But it’s not because I’m being a bad wife, it’s because having a new baby is HARD. And you know what he DIDN’T do? Tell me, his 6-week-post-C-Section wife that I was loving myself more than him by focusing on recovery.

            Good grief, this kind of stuff makes me sick. You really think that God, who calls us to die to self daily, is more angry that a wife isn’t meeting a husband’s ejaculation quota than he is concerned that she’s rested and recovered after having a baby?

            I’m so glad that my God doesn’t sound like yours. My God actually loves women. And so does my husband, who sounds nothing like your comment. For which I am eternally grateful.

    • Lindsey

      As a mother who nursed her babies, I can tell you she misses the “before times” too when she didn’t need to give access to her body to multiple members of her family even when she didn’t feel like it. Even if she chooses not to nurse she still has to pump so the baby is still controlling her body.

      I was always so touched out when my kids were nursing. Weaning and getting your body back is something I don’t think men understand at all.

      Please realize she has had to share her body with a fetus and then a nursing child from the moment you made her pregnant until she and the kiddo decide to wean. It’s been well over 40 weeks for most women before they own their own bodies and don’t physically have to put someone else’s needs first. Yes you miss her, so does she. Let her find herself again before you go looking for her.

      Reply
    • Jess

      Hi Jim,
      I read your comment to my husband while nursing my forth baby. He immediately felt sorry for your wife that you feel this way after only one week. This is your job, not hers (temporary). If you feel isolated you have to reach out instead of waiting for someone to reach out to you. Women often initiate all the bonding in the relationship when it should be both of you so that when one of you is ‘out’ the other temporarily maintains the relationship like Ecclesiastes 4:10. Does she know how you feel and do you know how she feels? I know it’s busy but there’s nothing stopping you from communicating throughout day, which can be more effective then leisurely sit down conversations because you’re sharing how you feel in real time.
      I have enormous sympathy for sudden single parenting during new baby transition. It’s hard. You will get through this! Focus on the first month, you’re already a quarter through. Cut unnecessary commitments and arrange rides for the kids extracurriculars if you can. Buy paper plates. Three of you cuddle together while everyone watches a movie. Give her a massage while she’s nursing and catch up. It only gets easier from here!
      But please ponder whether you would minimize several stitches to your own torn genitals as not serious.

      Reply
    • Kate

      Hi Jim. 🙂 I hear what you’re saying, and your feelings of loneliness are valid. This season of life is EXHAUSTING no matter which way you look at it.

      You sound like a great dad! I know how it feels to give of yourself every day and feel isolated and lonely at the end. I think what some of the other comments are getting at is that there’s nothing your wife can do to fill that need for you right now. A man can miss his wife terribly without following the logic in Gary’s book that she is wrong for attending to the kids and her own healing more than to him. The more I’ve healed from the shock of birth and new motherhood, the more empathy I’m able to feel for the loneliness my husband and other fathers face during this time, so please read my comments with a tone of compassion, not judgment.

      Unsolicited advice (please feel free to ignore): Is there someone you can ask to babysit the older kids on a weekend? You and your wife (and newborn) might be able to enjoy some quiet time to talk, cuddle, and just rest in each others’ presence. Are you connecting with other fathers who will understand what life is like right now and support you?

      So many men are not deadbeats! <3 But the good ones like you and my husband who step up and care for their families need help too. I hope you find the support you need.

      Reply
      • Jim

        Thank you for the encouragement, Katie.

        I appreciate that you are trying to understand what I and my wife are going thru without attacking me.

        Sadly, the attacks on my character are not surprising. If a man says that he is struggling, he is told that he is terrible and that they should feel sorry for my wife. It is assumed that I am a deadbeat because I am struggling. I think that the message is that since I am a man that I shouldn’t struggle nor complain.

        If those that feel like this would reread my original comment, I acknowledge that
        my wife is having a harder time than me and that I am supporting her in everyday that I can. I have to tell her to relax when she wants to clean up or work on a project.

        I know what she has gone thru and is going thru. I was there holding her hand, wiping the sweat from her brow, and encouraging her throughout her labor. I saw in her eyes and heard in her voice the pain that she was enduring and it was killing me that I couldn’t take that on for her.

        However, I do feel isolated sometimes and I’m sure my wonderful wife feels the same. Maybe more exhausted right now, but still not easy.

        But, for me it is more difficult since I suffer from depression, which doesn’t help matters. So please I don’t assume that you know me or that I am just another entitled, ungrateful man.

        I’m doing the best that I can to be strong for my family, and by God’s strength, we will make it through this challenging and exhausting time as we have over the last 15 years of marriage.

        “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

        Joshua 1:9

        Reply
        • Jane Eyre

          Hi Jim,

          You sound like a good dad and husband. Depression lies, and it is often ignored, underdiagnosed and untreated in men. When things calm down a bit in a few weeks, consider making an appointment for diagnosis, medication, or therapy, or whatever is appropriate given your situation.

          Reply
          • Jim

            Jane Eyre,

            Thank you for your comment.

            I was diagnosed as a teen. It is normally manageable without medication and therapy. Honestly, therapy never worked for me since it often did not go any further than thought modification. Things like, ‘when you start having that negative thought, change it to something else.’

            Medications actually made things worse. Look up ‘prozac headache’ and you will see what I mean.

            It’s not worth the time and money that would be better utilized else where as long as I can keep myself distracted and working. When you have 4 kids you don’t have a lot of time for frivolous things.

    • Lisa

      Are you suggesting that you wife doesn’t also feel isolated and miss getting attention from you? I believe you that you’re an involved dad and you are working full time. Does she not miss getting your time and attention?

      Both people experience this. It’s not unique to dads at all.

      Reply
  5. Laura

    I never understood how evangelicals came up with the belief that your spouse should come before your children. I don’t see that anywhere in the Bible. Like the commenters here, I can see that this belief goes along with male entitlement because often the parenting responsibilities fall on the wife regardless of whether she works outside the home or is a homemaker.

    I understand that both spouses and children are priorities. It also depends on the stage of life the child is in.

    Reply
  6. April Wright

    It truly needs to change I’m not married yet with kids. But both the husband and wife should be caring for the child, not just the wife. It is not solely her responsibility. She did not create the child by herself. Men should step up to the plate and help as well. I’m sad these Christian authors always blame women for everything in relationships. It is tiring and draining to read their toxic comments.

    Reply
  7. Boone

    I didn’t realize that my marriage was a power struggle. I guess I missed something.
    We have three children that have grown into fairly well adjusted adults. All are married and my middle son has two children. I always figured that they were my responsibility, too. I watched a lot of Country Music Television at 2:00 in the morning back in the 90’s. Hey, it was either that or infomercials. I don’t regret one minute of it.. I always figured that their care and welfare was as much my job as it was my wife’s.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re awesome, Boone!

      Reply
  8. Stefanie

    Another phenomenon that could be going on is that our families are more isolated now than they’ve ever been. In the past, families were surrounded by extended family. So even though the childcare fell mostly on the mothers, the mothers had grandma, sisters, cousins and older children to help with the little children. Kids are just labor intensive. God made it that way, and we’re not always equipped with the resources we need to handle it.

    The other modern phenomenon could be that parenting expectations are more intense now than past generations. So not only do we have less help, but we have more work. Like you’re a bad mother if your kid isn’t eating all organic. Ha! I recently heard the term “scrunchy moms.” Everyone is just trying their best. Moms don’t need the added pressure that “your marriage is failing and it’s all your fault.”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true, Stefanie! We have lost a lot of community, and that does have real impact.

      Reply
  9. EOF

    Didn’t he also say that boobs reset the power balance in marriage, in his newest book? (Or something along those lines; I didn’t read the book.)

    Why are these male “Christian” marriage teachers so focused on power, authority, ruling, domineering, etc? It goes so far against what Jesus taught. As Marg Mowczko points out, Paul never instructed men to lead or have authority and in fact instructed husbands 6x to love their wives.

    Something that always struck me as weird is a question asked in pre-marital counseling to blended families. The question is: if you were in a car wreck and could only save your child or your future spouse, who would you save? If the answer isn’t your future spouse, then you aren’t ready for marriage. That’s a really messed up question to pose.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      YOU SAVE YOUR CHILD!

      Goodness, if my husband saved me instead of one of my girls I’d never forgive him! What a stupid question.

      And, yes, I don’t understand all the concern about power and authority either.

      Reply
    • Boone

      If your future spouse doesn’t want you to save your child, or any child, first then I don’t want to marry them.

      Reply
    • Angharad

      That is such a dumb question anyway, because in that kind of scenario, you literally grab the first person you can reach to get them out. It’s not like ‘ooooh, now which one is the most important one for me to save?’ If you walk past one person to get to another who ‘needs saving’ more, then likely no one is going to survive! Listen to the stories of anyone in that kind of situation and they all say that they just had to get the person who was nearest first.

      Reply
    • Anon

      Not in counseling but my husband and I once were discussing a similar hypothetical. We agreed that we’d both go for the kids. It wasn’t even a contest. Parents don’t get to sacrifice our kids to save ourselves! We sacrifice ourselves for our kids!

      Reply
  10. Anon

    We see husbands and babies as in competition because men see EVERYTHING as a competition. In order for them to win, someone has to lose and if it’s his wife and baby oh well. And if someone else “wins” it means he’s losing. No concept that maybe the marriage/family unit is winning. Or that maybe you don’t always get to win.

    And why is a 6-7 week postpartum woman having sex in the first place? Seriously.

    Reply
    • Karena

      Yes, some people (my husband included) see everything as a zero-sum game. If our kids “win” in getting time with me, he “loses” because he is not getting time with me. If he spends time with the kids, he thinks I am “losing” out on time with him. The way I see it however, anything that is fostering and strengthening ties and relationships within the family is a “win!” I LOVE it when he spends quality time with the kids (especially mine…we have a blended family) and I find this incredibly attractive! It increases my feelings of closeness with him, even if I’m not directly spending time with him. It’s a win-win. Of course, there can be times when there is imbalance of time spent with kids vs. spouse. Sometimes those are out of necessity (newborns!!), sometimes it’s habit or avoidance or some other unhealthy reason. But overall, it shouldn’t ever be a competition! We are partners on the same team.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Amen!

        Reply
  11. Sara A

    I once broke down in a Sunday School marriage and parenting class. I don’t remember all the specifics of what they were saying, but it was along the lines of “don’t ignore your husband in favor of the kids.” I broke down crying in class because I was heavily pregnant and we already had a toddler, and then I was being lectured about taking care of my husband, too. Through my tears, I said,” I don’t understand! I am so tired right now. I am the pregnant one. Why do I have to take care of him? He’s a grown adult and I have 1 baby and one on the way. He’s a wonderful husband and dad, but I am feeling like a terrible wife now because our focus IS on our babies!” So many people came up to me and said, “This doesn’t apply to you. You’re in a season of raising babies,” and “marriage is marathon, not a sprint. This stuff is taking about the long run.” In my mind all I could think is, “Then why aren’t we teaching that this doesn’t apply during the babies years? Or how hard it is for BOTH of us?” In my mind I was spending all day with a little person who met none of my needs, and my husband got to talk to people all day, and then they were saying he should come home and be taken care of by me. I wish I could have verbalized years ago that I didn’t believe being a wife and being a mom should be in competition. I’m grateful my husband never really believed all of that, but hearing those things at church really messed me up.

    Reply
    • C

      So sorry you had to go through that.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, Sara! It is really messed up. I think I used to teach a form of this too, and for that I’m really sorry.

      Yes, we need to raise our boys to understand that they are to care for the kids too, so it doesn’t all fall on the exhausted mom.

      Reply
      • Sara A

        Thank you for acknowledging it, Sheila. I hold no ill will against the teacher or the church. This was something that was commonly taught when I was pregnant 9 years ago, and I honestly believe the teacher in class had wonderful intentions, as did all the kind people who tried to comfort me. But, intentions didn’t help me- they burdened me and frustrated me. And now that I know better, I can do (and teach others!) better 😀 The funny thing is that though my husband is a believer, he didn’t grow up in church, and he doesn’t read marriage books, so he never had the idea that a baby would take attention away from him. He took care of me during both my pregnancies, and has always taken care of the children. It was mostly when I read Christian marriage and parenting books and then at church that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough as a wife. I’m so glad you are helping to spread a different message!

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yay for great husbands! That’s so good to hear.

          Reply
  12. Jess

    Yes!!! I hate the either-or thinking! Postpartum is always incredibly bonding for us and each child strengthened our marriage all because of my husband. Caring for a newborn isn’t a choice yet the husband holds the power to spoil the baby-moon.

    Reply
  13. Karena

    I had always, in the past, just accepted the “rule” that the marriage relationship is the most important, and that your spouse comes before your kids…because, well, that’s what I heard in seminars and books. But I’ve never actually researched this, and I’m grateful for the commenter that asked where that is in the Bible! Where DOES this mindset in Christianity come from?? This is the second marriage for both my husband and I, and he will drop anything with his kids at anytime in order to put me first. While his commitment is commendable in some ways, it really makes me uncomfortable sometimes. If he is having a conversation with one of his kids who lives out of state and I happen to call, he hangs up with his child to talk to me. If I enter the room, he will cut off the conversation with his daughter, who still lives with, us to be with me.

    The trouble is, I don’t feel this level of “putting your spouse first” is always right or healthy. I respect the person I’m interacting with regardless of who they are, and I feel it is common decency to give them my full attention for that time. I am also more situational than my husband; if I’m just watching TikTok videos with my 15 y/o and my hubby comes home from work, I go to spend time with him. On the other hand, if it’s bedtime and my 15 y/o is having an emotional crisis, I change my bedtime plans, put her first to see to her needs, and hubby just has to wait for a bit before we can talk and snuggle in for the night.

    For him, it’s black and white; if I don’t always put him first, then I’m not sufficiently honoring our marriage relationship. I disagree. Also, I don’t want to be a source of resentment for my step-kids because I “always come first” for their dad (and displace them as a result). I don’t see our kids being in competition with him for my attention (he does see it this way though). I see marriage and family as a big, beautiful whole, and fostering good relationships with our children, both biological and step, as an important part of strengthening both our family AND our marriage. It’s hard that my husband and I see this differently.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Your attitude sounds just like mine, Karena! It is a matter of decency and also of emotional triage. Can you share this comment with your husband and talk about it? Or ask your husband how it may make his kids feel if he hangs up on them as soon as you’re home?

      Reply
  14. C

    I’ve always had a problem with that saying, that your husband comes first. Any mother who has had young children knows that there will be seasons where your kids are absolutely dependent on you to get their needs met. Could be normal baby stuff, frequent illness or learning difficulties. The more kids you have the longer and more frequent these seasons will be.
    Every parent’s journey will be different. My friend has a special needs child who is a young adult–her journey hasn’t stopped even though her child is an adult. In some respects her journey has become more complex. Not sure what it is like in other countries–but in the US it seems like it would be difficult to be in her shoes.
    I’ve never understood that the responsibility is completely placed on the mother to get the marriage back to normal after childbirth.
    The quote is truly astonishing. How could a man who doesn’t seem to understand women (or babies) be placed on a pedestal as a marriage expert.

    Reply
  15. CMT

    Ugh. Yes ive heard this. More often couched as advice to the couple to “put your relationship first,” but given other assumptions about who’s doing most of the childcare and who is more prone to be distracted from “meeting their spouse’s needs” (read: sex), it does tend to burden women.

    Definitely agree there is a lot of zero-sum thinking and male entitlement with this. Could there also be some emotional isolation going on? This is a big generalization, but for a lot of guys, their wife is their primary, or perhaps only, emotional support. And a lot of cultural factors and bad teaching reinforce that. So when she is stretched thin and he has no one else, that is a huge problem for him. He really does need support-it just can’t all be from her.

    Reply
  16. LaVictoire

    Why are power dynamics even in marriages? And why would they apply to kids? If marriage has turned into a weird power fantasy for dudes, no wonder more ladies don’t want anything to do with it.

    Reply
  17. A2bbethany

    My parents are loud believers in marriage first kids second. But I’ve experienced firsthand how that back fires on the child. So as soon as I was pregnant, I knew…child first hubby 2nd.
    I’ve always put my children first as does my husband. I’m a mom first and wife 2nd…I don’t care who’s offended by that.

    Reply
    • Janey

      But what about the fact that you married your husband FIRST, before your children, and that the marriage is a more permanent relationship that will outlast your parenting years?

      Reply
      • CMT

        I’m going to be a mother for the rest of my life too. And having small people was part of the plan when my husband and I got married. So yes, he came first temporally but now that the littles are here they are just as important and just as permanent a part of my life. And they need me and my husband in a way we simply don’t need one another. I think the “spouse first vs kids first” thing is a false dichotomy. I can love them all without having a hierarchy.

        Reply
        • Carla

          Yes!, “…they need me and my husband in a way we simply don’t need one another”, is exactly my thinking. Husband is having a hard time? It IS a hard time! It’s not the job of his wife who just grew and pushed out a baby to make it all better for him. Only a narcissistic man would even want or expect that from a woman. The Christian church does a terrible job by men, teaching them to have these expectations. This advice is not of God. So many Christian leaders modelling Milton’s Lucifer, “Non serviam”.

          Reply
      • A2bbethany

        Priorities change….when I married he was my focus. When I got pregnant, we had teamed up to love this child.
        And coming from poorly handled CSA, I told him several times, “hurt my baby and I’m gone. And I might kill you” I want the well being of our children before any kind of stupid, “loyalty” to each other. Because I’ve seen that loyalty and have the burns to prove it.

        Reply
  18. Angharad

    Why on earth do we have to have a ‘power balance’ in a marriage anyway? As Christians, shouldn’t we believe that God has all the power in all our relationships anyway? And I think it’s super creepy that he feels like the power balance shifts to the wife when she goes to care for her baby – because that implies that he is the one who is ‘in control’ and has power over her when they are having sex. What on earth happened to loving, mutual sex?!!!

    Reply
    • CMT

      Yeah that is really weird. As if being able to stop in the middle of sex if you need/want to is not, you know, a normal part of consensual sexual activity. It’s not a power move on her part, it’s the reality of parenting! Maybe TMI, but I have no idea how many times we have had to do exactly this in the last ten years, so one or the other of us could go tend to a kid who needed something.

      Reply
  19. Ashley

    Your willingness to admit when things you’ve said were wrong is admirable. It shows humility and the kind of ethos that makes me love following you. Thank you for holding others accountable while also holding yourself accountable. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Phil

      I echo this. I also challenge folks to look for this quality in others they are following and or listening too. I was away this past weekend and we had a guest speak at our church for the sermon. He is also a higher up with in our church District. My wife was taken back by his candidness. You know what he shared? He said he had anger issues and he is in counseling. He talked about Jesus seeing us yelling at our wife or our kids on the way to church and then acting like everything is great once we get there. These are real problems. We are real people and we do wrong things. Sometimes willfully and sometimes just out of ignorance. We need to right our wrongs. When we do that Jesus blesses not only the person seeking to right their wrong but those around them. That’s a beautiful thing 😬

      Reply
  20. Chris

    I think it just comes down to managing everyone’s expectations. For me, I grew up as the youngest boy in my family and I never spent any considerable time around babies. So in all truthfulness, I just didn’t know how much work it really is. We were both so tired back then. I knew that after birth it would be a good 3-6 months before we started having sex again. But if you had told me 12 years ago that the 3-6 months would become at least 12 years of sexlessness, I would have been upset, but at least I couldn’t say that I was not warned this was a possibility.

    Reply
    • Dani

      I would say that 12 years of sexlessness is not normal, common or healthy post kids. There is something else going on here…

      Reply
      • Chris

        Dani, I am not sure exactly what you are implying with your last statement but I will say this:
        I agree with you 1000% that it is not healthy. I agree with you 100% that it is not normal. However I disagree completely when you say that it is not common. It is very common. I have been blessed with having a group of guys that I have been friends with since we were little kids. All nine guys are married. One has been divorced and remarried and has three kids with his second wife. But he divorced his first wife after being married about 5 years without the marriage ever being consummated. These things happen. As for the rest, only two of the marriages in our group were back to having sex within a year of the first baby being born. Now my situation is the most extreme, granted. But it’s still very common. Oh and Sheila, I do see a therapist. It does help but there is only so much you can accomplish when you go to therapy by yourself.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          No one is arguing these things don’t happen, Chris–but we have to ask WHY. And I’m going to be honest, it’s very very strange looking at statistics, not your friend group, to not have sex for a YEAR after having a baby. (Study)

          If you are in a group of peers whose wives are disproportionately represented in the small minority of women who don’t have sex for over a year postpartum, you have to ask WHY. Is there something about these men that makes it more likely their wives aren’t having sex? Because I recognize that may be normal for you, but I’m going to be honest–statistically, it’s not. So it’s important to not just blow off the research and instead ask, “is there something about my group of friends that means our wives are less interested in sex? Is there an unhealthy dynamic going on here? Is there something we can be iron sharpening iron with each other to encourage and empower us to be better husbands? How can we encourage each other to grow and learn and spur each other on towards love and good deeds instead of just getting mad at our wives together?”

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Chris. That’s a long time. I really hope you can find a good licensed counselor to talk to to work through what’s going on!

      Reply
  21. Sarah

    That premise “marriage over kids” always perplexed me.

    I have high needs babies. My second is 18 months and I’m just touched out and downright exhausted at the end of the day. I have zero energy left to put into my marriage. But what is the alternative? How would I prioritize marriage? Lock my kids in the closet for a few hours per day so I can rest and recharge??

    Thankfully we’ve been through it before and as difficult as it is, we know it’s just a season.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, exactly! What is the alternative?

      I think the advice makes sense if we’re talking about “let them watch a video for an hour so you can get dinner ready without kids screaming and have some peace and quiet so you’re not totally spent at night, even if you don’t like them on screens.” It doesn’t make sense if we’re talking about 4 kids under 5, or multiple special needs kids who don’t sleep, or the first few months of a baby’s life.

      Reply
  22. Anonymous

    Every time I think I have read the worst Gary Thomas quote there always seems to be another one…… this one is disgusting. I am lucky my husband loved his babies so much that if the baby started to cry while we were making love he would have been out the door to soothe or feed the baby before I could have even said anything, because that is what awesome dads do.

    Reply
  23. Lisa

    I am SO thankful I saw through the garbage of Evangelical parenting books and switched to secular parenting books while pregnant with our first. Secular books do a much better job about addressing the changing dynamics of a relationship when kids enter. Of course a marriage will change when a baby comes! To tell the wife that she has to try and baby her husband AND the baby, well the husband never should’ve been entitled to babying! It’s normal to grieve some of what you lost when you become a parent. But to expect the wife to keep up the facade so the husband never has to adjust is horrific. Is the same old thing– men are emotional infants so don’t expect anything.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I still remember Intended for Pleasure telling postpartum women they should give sexual release at the same frequency as they had sex before pregnancy. So you’re postpartum and suffering, but you have to make sure that absolutely nothing changes for the husband. Do they not understand how that sounds?

      Reply
  24. K

    I think a happy family is one where everyone’s needs are being met. It’s not a zero sum game where one person gains only at the expense of another.

    My husband has definitely felt (for considerable periods) that the children come before him, with some justification. In a choice between who to pay attention to / who to give my time to, my instinct would always be to give it to the children rather than to him. I have two high-need children who take up more time than I have to give and in some ways are as needy as toddlers, despite being long past the intensive-little-children stage (they are 12 and nearly 10). My husband finds it hard to see the way the children put such big emotional / practical demands on me when he can’t help reduce them (eg the fussy eater refuses to eat food his father has cooked, won’t let his father help him calm down or negotiate sibling disagreements or help him get to sleep etc).

    Last summer he felt this really strongly and when we talked about it, we realised that we typically only spent about 10 minutes a week together, and hadn’t had sex for at least 6 months. (That was mostly because I spent all evening every evening trying to get the insomniacs to sleep since they were in a patch of being unable to do so without me, and my eldest was on medication which was messing his sleep up even more). It was hard to change things but we both made a real effort to set aside time to spend together and to work on our marriage, and things are very different now. I don’t think either he or I have thought that you should put your spouse “first” in some kind of hierarchical way, though, and we’ve not been in churches which have taught that.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’ve figured this out! That must be exhausting what you’re going through, too. I hope you have a good pediatrician and some support groups!

      Reply
  25. Anon for this

    1. Shared this article with my teen son and he was appalled at the idea of a dad being jealous of his kids “taking” attention away from the dad. His words- “Doesn’t that make the dad just as bad as a jealous, toddler like sibling??” I’m a proud mama.

    2. If there is a “power” holder, it is actually that of the baby, not the mom.

    3. If a couple is actually making “love” then it stands to reason that love for a child should prevail for a need rather than a desire. There is no making love in that situation, only a transaction, a stealing honestly.

    4. Matthew 7:9 says, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” I feel like ignoring your infant’s cries for this reason would be like giving him a stone… certainly a stony-cold shoulder for his valid, greater need! This verse assumes parents will attend to their children’s needs as the normal response.

    5. A church staffer I knew years ago and his wife had a second kid who did not sleep well- only a few hours at night, and his naps almost never lasted more than 5-10 minutes during the day. They followed Babywise, etc., and she was worn to a frayed thread. Hubby made sure she knew that the night of her 6 week appointment that she had a duty and he had been patient those 6 weeks as well as the months that followed. They are now divorced.

    6. As for not recognizing these junk ideas for being as bad as they are: It’s been a few years but we at one time fostered just a few kiddos. One set of 3, all 5 and under, had clearly been through atrocities. The 5 yr old was the one that typically called the police when mom’s boyfriend was beating her up- kiddo would punch himself in his sleep thinking he was defending himself or her, etc. Mom was more invested in her next hit than actually getting her kiddos back. Thing was, all three desperately wanted to return home because they were familiar with it. With us, they were safe, were fed, never once had to call the police, etc., but they missed what they knew. Their past life was comforting in its own disturbed way. I think a lot of our “church learning” has been like that- we didn’t notice how bad some teachings were because it was our “normal.” So thankful to Sheila and team for helping open more eyes!

    Reply
  26. Chris

    “kiddo would punch himself in his sleep thinking he was defending himself or her, etc. “

    Oh wow. That’s one of the saddest things I have ever read here on the blog.

    Sheila, out of curiosity, have you placed my comments on moderation?

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Nope, this one went through without requiring approval so you’re not on moderation personally. We do have certain words/links that require approval before the comment is posted so maybe you’ve had some comments missed that way? But our comment queue is currently empty so I don’t know!

      Reply

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