Attending to my children’s needs means, sometimes, choosing between their needs and my own.
As a mother, this is often the most difficult place to be.
At night, I want to cuddle into my husband and be there in that space with him completely, but I’m watching one kid on the baby monitor and, equally, am always aware that another, older child is sleeping soundly too. In other words, my kids are always on my mind.
To be fair, I’m the sort of person who has a busy mind. (Actually, the reason I practice yoga is not because it comes easily to me to be mindful and to stay present within my life, but because it doesn’t—so I know I must need the practice.)
My husband, however, has a much easier time of placing his attention on the task at hand, be it parenting when the kids are up and alert or, alternately, paying attention to me in that twilight of the evening, and the only couple hours that we currently have alone in our life.
There’s an active debate these days, over putting your children or your spouse first. Let me declare boldly that I loathe this debate.
Again, as a mother, we are already all too eagerly put into difficult positions, and intricate dance routines of “wearing our own air masks” and, well you know, being good mamas, and now I’m supposed to also have to choose between the man I love and my kids? Let me tell you who will win every time, and it probably won’t, unfortunately, make me popular.
My kids. Spoiler alert—my kids will win every time.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t hold my marriage high up in my heart, or that my husband is any less important to me than the day we said our “I do’s,” but what it does mean is that, in choosing to have children with him, I make them my priority.
If this contemporary notion that our kids will one day thank us for placing them beneath our need for coupledom is true, then my kids will be disappointed.
Because I am consciously choosing to love their dad, but to be as OK as possible with the reality that our evenings out and our passionate make-out sessions and our fill-in-the-blank, single couple needs are temporarily on hold.
My husband told me that he wouldn’t want to be married to anyone who would place him above his children. He values the way that I want to be there for our kids.
While this doesn’t mean that either of us judge parents who have date nights and a handful of babysitters to choose from—and if there is any judgment it’s only slight envy—this does mean that I have accepted that with two children under 5 years old, my “date nights” are often going to involve cranky dining companions and food splatters on my dress.
I took my children to a wedding recently and was surprised when another guest displayed disapproval. Although my kids were fully welcomed, and just as invited by my friend getting married as she was, I, apparently, should have chosen the babysitter option and declined their “kid menu” invite. I did not.
Instead, I relished that my kids were invited. I adored buying my daughters new dresses when I wore one already hanging in my closet. One of my favorite things about my childhood was dancing with my dad at his cousins’ weddings and, these days, I both live nowhere near family and, perhaps more importantly, haven’t been invited to weddings lately where kids are welcomed so readily.
We had a blast. All four of us had a wonderful evening.
My girls were both so well behaved and we even made it beyond my goal, which was to make it to one song on the dance floor before they crashed. The baby might have been asleep on my shoulder, but my husband, my 5-year-old and I all danced our behinds off on the wooden parquet floor before calling it a much later night than is typical.
Would I have loved to slow dance all night with my lover? Absofuckinglutely.
Would I have left my kids home if their grandparents lived closer to watch them? I’ll be honest—maybe.
But I’ll answer one thing with total certainty: that night was memorable for all four of us, and anyone who wasted their breath wondering if my kids wouldn’t behave or would be burdensome to me can go ahead and exhale.
I love being a mom.
Although I experience more frustration and worry and difficulty in this relationship than I ever have before, including my over 21-year relationship with my partner, I experience, too, more love and affection than I thought possible.
There’s nearly no greater feeling in the world than watching my social-butterfly 5-year-old experience her girlish dream of dancing at a lavish party in her chosen-by-her yellow dress—and dancing so little-kid vivaciously that I’m glad I put bicycle shorts on underneath it.
My kids will grow up and they may or may not thank me for putting my relationship with their dad at a very close second to their own upbringing. None of us can properly predict how our kids will view us as they age, although, surely, we can speculate.
So I’m doing what feels right to me—I do what feels right for my husband and myself, because we are parenting these two tiny people together.
What feels right is making sure that both mine and my husband’s separate and together needs are met, while recognizing that my girls only have one childhood, and that this is it—and I want to be there for it.