Monday, July 6, 2009

Husband vs. Kids - here we go again

Every couple of years the whole, "Who do you love more, your husband or your kids?" debate goes around. This time I found the article on MomLogic. And this time I have my own blog, so I can weigh in on the ongoing debate.

First of all, I think it's foolish to even start this discussion. Very few of us are ever going to be put in a position to have to choose between our husbands and our kids - no one's going to hold a gun to your head and say, "Choose!" so why bother even thinking about it? Because if you say you love one more than the other, what does that say about your relationship with the one you love less? How can you even quantify or compare the two? It's like comparing apples to penguins.

I also think that it's foolish to talk about having a favorite child. Mine changes moment to moment. Right now it's Mary Grace because she and Daddy are sitting here playing Candy Land, and I'm just delighted by the way she knows the rules and plays along, the way she plays fairly, the way she's getting so big... But earlier today it was Claire, when she and I were snuggled up in bed together trying to take a nap, and she was stroking my face. They're both my favorite, for different reasons.

But since this husband vs. kids thing goes around so often, I have given it a lot of thought.

The love I have for my kids is giving. The paybacks I receive from them (in the form of dandelion bouquets and face stroking and "I love you, too, Mommy"s) are not equal to the amount of things I do for them. I give and they take. On the other hand, with BJ it's much more equal (I hope - he's been taking care of me with a bad back for a couple days, now, so he may think that I'm the taker in the relationship!). He's strong when I'm weak, and I'm strong for him when he's weak. We compliment each other well - he's good at math and science, I'm good at the other stuff. He kills bugs for me, I cook dinner, he cleans up, I do laundry, he works, I pay the bills at home and at work... Back and forth. Our relationship is a see-saw, where we're each high and low during our turns. My relationship with the kids is a swing - I'm standing behind doing all the pushing and they're having all the fun.

At this point in our lives, the relationship I have with my kids is tiring. The relationship I have with BJ is restorative. Being with the kids by myself for a whole weekend wears me out, while being with BJ by myself for a weekend is relaxing and fun. Sure, I have fun with the kids, too, but it's fun with a lot more work, simply because they're kids and they're little and I still have to wipe their behinds. I'm not sure how this dynamic will change as they get older, but I suspect that even when they're self-sufficient, they'll still be work.

The love I have for the kids is primal - I just can't help it. I am wired to love them and to want to protect them and care for them. But so is BJ, and watching him be a father to them, seeing him get furious when Mary Grace talks about a kid at school picking on her, or watching him wrestle with the kids on the living room floor, it reinforces that I chose the right man to be their father, more than I could've possibly known at the time that I chose him.

A lot of women seem to use the whole "I love my kids more," thing as an excuse to neglect their husbands, and I think that's a bad way to maintain a family. I recognize that the primary relationship in our family dynamic is the one between BJ and I, and I work hard to protect and continually improve that relationship because I realize that the well-being of all of us rests in that relationship. If I have an amazing, perfect relationship with Claire that I cultivate and put a ton of effort into, that's great for Claire, but the imbalance would eventually cause MG and BJ to resent us and that relationship. However, if I put a lot of effort into my relationship with BJ, it creates a stable, happy home for our kids and all of us benefit. Therefore, the smart mother, in my opinion, will tend to the marital relationship as her highest priority, because a healthy marriage is good for the whole family.

I don't mean that you let the kids starve while you wait on your husband hand and foot... But I don't think you should let your husband starve, emotionally, while you exhaust yourself being everything to your kids, either. Balance is important, and necessary, and any husband and father will recognize that you have to take care of the kids, too. I see a lot of sad men in the world who feel like they don't matter to their wives anymore once they have kids. And in the long run, I think it's not healthy to be everything to your kids, anyway, but that's another issue and another post.

It's also important to point out that I chose BJ and he chose me, while our kids were the luck of the draw genetically. To me, it's like the difference between loving a garden that was there when you bought the house, and loving a garden that you've worked hard to create. They may be equally beautiful, but the one that you put the effort into is the one that's going to mean more. I see the kids as the garden that I was just really lucky to receive. BJ's the garden I worked hard to cultivate.

Of course, I've put tons of effort into raising the kids, so far, and plan to put in tons more, but since BJ and I were together for 8 years before we had kids, they're never going to catch up to him.

I also think about the fact that the kids are going to grow up and move out and create their own lives, someday, while BJ and I are going to be together, in the same house, every day until we die. For that reason, I think it's vitally important to my own sanity to work at our marriage. Long after our kids have kids of their own, hopefully, we'll still be here. Together. I'd much prefer to spend the rest of my life with someone who has always felt loved, cherished, and cared for, than with someone who has felt like he was playing second fiddle since 2005 (when MG was born).

I just re-read this, and it kind of sounds like I'm coming down on the "I love my husband more" side. I guess maybe I am. I just want to caution the moms who might be reading that article in MomLogic against coming down too heavily in the "kids" camp. And don't confuse instincts with love. And don't have internal dialogues about things that don't matter - like who you love more. Because in the end, the idea is for everyone to feel loved, and for everyone's needs to be met. We're a family, we're not in competition with one another. And you shouldn't be in competition in your family, either, so knock it off.


Mimi said...

Very well said. Of course you love your kids, that's a given. But, you have to love your husband as well and you're right that cultivating that relationship is going to make everyone happy!! Nice work, Sis!!

P.S. Beth is pregnant!!!!!!

Amy said...

I read the news on FB! Good for her!! It's hard to believe that the kid I've known since she was, what, 3?? is going to have a baby of her own.

Anonymous said...

Once again, I love your thoughts on this topic. I wish I could keep you in my pocket to consult with when thorny issues pop up! :)

Seriously...I've recommended you to several friends/pre-school & daycare teachers/pretty much anyone who will listen. And I just dug out your time-out and 10 toddler commandment posts (which I printed - just in case!) because, seriously, who is this high-energy little imp living in my house these days?!? And how on earth am I going to get the concept of "nice touches" to the cats and pretty much everyone else across? But I digress...

Honestly, I'd never thought of this question, but love and agree with your quote "like comparing apples to penguins." It's pretty, um, descriptive! :)

Have the T-shirt said...

Well said and I agree 100%.

As someone who wound up divorced, I can wholeheartedly agree that maintaining your marital relationship benefits EVERYONE.

I have often counseled friends, reminding them that they should treat their husbands BETTER than they treat their BFF, cause frankly, some of them don't.
And I think that's a huge mistake.

Amy said...

CG - my cell # is on FB. Put me on speed dial. :)

Thanks for recommending me to people. That really means a lot!!

HtTS - There's another post brewing in my head about the BFF vs. Husband thing, but I have to figure out how to say it... Most women don't realize that they are their husband's best friend. Guys have friends that they hang out with and do things with, but the person they really share their feelings and fears with is almost always their wife. Men don't have the sort of social support structure that we have, in general.

I think we girls would be well advised to recognize the intimacy of that connection and keep it open, rather than neglecting it because we're better able to have intimate relationships with other women (and by intimate I mean emotionally not sexually, of course, although I'm sure there are a lot of men out there who would be totally into that....). But I need to flesh it out and figure out exactly what I'm trying to say.

I've been thinking of doing a series on relationships.

Look at me - 8 years married and I think I'm some kind of expert. Maybe these posts can wait until we've been married 25 or 50 years! :)

RobMonroe said...

I agree with you - you know, about my wife or my daughter. I love them both in completely different ways and can literally not imagine my life without either of them at this point. I'm smitten with both. :o)

Adelas said...

You know, I think the section where you talk about the kid love being mostly about giving, and the husband love being more equal, really helps clear it up for me.

I think sometimes I'm tempted to think I don't love my DH as much because I don't feel COMPELLED to serve him constantly like I do my son, and because I don't require anything back from my son, whereas I am hurt if I don't receive something back from the DH.

However, just because my FEELINGS about him are more conditional, that doesn't mean that my actual LOVE for him is any less.

Tara @ The Young Mommy Life said...

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful post! It was so deep and so honest and so...real. I loved it.

I actually wrote a post about this, when discussing the whole Jon and Kate fiasco. It was about how women (and men) who constantly say, "I do everything for my kids, my life is about my kids, my kids are most important." There is really no need to continually reinforce that notion. Of course if someone forced you to choose, you'd choose the kids. Duh. But like you pointed out, when is that going to happen?

Focusing on your husband and your marriage is much like a garden. If you neglect it, the weeds will get in there and choke whatever beautiful flowers and plants that are growing. You have to tend to it, try new things and never forget the goal you are working for.

Again, great, great post! :)