I read a post the other day called ‘Why I Put My Husband Before Our Kids.’
It’s not the kind of thing I usually read, but I was curious, because I don’t, actually, put the Handsome Sidekick before our Offspring, and I wondered whether the article might have something interesting to say about why I should.
Apparently, it’s written in response to another article, which I also wouldn’t normally read, especially given the advertisements for other articles interspersed in the text (7 Sex Positions Men Love/I’m Cheating On My Husband… Am I A Bad Person?/How to Kiss Well …no, I am not making these up).
I’m not dismissing all relationship advice columns, of course—or parenting ones, for that matter. I also honestly believe that there’s a lot to be learnt from reading pieces you’d not normally read, especially if it’s not something you agree with. And usually, I’d just leave it at that, but what interested me is that Stephanie Jankowski, the writer of the Huffington Post article, mentioned how many vitriolic comments the original piece by Amber Doty had received. Doty was attacked for being ‘a bad mother’.
Now, there’s a nasty slur if there ever was one, isn’t it? And I totally disagree—I don’t think that saying you put your husband before your children makes you a bad mother. But I do think it makes you a bit of a glutton for punishment, and a less than stellar example to your children.
One of the points both Doty and Jankowski make is that their relationships with their husbands existed before the children came along, and hopefully, will continue after the children leave home. They advocate fostering that relationship so that, as a couple, they’re less likely to grow apart from each other. They also argue that focussing all attention solely on one’s children leads to spoilt, bratty children. And again, I’m on their side.
But I’m not about to start putting the Handsome Sidekick’s ‘needs’ before my children’s, because here’s the thing about the Handsome Sidekick: he’s an adult. We met when we were adults, and we spent ten years together before First Offspring was born. Of course, having a baby was an adjustment—it is for everyone, regardless of how long they’ve been together. But it was an adjustment which required both the Handsome Sidekick and me to work out what needed to be done, and to do it. It didn’t require me to put his needs first. It required for both of us to care for each other and our new baby. Together.
If women continue to talk about how they’re putting their husbands first, to protect their relationships, to reduce the risk of divorce, they are essentially using language which is writing the men out of the equation, and painting women into a corner from which we’ve struggled so hard to emerge. We should be talking instead about how we can better work together, as a team. We should be encouraging men to step up their game, instead of inviting them to leave everything to us. By talking about how we’re putting our husbands first–by placing them at the top of a the hierarchy of needs–at best, we’re excluding them from an enriching relationship with their children. At worst, we’re both infantilising them and disempowering ourselves.
On any given day, the needs of all the members of our particular family must be met. Some of them—usually the ones involving poo, or food—are more urgent than others. All of them have to be balanced. The Handsome Sidekick and I are in this together, picking up the slack for each other, modelling what it is to be parents and partners. We are demonstrating to our children that everyone has needs and that we’re supporting theirs and each other’s.
You could argue that I’m splitting hairs, and that it comes down to semantics, and you know, I’d agree with that, but the words we use matter. They matter to women, to men, and to children. I’d like to think that what what Doty and Jankowski are saying is that they want their children to realise that they have a relationship with the children’s father which is important. They seem to be saying that you should want your children to realise that sometimes they’ll have to wait, or that that Mummy and Daddy need alone time. That you shouldn’t devote yourselves solely to being your children’s doormat.
And I applaud that.
Just don’t use language that implies you should be your husband’s.