For most mums there comes a moment in your life - sometimes many of them - when your loyalties are momentarily divided and you’re forced to choose between the needs of your kids or those of your partner.
Hopefully not in a burning-building-which-one-will-you-save-first way - God forbid - but more a situation where you have to decide who to prioritise. If you’re forced to choose, whose needs come first?
Maybe it’s a relatively minor decision, like where to go for dinner or what sort of holiday to opt for. If your other half hates camping but the kids love it, say, would you drag him along and expect him to sacrifice his perfect holiday plans for the sake of the kids? Or do you deny the kids their canvas adventure and fall in line with your other half’s holiday preferences, on the basis that Daddy already makes enough sacrifices for the benefit of the kids and thus deserves to call the shots when it comes to time off together as a family?
Or in a bigger decision, such as where to live - do you opt for near your partner’s place of work or where he’d like to own a house, or favour being close to the school that your child hopes to go to or near to where their friends live?
Those are pretty lame examples but you’re bound to have plenty of your own; a defining moment of motherhood which shines a light on your priorities and makes you realise that, when push comes to shove, you put the needs, wishes or interests of your partner before those of your kids, or vice versa.
So which is it for you?
Me, I’m pretty unashamedly in the ‘partner’ camp. I’ve never really thought about why that is the case until this topic of conversation came up at Playpennies towers and got the old grey matter ticking over. I guess I feel like my relationship with my kids is a given - they’ll always be my kids no matter what - whereas the relationship between my husband and I requires a different kind of investment.
I can understand why people might think that putting my husband first before my kids means that my children get some kind of second-rate ‘consolation prize’ place in my life, but actually they’re the ones who stand to benefit the most from having parents who invest in their relationship. In an indirect way, putting my partner’s needs ahead of my children’s is a way of safeguarding theirs above all else. If we’re happy and secure as a couple, then our whole family unit will benefit enormously from that.
I guess your answer to this questions varies greatly depending on what kind of partner you’re with, too. My husband’s a pretty selfless, giving character, so putting him ahead of my kids in my priorities doesn’t unduly affect the kids in any way that they would ever be aware of. If I had a demanding, difficult or - perish the thought - abusive partner, I am certain my kids needs would have the upper hand.
I should add that I can’t really say we’ve encountered concrete decisions where I’ve sacrificed the wishes of the kids for those of my partner, either. He’s the type of father who will generally plump for whatever would most benefit our kids. It's also more of a theoretical priority rather than a practical one, too. The moments in life where I actually put my partner's wishes ahead of those of my kids are extremely few and far between. But in the pecking order of my priorities, he was there first, and birthing babies didn't knock him off the top spot.
But one of the Playpennies team feels she’s in a minority among her friends because she’s unequivocal about the fact that her child comes before her husband, every time.
She’s heard critics point out that putting her kids first could end up doing them a disservice if her marriage didn’t work out, but that doesn’t change her feelings on the matter.
“I'd rather do a disservice to my husband than to my child,” she says. “It's not called unconditional love for nothing; no other relationship even comes close. My daughter comes before everyone and anyone, there’s never any question on that.”
In contrast, I know parents who feel that raising children in that manner makes the kids more likely to grow up with a sense of entitlement and an unrealistic sense of their own importance, which won’t stand them in good stead for a world where their needs will rarely ever be the most important consideration. If our job as parents is to prepare our kids for adulthood, does letting them grow up in a bubble where they always come first leave them ill-equipped for adult life?
This conversation got me wondering about my priorities. Are my husband and I too quick to drive home to our kids that they’re not the centre of the universe? What’s interesting is that our my-kids-before-my-partner member of the team has one child whereas I have three, and I’m sure that must change the dynamic when it comes to how much priority you give to your kids.
In our house everyone’s always having to share, compromise, and put other people’s needs first. It’s just part of the fabric of how we live as a party of five; my older children can’t tear around the house making a racket when the baby’s having a nap, and the baby’s not allowed to demolish the precious Lego structures that dominate the playroom. Our family life is all about give and take - for all of us, not just the kids - and I guess my partner and I feel that by prioritising one another above the kids, we’re actually taking care of everyone. In contrast, if the kids came first, we’d risk neglecting the one relationship that acts as the glue which holds the whole family together.
It’s ironic, though, that none of the mums engaged in this conversation even contemplated putting themselves first… chance would surely be a fine thing.
Joking aside, I’d even go so far as to say that knowing I am my partner’s number one priority in life, very closely followed by the kids, makes me a better mum. Motherhood is an altruistic calling at the best of times, and the knowledge that I am number one to someone, in the midst of a daily life that is entirely dominated by the needs and wants of little people - gives me the capacity to keep giving my all to my kids. Without that, I think I would be truly lost.
Image credit: Flickr/Ryan G. Smith