In the movie Cars, Doc Hudson tells Lightning McQueen when he rides in dirt, he has to turn right to go left. McQueen initially laughs off this brilliant, yet counter-intuitive advice, but when he grasps it, the advice ends up making him a hero.
If you prioritize your relationship with your spouse, it will end up giving you the result that you desire: Your kids will feel secure, safe, and in the end, will feel like they are the most important thing in your life.
One of the greatest takeaways from my parents' lifelong romance was to set priorities in the proper order: God first, then spouse, after the spouse the kids, and then everything else. No doubt they had a unique perspective, having been in love with each other since Dad was five and Mom was three.
Legion are my memories where the three boys were with Mom and Dad going to fancy restaurants, taking long coastal drives, spending the day at far away beach cities, shopping for antiques, fishing, spending a Saturday at an auction house, hanging out at their workplace (they always worked together), and going with them wherever they wanted to go.
Few are my memories of going to the party of a classmate, me or my brothers causing one of our sporting events to swallow an entire weekend, or doing some other kid-centered activity.
My parents were intentional that having kids wasn't going to stop them from doing the things they did before they had kids. Their object was to bring the kids into their marriage, not allow the kids to drown their marriage in a sea of tasks for the children. For this reason, our kid activities were pretty limited.
This idea probably sounds foreign to many people. It seems the pervasive thinking in the Western world is that the lives of parents generally revolve around their children. Beginning each Monday, day in and day out, parents run themselves ragged tearing around from practice to recital to dance class to art school to theater to band until they fall into a heap on Sunday night, only to start again the next morning. So, what happens after that final Sunday, when you've dropped off your baby girl at the college of her choice and you walk away, hand in hand with your spouse, no longer knowing the hand you hold? One way to fight that scenario is to make serious efforts to make your husband or wife a priority in your life.
So is this simply one guy's opinion because of what he grew up with? I don't think so. Counselors, therapists, pastors, study after study, but most importantly, your own experience will tell you that kids who grow up in families where Mom and Dad's relationship is strong do much better than when Mom and Dad focus all of the attention on the kids, and forget about each other. Kids long for constants; when they know Mom and Dad's relationship is solid, kids flourish.
Even after taking into account the differences between our culture and ancient Hebrew culture, I think the Bible has some principles that could really help here. In Ephesians 5 & 6, in the most instructive and direct teaching to family roles and responsibilities in the Bible, Paul tells Fathers not to exasperate their children, and tells children to obey their parents; it's short and sweet. In a beautiful way that only God could have inspired, Paul describes—in explicit detail—the love and respect that spouses are to have in relationship with one another, and compares the marriage relationship to the relationship that Jesus Christ has with His church. A marriage is not just a relationship, it's a calling.
Ephesians certainly isn't the only place this type of instruction is in the Bible. Our relational God used the Hebrew word yada in the same sense to describe both His people knowing him, and a husband and wife's most intimate expression of their physical relationship. The average Jewish or American Christian wedding ceremony is bursting with symbolism from the Covenant that God created with Abraham.
There's no doubt that children are a blessing from the Lord, and that God wants our quivers to be full so that we can be blessed. God never reprimands a parent in the Bible for longing to have a baby. However, there just seems to be a different Biblical treatment of the spousal relationship than the parent/child relationship.
This isn't to say that parents don't and shouldn't sacrifice for their children. I know my parents sacrificed greatly for us. That's what love does. Parents should sacrifice money, their own needs, their time, their energy, and sometimes their very lives for their children. But the one thing that should not be sacrificed is the relationship between mom and dad. That needs to come first.
It's akin to having a relationship with God. When your relationship with God is strong, it makes all of your other relationships better. Same goes with parents and children. Take care of your spouse first, and everything else seems to fall in line.
What does it mean to put your spouse first? This is the hard part. If you've got kids under 5, putting your spouse first will look a whole lot different than if your kids drive themselves to school. Sometimes the best way I can put my spouse first is to do something that may not even look like I am putting my spouse first to a non-parent. You can put your spouse first by giving your kids a bath, and telling your wife to go sit down and watch Downton Abbey. How about initiating sex if you aren't the one who normally does? Maybe it's putting your laptop down for an hour, turning off the TV, and just having a conversation after the kids have gone to bed? This is where really knowing your husband or wife is very helpful. How do they feel love? What is it that makes them feel special? Do that thing!
So, it isn't about how much time you are spending with your kids versus your spouse. In fact, it could be a 200 to 1 ratio of kid time versus spouse time. But just setting that time aside, that one date night per month, or Bible study every other week is putting your spouse first.
But also be cognizant of the extra time you are setting yourself up for when you'll have no choice but to chase kids around. If you cut out a sport or two, maybe there will be a little more time for you to have a real life conversation with the person you fell in love with so many years ago. After all, what greater tangible example could your children have of what their relationship with Christ should look like than a wonderful relationship between you and your spouse?
So, if you want your kids to feel safe and secure, to feel like they are the most important thing, put each other first. I know it may feel like I'm telling you to go right to go left, but I speak from experience. My parents put their relationship with each other first, which makes them bigger heroes than any talking car will ever be.