Once I became a mom a little more than a year after getting married, I paid too little attention to my identity as Joe’s wife. This was not intentional. Most new moms will agree that figuring out how to keep a baby alive lends itself to putting a grown man on the back burner. But what happened to me happens to a lot of mothers: my focus as a mother almost always trumped my focus as a wife, even as I became quite proficient at mothering. My attention remained dominated by the needs of the children year after year. It’s not that I didn’t nurture my marriage at all. Quite the opposite. Being a virtuous woman and supporting my man were duties I took seriously. But being a wife isn’t just about duties, you know, like a job. It’s supposed to be about sharing life’s adventures or creating some adventure with the men we married.
I didn’t realize at the time how imbalanced I was in my household relationships and how it was making me miserable. My identity was always Mom and rarely Mary. I mothered all day and when Joe came home, I was mothering still. His interaction with me at home was always tied to my role tending to children in the evening, and of course his role as Dad. In this scenario, it’s so easy for both a husband and a wife to rarely lock eyes or connect on a heart level the way couples in love are supposed to do.
I’m sure many women even feel they love their children way more than they love their husbands. Ever felt that way? I would argue that we may simply invest way more in our relationship with our children. So while the dinner time/ bathtime/story time rituals of life with children cannot be ignored, neither can the date night/evening strolls/romantic getaway rituals of romantic love be ignored. When they are, whatever flame a husband tries to fan on some random evening may result in a firestorm of accusations, both spoken and pondered:
“Doesn’t he know how tired I am?”
“Someone’s pulling on me all day long.”
“I just want time to myself.”
The guilt many women feel after spewing out (or holding in) these excuses for rejecting a husband’s advances is what makes many of us miserable.
This dating our husbands thing is about so much more than the S word, however. It’s about our need for a break from the kids. It’s about getting dressed up and feeling attractive. It’s about nurturing our spouse’s personal dreams, hearing his heart, and sharing ours face to face without a kid in our face. It means fanning the flame of friendship and conversing about something besides how many times somebody pooped today. Even with older kids, it’s hard to act like a couple and have privacy. That’s why leaving the house and dating is a powerful way to avoid the misery of putting your children before your man.
To be fair, Joe and I had only one date in the year’s time between falling in love and getting married. No lie. It’s because we lived apart and our time together consisted of phone calls from Ohio to New Jersey. So we never even had dating memories or rituals or a context for doing fun things as a couple. Later, we were downright poor. We couldn’t afford babysitters or dinners or movies. So we didn’t go out on dates. Later still, when Joe’s job enabled him to travel to awesome spots like Jamaica, San Antonio, and Tampa, I refused to go because I didn’t want to leave the children. No lie.
I am not saying that Mother, Mom, and Mama will have unbridled freedom and flexibility to be away from her children. I am just saying Wife, Lover, and Friend will find a way, save up some money, or pack a picnic to be as devoted to the man she married as she is to the children she bore.
View from the top: Last summer, Joe and I packed a simple picnic of sandwiches and chips and visited a winery about an hour away. We sat on the grass and enjoyed chatting. I guess with gas, it cost us $20 to do this because we bought a bottle of wine. But we could just as easily have shared our picnic without making a purchase.