I came across an article, Dear Young Husband: Please Give Your Wife a Break about how a late-season husband sees clearly all the care he receives from his empty nester wife in retrospect of raising their kids.
I appreciate his 20-20 hindsight, but, I will take the unpopular stance that NO!!!! She should not be a wife, FIRST. Not when they were raising the kids, not in their twilight years, not ever. She should be true unto herself. I feel that the best gift she can give him is to allow him to be true to himself, equally. The most loving marriages exist when interdependence is the binding contract, not dependence on spousal identities.
I feel triggered.
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to recover the parts of myself that I acquiesced into trying to play the part of traditional wife for nearly two decades.
I know how it looks to the uninitiated, those who put their identities into their marriages and thus cannot relate to those of us whose marriages have failed. I once perceived the partners of unsuccessful unions with a judgmental lens, because “it would never happen to me or my marriage.”
Maybe I feel triggered because the veil of misogynistic and dichotomous messages about marriage and the role I was supposed to uphold kept obscuring the reality that as partners we never stood a fighting chance, no matter how long we stuck it out. It wasn’t whether I was a good or bad wife, after all!
Can we all just wake up and realize that our spousal partners are adults?!
If you parent a child, step up and play ball! You are no longer what matters most. Women literally transform themselves as mothers. Why do their partners make a fuss? Why don’t their partners embrace the transformation since they helped create the child? EGO and parenthood are not congruent. Mothers have long known this, at least the nurturing ones who settle freely into the parental role of responsibility to a child who had no earthly say in the matter.
Even if they had sucky childhoods, as adults, our partners are responsible for themselves. It is not their spouse’s responsibility to meet their egoistic needs and unhealed childhood wounds.
The task for a woman to meet her own needs can be very difficult in motherhood due to the challenges of balance, yet patriarchal society can’t seem to embrace one absolute:
Motherhood trumps marriage. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Do you really think we were meant to have babies and put them SECOND?
Did our primal ancestors sign a contract that stated as much? Thank patriarchy for the contract which pressed that we must honor our husbands before our children.
How many people struggle with teens and young adult children? The reason for this is because the teens and young adults were put second as children. They grew up with unmet needs.
As adults, most continue to struggle for another decade before humility sidelines them into a sort of misaligned defeat, one where they throttle their lot in life according to a prescription wrought by societal expectations. If they achieve happiness, eventually, it isn’t because their spouses put them first!
To break this cycle of dysfunction, fathers/partners need to get a grip and make sure they help the mothers of their children with all of their being.
Yes, even if the mom stays home and the dad works, Dads are not off the hook. And yes, I realize there are complete role reversals in some families, but generally, it is the wife who struggles to find time for herself.
Mothers nurture 24/7 – I feel it is my responsibility to put my offspring first, just as it is my responsibility to be mindful of the air I breathe.
Ideally, partners share the load. Realistically, far too many don’t do so.
I raised children who were put second by their mothers. I say plural, because as a step mother, I bought into the patriarchal myth and I regret that I ever expected my step children to come in priority to my spouse only after me. Grave mistake. I could have spared them some of their childhood pain had I been more mature. I might have been more mature had generations before me met the needs of their children as the first priority.
But I am breaking that cycle of dysfunction now, with their little brother. I am managing to raise a child with empathy, compassion, and respect without patriarchy and authoritarianism. However, he will have the childhood wounds of divorce. Perhaps there is no perfect remedy beyond experiencing the pain to break the cycle for future generations.
The secret to a happy marriage comes from within oneself, not from the other person. Some couples get it right, some don’t. Often, it is ancestral dysfunction that leads to impossible unions. And it is often this ancestral dysfunction that keeps couples in marriage like prison sentences generation after generation until entire families mistakenly believe that the elderly couples modeled good marriages because they didn’t divorce.
Never mind in this scenario that grand children whose own parents divorced are themselves are asked to glorify the fact that their grandparents are still together after milestone decades. How does that compute?
How do you define a good marriage? How can anyone quantify the unique relationship between individuals? Our ideas about marriage are all wrong. Add Biblical notions to the mix and you’ve got belief. Belief can certainly limit perspective if we are not mindful.
Faith, love, compassion, trust, empathy, respect, and morality are all possible without belief.
My parents were married until the first one died after 60 years. Certainly, I celebrate their individual lives, but I was present for a good portion of their marriage and I say the reality is that both settled elements of their happiness, like divorcees, putting their wages upon the table. Certainly, they depended on each other in the end in familiarity and compounded personal investment, and perhaps the consolation prize for whatever they gave up exists in the framework of their legacy. I also saw, however, the emotional inheritance from their matrimony play out in dysfunctional ways decade after decade, with divorce after divorce among their progeny.
The ultimate commitment is to the offspring we bring into being, not to the marital contract. I am convinced that marriage is not holy and marriage is not necessary. I’ve been through the rodeo twice. I was brave enough both times to change paths, but bravery can come with the cost of extreme pain to many people. And in the long run, the children hurt the most (this is often true even when remaining married becomes the choice, which circles to the original point of adults who didn’t get their needs met in childhood).
Marriage is a contract. An agreement. But, we don’t go into it along those lines, do we? We don’t marry thinking, I will sign a contract with this person. No. We go into it with romantic notions of fairy tale promises and we divorce at rates that suggest the contract is antiquated. Like school, it is no longer effective for the majority.
Ego is a factor. Our parents raise us up, teaching us that we come second, in hierarchical order. But, we fight to be first. We fight to have our needs met as children. If we don’t succeed, we fight in our marriages for the same. The systems our parents raise us in mold us until most of us accept the paradigm ourselves and embrace the hierarchy.
The rare child that is not denied being a priority grows up with discernment and all of the positive attributes modeled to them during the years before full prefrontal cortex development. This is biological science. Their needs are met. They are mature. They do not need egocentric focus to survive.
If my life is going to mean anything at all, it will mean this: I looked within and found that my child is the most important and precious part of me that exists in the universe.
We are all fractal beings. We are not fated to be born, work, marry, and die.
In order to ebb and flow in life with continuous purpose and positive contribution, we must be given the chance to become ourselves from within the very origins of our birth so that we do not spend three to four decades back peddling against our passions and desires, trying to heal from our childhoods.
To change the world for the better, we must put our children first. Spouses should be able to step back from their egos long enough to raise their children. Like the author of the linked article, they can make up for it in their empty nest years, which will be all the richer if they’ve mutually supported each other in putting their children first. If a marriage cannot survive this process, it was never a strong marriage in the first place.
As I wrote this post, I googled a few things that made it clear how unpopular this position is, but I found a voice that could have been my very own in another article, Why I’ll always put my children before my husband… even though it’s already destroyed one relationship. The author, Lucy Cavendish makes the case thoroughly, authentically, and bluntly. Please click the link and have a read.
When a partner demands that a mother put her spouse before her children, the notion misguided and unfortunately may be rooted in misogyny, selfish egoism, and narcissism. No marriage can be threatened by putting children first without one of those three conditions being present, and really, all three are one and the same. In the presence of such demands, or even fear wrought by the belief that putting children first threatens marriage, the partner may be infantile and the marriage already under self-sabotage by either the partner or the system of belief that the partner or both parents embrace.