Partner or kids. Who comes first?

Two toys standing on numbered blocks. Partner or kids - who comes first?

Did anyone else read this article in The Guardian over the weekend? I found it interesting reading. To be honest, the question of whether I put my partner or kids first isn’t one I’ve ever asked myself.

To provide a brief premise, journalist and father of two, Sam Leith interviews author and relationship therapist, Andrew G. Marshall, about his forthcoming title, I Love You But You Always Put Me Last. In this book, Marshall proposes a controversial approach to ‘childproofing your marriage’. Namely putting the kids second.

Now I’m not going to get all indignant and attack this concept. I haven’t read the book and we all know you ought not to judge them by the metaphorical cover of one pre-publication interview.

Nor am I going to fly off the handle at the fact that Marshall doesn’t have children himself and, therefore, no first-hand experience to draw on.

But I think that my immediate response to the aforementioned question will be the same as a lot of parents. It’s not out of any preordained plan or anything, but the kids come first. Do we have any choice?!

On the face of it, and as Leith points out in his article, some of the advice that Marshall offers makes sense. A good relationship with your spouse can only be a good thing for your children and it’s important to remember that you wouldn’t have even had them without each other.

But I can’t see how trying to put Dylan and Xander second or, indeed, Kate first, could work. It wouldn’t exactly be practical.

Kate and I do our best to maintain a decent balance. We try to make time for each other as much as possible, but there are no two ways about it, the boys tend to dominate our thinking.

At three and one respectively, they are both still very young. So they will naturally demand a lot of our time, but I can’t see us intentionally putting them second once they’re a little more self-reliant.

As a couple, we still don’t get much time together. The bulk of that is probably while we’re asleep. Not that we get much of that either due to Xander’s natural immunity to rest.

We’re consequently permanently tired and have been known to snipe at one another – shock, horror! – but I don’t think we need to change our approach.

We will get a bit of quality time again one day and, when that happens, I sincerely doubt we’ll be saying things like “right, let’s plan our week then theirs.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that there isn’t a hierarchy – nobody is intentionally put above anyone else. The person I greet first when I get home from work, for example, is whoever I see first.

I don’t see any value in breezing past the boys and ignoring them until I’ve said hello to Kate first or vice versa. Surely that would cause the ‘snubbed’ parties to feel that they had somehow done something to upset me and that can’t be good.

So the question of partner or kids doesn’t exist in our house. For my part at least, everyone matters just as much and our family is a unit. It comes first, then there’s everything else.

I’d be interested in what others think of this. Partner or kids? Is there someone you intentionally put first? Do you think that putting the kids second is a good idea? All thoughts are welcome!



    I tend to agree with your thinking in that each member of your family unit comes first(together) and whoever requires more at some point in time will get what they need from you at that time. A family unit is not about putting someone first although I can see the point of when the children have flown the nest there is a huge gap to fill. If you carry on doing some of the things you liked doing together before you had kids whilst you have them and include your children in them – it makes it easier for later on. We have taken to getting the boys into golf and they are happy to play a 9 hole chip and putt course with us. Yes – a little patience is required but my husband and I will still be able to carry on doing that when the boys leave home (sob).

    I have known couples to put themselves first and in some cases to the detriment of their children who chat about it when they are adults themselves. My folks used to include us as often as possible as kids and I think back and love the fact that we weren’t ‘seen and not heard’.

    Each to their own – good thought provoking post!

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      Thank you! I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead so I suppose that my outlook will change as the boys grow up.

  2. The Secret Father

    Generally I think my children’s needs come first in our household. There are exceptions to that rule, but this will be a judgement call depending on context and circumstance. I also think the benefit of experience is important too, and if what you are saying about the author is true then his lack of experience in this area would pose a legitimacy of arguement question mark for me. It also depends on how you define “priority” and how you define “needs”. For example if my wife and I were to prioritise a conversation about our careers over breast feeding a hungry baby, we would arguably be prioritising our needs over those of our baby. While i like the idea in theory, most parents would know that approach would not work for more than a few minutes before all hell broke loose. But equally any parent who sacrifices so much of themselves for their children that there is nothing left for themselves, knows that approach is also unsustainable. For me the reality is something like a nuanced inbetween – a grand juggling act if you like. And only experience, context and circumstance can determine how you choose to prioritise a family members needs. And I personally prefer to start off from a place where the needs of the most vulnerable members of the family are generally addressed first. It’s this simple triage approach that works for us.

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  3. Notmyyearoff

    If I think about it then I think Z always comes first, mostly. I agree our family always comes first though. As a unit. We always make grand plans to spend time as a couple and then forget to do it once a month at least. I think we’ve forgotten to go out as a couple for the last 4 months!

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      Yes, finding time to go out during the early years is tricky alright! We’ve rediscovered the cinema recently though – well, we’ve now been once in three years! – so I’m hoping we can make that a regular thing. 🙂

  4. Helen

    I’m not sure that they can be separated. To me it’s a family unit and each member has had times where they have had to come first either because they are very young or because of illness or just a difficult time when the rest of the family unit rallies around. When my OH was ill the children just automatically tuned in to what was needed and took a bit of a back seat but there was no resentment just love.

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      You obviously have a strong family unit and it’s great that the kids stepped up when they needed to. Hope we can emulate that as a family if it ever comes to it. 🙂

  5. Suzanne

    A very interesting post and one I most definitely have an opinion on (what for it!). I have always felt that my husband should come first….thankfully he reciprocates this view! I know that when children are very young (like yours) it’s often difficult to actually do this in practice, but we have always tried. For instance, I will ask my children to go to another room if the OH and I are sharing a (rare) date night and I will not allow them to interrupt if he and I are talking or enjoying some time together. We always prioritise at least one weekend away per year (on our own and more often if we can!) and once a week is an evening where we enjoy dinner on our own and perhaps watch a film together or something. We guard this time as sacred. So many of our children’s friends no longer have parents who are together and I have all too often seen parents who have split up, often because they have nothing in common any more. I am adamant that this will not happen to us. Research shows that one of the best things a dad can do for his children, is show them how devoted he is to his wife and how much he loves their mum….thankfully my husband is very good at this. I think it makes children feel secure. I hope so anyway. I am certain that people have other views, but this is how we do things.

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      Some great points there and I have to confess that I hadn’t thought ahead to when the boys are older and a little less demanding. I like the idea of uninterrupted time together too – at the moment, we don’t even get evenings to ourselves due to a certain little monster thinking that sleep is for the weak!

  6. Sarah Miles

    Really interesting and something my OH and I have discussed before. I think there needs to be balance, but in reality this doesn’t often happen. It irks me that I was dragged around NT houses bored to tears but compliant whereas my kids make such a fuss we don’t bother any more and head straight to the playground. Maybe that’s my parenting, but with three kids it really isn’t worth the stress.

    I wrote a post once about whether we are too child-centric…and I stick by that!

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      Yes, it’s very difficult maintaining that balance at times. Just re-read your post and it rings very true! I remember sitting through things like Gardeners’ World with limited protest – can’t see the boys being the same if I suddenly develop an interest in horticulture!

  7. Jonathan

    I wasn’t aware of this Guardian article until you mentioned it, so thanks for making me aware of it. I agree with what you say in closing about not having hierarchies and think that they’re a strange concept in this sort of situation. I think that striving for balance so as everyone in the family is as happy as possible is key and this is going to mean sometimes dealing with one person first and sometimes putting another person first.

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      Pleased to be of service! Yes, a balance is a must for us. I think things may change as we all get older, but I can’t see them becoming drastically different.

  8. Laura Lutener

    Here here! Our little girl is only 6m old and we said from the start that my priority once she arrived was her. For now my husband is more than capable of fending for himself and is happy to share the load, as we always have, of cooking, cleaning, laundry and now babycare. Evening conversations circle around – you do dinner and I’ll do bath time, or yuk she smells, you do the nappy and I’ll put the laundry on.

    We always shared everything before and still do. Except night feeds. They are my job because he has to go out to work all day, drives long distances and that’s not safe on 4 hours sleep. Our time together once she has gone to bed at a blissful 6pm is spent working on our business, something we have always enjoyed doing together. Yes we may have the odd snap when one of us can’t recall what they did or needed to do because she was up every hour in the night or something but that’s life. We do put her first because she’s amazing and we want to and we don’t feel we have lost anything (except his hair and my knees) and have gained so much more than either of us ever dreamed. Perhaps this is a honeymoon period and as she gets older the dynamic will change but for now, we couldn’t be happier.

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      Ah, I remember the early, early days! We were the same and shared everything out – and still do, in fact. 🙂

  9. sarah

    i actually do agree with the sentiment of the article you mention ( i havent seen it so only commenting on the statement) but i think its very hard to put into practice. We are the worst couple for it as well, its not so much that we are consciously putting the kids first its just that their demands suck up all of our time anyway. We, like you, spend most of our time together..asleep and even then with work thats usually only about 6 hours a night.
    Its a stage of life thing as well though right. Little kids are labour intensive. But big kids are emotionally intensive in a a different way. We have both so we have no hope really. 😉

  10. Capture by Lucy

    Such a good read. I wrote something on a similar line a while ago, will find it. I have a constant battle between mother or wife. Rich and I definitely need time just us and we sort of have an unsaid rule that once a year we will have a couple of nights away together to refresh and recharge. Lucky Granny is on hand to babysit!

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