Marriage versus Motherhood: Which Should You Love More?

By September 6, 20105 Comments

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love.

– Song of Solomon 2:3-4

In 2005 an author named Ayelet Waldman became the center of a huge controversy after publishing an article in the New York Times entitled “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.

To read Waldman’s article in its entirety, click here.


  • Ashleigh says:

    Thanks for posting this. As a newlywed (about 6 months) Christian myself, I also struggle with this. I find it sad that single (especially college-graduates) and young married, but without children are so overlooked in churches.

    I love how she describes her children as “moons” and not as “suns.” Our priority should be on God, on our husband, and then on our children. An interesting book to look at:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • Jenn Pappa says:

    Hey Sharon,

    wow this post really spoke to me. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about this. I’ve really struggled moving back home over the past couple weeks and seeing all the families and mothers that sprung up while I was gone. It’s like everyone else moved on to their next phase of life and it has me asking myself, “Am I falling behind?” This post was a real encouragement to me to appreciate where I am right now. You rock and we miss you and Ike!


  • Betsy says:

    Thank you for this post! My husband and I are expecting our first child in just two weeks, and this is a timely reminder for me to continue to provide him with the love and affection he needs as we are adjusting to life with a newborn.

  • Kendall says:

    Thank you so much for this. I had tears in my eyes while reading it. Right now, my husband and I are both in Seminary, and it has been really difficult watching family and friends have children while we focus on school. So often, I feel like people look at me like I am not a real woman, and we are not a real family. Thank you for reminding me what is really important.

  • Lisa says:

    What a great post. As a Christian, 28-year old, never-married single with not only a college degree, but a Master’s as well, it was nice to be reminded that this world constantly places demands on women, no matter their current stage in life.

    As a single, it seems I am not a “woman” because I don’t have the title of “wife.” And as you pointed out, those with the “wife” title, struggle and feel left out because they don’t have the title “mother.”

    Even “Christian Culture” seems to forget that God hasn’t given every woman the season of marriage or motherhood and need to make an effort to not de-value our sisters in Christ over God’s current calling on their lives. Thanks again for the insight and reminder.

Leave a Reply