When I married Max I thought that I could never, ever love another human being as much as I loved him.
Max, however, suspected that I could, and that I would…if I became a mother.
Max’s first marriage had fallen apart following the birth of his son. And he was afraid the same would happen to us. He was afraid he would lose me to motherhood. Still glowing in the hormones of my pregnancy then, I promised him with crystal clear certainty that I would never, ever love anyone more than I loved him.
And in that first year of motherhood my love and my emotions for him were still crystal clear. Motherhood may have impaired my ability to carry on an adult conversation with monosyllabic words, but in year 1 Max was still my biggest partner, as together we faced the challenges of understanding our still unfamiliar, blank-slate bundle of joy.
And then the years went on. In those ensuing six years our identity-less bundle grew into a young boy full of vigor and personality. His healthy growth demanded our full attention, energy, time, patience, and love.
Off-stage our marriage morphed too, but it wasn’t the linear path in which Fred’s growth skyrocketed. Our relationship blossomed, then slumped, then slid, then climbed, then hiccuped…
The other day a friend posted an article on one psychologist’s 15 new year resolutions that he felt all parents should keep. At #9 was the proposal that we all put our marriages first, our children second.
At first read I bristled. I was offended. I thought, this is why there are so many insecure children out there. In being responsible for a young person’s life, it is impossible for me to fathom putting anything ahead of parenting.
But at least the pointer made me think. While I can’t put marriage ahead of or behind parenting, I understood the basic message there. Our marriage/relationship with our partner is the foundation of our family. If families were trees, mom and dad would be the trunk and roots, and the kids would be the branches. Having grown up with parents who made my brother and me center stage and who gave zero attention to their own relationship to one another, I get this completely.
I’ve noticed that in parenting I am an active mother-in-training. I’m constantly trying to improve myself, and I’m constantly trying to understand how the actions, words and experiences around my child impact him. Example: I yell unnecessarily and use sarcasm as I try to hurry Fred along to school. Without fail, I will reflect on this incident at some point, and study how a pattern of such behavior would ultimately impact Fred, his behavior, his feelings, our relationship.
Somewhere between year 1 and year 6 in our post-baby marriage, I’ve failed to do the same with my husband. When I snap a little too quickly, or say something inappropriate during a moment of stress, or choose not to say “I love you,” or “thank you,” or “I’m sorry,” I am no longer thinking about how that bit of behavior will impact him, his behavior, his feelings, our relationship.
I’ve been treating parenting as something organic and, without intention at all, I’d begun viewing marriage as something static. We tend to bolt upright and pay attention only when things are on the verge of exploding, like ignoring a lump until it becomes massively cancerous.
But we would never do this with our children.
My husband is a grown man. My son still needs to hold my hand crossing an intersection. On a fundamental level, Fred’s needs do come first. Max understands this, as do I. But we can do a little more.
This morning, instead of silently heading downstairs to prepare Fred’s breakfast as I normally would, I went up to Max at the sink while he was washing up and said, “Good morning,” and planted a light kiss on his lips. A faint smile crept over his face, and I knew that I’d made him happy and started his day off differently than the others. It is as simple as that.