Before having my own babies, I envisioned the kind of mother I hoped I would be: a smidge of Carol Brady for the patience, a dash of Modern Family's Claire for the sense of humor, and a pinch of Married with Children's Peg for the bonbons. I was acutely aware I could never pull off June Cleaver; it's just not in my DNA to make dinner from scratch every night, and I don't even own pearls.
When my husband and I welcomed Baby Number One in 2009, I immediately set realistic expectations for myself as a mother and us as a couple, because what's the point in having goals if they're not attainable? I obviously wanted to be the best mom I could be, but I didn't want to immerse myself so completely in my children that I became estranged from my husband. Or myself. It was as I struggled with finding balance between my endeavors and my reality that I came face-to-face with the predetermined expectations that society, particularly other mothers, had set for me.
Challenging stale notions of who mothers are supposed to be was the theme of an article written by Amber Doty titled, "Putting Your Husband First." In that piece, Doty boldly states that her husband is her number-one priority:
While I understand... the possible impermanence of marriage versus the indissoluble bond between a mother and child, I view my investment in my relationship with my spouse as one that is beneficial to our family as a whole. Prioritizing my husband's needs decreases the likelihood of divorce and increases the probability that our children will remain in a two-parent home.
When I read that passage, I nodded in silent solidarity. Parenting is hard, and quite honestly, I don't want to do it all by myself. I called to mind the times I had put my husband's needs before our kids' and -- are you sitting down? -- the days, though rare, I have put my own before them all. There is no question that dinner with friends and date nights with my husband help calm the turbulent seas o' parenting.
The author's rationale -- one I agree with -- is that she and her husband are a team, and winning teams practice together and exercise open communication. Granted, the latter is not always easy to achieve with children constantly interrupting conversation (and sexy time), so stolen moments away from the little ones are crucial. I'm sorry, kids, but sometimes Mommy would rather cuddle on the couch with Daddy than play Candy Land for the eleventeenth time.
Does that make us bad mothers?
Yes. At least, according to the venomous comments left by several anonymous (shocking!) readers. Many were upset at the idea that a mother would so "selfishly ignore her children" by "catering to her spouse." Others just couldn't wrap their brains around why a woman would have kids if she wasn't going to make them her absolute focus.
Let me clarify: If our children are our only reason for being, they will grow up to be self-centered, entitled brats who do not comprehend giving or sharing their time or their things. Don't we have enough of those people living amongst us already?
Asking our kids to wait a minute or telling them "no" is not going to hurt their budding self-esteem. Showing love and appreciation for their other parent will not damage their delicate psyches. Quite the contrary, in fact. By making our spouses and sometimes ourselves a priority, we are teaching our children how to respect others and themselves. Witnessing their parents tend to one another's needs every once in a while just might instill some patience and compassion. I don't see how that is selfish. In fact, it sounds like pretty stellar parenting to me.
I'm not saying hop on the next flight to Paris and take a His & Her cooking class while your son walks across the stage at his high school graduation, but sending the kids to Grandma's for a night? A bad parent it makes you not.
Valuing our spouses, loving our children, and finding time for ourselves can all co-exist within a healthy marriage and happy family. When building anything, a strong foundation is crucial, which is why I continue to put my relationship with my husband before our kids. As parents, our goal for the future includes happy, healthy children who are independent of us, and maybe a beach house. As a couple, we hope to avoid staring blankly at one another from across the kitchen table, barely familiar with the person we married 50+ years ago. And as a woman, I proudly wear the titles of Wife and Mom, but before I was married with the children, I was Stephanie, and I refuse to lose sight of myself.