Okay, well maybe he’s “number two.” After all — and at the risk of sounding like a household straight out of Austin Powers - I’m “number one.” And we probably all know what I mean by that: Regardless of what stage we’re at in life, we always need to take care of ourselves first — physically and emotionally — before we can take care of others.
But my husband does come before our kids in the rank order of important people in my life. That doesn’t mean that I won’t feed them before him, bathe them and not him, worry over them more than I worry over him, and generally tend to more of their needs than his (they have more needs). And it doesn’t mean that he and I wouldn’t both lay our lives down in a heartbeat in order to save them. But it does mean that my relationship with him is ideally deeper and more unchanging than the one I have with our children.
Time and time again in my years as a therapist, I have encountered dads who have confessed to me that after their first child was born, they felt like less of a priority to their wives or partners. Sometimes just by a little, and for some by a lot. But the majority felt as though they now came in “behind the kids.” Interestingly, this is not usually the case in reverse; the mothers I’ve known and worked with don’t complain about feeling that way with respect with their hubbies after kids. Although most men in this day and age do a huge — or in some cases equal or more — amount of parenting, to this day we as women still tend to ‘focus’ more than they do on our kids and to be more child-centric in our mindset after having them. Chalk this up to all the pressure from mom-ogling or just good old-fashioned evolution, but it’s a reality for most.
The big difference between husbands and children is that our husbands are our peers, whereas our kids are not. ‘Peers’ are people who have similar interests, age, background, or social status as our selves, so they are likely to influence our belief system and therefore our behaviour. Another word for them is Friends.
Aspirationally speaking, the primary relationship I have with my husband is friendship, whereas the primary relationship I have with my children is parent-ship. Sooner or later, my children will grow up and need me less, both physically and emotionally. And that’s the way it should be. I’ll teach my son and unborn child to make their ‘chosen ones’ a priority over their dad and I some day. As Bette Midler so sublimely says to Marisa Tomei when Tomei is upset that Midler always sides with her father: “And for good reason, because after your kids grow up, your husband is the one who stays.” As beautiful and poignant as the relationship between a parent and child can forever be, he’s the one you’ll go on more adventures with, and discover all the various stages of life with that you’ll hopefully experience together. And think about it: Do you really want your child to grow up to be the proverbial ‘mama’s boy’ or ‘mama’s girl?’ Those kids rarely end up as high functioning adults.
So leave the kids with the Grandparents — or anyone you trust (find somebody!) — once in awhile. Get away with your Hubbly here and there; take a genuine interest in his work, life, and dreams; don’t forget to spontaneously hug and kiss him every day as well. Years from now, you’ll be glad you did.