Growing up I had a pretty typical childhood in many ways and not so much in others. My father passed away shortly after I entered the world. My mother, a widow at the age of 30, was left to raise three boys, 4 months, 2 and 4 years old, by herself. It was when I was 8 years old that I had a Dad to call my own. It was an exciting time! And also a time of tremendous learning and adjustment.
Up to that point my brothers and I had full access to my Mom. We didn't have to share her with anyone. Now we had a Dad to do things with, which was awesome! We also had another man in the picture who took up some of our Mom's time. While it was neat to see them have date nights and eat special meals together (some us boys would even dress up and help serve as waiters) this required some getting used to. When they had my little brother and sister the amount of time felt like it became even less.
I remember a conversation with my Dad in which he told me that his relationship with us, was not as important and his relationship with our Mom. Ummm...come again!? (This reminds me of the line from Wayne's World.)
Hearing that was a bit of a shock to me. My inner monologue said, "What do you mean you are more important to her than we are?! We have been around her longer than you." Try as I might over the years, I was unable to crack the defenses of this statement and usurp my Dad for the role of top male in my Mom's life. In time this has proven to be one of the most valuable lessons I learned growing up. For me, it was Family Unit 101.
Fast forward to present day, as a counselor who works with families, I frequently meet with couples who do not share the same mentality my Dad taught me. In their respective families, roles and boundaries are different. I often hear from parents that they want a better life for their kids than what they had. This seems like a reasonable wish. The reality is a lot can get lost in the pursuit of that. Parents spend endless hours at work or running their children around town to innumerable sports or social events that their child absolutely "must" participate in, until the parent(s) is ready to collapse. One of the first things I ask parents when we meet is what is something they do for themselves individually and as a couple. The most common response is, "Umm", followed by a minute or so of silence, punctuated with, "There's no time". No time for date nights, a run, working out, reading, prayer, or simply peace and quiet.
Parents offer me the humbling opportunity to work alongside them to help resolve their family struggles. While the answer is not always the same, a familiar variable for many families is that the most important subsystem within their family unit, the couple, has become insignificant. Couples have lost contact with what created the family in the first place, the two of them. Parents have made themselves the low man on the totem pole placing their children's priorities above their own. Yes, parenting requires sacrifice. I am glad you pointed that out. I agree with that statement 100%. Note, that statement is not parenting requires 100% sacrifice. When you don't take care of yourself (individually AND as a couple) it is hard to offer your children (as well as your spouse) the best version of yourself. As a result your family can suffer greatly. It is key to note the difference between being selfish in a bad way and being selfish in a health way. Think about every airplane safety speech you have ever heard. When have they said to place the oxygen mask over your child first and then yourself? How about never. If you are not breathing, you are no good to your child.
To wrap up, I will leave you with this article that my Dad recently found that encapsulates the very thing I begrudgingly learned at a young age. Now as I look back as an adult with a family of my own, I am grateful that my Dad taught me this immensely valuable truth. All of us kids (my 3 brothers and 1 sister) have always been shown love and believed that we are a cherished part of our family. We also know that our parents were and are to this day the most important members of our family.