I’m Important Too

“I can’t live like this anymore!”

Kathy’s eyes were welled up with tears as she slumped over on the couch in our office. She and Ray had been living together for four years with Ray’s fourteen year old son, Zeke.

She blurted out, “Zeke is more important to him than I am!” There was a definite edge of anger mixed in with the sadness.

Kathy went on to describe a recent incident that she felt summed up their relationship. “A few days ago Ray and I were alone in the house and I was feeling sad and pretty much hopeless about the distance between the two of us. I was needing him to hear my feelings as he lay next to me on the carpet in the living room. As I was sharing my pain, Zeke came home from school and walked in the front door. Ray motioned for him to come over, which he did. Ray then started asking Zeke about his day and pretty soon they were talking about Zeke’s schoolwork. There I was, abandoned again. Zeke’s schoolwork became more important to Ray than my pain and hopelessness.”

Joyce and I turned our attention to Ray and asked for his viewpoint.

“I’m his father,” he began, leaning forward on the couch, a worried look on his face. “I can’t ignore him when he comes home from school. He’s not very close to his mother right now, so it’s mainly him and me.”

This is a very common story about the difficulty of blended family, especially when children of one partner are living in the home. How does a parent prioritize their relationship between mate and child? We feel it is not a question of who is more important. Truly, both are just as important, but in different ways. It is more a matter of prioritizing time — which one needs your attention more at any given time.

Joyce and I shared with Kathy and Ray how we ourselves need to sometimes make our marriage relationship a priority over our relationship with the children. There are times when one or both of us are upset, and we’re working it out together, when one of our three children come into the room needing something from us that is not urgent. We’ve learned to let them know we can’t be interrupted at that moment, that it’s important for mommy and daddy (for our nine year old son) or mom and dad (for the two older daughters) to finish working something out. Obviously, this is more difficult for a younger child to understand, but even a small child needs to learn the importance of working out problems in adult relationships.

Turning to Ray, we asked, “Does Zeke know how much you care for Kathy? Have you told him how important she is in your life?”

Ray looked surprised. “Wouldn’t that make him feel insecure — maybe afraid that he might lose me? I’ve always told him that he’s the most important person in my life.”

I held his hands and said, “Right now your son is carrying a heavy burden. Whether he knows it consciously or unconsciously, he feels in some way responsible for your happiness. This is too heavy a burden for a fourteen year old to carry. Let him know that he will always be very important to you as your son, but Kathy is just as important to you as a mate. Release him from this burden and watch how happy he becomes.”

Tears came into Ray’s eyes as he understood what he needed to do. He turned to Kathy, reached out for her hands and spoke, “I’m sorry, sweetheart. All this time I thought I was protecting Zeke by guarding my special relationship with him. Now I see that I’ve really been protecting myself from being hurt again. Can you forgive me?

Now Kathy was crying, but with tears of joy mixed with the pain. She leaned over and held Ray in forgiving arms. “I never knew how much you loved me until this moment.” It was, indeed, a sweet moment.

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