When Your Life Revolves Around Your Kids, How Can Your Marriage Survive?

parenthoodThere’s a new religion with members numbering in the billions and it’s gaining more converts every day. It’s called Parenthood but instead of Jesus, we’ve made our children the center of our universe. Fellow members are busily trying to keep up with the Joneses and their kids, filtering every second of their lives through the parenthood prism, completely forgetting that they are individuals with their own likes and interests that don’t have a damn thing to do with parenthood — and it’s ruining our marriages!

My ex-husband is a devotee to the parenthood religion and while I feel like my love for our children is certainly equal to his, I often find his passion overbearing and guilt-inducing. I recently booked a 2-night, 3-day trip to New York City to visit old friends. Of course, I have to coordinate parenting duties with him, so I ran the trip by him first to make sure it was cool. His response? A barrage of emails reminding me of all the kid activities I’d miss and questioning my vacation day usage because it was a “long time to go without seeing the kids.” He says he was only trying to be helpful in reminding me what I would miss while gone but really? In what world is two nights a “long time?”

My reply to him: People take vacations and don’t see their kids. It happens. Not to us. But normal people. Who vacation. 

But the damage has already been done. I feel like crap — and I shouldn’t! I work full-time, freelance write for three (soon-to-be four) websites, haven’t vacationed since I don’t even remember when and all I’m doing is driving three hours to New York City for two nights. While my kids are my number one priority, I question whether that’s how it should be. Perhaps if my ex and I had made each other priority number one it would have solidified our relationship. Because doing so, it could be argued, is simultaneously making our kids a top priority by setting a solid example of a healthy relationship and keeping the marriage intact. Not to mention the simple fact that time away from the kids helps parents rejuvenate and come back better than ever. But nooo. Instead we have a society chock-full of couples who have become so kid-centric they forget who they are and eventually lose touch with each other.

One of the best articles on parenting I’ve read recently appears on Quartz. In it, writer Danielle Teller, explains,”Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring.”

No kidding. I’m reading a book by Anna Quindlen that I advise every woman on the planet to read. In Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Quindlen talks about being a parent when the experience of motherhood transitioned from the hands-off, almost carefree style of our mothers to the helicoptering, over-scheduled, constantly stressed method that has infiltrated mothering in the 21st century.

We get married, have children, press pause on working on our relationships or do the bare minimum because we’re so exhausted focusing on the kids to the exclusion of everything else and then we turn around and wonder why the divorce rate is so freaking high. Uh, DUH.

Teller speculates that the religion first gained steam with those “Baby on Board” stickers for cars that became popular in the ’80s. “Nobody would have placed such a sign on a car if it were not already understood by society that the life of a human achieves its peak value at birth and declines thereafter. A toddler is almost as precious as a baby, but a teenager less so, and by the time that baby turns fifty, it seems that nobody cares much anymore if someone crashes into her car. You don’t see a lot of vehicles with placards that read, ‘Middle-aged accountant on board.'”

It brings to mind that hilarious Jerry Seinfeld bit where he talks about how we’re all too into this parenting thing:

The bedtime routine for my kids is like this royal coronation jubilee centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semi-circle of emotional support and I gotta read eight different moron books. You know what my bedtime story was as a kid? Darkness!”

We all know how exhausting parenting can be. Yes, yes … it’s fulfilling and amazing and wonderful, but it’s also a true testament to the selflessness of a human being and learning how much of yourself you’re willing to set aside so your children can take center stage. The thing I’m realizing is, maybe it doesn’t need to be that way. Maybe I can be a better mother by becoming more selfish and maintaining more of who I was before I had my kids. Not only will they grow up to be better adjusted people who don’t think the world revolves around them but they will have a stable, less stressed mom who isn’t always on the verge of losing her mind. And if parents can manage to do that together, can keep the fire alive while raising children, well then all the more security for the children who can then go on to find life partners in adulthood and raise their own self-sufficient human beings.
Image source: Monica Bielanko
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