Are Good Spouses Good Parents?

by Kathleen Quiring on February 18, 2011

So I’ve been reading a lot of parenting books in the last two years.  I know that right now I should probably concern myself more with books on pregnancy and birth, but I’m much more interested in the part that involves caring for a baby outside of the womb.

Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

I know. It's a pretty awful cover.

I’m already pretty sold on Dr. Sears and his attachment parenting, but I thought I’d take a look at Gary Ezzo’s On Becoming Babywise for a differing perspective. (Plus, someone gave me the book. For free.) And while I don’t think I accept most of Ezzo’s philosophy (which I won’t get into here), there was one section in the first chapter that I found intriguing.

Ezzo argues that the key to good parenting is a good marriage. “Great marriages produce great parents,” he says. “A healthy husband-wife relationship is essential to the emotional health of children in the home” (p. 20)

This seems pretty likely to me. I can see how a stable husband-wife relationship would create a sense of security for the child.

He also says this: “If something happens to mom and dad, every child intuitively knows that his or her whole world will collapse. With this critical relationship constantly in question, the child lives perpetually on the brink of disaster.”

From my own experience growing up, this seems likely as well, as melodramatic as it sounds. I grew up in a very stable family where divorce was never a remote possibility, and I think that was a great environment in which to grow up and learn about the world. The one or two times in my older childhood when just the faintest idea of my parents splitting up crossed my brain, I really felt like my life could possibility be over.

By contrast, Ezzo argues that “when there is harmony in the marriage, there is an infused stability within the family. A strong marriage provides a haven of security for children as they grow in the nurturing process. Healthy, loving marriages create a sense of certainty for children. When a child observes the special friendship and emotional togetherness of his parents, he or she is more secure simply because it isn’t necessary to question the legitimacy of their parents’ commitment to one another” (p. 20-21).

Interesting.

Overall, I find this argument pretty compelling. Not to mention appealing. I love the idea that to be a good mother, I ought to continue to foster my relationship with my husband. I like the idea that smooching with him, laughing at his jokes and going for bike rides together all help to make me a good mom. I’m already good at doing all these things!  I’m going to own at this mothering thing.

I’m also a sucker for the mental picture of a baby looking at me and Ben as we joke around, flirt, and help each other out around the house, and thinking, “I know I’m safe because they love each other.” It adds layers of meaning and significance to our love. It also nudges the romantic part of my heart.

Finally, Dr. Ezzo goes on to say this: “To be a good mom or dad, all you need is to continue as before.”

On the one hand, I find this wonderfully comforting. Keep doing what I’m doing?? Woot! If having a baby is going to be as easy as living with Ben has been so far, this parenting thing is going to be a breeze.

But I also have a teensy bit of skepticism about this statement. First off, if that was true, why does Ezzo then go on to write a whole book about how to parent? Why isn’t it just a book about improving your marriage, then? (Which I totally wouldn’t read if it was). And second of all, I have the feeling things are going to be so dramatically different in the house that you’re going to have to do some things a little differently. Infants have some pretty intense needs, and I suspect that just “keeping the flame alive” in your marriage isn’t going to be enough to keep your baby healthy and safe. I suspect there are parents out there who are fabulous spouses to each other but subpar parents to their kids. It seems possible for a couple to spend so much time and attention on each other that they neglect their children’s needs. Although this is probably a pretty rare occurrence.

I think Ezzo has a point, but I think he probably goes a little far in saying that all we need to do is keep being having a great marriage.

What do you think?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rachael February 18, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I enjoy reading your blog! I’m not pregnant yet, but engaged and parenting has definitely crossed my mind. Attachment parenting is great for a lot of people/children, I don’t think I’d label my parenting when I do have children. I know for certain that I won’t agree with both Dr. Sears and their followers on everything specifically their vaccinations and baby-wearing ideas. Attachment parenting to establish good bonding between parent and child does make intuitive sense. I have to say though, each parenting style does have some merit. It doesn’t have to be one parenting style versus another, it can be a combination.

I do agree with Ezzo (even though I haven’t read his book, I’m going off of your post) in his assessment that being a good parent one should have a good marriage. I think this is so important. Kids aren’t stupid, they know when their parents are angry or apathetic towards one another. There were few marriages (at least within my family and friends) that I’ve witnessed where the parents were affectionate towards one another. The children in those situations seemed especially carefree and respectful. I just think that when parents lose some of that love/respect/admiration they have for each other and focus solely on their children, they’ll lose that opportunity to teach their own children about love/respect/admiration within marriage. There are people that are increasingly getting divorced during the empty nest stage b/c they felt their entire marriage was just for the children and that they only saw their as a “father” or “mother,” not was a “husband” or “wife.” I don’t think keeping your attention just on your spouse is a great idea either. There definitely needs to be a balance and a good foundation of appropriate communication.

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2 Rachael February 18, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Sorry, to clarify: People are increasingly getting divorced during the empty nest stage b/c they felt their entire marriage was just for their children and that they only saw their spouse as a “father” or “mother,” not as a “husband” or “wife.”

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3 PepperReed February 18, 2011 at 5:39 pm

The most loving marriage I know of is that of my Grandparents; they have 7 children, my Dad was the oldest. My Gma gave me some great advice; she said to put God first, each other second and the children 3rd. Of course, there’s very little gap between those numbers! To be a good parent, you need a marriage where you’re loved and supported by your spouse which gives you the foundation in which to raise your children together. I think it’s such a great opportunity for children to see the many types of Love present in a happy marriage, not just the ‘keeping the flame alive’ part.

I’m So very happy for you both and hope you continue to have a healthy and comfortable pregnancy!

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4 Mandee Jo February 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Our first baby is almost six months old and I have to agree that having a great marriage has helped us be great parents. Because we have learned to tune in to eachother it was easier to tune into our baby. I can honestly say that having a child has brought us closer together. My parents did not have a great marriage and it affected my confidence and how emotionally stable I felt. Because of that I (and my spouse as well, though his parents have an awesome marriage) have worked so hard at our marriage. We’re big fans of attachment parenting as well, it’s been great for us.

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5 jess February 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm

“To be a good mom or dad, all you need is to continue as before.”

This is the hard part. Like you said, things are so different when you add a baby to the mix. Alas that is why it is so difficult to continue as before and much easier to just neglect your spouse. His quote seems like an overly simple concept but I think there is truth in it. It’s just very hard to live out. Working on it myself and getting there…slowly. :)

Love your blog!

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6 Vina February 20, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Kathleen! What a great blog post! I’ve read Babywise before (not fans in particular), and I entirely missed this part. For us, the hardest thing indeed, is to “continue as before” (which I truly don’t think is very realistic) because motherhood changes A LOT OF THINGS for most women. Of course the dad too, but most of the time, it is the mom who mostly decides to stay at home and it is the mom who is more drawn to care for the family and it gets harder to make marriage the primary relationship sometimes, especially with very young children who have such immediate and intense needs. Also, I think it (having a baby) changes the dynamic in the marriage as well and both dad and mom need to find that sweet spot that works well for both of them, the spot where mom feels supported and dad feels needed. When mom does not feel supported in her mothering, it gets very hard to be fully present in the marriage. And when dad does not feel needed in the parenting, it gets hard for him to be fully present in the marriage either. It’s hard to separate the marriage and the parenting because it happens simultaneously. Or at least that’s my take on it.

Love how you are approaching your upcoming transition to parenting! Hugs!

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7 Lori Lowe February 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I think he’s right in many ways, although the above comment I agree with–not as easily said than done. BTW, I thought Babywise was so helpful with my firstborn, and it worked like a charm. Then my second came around and proved that we must be flexible to our child’s unique needs. Overall I agree you need to put your marriage first (before kids), and your child(ren) will benefit.

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8 Shelly February 22, 2011 at 11:07 am

I have 4 kids and used the eat/wake/sleep “schedule” with each of them. It really does seem to make happy babies. It’s a great system. Everything just seems to naturally fall into place when you follow it. You said you didn’t know if you agreed with everything in the book. I did find most of it pretty helpful though. Good luck!

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9 Tana March 10, 2011 at 10:47 am

It has been so long since you wrote this, maybe you won’t ever even see this comment. But as a mom of seven, in my forties, I can attest to the fact that your hubby will always be your most important relationship. Your baby will be your most important responsibility, together as a couple. Your baby will thrive in a loving environment, yes. I definitely fall into the attachment parenting camp, and don’t have any problems calling myself that, even though I chose to do all the things I did out of convictions, not to be part of a camp or label. My oldest child is 26 now. And I have a one year old. Still doing the same type of mothering, happily. There are a lot of reasons to not follow Ezzo – medical reasons, physiological reasons, even the fact that he misuses scripture to fit his preferences is suspect. However, he has enough truth mixed in to make it seem right, and the idea that you can tame your baby and make it obey and fit into your life easily is obviously appealing to some people as well. You can read all about that in lots of places on the web. I have totally loved being free to nurse, cuddle, respond to, and love my baby with abandon, and they have all grown up quite unspoiled, lovely and normal people. It is HARD in those early months to find time for yourself and your husband, but I have found that even remembering to look at my husband in the eyes and smile, to say thank you to him often, to do any little tiny thing I can to show I am thinking of him like getting him a drink of water when I get one for me or listening to him – asking him questions and really showing interest for two or three minutes, makes him feel connected and special. Just try to remember to have this mindset that it is the two of you who, together with God, brought this life into the world, and the two of you together who need to love and care and nurture it, and although you get the lions share of the nursing and nurturing, that is as God intended, and the baby phase passes oh so quickly, and then you will have more energy to love your husband in more creative ways. But expecting your baby to sit on the floor for ten minutes each day while you and your hubby have couch time is ridiculous, in my humble opinion. Why does anything in life need to be that forced, canned, and staged? God bless you and your husband and your sweet wee one coming.

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