Why We Get Uncomfortable When Women Prioritize Their Partners Over Their Children

by Hilary Christian

In a recent interview, singer Kelly Rowland spoke openly and honestly about the joys of motherhood and marriage. When speaking specifically about how she balances marriage and being a mother, Rowland said she prioritizes her husband over their baby since her husband was in her life first. According to Rowland, parenthood shouldn’t change who people are. She boldly stated, “My priority is my husband first. That’s how the baby got there.”

I didn’t think too much about her comments and was mostly just happy to see black love and marriage being celebrated. However not everyone was thrilled about her declaration as evidenced in the comments sections of a few sites that posted about the cover story. Some flat out disagreed with Rowland and others admonished her for seeming to not prioritize her child stating that she is “crazy” to put a man before her kids and may even be suffering from postpartum depression. The backlash seemed a bit over the top and made me wonder why exactly so many women seem to be uncomfortable with this concept.

The topic of prioritizing the husband over the children first made headlines ten years ago, when writer Ayelet Waldman wrote a New York Times essay declaring that she loved her husband more than she loved her children. Mothers around the world were shocked and Waldman even appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to defend herself. Many could not understand how she could not prioritize her children since the general belief about motherhood is that the children always come first. One could even argue that since the parents make the choice to have children, it is their responsibility as parents to now make them a priority and raise them until adulthood.

Waldman disagreed, asserting that the relationship between a husband and wife should always be the focal point. Far too often, she believes, once children come into the picture, the marriage takes a backseat. Mothers coddle their children, putting all of their passion and attention into them, leaving nothing for their husbands to come home to at the end of the day. A recent study of more than 5000 unfaithful men found that the majority of men cheated after having children, with many pointing to the lack of attention from their wives as a reason.

Being a divorcee myself, I do not proclaim to be an expert on marriage. My marriage failed for reasons I’ll only discuss over a bottle of a glass of wine. In hindsight I acknowledge that there were times when I focused more attention on our child than on my husband. Although it was not a conscious decision, I would like to believe that had our relationship as husband and wife been stronger (and his penis hadn’t been so wayward), I wouldn’t have put my ex-husband second, and sometimes even last.

Waldman also suggested that some mothers begin to develop unhealthy emotional entanglements with their children which could be detrimental to the child’s emotional development. This occurs often between mothers and their sons, with the mothers treating their sons as they would a spouse. It is fact that children take up a great deal of time, energy, attention and love. But focusing all of your emotional passion on your children can cause you to neglect the very relationship that brought those children into existence.

The notion of a wife putting her husband first is not a new concept. Historically, the traditional role of the husband is the head of the household and provider for his family. In some cultures it is common practice for a woman to submit to her husband, placing his needs above all others, including her own. The onset of the feminist movement in the late 60’s began the shift in views about gender roles as women started to question the need to marry. While feminism has improved the trajectory of women professionally, and allowed us the right to choose what we do with our own bodies (which is still questionable), it seems to have had the opposite effect on male-female relationships and shifted the perceived role of women in marriage.

That is not to assert that feminism is to blame for the breakdown of the institution of marriage. In many ways feminism has helped to redefine traditional roles within the family with some husbands taking on more responsibilities at home. But there seems to be a warped I-can-do-bad-all-by-myself notion of independence that was born out of a misguided—albeit well intentioned—kind of feminism that perhaps did more harm than good. Yes, women are powerful, strong and just as capable as men. We can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and so on. Women can do it all.

But do we really want to?

Admitting that we want and desire a committed relationship does not undermine our own independence and accomplishments as women. But being able to have a loving and supportive partner to share in those successes and accomplishments is even nicer.

Juxtaposed to feminism is this so-called “bae” culture, in which men are openly unfaithful, fathering several children by different women, side chicks act like main chicks, main chicks rarely become the wife, and baby mamas are the norm. It’s no wonder the idea of prioritizing a man before your child can seem blasphemous. Many of us have no idea what a healthy marriage looks like. Hearing Kelly Rowland, a successful, independent woman herself, talk passionately about placing her husband before her baby, may make some women uncomfortable because they can’t possibly relate to having the kind of relationship that even allows for that type of love.

So, should the marriage be a priority? I would say yes and there is evidence to support this idea. Your husband isn’t just some man or the latest boo in your life. He’s your partner, and deserves as much love and attention as he can stand. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love your children, it just means you see the importance of cherishing the man who you deemed worthy of being your partner for life. Plus without him, you wouldn’t have those little rugrats in the first place.

A happy and healthy marriage sets the foundation for a happy and healthy family. When children see their parents in a loving, committed relationship they’re given a model of how marriage is supposed to be. It also helps them to be less self-centered if they can realize, at a young age that the world and their parents do not revolve around them.

As with most things in life there should be a balance. Any parent will attest that raising children is hard work and most of us can’t afford nannies and housekeepers to help with the daily tasks of managing a household. However, when the husband and wife equally share in the childrearing and household chores, it frees up more time that can be put toward the relationship, long after the kids are asleep. For instance, Waldman claims her husband cooks, cleans and cares for their children at least 50 percent of the time which probably explains why she is still married, still happy and still stands by the statements she made over a decade ago

For years Essence Magazine has featured love stories of recently engaged and married couples in an effort to celebrate black love and I am here for it. We live in a culture that doesn’t seem to value marriage anymore. But celebrating marriage is a good thing and it doesn’t make us any less the independent feminists we see ourselves as. Hell, even Beyonce shed some of her Independent Woman image after she became Mrs. Carter. Now she sings love songs about their relationship and mutual love for surfboarding, all while being a devoted mother to little Blue Ivy.

There is no denying that the bond between a mother and her child is unbreakable and parents must invest as much as they can into loving, nurturing and providing for their children. But the investment you make in your marriage can also pay dividends. When the day finally comes for your children to leave the home—which is what they are supposed to do—the last thing any couple wants is to stare into the face of their beloved spouse and wonder why in the world they married each other in the first place.

Photo: Shutterstock

Hilary Christian is a freelance writer and fundraiser from Chicago who is a regular contributor to For Harriet, and her work has also been featured in Wild Sister Magazine and Corset Magazine. Check out her blog, follow her at @HilChristian and like her Facebook.

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