Last Updated on April 13, 2021.
What do you do when you’re forced into Choosing Between a Child and Spouse? Here’s our story, and how I tackle the conflicting priorities.
Ten years ago, in a charming little marriage ceremony in New Orleans (that took all of 10 minutes) I made a vow. For better or worse. In sickness and in health. At the time, I was so certain. My new husband would always be my priority, no matter what. I was so in love, that I couldn’t fathom anything more important than our marriage.
Then, it happened. We had a baby, and my heart grew. There was plenty of love to go around and everyone’s needs were met without so much as a second thought. So, we had another baby. And my heart grew more. We did all the obligatory things, like decide on a parenting strategy, and set up 529 accounts for our kids’ future education. And with our family complete, it seemed like we’d live a life of sunshine and rainbows until we raised our kids and found a quiet place to grow old together.
But there’s a secret no one tells you. Your heart may grow and grow. The love may pour out of you like water falling from Niagara Falls. But you’re only capable of so much. You have physical, emotional, and mental limits. And sometimes, you’re going to be faced with conflicting priorities. At some point, you’re going to have to make a choice: fulfill your vow to make your spouse’s needs your top priority, or let your maternal instincts drive and focus on your children’s needs. But you can’t do both.
And it sucks.
Sometimes it starts off small. You can either prep the coffee in the morning for your spouse who’s love language is acts of service… or you can hold your colicky baby, so she doesn’t spend 30 minutes crying. Of course, your spouse is probably willing to make this sacrifice for their child. And these sacrifices seem trivial.
But eventually there are big things. Heartbreaking things. This on-going pandemic has created big choices for us. According to his doctors, my immunocompromised spouse needs our family to be extra vigilant until there’s some level of herd immunity (in other words, see no one and go nowhere). My 5-year-old social butterfly needs to attend kindergarten. My shy, sensitive 3-year-old needs to see her grandparents.
How do you choose when your family’s needs are on opposite ends of the spectrum?
The conflicting needs are causing endless battles and constant stress for me and my spouse. My little ones don’t really understand the details of the situation, but it’s clear they are struggling too. They’re used to sleepovers at Nana’s house, playdates, and shopping trips to Target. They haven’t done any of those things in more than 8 months.
I don’t have an answer. I wish I did, because I know I’m not the only mom dealing these impossible dilemmas. But I have discovered one trick to help us through our rough patches.
Meeting my own needs first helps me problem solve, facilitate compromise, and get creative.
Before you say “Yeah. Right.” just hear me out. I know celebrities, mom bloggers and countless others preach about self-care like it’s a magic spell that will solve all your problems. It would be great if we could take time to really pamper ourselves. But you’d be hard pressed to find a mom who’s going to indulge in anything above her basic needs when she’s already struggling to take care of her family’s needs.
So, my “trick” isn’t to do anything fancy for myself before tending to my kids or spouse. Rather, it’s to check-in with myself to see if my basic needs are met. Have I had a meal (you’d be surprised how often I accidentally skip lunch)? Did I get enough sleep for my brain to function properly? Am I suffering from decision fatigue? Addressing the essentials usually helps me find workable solutions to my family’s conflicting needs.
In short, the answer to “Spouse or Kids?” is actually neither. Check in with yourself first.