You may have done a double take when you read the post title. “Shirley you mean that parenting is part of marriage?” Parenting is a part of marriage, for most couples. But when the opportunity exists, a successful marriage is a critical component of good parenting.
I bring this up because of a Yahoo! Shine post entitled “Mom Confession: I’m a Terrible Wife.” In it, an unnamed mother describes her shift in focus from her husband to her son (hat tip to commenter Dex at Dalrock). I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but the photo on the post shows a mother and a son, with the father cut almost entirely out of the frame (only his mouth is visible).
“I’m a very good mother. But I’m a terrible wife.”
Her “confession” is a contradiction. If you’re doing a poor job as a spouse, you are failing your child.
She’s operating from a paradigm that equates “good parenting” with “the amount of time and resources delivered to the child, no matter what sacrifice is necessary.” It’s of a piece with the modern cult of the child that has taken over middle-upper class suburbia, where parents are not vessels of authority but “best friends” with their kids. (For non-American readers, let me know if this is happening in your country – it’s this style of parenting that his given us the insufferable “Millenial” phenomenon).
The trouble with that paradigm is that it neglects the responsibility of parents to model social behavior for their kids to emulate – social behavior that sometimes puts the kids themselves second. As children age, their parents have to demonstrate that the world does not revolve around them. They need to learn why mommy and daddy go to work, to clear their dishes and clean their rooms, how to be polite and thankful, how to show remorse when they cross somebody and how to be good teammates and good friends. They need to know that sometimes parents curse, drink alcohol and watch Nightline or mature programs.
But it goes even further than social mores – husband or wife, you need to model marriage for your children. If you expect them to deal with the procreative instinct that most of us feel deeply, they need to see firsthand how to do it right. They need to see a healthy balance of focus on yourself, focus on your spouse, and focus on your other life responsibilities. Your sons need to see how to be a good man and what he should expect from a wife, and daughters need to know how to be a good wife and how she should expect to be treated by a man who loves her.
If are a “terrible wife” (or husband), I dare say you are missing a significant chunk of being a “very good parent.” To go with a quote I read somewhere and can’t recall the source of – “the best gift a child can get is a mom and a dad who love each other.”
Don’t get me wrong – very young children require 24/7 attention, anything less is neglect. It should not be news to anybody that infants are totally dependent on their parents for food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, mental stimulation, language development, tactile development. Almost every couple can talk about an extended period in the childbearing years where sleep and sanity took a back seat to mollifying tears and changing nappies and sex (unless scheduled for the purpose of procreation) was decidedly on the back burner or even off the stove. In that stage of life, marital maintenance becomes a matter of quality, not quantity. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to kill your marriage.
And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying spending time with your kids, taking them places, getting them nice things and making them smile. (If you DON’T plan on enjoying these things, kids may not be for you. Which is fine as long as you are sure that’s what you want.) But when it becomes a compulsion at the expense of other things, including your health, your sense of self and your spouse, you’ve gone overboard.
In any case I don’t buy the young-child explanation here. If her son is old enough to ask for pizza and a movie he’s old enough to spend some time with a sitter, or at a friend’s house, while mom and dad grab some them-time. (We haven’t even discussed how cloying mothering might make the boy’s Freudian release from mommy an unnecessarily traumatic experience for both of them.)
“I no longer have the energy to connect with my husband on the level that we connected before we became parents.”
The most cynical interpretation is that this woman pulled a classic bait-and-switch – she gave love and attention and pledged eternal vows to her husband, but once she extracted sperm and resources from him (resources he will be required to keep paying whether she stays with him or not) she simply stopped investing in him or their relationship after she found something more interesting.
The good news for the confessing mommy is that there’s still time to turn it around.
“In spite of his frequently asking “What about me?” I sense that he is somehow OK with all of this. The problem is, I don’t know if I am.”
I would be hard-pressed to think he was OK with being ignored in favor of his progeny. In fact she states that he has made clear his frustrations, so we can tell her hamster is trying to talk her into believing he’s the selfish one. As a matter of fact a comment by MichelleK took the words out of my mouth:
If he’s saying “what about me,” then you must have imagined that he’s “somehow okay with all of this” to make yourself feel less guilty. Who would be okay with their spouse placing somone else as higher priority over them??? He is making an effort to STATE his feelings and you’re just imagining them away. Nice…
In all truth, he’s probably resorted to begging because he hasn’t been taught the social tools necessary to make himself the center of your attention again. (Shameless plug for Athol Kay’s Married Man Sex Life.)
Hamsters aside, I’m encouraged by her faint admission that she’s not cool with the situation. That means there’s still time to save the marriage before she makes the mental decision to give up, or he decides to seek emotional or sexual comfort elsewhere. (As she tells it, it’s hard for me to even describe this as a marriage – it’s just a statutory framework within which they live in the same house and take care of the same child.)
If I can speculate, this woman’s post has a bit of a fitness-test smell to it – I bet she is secretly hoping someone will give her the straight story and tell her to get things in gear post haste. Not to mention that SHE has a wonderful tool for pulling at his heart – she has HIS child. A few well-placed “I’m so glad my boy has such a studly father” might work wonders.
Another comment didn’t mince words about what’s at stake:
“You’ve made your choice, now allow him to make his. You decided that you don’t need adult companionship, but perhaps he does. As long as you allow him to find what your relationship lacks where he can (with reasonable rules, of course), you can keep your family together. Don’t make him leave you and your family to find it.”