7/21/2005

Wife or Mother?

Even before I was married or became a mother, I believed that the ideal home was the parentcentric one. In other words, the Mom and Dad put each other first and the children second. That as unmaternal as it sounds, it's actually in every family member's interest to have a stable happy marraige at the center of the home. Husband and wife have a relationship that will go beyond raising their children and children learn that they are not the center of the universe, but feel loved and secure by seeing the love their parents have for each other and for them.
Now that I am married and a mother I still believe that, but have lately been thinking about that ideal, my reality, and well -- the chasm in between. That's not to say I don't have a stable and happy marraige -- I do, but do I really put him first? What does it even mean to put my husband first? As a SAHM I spend WAY more time with my children than I do my husband. When we're having a conversation and the baby cries -- the baby gets me. When dinnter-time comes around on one of those out-of-control hectic days or it's- so-dang-hot-because-we-have-a-swamp-cooler-and-it's-103-degrees-and-it's-so-not-cutting-it, I make some top ramen or mac & cheese for the kids and tell hubby it's DYOT (do your own thing) night.
Some of my favorite interactions with my spouse have been those shared moments of parental pride, or joy in our kids' successes, or sadness in their pain -- because after all they are ours. We created them together, we raise them and love them together, but is that enough? I am not despairing, I am happy and in love and see a bright future for us. I look forward to the various stages along our journey to eternity, but for right now as a SAHM mom with three young kids, will someone please tell me who in the heck has time to put hubby first? :)
Seriously, do you think we should put our husbands first? If not, why? If so, how?

18 Comments:

Anonymous claire said...

Putting your husband first doesn't mean your kids are last. Babies have needs that they can't postpone. Adults don't have to have immediate gratification. What does it teach your older kids if they see you ignore an immediate need because DH came home and you have to put it aside and tend to him?

As an 'attachment' style parent, I think the important thing is reaching a balance. My husband knows I'm happier if my kids are contented and their needs met. I just have to be careful not to spend so much time meeting their needs that I don't have anything left for him- or me. I've come to accept, and I hope my husband does, that there are phases in life when WAY more of my energy is going towards a child than him (ie first few months of a baby's life) and he is grown up enough to handle it and also know it's temporary.

7/21/2005 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

David O. Mckay clearly taught that his wife should come first. I always thought that was interesting, given that he was home so seldom during their marriage.

I think the husband should know that you love him, and would like to spend time with him, once the baby stops crying. We're getting to the point where we can say things like, "Mommy is talking to Daddy right now, it will be your turn in a minute," so that Jacob knows that Mommy and Daddy need time to talk. Also, the dinner conversation doesn't always revolve around what I did that day, or at least I try to occasionally be interested in DH's day :). But once the kids are gone, it will be just me and him, and it better be a good relationship, or else we'll be in trouble for 30 years of marriage that come after you raise your kids.

7/21/2005 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Putting marriage first means:
1. Agreeing on how to parent. Supporting each other as parents. Not undermining each other as you try to parent. You don't "choose" a child over a spouse except in abuse situations.
2. Having a sex life. If sex life sucks, doing something about it.
3. Meeting your spouse's emotional needs.
4. Respecting your spouse and treating them as an equal partner.
5. Choosing to love your spouse and being your spouse's #1 support. There isn't anyone else in the world who should "be there" for your spouse they way you are "there" for them.
6. Making life long goals together. Working toward family goals together. Having children is part of our marital journey together. We want the life that children bring for our own enjoyment. We want to do it together.

Of course, for my kids sake, I want them to be in a happy home, where parents are happy, where parents treat each other with respect, where parents live with each other. I don't want my children to go through divorce, to get shuffled with visitation, etc. Of course a happy marriage is what I want for my children. But I want it even more for myself. I want a husband who really, really loves me. I want a husband who I enjoy spending time with. I want a husband who I enjoy making love with. I want a husband who I respect and who respects me. I want to live in a home where everyone speaks kindly to each other. I want to have the peace and security that a stable marriage gives me. I want to spend my time hanging out each night with someone I consider my best friend. I want us to be proud of each other. I want us to be romantic. I want that every day and for the rest of my life.

I find it interesting that you don't choose your children, yet they arrive and you love them no matter what. It is very unconditional.
You get to choose your spouse....yet, people find it so easy to just quit loving a spouse. It's because you expect something in return. You have conditions.
Yes, I have conditions. But I also remember that Heavenly Father really loves my husband. Christ sufferred for his sins. That it is HF's work and his glory to bring to pass my husband's eternal life. He wants my husband to make it. And shouldn't I, as his wife, be just as interested? Shouldn't I be the one person in the world who is willing to work to love him as our Father and as Christ loves him?
I have a friend who was staying together with her husband for the sake of the kids. THAT didn't last long. A marriage neglected becomes a divorce.

7/22/2005 03:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Sue M said...

JKS, EVERYTHING you just said - ditto. Well said.

I'm a strong believer in early bedtime, so that DH and I get some non-exhausted quality time with each other every day.

7/22/2005 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Andrea Wright said...

Claire, you said, "I just have to be careful not to spend so much time meeting their needs that I don't have anything left for him- or me" I think that statement by you describes what I was trying to say -- I want to put my marraige first, but lately I'm feeling like I don't have anything left for him by the time I've taken care of my kids all day. It's not always like that though, so I guess as long as I keep trying that's the key and sometimes we have to try harder than other times..

Heather, you said, "But once the kids are gone, it will be just me and him, and it better be a good relationship" I agree that's what we have to be careful about. Making sure that we're still connecting as spouses so that when the kids are gone we still have a relationship independent of them. I like what you said, about teaching Jacob not to interupt and trying to sort of touch base with DH at dinner.

JKS, those are great real and practical things to do -- thanks, I needed a refresher course. :) I also loved what you wrote about our unconditional love for our kids vs. our conditional love for our spouses. That's something I wanted write about in my post too, but I ran out of energy:). Seriously, my love for my kids is much more selfless and christlike than my love for my husband. I love him tremendously, but I also have a lot more expectations and selfish needs when it comes to him that just aren't there with my kids. I think we've come a lot closer to that christlike love as we continue to work on it, but I totally think we have conditions --especially in the beginning. That's really interesting to me.

Sue, I TOTALLY agree about putting kids to bed early and having some down time with husband. I think that's why summers get hard, it's much harder to get kids in bed early.

7/22/2005 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger wiggiepete said...

My wife and I discussed this last night during dinner. She felt like she was a mother first and a wife next. I think that in a lot of ways this is how it has to be with young kids (3 girls: 7,5,&2). I really think that being a mother is all consuming. It is very hard to be a mother and be a person, nearly everything (at least at this stage of her life) in one way or another ends up being about the kids.

I on the other hand really think that I am a husband first and a father second.

I think it is part of my job to make sure DW does not lose herself in SAHM-land. If that's making sure she gets a shower during the day (sometimes a problem), or encouraging/forcing her to go to enrichment night or a girls' night out. Arranging time to get a little exercise. Taking her out on dates (trying to do it bi-weekly, which is a step up from what we've tended to do in the past). Or just making sure she has some "me" time.

So far I think that is working out pretty well for us. We went on a 7-day cruise earlier this year and were able to enjoy eachothers' company in ways we haven't been able to in years. I think we'll get along just fine when life changes again and it's just us for the last 30+ (actually I'm hoping for 40+, but we got married and had the kids young)years.

7/22/2005 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Especially when kids are really young you feel like you have to put your marriage on the back burner because there isn't time for it. But don't!!! Look for ways to connect with your spouse, even with the demands of young kids.
I never think of myself as a mother first. I'm a wife first. However, since our children are important to us, my husband and I both want to meet our children's needs. If a baby needs to be fed, for instance, or cries at an inopportune bedroom moment, it is not just "my" choice to go feed the baby. I am not choosing my child over my husband in this case.
However, if my husband and I are having an important conversation and the kids want this or that, we can easily decide our conversation is the most important thing right then, and put on a show, or tell the kids to go get a treat and distract them so we have peace and quiet to finish the conversation because sometimes WE can come first.

7/22/2005 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous claire said...

JKS, I completely agree, and feel blessed that my husband and I agree on meeting our kids' needs, too. We've been able to find lots of ways to do both... taking the baby out on dates, planning alone time at home when the kids are sleeping, etc. But I know there are a lot of women out there who constantly feel torn in two directions when their husbands - or society- say they have to put their kids aside for some arbitrary time (from weekly date to several week vacations and everything in between) before they feel they or their kid(s) are ready.

7/24/2005 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Andrea Wright said...

JKS and Claire, I think you have a great point. We are fortunate to have husbands who don't ask us to choose between our kids and them. They're supportive of and full participants in the care and nurture of our children. However, that's also part of my point. I think it's easy for both husband and wife to assume that because we're working together in the common cause of father/mother we're nuturing our husband/wife relationship. I think that's true to some extent, but I also think it's not too.

Just because we both love our kids and care for them, does not mean we're growing closer. If my husband gets up in the night with the baby for the baby's sake, he's a great father. If he gets up with the baby for my sake and the baby's sake, he's a great husband and father.

I do feel torn at times, and not because my husband is pouting for lack of attention. It's because there are many times he could use some extra love and support, but I've been up all night with a child, or I'm pregnant and if move I'll puke. I realize that's the reality of having kids, but that doesn't mean we can't feel badly about not being able to be more attentive to hubby.

7/26/2005 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosalynde said...

I think on one level the counsel to give priority to the marriage relationship (and all the practical advice you women have offered) makes sense in our current cultural context. But on another level, I think identifying and experiencing oneself as a wife before a mother is deeply, fundamentally unnatural.

A woman's relationship to her husband is, to the very core, utterly different from her relationship to her children, so in a way it's absurd to try to prioritize them. But to the extent that we can, I think it's pretty incontrovertible that the mother-bond is far and away stronger than the wife-bond. Women divorce their spouses all the time; they disown or abandon their children very rarely. The relationship to the husband is voluntary and merely social; the relationship to the child is involuntary and physiological. A woman is related to her husband only by law and inclination; she is related to her children (usually) by blood and genes. A woman invests nothing biologically and has relatively little socially at stake in her husband's long-term well-being; she has all of nature's drive toward reproduction invested in her children's survival, and she invests countless mental and biological resources in their well-being, far more than she could ever invest in her husband. She has a far greater impact on her children than she ever could on her husband. Etc etc etc.

Don't get me wrong: the marriage relationship is really important, and I agree that it should be emphasized in today's climate especially. But to suggest that it every really *could* or *should* be primary to a mother's relationship to her children is absurd, and, frankly, disturbing. While I'm sure they exist, I've never seen or known a mother who truly put her relationship with her husband above her relationship with her children, and I think that's as it should be.

7/26/2005 02:13:00 PM  
Anonymous rosalynde said...

Oh, I wanted to add just one more anecdote: after I got married, it took years before I ever had a dream in which I was married to John. I had lots of dreams in which I *wasn't* married, or was married to someone else, but John didn't show up for about five years as my husband. In contrast, I started dreaming about my daughter Elena just days after she was born. My role as mother entered my subconsious far more rapidly than my role as wife.

(Also, Andrea, the end of my previous comment sounded a little harsh; I certainly don't think your post was disturbing---I think it was great and generated a great discussion.)

7/26/2005 02:17:00 PM  
Blogger Andrea Wright said...

Rosalynde, I didn't think you were harsh -- I'm just happy you commented.

I agree that our relationship with our spouse is very different from our relationship with our children and it is silly to compare them. You stated well how mothering tends to come more naturally than does being a wife. I agree; however, for that reason is precisely why I think we need to remind ourselves to put our husbands first. The majority of us simply will not neglect our children, but I think most of us do neglect our husbands at times. Because of that, I think it is more important for us to put them at the top of our list. I fully recongnize that even at the top of my list I have relatively little to give him right now, but hopefully as long as he's a priority and I keep trying my relationship with my children will not cost me my relationship with him.

7/26/2005 04:56:00 PM  
Anonymous claire said...

Wow, Rosalynde, that was great. Just what I think, too... luckily one of us is a trained literary mind to put it into words....
:-)

7/26/2005 05:46:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Rosalynde,
I have a completely different experience. My role as wife and as mother have both come naturally. I don't dream about either. I view keeping my husband happy as a father and husband as necessary for my children's sake. I view being the best mother for our children necessary for my marriage.
They are completely intertwined and depend on each other.
This is why I can so happily say my marriage comes first. Because my children will grow up and leave and have their own lives. Eternally, I am more bound to my husband than to my children.....they will have their own lives.
I love my children, unconditionally, yes, and I've discussed the difference between that and the conditional love previously.
The marriage is that much harder to keep happy. But for children's sake, how could I let it die and they lose their father? (most divorces mean the child has less of a relationship with their father).
My husband isn't related genetically to me, but the TWO OF US made our children. That is a bond. We embarked on parenthood together as an integral part of our marriage.
When I see my children, I don't just see my genes, I see his. I don't just feel my love for them, I feel his.
My unconditional love for my children, my mothering love means that I take care of them, I raise them, love them, help them reach their potential. I dedicate much of my daily hours to this.
But I can't expect anything back. I get hugs & kisses, I get to watch them be cute, I get to be proud of them as they succeed, or myself as I do something well.
But, they aren't their to take care of me. They aren't there to give back. It is an unbalanced relationship. I do it, though, because my parents did it for me. That's what parents do.
My husband is an equal, a best friend. At the end of the day when life is hard I can't unload my burdens to my children. But I have a husband to be my partner. To love me, to listen to me, to pick up the slack when I fail, to smile with and cry with.
My marriage hasn't been perfect, but it has been worth all the effort I have put into it.

7/26/2005 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Bell said...

Rosalynde, for the record, i did think you were harsh! :)

That's probably because I really disagree with you. There's no question that you are correct to note the more visceral, core-deep connection mothers have with their kids. But I don't agree that biology must be destiny. Marriage is set up in opposition to lots of biological facts, but it has survived well enough against them that I'm hesitant to relegate it under the pressure of the mother-child connections you cite.

In fact, there's one thing that spouses share that a mother will never share with her child: covenants. It's not too crazy to suggest that these covenants were set in place to suggest commitments that we might not otherwise make. So, given that the natural state is concededly to dote on children, even more than on one's spouse, I would posit that the covenant asks for a slightly different state of affairs.

Further, I think it's interesting that you note the connections between mothers and children being based largely on their physiological bond. It may be this connection that prompted the common scriptural marriage metaphor of being of "one flesh." The suggestion seems to be that a marriage ought to rise at least to the level of a pure physiological bond.

In the end, I'm with Andrea. I think the conjugal relationship always takes precedence over the filial one, even though gravity and nature would impose the opposite order. Our covenants are meant to reverse gravity, and when well-fulfilled, I think they do a good job.

(That said, I should disclose that I see the child-first temptation in my own family all the time, not only in my wife, but in me. I frequently feel how deeply my fatherhood is sown into me, but have to work much harder to be the husband I should be. But I take that as a challenge, not as cause for capitulation.)

7/27/2005 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Andrea Wright said...

Ryan, thank you so much for commenting and stating so clearly what I've been trying to say!

7/27/2005 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Bell said...

My pleasure. The trick to arguing with heavyweights like Rosalynde is to make your points long after she's stopped paying attention to the discussion. Are we ready to declare the forfeit and close comments on this thread? Anyone?

7/29/2005 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

Ryan-

Good thoughts, thanks. I especially like the thoughts of making covenants with your spouse. But it occurs to me that one reason we might make convenants with our spouses and not with our children is because we don't need to make promises to the Lord about our children--as mothers, we just do what needs to be done, and the unconditional love comes immediately. With our spouses, we have to remind ourselves not to be selfish, how to be more Godlike, how to treat somebody else who will be in our lives. As mothers, we don't have as many options for selfishness as we do as wives.

Another thought is that you put first whomever is in the most immediate danger, whoever has the most immediate need. My MIL said that. Smart woman.

7/30/2005 12:24:00 AM  

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