Prioritizing Marriage and Motherhood

Sharon Family, Marriage, Parenting 8 Comments

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I’m not gonna lie, until recently I thought the phenomenon called “pregnancy brain” was a myth.

Then I got pregnant, and now I just can’t use my brain the way I did before. This handicap has manifested itself most prominently in my inability to write. It’s been very difficult for me to gather my thoughts and think creatively. Thinking is just a lot harder.

As a result, you may have noticed that I haven’t been posting as often. Hopefully the second trimester will bring about some new mental clarity soon, but in the mean time I want to re-post something I wrote a year and a half ago. I forgot about it until a friend of mine mentioned it last week, and it’s one of those posts that is fun to read in retrospect.

My friend asked if I think that having a baby will change my thoughts on this. I don’t think it will because I think that, to a certain extent, the below priorities are scripturally aligned. However, I admit it won’t be easy!  Just the other day I said to Ike, “I feel like my heart has fingers on it, and those fingers are slowly wrapping around our baby tighter and tighter.” Hello idolatry! This is going to be a new kind of spiritual education, I’m sure.

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In 2005 an author named Ayelet Waldman became the center of a huge controversy after publishing an article in the New York Times titled “Truly, Madly, Guiltily” in which she confessed to loving her husband more than her children. Immediately, Waldman came under tremendous attack from angry mothers everywhere. The backlash was so intense that Waldman eventually appeared on Oprah to defend herself. Since then, Waldman has written an entire book on the topic, Bad Mother, that elaborates on the controversial subject, as well as detailing further “maternal crimes.”

In general terms, Waldman and I do not have a whole lot in common. Our moral ideologies are rather remote, but on this particular point I believe Waldman is on to something. Consider, for example, her explanation of why so many marriages fall into a sexual rut, stemming from the wife’s lack of sex drive:

“There are agreed upon reasons for this bed death. They are exhausted. It still hurts. They are so physically available to their babies – nursing, carrying, stroking – how could they bear to be physically available to anyone else?

“But the real reason for this lack of sex, or at least the most profound, is that the wife’s passion has been refocused. Instead of concentrating her ardor on her husband, she concentrates it on her babies. Where once her husband was the center of her passionate universe, there is now a new sun in whose orbit she revolves. Libido, as she once knew it, is gone, and in its place is all-consuming maternal desire.”

Waldman goes on to explain that while she loves her kids and would do anything for them, she is not “in love” with them the way some mothers are:

“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.”

I have to say that this hearty endorsement of marital love is a refreshing change from the standard conceptions of marriage in the media. Television and film tend to portray marriage as the place where sexual passion goes to die. Yet Waldman challenges this belief with a new conception of marriage–one full of romance and heat, as well as trustworthy companionship. And it all stems out of a highly prioritized marriage.

Although I don’t have children yet, I find that Waldman’s words are very much relevant to my life here and now. In the last 6 months I have struggled tremendously to accept God’s call on my life for the next few years. He has made it undeniably clear that I go back to school, and I will be here for the next 3-4 years. Although my husband and I still practice Natural Family Planning and are therefore open to the arrival of a child whenever he or she comes, any intentional effort at conceiving will be delayed for a couple more years. That is a hard reality for me.

Watching my other married friends get pregnant and have babies fills my heart with envy. I would love to be at that place right now. But God has other plans at the moment, so I must wait. And it is during this waiting, when I feel like something is lacking in me as a woman and us as a family, that I am reminded that a strong family rests upon a strong marriage. As Andy Stanley once said, ”Kids are a welcome addition, but you are already a family.”

We live in a culture that is bifurcated by two competing views of motherhood: one that completely devalues motherhood, and one that overvalues it, placing a woman’s entire identity in her ability to have and raise children. There must be a middle ground between the two, and Waldman re-centers us onto that balance. She is not promoting parental negligence, but instead a healthy re-prioritizing.

The main thing I would add to Waldman’s thinking is the even greater centrality of God. While the marital priority stabilizes the family, the God priority stabilizes the marriage–and every other aspect of our lives.

So while this chapter of my life is a difficult one in some regards, Waldman’s essay is a helpful reminder that this season can serve as an investment in the next. It is extra free time to focus on God and my husband before adding kids to the mix. And I plan to be a good steward of the opportunity. As Waldman beautifully concludes in her essay:

“And if my children resent having been moons rather than the sun? If they berate me for not having loved them enough? If they call me a bad mother?

“I will tell them that I wish for them a love like I have for their father. I will tell them that they are my children, and they deserve both to love and be loved like that. I will tell them to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him.”

I hope to say the exact same thing to my children one day….especially when telling them about their Heavenly Father.

Comments 8

  1. Mae Lynn Ziglar

    Sharon,
    Thank you so much for re-posting this. I have a 2-year old and a 2-month old and I find myself wrapping myself up in my kids’ world. I needed to hear this today!
    Mae Lynn

  2. Tim

    “While the marital priority stabilizes the family, the God priority stabilizes the marriage – and every other aspect of our lives.” Exactly! My wife and I have endeavored to pursue and promote God-priority with each other and with our kids throughout our marriage.

    On a related note – As I grew up I saw an interesting dynamic at work. My Mom and Dad were each other’s constant companions, and almost always brought us kids along too. Then Mom got sick and after a lengthy battle with cancer died when I was 14. Dad had lost his companion, and spent more time with us kids one-on-one than he might have if Mom had lived and we’d kept with the group family motif. I’ve sometimes wondered what type of relationship I would have had with Mom as I grew to adulthood and beyond, but I’ve much more often wondered how it would have changed the relationship I ended up having with my Dad.

    Tim

    P.S. Pregnancy brain really is a real condition, if my wife’s experience is any guide. She is way more together than I can ever hope to be, but during her pregnancies I at least had a chance to catch up a little bit. I still don’t think I ever drew even though, let alone pulled ahead.

    P.P.S. Guest-columns-r-us. Just let me know if it would help the workload during PG, and I’ll try to come up with something appropriate!

  3. Ingrid

    Excellent. It’s this idolatry of children that has given many of them the false idea that they indeed are gods and should be treated that way – at home, at school, at their jobs – and that it’s always someone else’s faulty who does not recognize their awesomeness and infallibility. Now That’s a bad idea. Thank you again Sharon!

  4. AnneB

    Before I read Waldman’s article, I couldn’t understand why she came under controversy, since to me it is natural and even important for us to be “in love” with our spouses and (needless to say) have a different type of love for our children. I always thought it was very important not to let my husband feel as if our children had “taken” his place and that we always made time for each other.

    After I read her article, however, I can understand why she was criticized, and although I understand what she was trying to say about being in love with her husband, I thought the “love” she describes for her husband seemed a bit Hollywood – “It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion.”

    The lack of God-centered love in her article and placing her husband in the center of her world didn’t inspire me either. She says, “But I can imagine no joy without my husband.” She is in as much dangerous ground as placing her children in the center of her world.

    So, while I do think Waldam has a good point about not making the children her center and also making sure that she cultivates that very important intimacy with her husband, I think she missed the point when 1.she thought she was alone in her thoughts and other mothers don’t care about sex at all, 2. her husband is the center of her joy, 3. she made being “in love” with a spouse the same as being “in love” with children.

    Just my two cents 😉

  5. Judy Allen

    Congratulations on your pregnancy, and I applaud you for thinking ahead about the impact a child will have on your marriage. (I don’t think that registered with me during those first few foggy-brained months!) Your post reminded me of an article I read in the Wall Street Journal last summer: The Divorce Generation, July 9, 2011, by Susan Gregory. (I’d link to it by I don’t know how to do that in a comment.) She described how she and many others of her generation were traumatized by their parents’ divorces and how desperately she did NOT want to inflict that on her own children. Ironically, she so desired to protect her children that she hyper-focused on them and, you guessed it, ended up divorced. It struck me as I read Gregory’s honest and insightful lament that parents who demonstrate love and commitment to one another provide precious security for their children. Waldman wished for a sociological study to prove just that. Maybe she read Gregory’s article. Good post – thanks.

  6. Post
    Author
    Sharon

    Anne B, I think you’re right. Though I think that Waldman was making an important point, she is definitely approaching it from a completely different worldview, and perhaps over-simplifying the situation some in the process. But I appreciate her starting the conversation–it’s a significant one.

  7. Jessica

    I love so many parts of this — thank you for reposting it! Being just freshly married (Yay! Tomorrow marks one week as a Mrs!) it was nice to see the thoughts woven throughout your post that relate to “putting off” motherhood. While I almost can’t wait to have kids, we’re both first year graduate students. Unless He thinks otherwise, it just isn’t our time yet. I really love the quote by Stanley, which helps put all of this in perspective, and makes the waiting a little easier!

    In regards to motherhood, I’ve watched women enter it both ways. I think the challenge is in learning to love each member of our families fairly and appropriately, without idolizing either husbands or children. I have personally witnessed more problems in families where the woman became focused solely on her children, and in a sense began “forgetting” to love her husband.

    It’s written as a reminder to us that the husband should be the head of the wife, and that continues even after children enter the family. In turn, children have their own place to fill in the family tree. When a woman loses focus on this hierarchy, I’ve watched her attempt to lead her husband “for the sake of the children” into very dangerous territories. While we as parents should love and care for our children, we don’t lose the title of wife as soon as we gain the title of mother. It is our challenge to balance both roles and perform all of our duties!

    I love how Proverbs 31:10-31 discusses a woman. She is both a mother and a wife, and this section has an interesting perspective on the priority and practicality of both of these roles.

    I agree with all of you that Waldman is also missing the point, but I think that she is mindful of this hierarchy, and I appreciate that part of her view.

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