The Kids Will Be Alright
Eight years ago, The New York Times ran Ayelet Waldman’s essay “Truly, Madly, Guiltily” in its beloved “Modern Love” column. And all hell broke loose. Waldman ignited the media and enraged mothers across the country with the statement that would bring her fame: “I love my husband more than I love my children.” Here it is in context:
“I do love [my daughter]. But I’m not in love with her. Nor with her two brothers or sister. 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. It is his face that inspires in me paroxysms of infatuated devotion. If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.”
I can clearly remember sitting in a cafe in 2005 reading this article and thinking she sounded totally insane (I was nowhere near having children at the time). And now that I have children, I still think the essay went way too far. Unlike the picture she paints, I can honestly say that I am in love with my children…it’s just (thank god) a different sort of love than what I feel for my husband.
But despite not identifying with her tone and denunciation of the other moms in her “Mommy and Me” class, re-reading the essay now that I am a mother, I actually do like the spirit of it…the reality of it…the raw and brutal honesty of it…the fact that she said things we’ve all likely thought and wondered about but feared saying out loud. The dawn of raising kids (and that’s all I can speak to at this point) is beautiful and amazing and exhausting and terrifying and hopeful and frustrating and so, so, so, so, so busy. And while there are seemingly endless resources to help parents keep their children happy and shining and singing and well, there seems to be a dearth of resources focused on keeping parents well. Which matters because if parents aren’t well, kids pay the price.
Shortly after having my second child, I informally surveyed my friends who had multiple kids about what was most difficult about the transition. The unanimous response was “I now have absolutely no time for myself.” I’ve seen this manifest in lots of ways. Some parents stop exercising after having kids. Others don’t read as many books as they used to. Others file away their passports for a few years. Others quit making real meals and put the pizza man on speed-dial. Others put work they love on hold. Others go through life in a constant state of stress. And the list of sacrifices goes on.
I’m not trying to paint a picture of a life with kids that doesn’t involve sacrifice or ruthless prioritization, nor am I complaining about those beautiful and necessary and character-building and selfless choices. But I do think parents sometimes make more concessions than they need to, not because they want to, but because they feel like they should and because there aren’t great examples of people hanging on to their own lives when the become parents. I firmly believe that parents have greater capacity to be better parents if they have strong relationships with their partner, their friends, and most importantly, themselves. For example, I’m a much more fun mom after a workout than if I miss one. I’m more patient with the kids if I’m feeling deeply connected to Sean. I’m able to better stay in the moment with them when I’m at peace with myself.
So as I think about what it means to be “well” now that I’m a parent, it’s about taking care of myself, not just my kids. It’s about getting on a plane with my husband because adventure was the foundation of our relationship. It’s about missing breakfast sometimes because I want to go to spin class. It’s about letting the kids play on their own while I talk to my mom on the phone. And bringing it full circle, it’s about pouring all of the joy and energy I get from those things that are “mine” back into my kids. It’s about bringing my kids into my life, not just inserting myself into their lives. It’s about building “our life.” And it’s about being in love…truly and wholly in love…with my kids, my husband, and myself.
In the end, I think Waldman sums it up well:
“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.”
What do you think? If you’re a parent, where have you found support to help you hold onto yourself and your relationships while raising children? What has helped you keep your body, mind, and relationships healthy during this phase of life?