“Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.”
An excerpt from the recently published article “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage” by Danielle and Astro Teller
They say that American parenting is killing the American marriage. I take issue with that claim. Here’s why.
The Mutual Exclusivity Thing. The authors describe the two states – putting your children first and loving your spouse more than your kids – as if they are mutually exclusive.
They’re not. Most importantly because the love we have for our spouse is not the same kind of love we have for our children. It just isn’t. The feeling you have when you first lay eyes on your offspring is decidedly different from the electricity that passed between you and your husband at the altar on your wedding day.
For our kids, we are overcome with a protective love, heavy on concern with a dose of adoration. “Mama bear,” in other words.
My love for my husband isn’t about being protective, though that’s part of the recipe. It’s pride, excitement for the future, security, the comfort of someone who knows everything about you and loves you anyway. It’s shared jokes, hysterical laughter, and (hopefully) unconditional love.
The love for a child and love for a spouse are so dissimilar that obviously, they can coexist in the same way that you can love all of your children equally.
What about when you have to choose?
Sure, you can love your kids and spouse equally in theory. But at times, their needs will be such that you much choose one over the other. That sounds familiar. Sometimes my toddler is screaming for water at the same moment my baby is screaming to nurse. Or I’m changing Squeak’s poopy diaper when Peanut declares she needs to go potty.
It happens many times a day, and choosing one child over another doesn’t mean loving them more or less. As a parent, you weigh your options and make a choice. Poop on the carpet, or pee on the bathroom floor? I’ll take the latter. It’s easier to clean.
The challenge comes when you are faced with a choice between meeting your spouse’s needs or your children’s. Say your husband had a horrible day and wants to talk about it, but the baby is screaming. You tend to baby first. I think we all would. An understanding spouse will take a rain check until the kids are in bed or the baby is calm.
American Parenting starts destroying the American Marriage when you never go back and ask about his day. It’s okay to make “Talk to Husband About His Day” an item on your to-do list… but it shouldn’t be something you dread, like shaving your bikini line or folding laundry. If it is, there’s a bigger issue here than parenting.
Moms are flexible. We care for who needs caring in the moment. It’s true that our spouses often get their attention after the kids are in bed. That’s okay. Just avoid the bad habit of spending the evening with your nose in your iPhone/Twilight novel/this blog (ha ha). It’s hard to converse when you’re in immersed in something that your spouse can’t share.
You can have it all… sort of.
I consider myself a pretty typical “American parent.” I put my children’s needs first, and I do things that my own mother never did. But sometimes I put my own needs first. Other times I put my husband’s needs first.
Love isn’t mutually exclusive. You can put your kids first and be a good wife, and a good daughter, and a good sister, and a good granddaughter. Not all at the same time, but that’s okay. If we try to do everything 100%, we’ll crack into a million pieces. That’s how we land in the nuthouse, ladies. Don’t set the bar that high.
All that said… we spouses/wives do have one responsibility: staying connected to our significant other even as we are immersed in parenting these tiny, high-maintenance humans that we created.
Think of it this way: you and your spouse are in two canoes on a lake. You each have a leak in your boat, so you are constantly bailing water. Staying near one another when you’re just trying to keep your boat afloat is not easy. Sometimes, you look up and see you’ve drifted apart, so you paddle back toward one another. But if you look up, see distance between you and do nothing to fix it… the next paddle session to get back together will be twice as hard, because you have that much more ground to cover.
Don’t let it get bad. It’s the kiss of death to a marriage.
The article mentioned “press[ing] pause on the soulmate narrative” when children come along, making parenthood your new priority.
I maintain that parenting can be your new priority right alongside your old priority: your marriage.