Several years ago, author Ayelet Waldman penned a New York Times "Modern Love" essay in which she unapologetically confessed that she loved her husband more than her kids. And the backlash was severe. Moms decried her statement -- bashing her for admitting that a mother could love her spouse more deeply than her children.
According to Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After (Running Press, December 2010), no one goes into parenthood thinking, "I can't wait for my marriage to end. Kids are the answer!" Yet putting the kids first does just that: It erodes the marriage.
"Staying happily married is a hard enough exercise as it is without stressing it even more," says Bowman. "The healthiest families have a love hierarchy that looks like this: Mom loves herself. Dad loves himself. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves Mom. Mom and Dad love the children."
It doesn't work in reverse though. "If you flip that hierarchy and put the kids at the top, it doesn't work. All of the energy gets sucked into caring for the children. Mom neglects herself. Dad neglects himself. They neglect each other. Their health suffers. They get stressed and mentally compromised. The marriage suffers, and eventually the kids do, too."
|The healthiest families have a love hierarchy that looks like this. Mom loves herself. Dad loves himself. Mom loves Dad. Dad loves Mom. Mom and Dad love the children.|
Bowman believes many of us confuse "love" as a verb with "love" as a noun. There is an instinctual love that we all feel for our children. We have an instinct to protect them. And most mothers will admit -- if pressed -- that they would take a bullet for their kids without thinking about it, but would think first before taking that bullet for their spouses. And some, depending on the health of the marriage, might not take a bullet for their spouses at all.
That's healthy and normal. Our children need our protection. Our spouses don't necessarily need us to hold their hands as they cross the street. That's why we feel that urge to protect our kids, but we don't feel the urge to protect our spouses. Our spouses are capable of protecting themselves -- most of the time.
Love as a verb, says Bowman, is different from what makes you protect your children. "When you love as an action, you are doing what you need to do to nurture both the person and the relationship. You can still know that you would take a bullet for your kids while, at the same time, putting yourself and your marriage first," she says. "There's a difference, but most women don't realize that. They think that putting themselves and their marriage first means that they don't care about what happens to their kids. It's really the opposite. If you care about the well being of your children, you will do everything possible to nurture your marriage."
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