It’s usually 8:30 PM when I give the first warning shot to my two teenage daughters.
At 9 PM, I say, “It’s time for you two to head upstairs.” I repeat this nearly every night.
And nearly every night they argue. “But why do we have to go to bed at 9?” they lament. “We’re not children anymore.”
“You don’t have to go to bed, but you can’t stay down here in the living room past 9. That’s our time. We haven’t seen each other all day, and most of the day we’ve been focused on you and work. We need our time, too.”
They roll their eyes and huff at us.
The other night, I went as far as to sing the Semisonic song “Closing Time” until they threw pillows at me. I kept repeating, “Closing time, you don’t have to go home but you can’t … stay … here!”
They didn’t laugh. At all. We, however, thought it was hilarious.
To be honest, we’ve had this rule for as long as I can remember. We’ve been parents for nearly 15 years now, and there has never been a time where our children were allowed to dominate ALL of our time in the course of the day. They dominate a lot of it, mind you, but not all of it. We love our children and we consider our role in their life to be a huge investment. We committed a long time ago to be there for them and to always be hands-on and involved in their lives.
But, there’s still us. There’s still our relationship. There’s still the health of our marriage to consider and pay attention to.
We have some big reasons why this is so important to us. Here are a few …
A healthy marriage is the cornerstone of the home.
The cornerstone of your family is not your children. They are a part of the foundation and make up a major part of the structure, but they’re not the main thing that holds this whole beautiful mess together. That’s you — you and your wife, you and your husband, you and your partner. It’s your responsibility to lead your family, and your home. Your children are looking to the two of you for direction and example (more on this in a minute).
Before them, it was us.
Before they existed it was the two of us. We fell in love, skipped class to be together, stayed up too late talking on the phone (that was tied to the wall by a cord), and eventually committed to forever with one another. We were the beginning. We kicked this whole party off. Then these beautiful children came along. And we’re sure thankful they did because they fill our life with so much joy. But, our union is sacred. Our union is holy. With all of our power we must protect that sacredness.
After them, it will be us.
Nothing lasts forever. Our darlings are going to grow up and move out of our nest at some point. I don’t know about you, but there’s no room for a 30-year-old kid in my basement. After they’re out in the world, living on their own, raising their own family, being the human beings they were meant to be, it will be just the two of us once again. And we want us to be healthy, strong, and still as committed as we were when we first began this journey. In order to make sure the future us is protected, we must put us first today. This is not easy. We’ll get to that in a second…
We need to set a future example.
As I mentioned earlier, your children and mine are looking to us for life-cues, direction, and example. As children, they’re watching our every move to determine how they should live their lives. We often say, “We are raising adults, not children.” I don’t know about you, but I want my children to grow up with a healthy view of relationships — dating, engaged, or married. I want the health of my marriage to give them a healthy view of what marriage is, and what it should be. That’s why I put my wife first, and them second. Close second, but still second.
At the end of the day, this is a tension you must manage. Your children do need you, and they are important. After your spouse, they come next. Not friendships, not careers, not hobbies. Them. And you must take care of them. But take care of your marriage first and foremost. If that crumbles, the confidence that your children have now will begin to erode. When they see you loving their mother, or their father, they will love them too. But most importantly, they will have a confidence in themselves, and a confidence in the world around them.
Our schedule is busy all the time. I mean all … the … time! It seems to never stop. We are on with our children all the time. That’s why we guard 9 PM on each night. That’s why we intentionally schedule date night a couple times a month. It must be a value. It must be consistent.
We must come first.
A version of this post originally appeared at Babble.com, published with permission.