Strollerderby writer, Jeanne Sager, has been moonlighting this week over at Your Tango, where she’s let it slip that she loves her child more than her partner. If you read her thoughtful piece, you’ll find it’s not a bit scandalous, alas. Instead, Jeanne reasons that the love of a parent for a child is greater because the parent produced the child and therefore the two can never be separated:
“But perhaps the biggest difference lies as much in the past as it does in the future. With a child, you will always be her parent. Without me, there is no her. With a spouse, there is still that life before you met, the period of time when you were two distinct people. I am still me without my husband. Our daughter isn’t.”
I could take issue with this sentiment as an adoptive mother, as it seems to make parental love dependent on the biological connection between a parent and child. I love my children as much as anyone loves her children, but they definitely would exist without me. In fact, they’d probably be as lovable and wonderful with or without me. I know them as someone who met them and got to know them after someone else’s body created and produced them. Even though they came to me days after birth, directly from the hospital, they are the strangers I came to know and love (admittedly, at first sight).
But I don’t think you have to be an adoptive mother to think differently about the love of a parent for a child than Jeanne’s explanation. I think lots of parents feel their children are strangers even if they grew them in their own bodies for nine months. Not every parent falls in love with his or her child at first sight and that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean the love that does grow is any less.
I also don’t think Jeanne means to diss parents–adoptive or biological–who experience falling in love with their children in a different way than she describes. I think it is just really hard to explain parents’ love for their children. Most parents describe an overwhelming instinct to protect their babies at first sight, even if it didn’t feel exactly like “love.” And yet, it is one of the most powerful feelings humans ever experience. And “love” stands in for powerful feelings in our culture.
I don’t know how useful or important it is to compare the feelings one has for a partner and the feelings one has for a child. At different moments, I find I prefer the company of one or the other, and then at other times, I delight in all of us spending time together. But as with close friends and family, I get very different things from my relationships with my partner and my children. My children are dependent on me and I feel the obligation to care for them. This can create a bond of titanium. My relationship with my partner is unfettered by obligation and depends instead on mutual desire, which can make it more “fun” at times than parenting.
I think the two things are very different. I honestly couldn’t tell you who I love more–my children or my partner. If they were all drowning, I’d reach to save the children, but that is as logical as it is love-based. My children would need my help whereas my partner could probably (okay definitely–she’s a former swim star!) make it to safety on her own.
What about you? Do you find the comparison useful? If so, who comes out on top?