Your husband or your children?

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.

14 thoughts on “Your husband or your children?

  1. Lovely.
    I hate the feeling of either or- kids or marriage first. Sometimes I’m better at putting the effort into helping my marriage grow with us. Sometimes I forget to be civil, much less kind. But, it’s worth the two seconds it takes to say a kind word, and much more to make a small physical sign of our affection. After all, I hope my kids will grow up and move out. Not so with my husband.

    • Excellent point you make, Kate. I have to remember that too. In Japan there is a skyrocketing increase in divorces post-retirement age!

  2. You make a good point, Cecilia. I think that oftentimes we take our partners for granted…b/c, as you say, they don’t *need* us to hold their hands when crossing the street. Except, of course, that they do. And so do we. Thanks for reminding me of this-I also need to step up my husband=appreciation!

    Delia Lloyd

    • Thanks Delia. I agree – it is so hard for us to think that our husbands “need” us. It doesn’t feel urgent enough and we just put them on the sidelines.

  3. I’ve heard this advice from numerous places, too, and always thought it was counter-intuitive. Then someone explained it to me this way: “Your kids need you for 18 years. When they’re gone, if you’ve neglected your marriage, what’s left for you? How can you pick up the pieces after 18 years of essentially ignoring your partnership?” And then, yeah, I kind of got it. But that still doesn’t make it an easy priority switch to make! Good for you for “doing a little more,” as you say.

    • Sigh…we’ll see how well I can keep that up! I’m good at blogging about my epiphanies…actually consistently following through? I need more work 🙂

  4. Cecilia, once again, you’ve made an excellent point. I’ve found that whenever my husband and I get time away from the kids, we fall back into the easy relationship we had before children. I recently realized that that is not good enough. There is no guarantee that we will snap back every time we are without kids. So I do want to start making more of an effort with my husband, before we get used to the distance and bickering that mark our everyday interactions in a house full of kids.

    • I know…that’s the important thing – to make those small changes before it becomes “too” late and the distance or bickering becomes normal, at which point it feels almost too weird to be sweet and loving again.

  5. Oh, my gosh, what an important article, Promise me you will shop this one out.

    And what a beautiful sentence, ” I had been viewing motherhood as something organic, and marriage as something static.”

    Really, Hello? Redbook, Women’s Journal, why aren’t you knocking at the door???

  6. Wow, what a wonderful entry, Cecilia!! And perfect timing…the other day we found out that a close friend of ours is getting a divorce. It was a reminder that if we can’t take each other for granted, that we need to nurture the relationship we have with our spouse, spend time with each other, really listen to each other and pay attention to each other…thank you for the reminder as well! It’s so true what you write…so true.

    • Thanks, Christine! And I’m sorry to hear about your friends divorcing…it’s a shock to hear those stories, and it’s always a wake up call. Marriage is so easy to put on the back burner…

  7. I enjoyed this post. This is such a tough subject. I would liked to have believed some months ago that because my daughter was (is) so small and motherhood was (is) still so new to me, my extra effort to “be a better mother” versus “be a better wife” is done with good reason. I am learning, however, that in having children, marriages, or the relationship between myself and my husband, change and require work as well. It is my responsibility as a wife and my husband’s responsibility to re-learn how to connect to each other and journey through our new shared path of parenthood.

    • Thanks, Jessica, for sharing. I agree it is easy to forget that the marriage side needs work as well, because our husbands don’t clamour for our attention the way our children do!

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