There are a number of studies that show that relationship satisfaction decreases after the birth of a child. Babies require a lot of work and it can be difficult for parents to make their couple connection a priority. As children grow and gain more independence, some parents continue to put all of their energy into their children, leaving nothing for their partner. The relationship becomes child-centered as the couple disconnects from each other and becomes overly involved with their children. Although the parents may have good intentions, a child-centered relationship can have negative consequences for the entire family.
What Is A Child-Centered Relationship
A child-centered relationship is when parents focus on the children at the expense of the couple’s connection. While it is very important to respond to your children’s physical, emotional, and attachment needs, a child-centered relationship goes beyond this. The wants and desires of the children are prioritized over the needs and health of the marriage. This leaves the parents physically and emotionally exhausted. One, or both of the parents can over identify with their children and disconnect from each other. A child-centered relationship can cause a lot of problems for the couple, and especially for their children.
Relationship Issues Are Not Addressed
When your focus is on your children and their desires, your relationship needs and issues are often ignored. Putting all of your energy and time into your children leaves little time to focus on your spouse. Intimacy suffers and communication breaks down, as you no longer acknowledge, or try to resolve, personal and couple issues. This can lead to constant arguments, passive-aggressive behavior, or avoiding arguments and each other, all together. Relationships require work and attention in order to keep your connection strong. If your focus is primarily on your children and their wants, you may be too exhausted to put time and effort into your marriage.
Children Become More Demanding
Children come to expect a certain level of attention from their parents. If you shower them with attention all of the time, this becomes their norm. This can create the belief that everyone’s lives revolve around them. They may try to join in your conversations with your spouse, or even get in between the two of you when you are not focusing on them. They may find it hard to be alone and expect you to entertain them when they have nothing to do. Children can become upset, or act out when you do not respond to them immediately. They may expect others to shower them with attention as well, which can create difficulty in their other relationships.
Boundaries Become Weak
A child-centered relationship creates weak boundaries with your children. They may have trouble respecting your need for alone time and couple time. Boundaries are important in relationships. Without boundaries, there are no clear limits and expectations for your child’s behavior. This can create a lack of emotional safety, which can cause anxiety in children. Healthy boundaries with effective consequences are good for children and help prepare them to become responsible adults.
Children Become Involved With Adult Problems
If weak boundaries are a problem, children can involve themselves with adult problems. This is especially harmful to children as there is usually nothing that they can do about the issue, except worry about it. Also, children without clear boundaries may insert themselves into their parent’s arguments. Doing this may cause them to choose sides and pit one parent against the other. If you often complain about your spouse to your child, this hurts your child. They may feel they have to defend your spouse, or support you. Either way, this is not healthy for your child.
Children Feel Responsible For Parents Emotions
Another problem with focusing on your child instead of your spouse, is that you may begin to rely on your child for emotional support. This can be confusing and anxiety provoking for a child. When you pull away from your spouse, you may start to expect your child to provide you with comfort and understanding. However, your child may not know how to respond to your emotional needs and they can begin to act out. This puts the child in the role of a parent, as the parent is supposed to be the one attending to their child’s emotional needs. The child may feel a lot of pressure and begin to pull away from the parent and resent their over dependence.
Children Can Experience Relationship Issues
Children learn best by watching what you do, not by listening to what you say. If you have a child-centered marriage, you teach your child to do the same. They may have a difficult time developing healthy relationships, since this is not being modeled for them. It may be hard for them to manage conflict effectively and they may avoid it, or seek it out. Interdependence could be a foreign concept, as they might view relationships as all or nothing. In fact, relationships could be difficult for them and they may have unrealistic expectations in intimate connections.
A child-centered relationship can have a negative impact on your marriage and your children. If your relationship has become child-centered and it is causing problems in your family, therapy can help. When you focus on having a healthy marriage, your children will benefit.