Whenever I use the phrase "Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my children" it feels incomplete. Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my children and my husband. Some parents have to make a choice between their relationship with their children and their relationship with their spouse or partner, my heart hurts for them even as I'm thankful that is not true in my life. Perhaps I should say that nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my family. In my life that began with a commitment to an unborn child.
Our life, as a couple, has been a winding path (isn't everyone's?) and in our relationship we made a commitment to our children before we fully made a commitment to each other. We were at a point of transition in our relationship and in our individual lives. We were preparing to go our separate ways because our life paths seemed to be diverging when an unplanned pregnancy added a new set of variables to our choices. We chose to stay together to be parents. That decision set us on the path of spending the rest of our lives together. We had choices and this is the choice we made: we would stay together, to parent together, out of unconditional love for an unborn child. A bit backwards for most people, but we made a commitment to the family we would become, it was never just a commitment to each other and our relationship as a couple. Our commitment to each other grew out of the choice to be parents together. Through the challenges , the struggles, and even dark moments of desperation, we have always been able to count on each other because our relationship is rooted in our commitment to our family. Our respect for each other also grew from these roots. We both have scars from the past. Broken relationships, attachment and abandonment issues and personal pain that could easily have destroyed our marriage if we were not absolutely committed to our children and our family. We have supported each other through huge amounts of personal growth and here we are today in a much healthier place than either of us were more than a decade ago.
Our commitment to our family, our choice to parent together, lead us to a respectful partnership and unconditional love for each other. For me, this smoothed the transition to being a respectful partner in the lives of our children. Because, even though I would have always told you I loved my children unconditionally, and even though I made a conscious choice to be a parent, my evolution as a truly unconditional parent who lives in respectful partnership with her children has happened relatively recently.
Everyone has their own story, the pattern of their life before they had children, the relationship they have or don't have with the other biological parent of their children, the relationship they have with their partner or spouse if they have one, and their relationship with extended family.
If you had years together with your partner or spouse before you had children then your experience will be different from mine. If you were single well into adulthood before having children you had plenty of time to establish routines that may have shifted when you started sharing your life with another adult, and which were then were completely disrupted upon the arrival of your child or children. If you committed to a relationship with someone who was already a parent hopefully you made a commitment to their children, too. Usually adults make a commitment to their relationship with another adult and when children come into their lives, into the relationship, the adults may see this as secondary, or an infringement on, or an inconvenience to their relationship as a couple, even though they chose to be a parent.
Some times it is the parents who have had to wait the longest, who have over come the biggest barriers in order to have children, who seem then to struggle the most with how being a parent impacts their own life and their relationships with other adults. I think this can be particularly true for women who came of age in the 80's and 90's who were told they can and should have it all: a career, marriage, children, and plenty of time for themselves. These are messages I grew up with, too. I'm not saying you cannot or should not have it all. However, if you've spent at least 15 years of your adult life having "it all" except the children and then you choose to add children to the mix you need to expect that the transition to being an involved, connected, respectful partner in the life of your child is going to require a huge reevaluation of every priority you ever had. If you are at that point, if you are considering becoming a parent, are trying to find a more peaceful way to parent, or are trying to find a greater sense of balance in your life and relationships I have a phrase for you: Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my family.
For me the commitment to being a parent lead me down the path to an amazing and wonderful relationship with my husband. For you it may be that your commitment to your relationship with your partner or spouse will lead you down the path to an amazing and wonderful relationship with your children. Either way, living by choice in a family with a foundation of unconditional love and respectful partnership is an amazing place to be.