baby vs. husband.

by Liz on 04.11

 

I read Ayelet Waldman’s essay on loving her husband more than her kids before I was pregnant. I laughed, but agreed. In a sort of, “well, DUH” way that made it hard for me to understand the controversy. I married my husband with the intention of growing closer and closer to him as we grow older together. I figured when I have kids, it’ll be with the intention of growing further and further from them as they gain independence and I help them find their way. That’s just the way it is. Being wrapped up in my kids- loving them more than my husband- doesn’t just sound creepy-unhealthy. It sounds like I’m setting myself up for a ton of sadness.

Lately, though, I’ve been unsettled by a nagging feeling that maybe I was wrong. Which- you know- for me, is one of the WORST feelings (other than knowing that I missed out on free food in some capacity).

My days have been packed and busy lately. I’ve been more of an entrepreneur than a stay-at-home mom these days. It fluctuates, I guess. Sometimes I don’t feel justified saying I “work from home.” But, the past few weeks have been loaded with business meetings, planning sessions, designing, painting, and building. And I ache a little bit. I remember why I decided to stay home in the first place. That sense that I need to be with my son hasn’t gone away with the other remnants of postpartum.

That doesn’t seem to jive with my plan to love my husband “best.” I think of Josh throughout the day. But it’s not constant. I’m happy to see him when he finally comes in from work. But there’s not this flood of relief- this, “Oh, whew. There you are.”

I’ve thought about it a lot. As I do. And I think I can boil it down. I understand why it may feel like I love my son more, and why people would argue that they do. Normal, healthy people. Not those jealous crazies who raise dependent kids.

I thought about it the other day while I was gone for eight hours setting up a pop-up shop. My son was with his grandmom and perfectly well-cared for, thanks, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I want to explain- it’s not constant constant. I really, really enjoyed my day out and got a lot done and hung out with some awesome ladies. But, when I check the clock to see if we need to refill the meter, the second thought is, “It’s Little J’s naptime. I wonder if he’s sleeping okay?” When a kid walks by eating some ice cream I wonder, “What’d Junior have for lunch?’

That’s it. I do miss him, I do love him. But I noticed that all of my thoughts were concerned, “I hope he’s okay,” thoughts. OF COURSE he was. He was snuggling grandmom and eating too many cookies. But that, “I hope he’s okay,” seems hardwired or built into me or something.

I think it must be easy to confuse concern for love. They’re similar and interrelated. But, when I lovingly think of my husband through the day it’s more, “Last time I was here I was with Josh. That was a fun night…” and “I wish he was here now, he’d love this.” So, those thoughts happen less often. With Junior, I think about him constantly because I’m concerned for him constantly. Wondering if he’s okay easily translates to, “I wish he was here,” because if he was here, I’d know he’s okay. That’s part of what makes me so eager to see him. Part of why I feel a little wave of relief when I walk into my mom’s house and he smiles a sticky smile and claps his hands. He’s okay.

Do you think there’s a love-hierarchy? Or do you think we just love different people differently? I’m interested to hear from those with and without kiddos, alike.

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Your Comments | Add a Comment

Colleen says:
Apr 11, 2012 11:22 pm

I hadn’t give this idea of baby vs husband much more thought than in passing, but what you’re saying resonates with me. When my daughter was not more than a couple of months old, I thought to myself that my wedding vows suddenly felt like they applied more to her than to my husband; that *she* was the one I’d love unconditionally for the rest of my life. But I always thought of that in more of a “Who Would I Choose if I Were Put in a Position Where I Had to Choose” kind of way. Thinking back on that now (18-ish months later), it was like you describe, where I was feeling concerned/protective of her because I knew she was dependent on me (where my husband was not). Now that she’s gaining independence and moving toward toddlerhood, my love for her has changed, I think. Now maybe there’s more of a love/pride/admiration for the funny/sassy/smart person she is. I’m pregnant with our second now, and seeing her take care of her baby dolls and imagining what she might be like as a big sibling (both now and when she’s an adult) adds another layer on to that. To answer your questions, I guess I currently don’t see it as a love hierarchy, but loving different people differently. I’m definitely curious about what other people think about this notion.

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:37 am

This is interesting! I always wonder if, like Meg mentions below, the constant-concern-love is something that’ll pass as Little J gets older.

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Colleen says:
Apr 12, 2012 11:26 pm

Yeah, hormones definitely add to the mix (says the pregnant lady who started *sobbing* at a science fair we happened across a few weeks ago. My poor husband was trying desperately to figure out why I was crying; was it the literature review?!?). I read Meg’s comment right before I went to bed last night & kept wondering how much of that postpartum-hormonal stuff is hard-wired so that we do feel concerned & protective of what, without the loving-concerned hormones, might just be a screamy, needy blob? I asked my husband, since he wasn’t so directly affected by hormones, but it was late & I didn’t get much of an answer (although he did mention that this line of thinking always reminds him of the 4 Ancient Greek “types” of love: agápe, éros, philia and storgē).

The other thing I got to thinking about is how seeing my husband function as this amazing dad to a little girl has really enhanced my love for him. So my love for both my kid and my husband grows and changes as I get to know both of them better and in different contexts, which probably makes quantifying & comparing loves more complicated.

From my perspective, I think that the “constant-concern-love” lessens to a degree as they get older (and aren’t *quite* as dependent. But mine’s only 19 months. Maybe as she gets to be a teenager and the risks get bigger, this will fluctuate again?)), but for me, that has been filled in with more love for the person she’s becoming as she gets to be more person-like.

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Meg says:
Apr 11, 2012 11:46 pm

HORMONES, lady, don’t discount them. I mean this seriously. I’m obviously a serious baby person, and when we’re, say, with our niece, when she’s out of the room or asleep my WHOLE SELF is wrapped up in wanting to hold the baby, or go look at the baby, or missing the baby, on a super physical level. And it’s not my baby (nor even a biological relation). As babies grow to bigger kids, this pure hormonal reaction fades for me slowly, till it’s a nice normal seasoned love feeling.

So, I don’t know shit about motherhood. But I know a ton about hormones, because I’ve always had them in over-drive. And I think it’s too easy to discount them. Because think about it, when we’re in the hormonal grip of new adult love, we do the exact same thing.

By which I mean… I think you’re right. OBVIOUSLY. (I hope that soothes the unpleasant feeling of disagreeing with your past self a tiny bit ;)

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:39 am

That’s a good point. I don’t really know how much of this is *for now* only- I forget that he’s still a baby. (He grows so fast. Sniff)

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Maggie says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:01 am

This feels related in some way I’m having trouble putting my finger on…

http://thehairpin.com/2012/04/on-the-happiness-of-procreation

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:13 am

It’s interesting how we make certain experiences Transformative and END ALL BE ALL. Because, having a baby for me was sort of that emotional experience that she said she didn’t have. But also, other people who are transformed by some hike up some mountain? That’s cool. That would have no effect on me, I guarantee. (other than making me want some water and a nap)

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Peabody_Bites says:
Apr 13, 2012 8:37 am

That is so interesting that you say that – my brother-in-law just had a baby and for the first month, ALL I wanted was to be with the baby, hold the baby, love the baby. When I visited (which I did more than was probably either necessary or appropriate) I felt cheated if I didn’t get to hold the baby for whatever reason. And when I left their house, I cried and cried every time because all I wanted was the baby.

But now, the baby is four months old and of course I love the baby (and it has got WAY cuter) but I don’t have the same obsessive need for it any more.
Which is a relief for me, my husband and probably my brother-in-law and his family.

Once I worked out the hormones thing, I wanted to talk to all the women I knew about it, but it seemed that I was the only one it happened to, so am fascinated, and quite relieved, that it isn’t just me.

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Naomi Liddell @ Rocked By Life says:
Apr 12, 2012 3:44 am

Wowzers. What an excellent post.

I can honestly say that as a wife but not yet mother, this is something that has never even crossed my mind. The idea of a love hierarchy. I’ve thought about jealousy of attention, but not an imbalance in actual love.

I like your theory though and it makes perfect sense to me. Sheer maternal instinct to protect your offspring. I’m sure that’s overwhelming at times and confused with love.

I cannot imagine loving anyone more than my husband. Obviously I have no frame of reference, but I imagine being in love with my children on a different level.

I’m a big believer in the idea that we all control our thoughts, so maybe rather than denying yourself thoughts of your baba, if the balance tips a bit much, up the thought or your man. Do more things together, just the two of you. Or make time to actually think of them and send them love throughout the day.

I’m kind of looking forward to all of this. It sounds complicated but delicious.

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Rachel T. says:
Apr 12, 2012 5:37 am

I’ve been having a lot of this thought lately, not specifically the “who might I love more” but the understanding that our relationship and our life will change if and when we decide to have children. That’s part of my hesitation… it’s not that I think it will ruin our relationship (though I have angry parent issues… so maybe underneath there…), but I know how much I enjoy our relationship right now, how close we are, and how happy we feel together, sitting in on the couch, cuddling. It’s been five years, but we still really enjoy one another’s company. I worry about how that might change with a child, not that we will all of the sudden dislike the other, but that time spent together, cuddling, on the couch will become a distant memory, the ability to greet at the door will go away, and our chance to just “go out” and do what we want, will change. It doesn’t have to be a bad change, but for me, all change brings some anxiety. So I’m fascinated and worried by this idea of the love hierarchy, much for the same reasons you were, the idea of not wanting to raise a dependent child, wanting to keep my relationship special and my husband a priority. Does that all make sense? It’s early, so I’m running the risk of verbal diarrhea here… bottom line, babies make me nervous. I love other people’s babies, but my own? Nervous!!

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:53 am

Oh, Rachel! Don’t worry about those things! If they’re important to you- the cuddling on the couch, the going out- you’ll make time for them.

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Colleen says:
Apr 12, 2012 10:46 pm

Can I just jump in and second what Liz said? You can definitely continue to make those things a priority. It’s funny–I didn’t realize how much I valued greeting my husband at the door when he came home from work until we had a baby & he started greeting her first. He did that, I realized what I needed, (wept postpartum hormonal tears), and then asked him to greet me first please. Point being that, for me, having the baby helped me recognize my values slightly more clearly & get better at asking for my needs to be met. (Not that this is why we had a kid, or something I’d advocate other people do for those reasons; just an observation.)

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Maggie says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:20 am

This is partly why we we’re leaning towards not having kids… so it makes a lot of sense to me.

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Liz F says:
Apr 12, 2012 12:02 pm

My parents were always there, telling us they loved us and being good parents. But my father was also never shy about telling us that my mom was 1) the best thing that ever happened to him and 2) his #1 priority (especially as we got older and more independent). I really respected that as a teenager, and now an adult. And it made it very clear that my parents trusted, on some level, their ability to raise smart, capable, independent adults and that they weren’t willing to sacrifice their relationship to do that.

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Alycia says:
Apr 13, 2012 4:19 pm

I know I am a little late into this, but I hear you! Some people are really great parents and can juggle all this stuff, but when I really think about it, having babies is so risky! We try so hard to cultivate a relationship with one other adult person, and when that is all good, we commit to staying together. And then we try to bring in a total stranger?!?! Who is completely dependent on us? To me it’s really crazy and I don’t know if it’s worth the risk; at least not for me.

I am especially feeling like this way lately because recently my mom told me that she and my dad really started to fall apart once they had us kids. I could have told her that 20 years ago, but oh well. I also read an interesting article about how children are a big reason that people split up and while it’s so sad, it’s not surprising to me.

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Kirsty {a safe mooring} says:
Apr 12, 2012 6:26 am

After you mentioned Ayelet Waldman the other day, I went and looked her up (obv) and ended up reading this essay (obv) and sending it to my husband (obv). We don’t have kids, but I was really interested in what she had to say, and Fin and I ended up having a discussion about it in the car last night. (An aside: all of our best discussions happen in the car. I think there’s something about sitting side-by-side rather than facing each other, it somehow makes you feel more free to be completely open. Anyhoo.)

Without even knowing the background and controversy surrounding the piece, his immediate reaction was, “I bet she gets a lot of criticism for this”. And mine was, yes – but why? Is it really so controversial to say that your children are not the entire pinnacle of your existence? Apparently so. Fin thinks there are different kinds of love, and he felt the part where she essentially said she would rather her child died than her husband was a step too far, but I think it’s more complicated than that. I agree that it’s difficult to compare different kinds of love, and “who would you rather died?” is a pretty harsh and not necessarily helpful way of doing it. But in a strong, loving marriage, the passion and love you feel for your partner is returned in equal measure. In contrast, your children will never love you the way you love them, and nor should they. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cherish above all others the person who cherishes you back, who will still be there long after your children have flown the nest?

I guess I won’t know until/if we have children of our own. But your analysis of it Liz, love versus concern, makes sense to me.

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:01 am

I think we’ve built an entire definition of motherhood around the idea of self sacrifice and putting the kids first. That’s why so many people were jarred by the idea that -gasp- this mom wasn’t sacrificing her sex life and marriage for motherhood. At least that’s how I took it.

The “who would you rather died” thing didn’t sit well with me either. I’d like to keep such Sophie’s choice type hypotheticals out of my head completely.

And YES. Our best conversations happen in the car too!

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Rachelle says:
Apr 12, 2012 7:21 am

I’m interested to hear a male perspective on this. We always hear it from the mother’s side, but rarely the father’s. I mention this because after my friend had her first child, her husband told her about how he had been joking around with his boss that she (my friend) had been “bumped to number 2″ now that their daughter was born. Even though it was said in a joking manner, it sort of devastated my friend and horrified me (as a not-yet-but-future-mother). She certainly did not feel like her husband had been “bumped” from his position in her life even though she loves her daughter immensely (obviously) but he seemed to really feel like his daughter took priority over her beyond the basic dependence factor.

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Kirsty {a safe mooring} says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:35 am

If it makes you feel any better, Fin “accidentally” said the other day that he would save Smidgen in a fire before he would save me. Charming. At least your friend’s husband got bumped for a human baby.

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:02 am

I just convinced Josh to hop on.

Oh the power I wield when I make eggs and sausage for breakfast.

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Erin says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:55 am

Oh Liz, I’ve relied on the first-husband-then-child idea for a long time, and here you’ve gone and thrown a wrench into the works. I’ll pass on the warning to Joe later…
But really, what you’re describing makes total sense to me. I just hadn’t thought of it like that before. Concern is so much more immediate than a steady, dependable love, and I can understand how that immediacy could translate to the sense that it is more powerful/important than partner love. Seems like something that awareness can help a lot, though.
Will be pondering…

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Carly says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:58 am

Love hierarchy — that’s an interesting thought. From my perspective, I would say it’s just an experience of different kinds of love. As a mother, it is important for you to feel that constant awareness of your child; that seems natural and healthy to me. You know your husband can take care of himself all day, so you don’t spend your time worrying about him.

“I married my husband with the intention of growing closer and closer to him as we grow older together. I figured when I have kids, it’ll be with the intention of growing further and further from them as they gain independence and I help them find their way.” –> I think I can agree with this part, too. I am imagining a graph where you and your husband start at points that are far away, and move closer together over time. With your baby, you [quite literally] start at the same exact spot. He is basically still a part of you now. 20 years from now, you may feel more distance.

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:04 am

I often forget that part- the “he’s still a part of you” part. Even though I still call him “the baby” I forget that he is just that. He’s walking! He’s talking! He’s like a little person! But he really is still my baby and who knows how my feelings for him will change as he grows.

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Josh Sr. says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:18 am

Liz being the writer around here, I usually keep quiet on the internet as I’m busy with another website that involves few words. (Most of those she writes anyway. :P) But this is one thing where I’d love to say a thing or two, especially since Rachelle and Kristy have been desiring to hear/starting the discussion at home with men involved.

When it comes to feeling like number 2 in the house, I fortunately have never had that experience. And it wasn’t always conscious…like it has been said, Liz and I love each other differently than we love Junior, and always will. But it’s more than that. I don’t feel like number 2 because Liz and I BOTH give him attention, and that attention is out of love but consisting of a lot of caring. Caring in the sense of nurturing, kissing boo-boos, feeding a messy yelling mouth some fruit mush, and always letting him have a slap fight with my maybe-bigger-than-it-should-be-lately tummy.

We take care of each other first though. While it does take a little more planning than before to have a date, or have time to do nothing, it’s still important that we go out to dinner and be adults. Junior isn’t going to learn how to love other people the way that WE love each other without seeing an example. We need to take care of and love each in order to raise him, but not just to support US. Liz and I have to show Little Josh how someday HE will love someone. The example of “who would you rather die” is an extreme example, but Liz and I will always have loved each other longer, and “more,” than we love Junior. We’ll always have had more say in how our relationship works than our kids, because no matter how old they grow or how many we have, Liz and I will have always know each other better and for more time. Super-cliched-but-true: He wouldn’t be here if Liz didn’t choose me and I didn’t choose her, and I think I can speak for us both when I say we live out our marriage in light of that.

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Kirsty {a safe mooring} says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:28 am

Yay, it’s Josh! I really like this take on it, it makes a lot of sense to me. Also: awww. You two are adorbz.

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Erin says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:30 am

Seconded.

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Rachelle says:
Apr 12, 2012 7:04 pm

See this is interesting to me. In the first part of this comment, you address the fact that you never feel like you are second. That’s the assumption, that the man will feel neglected and not that the man will start to love his child more than his wife. I wonder if this is related at all to the idea that the wife “cares for” the husband AND children, putting the husband on the same level as the child – not an equal on the same level as the wife. I don’t know that men really think about if they love their child more than their wife and it’s something I’ve seen women discuss a LOT.

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 7:28 pm

What’s funny is that we discussed both of those over breakfast- whether he felt second place and whether he felt he’s put me second place. I think maybe the second discussion got lost in everything else there was to say.

I think the cultural narrative is that motherhood = END ALL BE ALL. Women are expected to drop their lives in favor of raising kids, including their marriages and sex lives. The same cultural narrative does NOT surround fatherhood, so there’s no guilt wrapped up in saying, “I love my wife more.” It’s not something men even need to consider because society isn’t imposing a “abandon all for your children” mindset.

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Josh Sr. says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:29 pm

I’ll second that…I’ve never felt the pressure to choose, honestly. MEN get pushed to feel like they just need to be there that they wrongly feel that presence = responsibility. It’s ASSUMED that women will be there, and that makes way for other questions to be forced as an issue.

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Jessica says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:18 am

My husband and I talked about this the other day. In some ways I feel a little guilty that while I adore my little guy (8 months old) and can’t wait to snuggle him at the end of the daycare when I free him from daycare, I also love that moment when he goes to bed and it’s back to being me and D again (even though little O’s very existence has drastically changed our relationship forever, I know). I love my baby but I love my husband more and sometimes I feel like it is something we’re not really supposed to admit to as women and mothers. My husband, on the other hand, said “Of course I love you more. I picked you, I’ll have you with me forever whereas we’re raising him to grow up and leave us.” For him, no angst at all in that decision. I guess it is because he doesn’t have the mommy guilt.

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Josh Sr. says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:40 am

We’ve had some of those same talks…where I get into the cold, logical part of my masculine brain and think the same thing. But as a dad, I have a little of that same twinge of “awwww…my little man!” I think maybe it’s a little different when a man has a son, as there is an easier connection to “miniature you” than if we had a daughter. It’s a stronger tie that is created to the idea of “this person can grow to be me, so let me make sure he doesn’t go through some of the garbage that I did.” But even then, because there is no MATernal connection, we don’t get that lovely guilt that comes with physically creating a human for a year. O_O

But I think that, as Liz and I have talked about a lot, that culture somehow has made a man’s role irrelevant in raising children while ALWAYS simultaneously asking the question “WHY AREN’T MEN RAISING THEIR CHILDREN?” The reason why “do men feel neglected by their wives” becomes a question is because women get pushed into this idea that “now that you have kids, they are your world. No more dates, fun, makeup, high heels, or feeling pretty.” Culture wrongfully dictates that kids are a new stage that demands the end of certain things, when that demand is unreasonable and largely absurd. When a man becomes a father, he doesn’t suddenly feel the pressure to never wear a suit again, or to drop his Xbox controller and never play again. It is the prolonged adolescence that men are somehow allowed to have while women do all of the work of the family, and it really doesn’t make sense.

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Erin says:
Apr 12, 2012 10:19 am

“…culture somehow has made a man’s role irrelevant in raising children while ALWAYS simultaneously asking the question “WHY AREN’T MEN RAISING THEIR CHILDREN?” ” Whoa. Word.

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Rachelle says:
Apr 12, 2012 7:01 pm

I don’t know that I agree with your last point. In the very recent past, there has definitely been a move toward the “Peter Pan syndrome” re: men, but I think that’s mostly about single men. I think there is still a lot of cultural pressure for men to be stable breadwinners when it comes to marriage and having children. I think that pressure is definitely contributing to the “where are the men?” question. If you’re “allowed” to be a slacker as long as you want but not if you have a wife and/or kids, what’s the appeal of doing those things? There’s time for that when you’re 40 or something, right? I have no facts to back this up but from my perspective that’s how it seems.

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Josh Sr. says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:32 pm

My main point regarding immaturity was really that men are allowed to not be men no matter WHAT their situation. You have single men never committing and acting like they’re 12 until their 40′s, but you also have men that are married with kids by their 30′s and leave all of the parenting to the women. Not because of pressure to be the breadwinner, but out of selfishness toward their less important inclinations.

Men don’t have the expectations of family maintenance thrust on them the way that women do. And it’s most unfortunate because there ARE natural pressures that society doesn’t need to bolster with unrealistic and uneven responsibilities between mothers and fathers.

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Rachelle says:
Apr 13, 2012 7:50 am

Okay yes, I see what you are saying here. The idea that a man watching his children for the evening is “babysitting”, etc. Thanks for the follow up! I totally agree.

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faith says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:27 am

you and meg are so smart lately ;)

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meghan says:
Apr 12, 2012 10:47 am

So much to digest here. My very brief two cents: I love Zoe and Eric, both. I love them differently and the same. I do think that my love for Zoe includes that string between us that has been present from birth I worry about her safety, her emotional growth and needs, I feed her from my body and right now, that string is short and thick and springs back. Eric on the other hand I worry about in a more peripheral way and the bond between us has more room and can be counted upon based on experience. So, I think that my heart has room to love two people, just as deeply.

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Justine {Stop Me if You've Heard This One} says:
Apr 12, 2012 11:04 am

I really like your take on this. I remember reading that same essay (and following the resulting controversy) and feeling much like you did. (I don’t have children yet.)

I haven’t tested my theories yet, but I think what you said rings true. I also think part of what the essay was saying is that you have to work to make sure that you love your husband best. Loving children is a hardwired (usually) natural feeling, whereas you have to learn to love another, non-blood relative. And feelings for your husband are more easily tested because you could legally break that bond if you wanted to. Loving your spouse best takes effort, so some people might interpret that as, “Well, this love is easier, so it must be stronger.”

Also, I agree that you and your husband are adorbs. I love that you set that example for your son.

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Sheryl says:
Apr 12, 2012 11:42 am

This is a tough one. First I want to note that I’m speaking as someone who wants to be a mother in the near future, but isn’t there yet. So that certainly is part of my experience.

I have a bit of a complicated relationship with what I expect from parents, partly because I had some big parent-relationship issues growing up. As a child and a teenager, situations came up where I came to strongly believe that parents were supposed to ALWAYS put their children first, including ahead of their spouse. I felt like it was my mother’s responsibility to love me and my brother more than anyone else in the world, including her husband. That once you have chosen to bring a baby person into the world forevermore they are required to be your number one priority.

Now as I’m contemplating motherhood, my feelings towards the dynamics of how I expect to spread my love around have changed. I love my fiance in a way I had never imagined loving anyone. I’m fully prepared for the fact that when I have children I’m going to love them in a way that I can’t begin to imagine. What I do know is that it will be very different from how I love my fiance. The love I have for my fiance has a lot of expectations inbedded in it, both ways.

And when I think about how I want to raise my future children, I’m left with a little bit of a weird feeling. Because I know that it is very important to me that I am fiercely protective of them and that I do everything in my power to keep them out of situations that children shouldn’t be faced with. To me part of bringing children into the world is still a commitment to putting them first (particularly when they are young). But at the same time, my relationship with my fiance is one of the most important things in my life, and I would not be ok if parenthood diminished it in any way shape or form.

A (slightly odd?) comparison I want to make is to friendship. I have a handful of “best” friends and I love them each in very different ways, and while my friendships are different there isn’t a ranking of them. They simply fill different roles in my life, and because of that I really can’t compare their qualities. I feel like maybe the difference between parenthood and spousehood is somewhat like that: the type of love, and the roles that they fill in my life (and I fill in theirs) are so different that it’s not really fair to say “I love my kids better than my spouse” or “I love my spouse more than my kids”.

The expectations and quality of those relationships are just too different.

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 12:44 pm

This comment made me think a bit. I think you’re right about bringing a child into the world means there’s a certain commitment or responsibility. I don’t often think about it (because I’m not forced to), but if Josh was doing something that put Little J in danger in any way, my desire to protect my son would outweigh my hope to keep my marriage in tact.

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Rachel T. says:
Apr 12, 2012 4:36 pm

Sheryl – I really love your point about a “different kind of love” and them not being comparable. That makes far more sense to me, and I also get the “children come first” being in your head as a child, though mine came from a place of never being first for the wrong reasons (not parental relationship reasons). But I think now that I’m engaged and people around me are having children, I’m still anxious about how to “protect” (the word seems harsher than I mean but that’s my anxiety talking) my relationship between the fiancé and I while still potentially having a child. But amen all around.

I love this site Liz, and I LOVE your husband’s points. They were eye opening and simultaneously spoke right to my heart as if I always thought that. Love love love this conversation. Why isn’t THIS what people talk about on “talk shows” instead of “my sister is sleeping with my brother” stuff?! (Obviously I don’t watch talk shows, but that’s what I imagine is going on…?)

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Nina says:
Apr 12, 2012 12:14 pm

I read this last night but had to digest it overnight before I could comment. This is an example of Liz-wisdom at its best.

I have mentioned to friends in the past that one of my fears of motherhood is becoming second place in my husband’s eyes after having that honor for more than a decade. They looked at me with surprise. It wasn’t a concern they had ever considered I guess. I think the reason I had it was because I took it for granted that I would feel like Waldman when I did have kids. That I would always think of us as a unit first.

In the years since I will say that concern has faded. I think I’ve become more comfortable with the idea that I will in fact love my child with a kind of love that I just don’t understand yet, as will he. I’ve stopped believing in a hierarchy of love but rather that there are different kinds of love. Your description of it – how your love for your child can seem more present at times because it is rooted in nurturing and concern – really rings true for me and puts words to what has been gradually brewing in the deep recesses of my brain.

Wise as always. Thanks.

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Rachel says:
Apr 12, 2012 8:56 pm

I love this. Truthfully, it was kind of why I was TERRIFIED to have girls. I kept hearing those comments people made to my husband like, “Oh, you’re having a GIRL? You thought you knew what love was. Just wait.” Or “Now you’ll REALLY fall in love with a girl.” And it REALLY pissed me off. Because those comments are stupid regardless of what gender baby you wind up having. It’s a DIFFERENT kind of love. Would I save my girls before I would save Chris if our house caught on fire? Yes. But only because HE CAN WALK HIMSELF TO SAFETY. Duh.
I could never have the same kind of love for my children as I have for my husband. But that doesn’t mean I love them less, or him more, or anything like that. It’s different. I want them to grow up to be independent, confident, beautiful young women WITHOUT ME. Him, well, I’d like him to be WITH me. So I think with different ends in mind from the beginning, it goes without saying that it would be a different type of love altogether.
… P.S. SO MANY smart comments on here!!!

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liz says:
Apr 12, 2012 9:24 pm

I hadn’t heard that about baby girls! That’s interesting. I guess I hadn’t realized the whole “daddy’s girl” narrative is so pervasive.

Haha, Rachel, I picture you standing with your hands on your hips, “HELLO? I’M RIGHT HERE.”

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Sharon says:
Apr 13, 2012 1:52 am

I like the differentiation you make between care and love, Liz, and it’s one that makes a lot of sense to me. We don’t have kids yet and aren’t sure if we will (for some of the reasons other commenters mentioned – “But we’ll never be able to spontaneously leave the house at 9pm for drinks again!” – so it’s reassuring to hear you and Josh Sr. say that the core values of spending time together and living an interesting life can still be upheld, just maybe looking slightly different. Wow, longest parenthetical ever.), but I’ve always thought that babies rather than taking away my love for Jason or vice versa would help develop that love into something even deeper. Yes, we’d have a Small Person demanding more of our individual attention, emotions, time, and care, but we’d also be on the same team, with shared goals. I’ve always loved working with Jason on projects of any sort, so it seems like love would only thrive under those conditions, not be banished. (Not that children are “projects,” per se, but you know…)

Also, I really appreciate the way that you parse through your feelings when it comes to motherhood. I think a lot of people feeling this way might freak out (“Oh my gawd, I’m one of Those Women who loves her kid more than her husband!”) or conform to a stereotype (“Well, OF COURSE I’d love my kid more. Self-sacrificing martyr-mother of the year!”) rather than sitting with the feelings, figuring how they line up with values, and developing a paradigm for thinking about how those things relate.

Fun fact, as a high schooler and for the first couple of years I was in college, I frequented the same online book group that Ayelet was a part of and totally remember the shitstorm that ensued when her NYT piece was published. She was something of a hero of mine then and she still is now.

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one soul says:
Apr 18, 2012 3:19 am

I remember reading that essay a few years back and thinking, right on! I wholeheartedly believe that the parents’ relationship should come first in general, if for no other reason than that kids suffer when it doesn’t, and parents are still together but miserable. And it’s certainly not healthy for a little one when his mother is deeply enmeshed with him, which is kind of what the whole putting your child at the very centre of your universe feels like to me, from my outside perspective.

Of course, it’s entirely normal in the first couple years of your child’s life to be very, very, completely healthily preoccupied with them – the concern, and yes, love, that you mention. When you’re right in the thick of it with a very small baby or child, they are pretty all-consuming and do become the focus of everyone’s love and attention for a bit. That’s just how it works. But the thing is, children do not remain that age, that needy, that dependent for long. And in order for them to start to individuate properly, they need to realise that their parent/s have a healthy life and loves outside of them. And in order for their parents to separate properly (cause it’s a two-way thing), they need to have loves other than their children. So I think it’s important for parents to keep their own relationship in mind, even if it’s right at the back of their mind for a bit, because it will have to start to take centre-stage again at some point.

And of course, how do you quantify love for another person? I think rather than her statement of loving her husband ‘more’ I prefer where she writes about how her love for her children and her husband is *different*. I think the different quality of love for your children versus being in love with your husband is the real key to all of it.

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