Comparing maternal and romantic love is like comparing apples with oranges
I’m sure that many people read the Huffington Post article doing the rounds yesterday. It was about a woman who said she loved her husband more than their children. It was a controversial sentiment, shocking even. But what immediately struck me when I read the piece was that the premise of her argument was quite wrong.
When our babies are born, the first instinct we have is to protect and nurture them. This is the basis of maternal and paternal love. You are both terrified and in awe of this tiny person whose entire existence depends upon your skill at being a parent. Yet when we start out, we possess no skills at all. Of course, with time, we start to get used to the concept. But it’s still bloody difficult.
To compare this experience with the romantic love that a parent has for their spouse is erroneous. It just isn’t the same. My husband doesn’t need me to protect and support him in the way our children do and because our offspring need us so desperately and demand so much from us, especially in their early years, the relationship we have with our partner inevitably takes a hit. There is really no getting away from this. Young children absorb so much of your time and energy that it could hardly be otherwise.
What I think the lady writing in the Huffington Post was suggesting was that she had ‘ring-fenced’ her relationship with her husband in an attempt to ensure that their romantic love was not damaged by the unremitting onslaught of parenting. In order to achieve this, she had upgraded the romantic love of marriage to be more important than the love she had for her children. However, I’m not entirely sure that such a distinction is necessary.
This kind of direct comparison is unhelpful and certainly damaging to a child’s sense of security and belonging. Every child needs to feel they come first. Your other half is a grown up and doesn’t require this sort of pampering any longer. This is simply a natural element of the life-cycle. When your children are older, there can be more time for the two of you as a couple once again. It can actually be quite nice to ‘rediscover’ your other half in this way.
Our children seem so vulnerable and tiny when they are little. There’s a reason for this. We are designed to feel responsible for them and worry about their safety every minute of the day. If I felt this way about my husband it would be slightly odd. He’s a grown man and doesn’t need me to fret about him in this manner. But actually, my children really do.
There’s no denying it’s tough. Several of my books explore the difficulties that emerge within families under the pressure of bringing up small children. But I do try to stress the fact that it gets easier, time passes and the burdens lessen. On the other hand, the writer PD James, in her later Dalgliesh novels, discusses the circumstances created for the child when its parents adore one another to the exclusion of others. As always, her observations are astute. The child feels isolated and diminished, as if he was an awkward and unwanted presence in his own home.
The truth is that as adults we can accept that we might get shunted down the pecking order when our babies come along, because we know how much we were loved ourselves as children. But our offspring can’t understand this concept, they aren’t designed to. They need to come first and as grown-ups we need to gain our reward from knowing that we’ve done our very best to make them feel this way.