More on putting your kids second — behind everything else?

super-mom - first

Last week I wrote a about how single parents need to put their kids behind romantic interests. I’ve been thinking about how important that is, and to even take it a few steps further. Make that decision now and express it to potential mates–guys who are likely concerned that should they get involved with you, they will always come second to your kids. Make that decision now, and apply to the rest of your life. 

My Saturday night date found this blog before we met and read that post. Over cajun food he described what sounds like a remarkably happy suburban childhood headed by parents who enjoyed a 40-year marriage, five kids and two successful careers. My date has only the fondest memories of watching his dad court his mom on their weekly date nights and annual parent-only vacations — in addition to the family roadtrip. Staying home with the babysitter was tons of fun. “My dad made it clear that his relationship with my mom was the center of everything, while he was also the best dad ever,” he said.

What could be a better example of the benefits of putting your romantic partner first?

But what if you don’t have a romantic interest to start with?

Coincidentally, this week’s Modern Love column in the New York Times (which I read religiously and am only slightly bitter about the fact the editor Daniel Jones has rejected more than a dozen of my submissions over the years BUT NEVERMIND!) highlighted a 2005 essay by Aylete Waldman about the fact that she puts her husband and their fantastic sex life above their four kids. The most interesting thing about the essay was the resulting shitstorm of controversy which landed Waldman on a much-viewed Oprah episode during which a hostile audience nearly attacked her. Yes, that essay is a decade old, but it warrants a revisit because parents — mothers most especially — are still expected to make our children the center of our worlds. Waldman wrote:

I do love [my daughter]. But I’m not in love with her. Nor with her two brothers or sister. Yes, I have four children. Four children with whom I spend a good part of every day: bathing them, combing their hair, sitting with them while they do their homework, holding them while they weep their tragic tears. But I’m not in love with any of them. I am in love with my husband.

It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.

I love that Waldman challenges the institution that admonishes women for anything other than fulltime adoration of their kids. Waldman’s work includes many of the points I’ve made here on this blog:

  • Many of you lapped up my essay about the fact that I don’t live for my kids — and that is my biggest gift to them. Putting kids before all else makes them neurotic and robs me of my potential to live the biggest, fullest life that I can — and model for my children that such a life is possible.
  • I’ve urged parents — single moms in particular — to prioritize their health above all else, including family time. After all, you can’t be an energetic mom now if you are overweight, and you are even more likely than single moms overall to burden your children in your old age if you don’t care for your wellbeing now.
  • That despite my attempts to live said full life, I’ve found myself hugging my kids too much because I’m lonely — and that is entirely unfair to my son and daughter. Alas, I am only human.

I plan to read Waldman’s essay collection, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace, which promises to dig into the the societal pressure moms face to put their children into the laser-sharp focus of their universes. Liberating music to my ears! 

But Waldman has a husband she is crazy about. I don’t.

So how does a single mom consistently put her kids second if you don’t have a man to focus on instead? In other words, how do you create space for for a potential relationship when kids can be so all-consuming? In the event you don’t seek a romantic partner, where do you focus that energy if not on your children?

Cliche as it may sound: You gotta put yourself first. That means taking care of your health. You must make it a top priority to hang out with other adults — girlfriends, dates, relatives and friends. It is not normal to spend all your time with children, nor make your offspring your primary emotional support. And while you’re at it, indulge in your instincts to have a fulfilling and profitable career — without any guilt whatsoever! — even though our culture tells you that stay-at-home mothers are better mothers.

In fact, that is the big takeaway: Stop feeling guilty. Want to date? Go for it — AND DON’T FEEL GUILTY! Need a sex life? NO GUILT FOR YOU – ONLY BOOTY! Need to hit the gym? HIRE A SITTER AND DON’T LOOK BACK! Looking forward to that business trip even though you have to leave the kids at home? KILL IT! I’m not worried you’ll neglect the kids. If you are like the professional moms I know, the pendulum swings way in the other direction — and you’re far more likely to neglect yourself.

 

16 thoughts on “More on putting your kids second — behind everything else?

  1. Emma – I completely agree. Putting yourself first is so important. We want to be great mothers, and the only way that is possible is to invest in ourselves. That means feeling great, having more energy, and taking care of ourselves, through health, social, and/or romantic interests. Plus, love from kids is so powerful and meaningful, but it’s not supposed to be used as a filler for loneliness. We have to be strong and happy on our own feet.

    1. I’m curious what my nephew would say, after spending Friday thru Monday alone … on the computer at age 13. Of course, his Mother loves this selfish idea that she is good out vacationing and dating while he has nothing special to speak of. Great advice. Did I mention how the 15 year old uses her spending money for counseling.. and Mommy (bless her heart) uses her money for bars and travel? Great advice. Personally, my values set the bar so high – - so these selfish acts of “Motherhood” become anything but the norm…. creating happier emotionally stable children who feel their single Mom’s actually enjoy evenings and weekends with them. Careful the advice you give to single Mom’s they may take it and it’s the children that reap those consequences.

      1. Karen – there are always extremes. This sounds like a dysfunctional situation. I’m speaking to the majority of moms who feel guilty for taking care of themselves. Clearly your sister-in-law is does not fit this mold.

  2. Emma-somehow you write what is so current for me–I have spent the last two years recovering from separation then divorce and I have gained a ton of weight and stopped working out- so I could “focus” on my child’s needs. I recently started making my own care-inlcuding dating, a priority and I and my daughter are better for it.

  3. Thanks ladies – All this can be so easy to forget — life and kids especially can be so all-consuming. But the real culprit is the the societal message that only good moms put their kids above all else — and that is simply WRONG!. @Valerie – GOOD FOR YOU!

  4. I LOVE THIS! I’ve told my boyfriend numerous times that our relationship needs to be a priority. We both come from previously failed relationships. Neither of us want another divorce behind us, so we are putting our relationship at the top. It’s not because we don’t love our children. We love them very much and think about them constantly. We want to give them a great childhood. However, we also recognize that they learn from us and the success of their future relationships can very much be influenced by our relationship. If they see a dysfunctional relationship where love is not evident, where affection is not shown, then how can we hope that they will end up in a healthy and fulfilling relationship? We can’t.

    Also, I know we both need to make our relationship a priority because when our children are grown, we won’t know what to do with ourselves. I for one know that if I don’t keep myself in check, the Empty Nest Syndrome will hit me extremely hard. So I make our relationship, including our sex life, important. And I get grumpy when I don’t have time with my soon-to-be fiance. I am hopelessly head over heels in love with him and I hope that whomever our children end up with, they find themselves in a relationship like ours, that builds them up instead of tearing them down.

    1. @Nicole – I love everything about your comment, especially this: ” If they see a dysfunctional relationship where love is not evident, where affection is not shown, then how can we hope that they will end up in a healthy and fulfilling relationship? We can’t.”

      Keep us posted, and CONGRATULATIONS on your engagement!

  5. I love this post. I am not a single mom but I was raised by one. My mom made it very clear that I should never put my kids first when I was pregnant with my oldest. She said it ruined her marriage to my dad and she didn’t want me to make the same mistake she did. I didn’t understand her position until my daughter was 6 months old but I got it. I get heat from my friends when they say I should put my kids first. My only reply is that kids are destined to leave a mother, regardless of the energy and love you pour Ito them. A husband doesn’t have that same destiny, so you better nurture that relationship and make it a priority.

    1. Wow Allison – I so appreciate this perspective. Needless to say I’ve been thinking so much on this topic lately. Your mom’s account is really powerful.

  6. I really love two of the points you make. The first being that you don’t live your life for your kids and the other being that you have to make your health a priority. Our children learn from our examples so if our happiness is not a priority then theirs won’t be to them. Check out my blog for single mothers at http://www.moderndaysinglemom.com

    Kristy Casto

  7. Just as my husband {#2} and I put our relationship on the top of list by having date nights, an almost weekly lunch date, and weekends away, I calendar time with my daughter so she knows she ranks high on my list, too. I also get manis and pedis, regular facials and massages, and spend at least an hour a day drinking from a deliciously good book {albeit at 5 am, but still}. Just as when I was a single mom, I know the best learning happens in the environment of doing and observing — so I encourage my daughter to spend time taking care of herself, having fun, learning and growing. A happy mom raises happy kids, single or not.

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