I Reject The Idea That A Woman Needs To ‘Protect Her Marriage’ From Her Children

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happy marriageThere’s an odd discussion in motherhood circles that I’ve never quite understood. It centers around the idea of balancing your role as a partner and your role as a parent, as if the two parts of your life are sitting at separate ends of a teeter-totter, battling for dominance. As if you can either have a healthy marriage or a close relationship with your kids. It manifests into, “Which do you put first?” debates and recently, tips on how to save your marriage from your children.

Over at HuffPost Parents, Jackie Morgan MacDougall writes about the ways to protect your happy marriage from the scourge that is parenthood. Because obviously, your kids are the jealous ex-girlfriends of romantic comedies, scheming for ways to tear you and your spouse apart. Her advice is standard fare, if punctuated by a few seriously disturbing bits of sexism. She advocates that women, “Just say yes,” even if they don’t feel like having sex, to prevent their husbands from losing interest in them. Because obviously sex is all about men’s desire and adult males are incapable of controlling their sexual urges or caring about their partners.

But aside from my serious issues with MacDougall’s so-called advice, I refuse to jump on board with the premise at all. I do not think that healthy relationships need to be “protected” against kids. I do not believe that women need to choose which aspect of their family they care about more, their spouse or their children. And I seriously do not understand why women keep having these arguments, when men are never asked to consider whether marriage or children “comes first.”

Call me crazy but I believe that being a good partner to my husband makes me a better mother. And vice versa, by the way. I don’t think that being dedicated to my family is an either/or scenario. I prioritize my entire family, every part of it, above anything else. There’s no teeter-totter in my home.

As mothers, I would think we all know that love is not a limited supply. Just like you don’t stop loving your first child to make room for your second, loving your husband doesn’t take away from the love you put into motherhood. And simply acknowledging this does a lot to negate the arguments about which priority comes first or which person your love more.

Now, there is a real element of time management when it comes to strengthening your relationship with your partner and your children. Yes, there might be a time when you have to choose between date night and a kiddie cuddle fest. But if you don’t look at these decisions as mini-tests to your commitment for either marriage or parenthood, the events of your evening are going to be a lot less stressful. Sometimes you’ll choose date night and sometimes you’ll choose family movie night and it won’t really matter which way a specific evening goes.

My husband loves and appreciates the time that I put in volunteering in my daughter’s classroom or playing with her in the evenings. And honestly, every time he goes out of his way to do something special for our daughter or to teach her something interesting, I fall a little more in love with him. Our shared experience of involved parenting helps make our marriage and our family stronger. Just like investing time in our relationship makes us happier, healthier parents and role models for our little girl.

Mothers need to stop wrangling over which priority comes first. I am tired of hearing, “Your kids are going to move away and your spouse is the one you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with,” or “You can get a divorce, but your kids are your’s forever.” Maybe we if stop pitting these two important parts of our lives against one another, we wouldn’t have to worry about losing either one.

(Photo: ImageryMajestic/Shutterstock)


  1. Justme

    March 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I think the balance of marriage, parenthood and all the people involved is so incredibly fluid, and therefore impossible to choose definitively one way or the other.

    Right now my daughter is in the midst of tantrums of epic proportions over the smallest stuff. My husband’s select basketball season just started up and is demanding a lot of his time. Our focus is appropriately handling our daughter’s tantrums and keeping the house running as smooth as possible given the time constraints we all feel ourselves under. Working on our marriage is not the priority this week. But….life will slow back down, our daughter will learn to manage her emotions and we will be able to turn back to each other and spend some quality time together.

    There are times when we are coasting and able to strike that perfect balance of family, marriage and individual time. And then there are those weeks like this one when I’m seriously contemplating running away and joining the circus.

    But the important thing is – no one person or relationship is ALWAYS more important than any other. It just depends on the season of life and the specific needs of each individual.

    I hope that makes sense.

  2. Blooming_Babies

    March 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I couldn’t agree more and I think you actually answered your own question right here. “I do not think that healthy relationships need to be “protected” against kids.” If you have a healthy relationship then time management may be an issue but not this balancing of love nonsense.

  3. Courtney Lynn

    March 27, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I agree that neither should be a competition. It should never be one or the other, however, I do not want a lonely empty nest.

  4. AS

    March 27, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    I think these articles stem from all the women (and even men) that “warn” you when you are pregnant that you are never going to have sex again and date nights will be a thing of the past and then judge you for using sitters, etc. I actually know women like this. (Seriously, 5 years since you’ve had sex?!)

    However, you are correct, these articles don’t need to be about choosing one over the other. It has to be a blend. If you constantly do chose one over the other you are either going to be a crappy mom or a crappy partner.

  5. Blueathena623

    March 27, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    I dunno, I agree and disagree with this. My husband and I are going to start counseling soon because we have lost the ability to be spouses after we had our kid. Previously we had to split our non-work time between couple and alone time. As of right now, we do kid and alone time — neither of us have been very good about carving into our alone time to be a couple. However, I don’t think that’s exactly what the article is talking about. But here is a choice thats been weighing on my mind recently — when should I go back to work? When I quit 7 months ago to be a SAHM, the idea was that I would stay home for a long time. However, I’ve already started looking for jobs, and yeah, a decent part of the reason is to help my marriage. So I am kinda having to choose between my kid and my marriage, and it sucks.

    • Victoria

      March 27, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      This is so true. Also, I think it isn’t so much ‘protecting your marriage from your children’ as it is finding time and energy to make your partner a priority, instead of constantly leaving them on the back burner to fend for themselves. It’s easy to give the frazzled nerves, the dirty house, the demanding, squalling infant all the available resources…and then find that you’ve starved your primary relationship to death. Good luck with going back to work (not sarcastic), I think stepping outside the home can clear your head, and the counseling might help stabilize things.

    • Valeri Jones

      March 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      I agree with Victoria on the going back to work thing. I quit my job when I first got pregnant because I had some complications and my husband had a good job at the time so I didn’t need to work. I stayed at home with our son and it really took a toll on our marriage. The isolation that I felt being at home with just the baby all day was so depressing. My son was colicky and my nerves were so frazzled that by the time he got home, I just wanted to hand the baby to him and have some “me” time, completely forgetting that he had just worked a 10 hour day and probably just wanted to rest. We barely talked unless it was about bills or baby. But when I went back to work, everything changed. I know it sounds crazy, but having that time away from home is really refreshing to my mind and body. I don’t get as frustrated with the kids or my husband as easily, because I have learned to appreciate the time with them more now that I have less of it. And I am more sympathetic to how my husband felt when he came home from work and the house was a mess and the baby was screaming. I really do wish you the best in everything, and I genuinely hope things turn out for you as well as they have for me.

  6. Carly

    March 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you! Our 11-month old daughter sleeps in our room and comes on our dates, and our marriage is stronger than ever. We have alone time either together or apart when she sleeps, and both of us work full-time. I have never understood the ‘competition’ between kids and marriage, and when I bring it up with friends they just look confused because their children are their whole lives.

    • Victoria

      March 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Hm. I understand that different things work for different people, but I think I’d be uncomfortable sublimating my womanhood into motherhood. I feel if you can’t have date night without making it a you-lover-baby-threesome, you’ve lost something special.

    • Victoria

      March 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Hm. I understand that different things work for different people, but I think I’d be uncomfortable sublimating my womanhood into motherhood. I feel if you can’t have date night without making it a you-lover-baby-threesome, you’ve lost something special.

  7. Tea

    March 27, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    I think it really depends on your family dynamic. Some people mesh partnership and family and work all together harmoniously, some people compartmentalize them, and some people dive completely into just one of them and neglect the others. I think different people have different ways of finding or not finding balance. I am someone who tends to think Marriage should come first just a bit, or at least never go on the back-burner, mostly because I grew up in a household that was always teetering on the edge of divorce, and I remember how tense things were, and how little I learned about what a healthy relationship looks like.

    It sounds like you do handle it well and have a healthy relationship, but some people don’t, and little problems get worse as they continue to be ignored and set aside because something else is deemed more pressing. Some people (Often moms) need to be reminded that they should remember to have a date night, or have sex, or have some children away time, just like some people (Often dads) need to spend more time with family and less time with work or outside activities. Different people have different ways of needing to find balance.

    And for some people, the ” Just give in and have sex” thing can work, too. I actually had this agreement with my partner for a while, since I tend to lose my drive when stressed out. We tend to do the opting-out clause as being if you find yourself just not getting into it, then we call it quits and have no hard feelings. More often than not, I end up enjoying myself. I’ve never seen it as “Horny men need sex or else they’ll leave” for us, it’s always been that one of us is craving intimacy and closeness, and wants to show affection, not just knock one off.

  8. Rachelle

    March 28, 2013 at 11:44 am

    It’s important to remember that it took two unique individuals to create a couple, and it took that couple to create a family. When one of those elements is weak, the whole is weakened. So just as it’s important to be good parents to your child, and a good partner to your spouse, you MUST be your own advocate first and foremost. I’m learning that now.

    The other night I was taking the pulse of my life after having had a couple nights out with friends and co-workers (yes, I’m lucky, my husband works at the same agency as me and asked me if I’d like to go out with our coworkers to celebrate one of my team members birthdays since I was on mat leave and didn’t see them often, and he would come home instead to spend the evening with our daughter and put her to bed.)

    That night, I felt so rejuvenated, happy and outgoing. My coworkers had even remarked at how they hadn’t seen me that energetic in almost a year. I had found my mojo, and my husband got his girlfriend back that weekend as a consequence. It then dawned on me: for me to be the girlfriend, the wife, and the Mom I want to be, I need to approach it the same way I did when I wanted to BE a girlfriend and wife and Mom: I had to allow myself to BE myself. That meant doing things for me that made me feel good, even if it meant getting a babysitter or letting Mr. spend quality time with our kid. That way my husband would be happy because I would get in touch with my mojo, my daughter would benefit because she would get the best version of her Mom, the happy and outgoing version, and my employers would get a new and improved version of me when I returned to work.

    I’m still working out the details, of course, it’s not an infused science, but my husband has been my partner since the beginning and he gives me the space I need to grow, just like I do for him. We are two parts of a whole and share responsibilities. And in regards to keeping our love life alive, I’ve even told him that if ever he wanted some “mojo time” and my engine seemed stalled, that he shouldn’t wait for me to start revving it on my own. Sometimes, there’s nothing hotter than your man cleaning the kitchen and putting the baby back in bed so that he can have more time to spend on me (pun intended, hehehe). And it works so far. 😉

    Give your partner what you expect from him, and your child reaps the benefits.

  9. notorious

    March 29, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I hate those articles too, but for a different reason – they always bring out the judgmental people from both sides and everyone leaves feeling badly about some of their choices.

    I do want to say though, that while love is unlimited, energy is not. I think a lot of times that is the choice that parents have to make – where to spend their energy and attention. One person can only be stretched so thin, you know?

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  11. meteor_echo

    April 5, 2013 at 6:33 am

    This is why I’m not having kids. I don’t want to be the second person in my partner’s life; call it selfish, call it whatever.
    Besides, unconditional love as a concept disgusts and terrifies me. You’re given a person and obligated to love this person, even if you don’t like them. To me, it sounds like your opinion does not matter at all, so none of this fuckery for me.

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