Do the Children Come First?

Last week the best woman in the world, my wife, spoke at the Utah County Women in Business Conference as part of a panel of experts on family/business balance. She talked about traditions and how to handle things when your plans get disrupted by sick children, and things like that. She is, indeed, an expert on these things. The panel was well received, as was the presentation by Miss Utah, Jill Stevens, about her experiences in Afghanistan as an Army medic. It was great stuff. Estrogenous, but great.

After the presentations, as Jeanette and I were headed out to the lunch, we were stopped by a lady who said she’d been hoping to catch my wife, because she wanted to ask her a question. “How,” she said, “do you keep your marriage fresh with so many children? I’m just a newlywed myself, but I worry about that. How can you do it?”

We smiled at each other, because hey, part of the answer was right there in front of her. I go to my wife’s presentations, even on workdays, even when things are so hectic we can’t see straight. She’s more important to me than anyone, and there’s only one way to show that.

But there are other things, too.

A couple days ago I read an article about out-of-control birthday parties for children. Some of this stuff you cannot believe. There are the parties where the 1-year-old sleeps through the proceedings while 60 – that’s SIXTY – guests open their gifts to him. Parties where the kids are registered at Amazon.com, where the invitations specify that the gifts be worth at least $35, where the mothers complain that the gifts aren’t even worth the cost of the event. Well, imagine that.

There are hundreds of sites devoted to filling every moment of children’s time with activities from Tae-quan-do to cello lessons. With spending thousands of dollars a term on prep schools to get them prepared to go to Harvard or Yale. The modern generation of parents is obsessed with pouring half the national GDP into spoiling their children. If I were a psychologist, I’d suggest that this is a manifestation of repressed guilt over neglecting the things parents know are truly important. But I’m not, so I’ll just point out that if you don’t buy a kid’s clothes at Nordstrom, it’s much easier to not have to have both parents working.

Anyway, one of the things we told the lady was that we protect each other by being very explicit with our children that they are just not that important. Let me repeat that: our children have been told, in so many words, that Jeanette is the most important thing to me and that they aren’t. You’re welcome to call us and get the whole speech – I’m sure my kids can quote it to you – but the gist of it is that the kids are rentals. We get them for a while, then they’re gone. Only Jeanette is forever.

Now, the lady wasn’t shocked to hear this, but she was a bit taken aback. There’s a lot of crap out there about how kids have to know that they are the most important thing in the world, because otherwise it impacts their fragile self-esteem. This is a wet load of steaming horse manure. What kids need is stability, not lies or a false impression of their importance in the world. Our kids don’t feel less loved because they come second. Quite the contrary. They feel much more at peace because they know that the foundation of their world – which is the relationship of their parents – is solid and doesn’t crack.

We do not have perfect kids. They have inherited many of the worst characteristics of their father, and the only flaw in their mother (not much ability to sing). But our kids do not do drugs, and they don’t sass their teachers or Heaven forbid their mother, and they can work hard. They get good grades, and they love each other. They fight rarely and never yell. They sleep three, even four or five to a room and don’t complain. They wear old shoes and old hand me down clothes without whining. They play hard and they pray hard and they know their parents aren’t perfect, so if they want perfection they better look to Christ. And they do.

What do children need today? The same things they’ve always needed. Love and attention, and a stable place in the world. Some sticks and a ball to play with. Important work to do and adults to do it with. A roof and four walls, food and water. Interesting things to learn and interested people to learn from.

And that’s it. Everything else is gravy, and probably gets in the way of one of the things above. How do we keep our marriage fresh? We remember that the marriage is the entree, and children are the salad on the side. And we make sure our children understand this.

Of course, we love salad. :-)

3 Responses to “Do the Children Come First?”

  • Alison Wonderland says:

    Can I get an amen? Sing it brother (and you actually are my brother, how well does that work?!!)

  • Janille Stearmer says:

    I just happened to be thinking of Jeanette and Chris and wondered what the good old internet would tell me about how they were doing and I came across your blog here. You had a lot less “salad” when we knew you. :-)

    And I really like this post – I may even repost it or provide a link to it, with permission.

    With fond thoughts,
    The Stearmers

  • Chris Jones says:

    Janille! How thrilled I am to hear from you!

    Repost away. I write for everyone, so the more the merrier. Let me know how you guys are doing, too.

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