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Why I Love My Child More Than My Husband

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Jeanne Sager: When your three-year-old climbs onto your lap and asks, "Do you love me the best, Mama?," what do you say? "Well, yes, but not as much as I love your Daddy?" I don't think so.

woman hugging daughter with jealous husband in background

And yet, when I got pregnant, I received some not-so-gentle advice from the older women in my life: "You're going to love this baby more than life itself. Just don't tell your husband," said one. "You don't want to neglect your husband, dear. Let him know he's still the most important person in your world," said another.

I didn't take their arguably sage advice. Here's why.

Since the 1980s, at least two dozen studies have posited the idea that the quality of a marriage drops once the couple has kids. These studies say that marital dissatisfaction comes from parents' loss of freedom and their childless status quo. And when kids leave the nest, studies show that parents are happier than at any other time in their relationship. Although they miss their kids, they revel in their new freedoms and revisit old marital activities, sometimes ones they haven't experienced since before the first child was born.

All this should have terrified me and my husband when we started The Talk -- the one about trying for a baby. After all, I'd heard for years that kids could break a marriage. But instead, my husband and I talked about money. My biggest worry was that the mounting cost of diapers would revive our old checkbook quarrels, so we agreed not to fight about spending on the baby.

Research shows that parents who plan ahead avoid the relationship-ruining discord the old studies talk about. A recent study by professors at the University of California at Berkeley found a flaw in the bulk of the "kids ruin marriage" studies: they didn't take into account parental mindset before baby made three.

Parents who disagreed about making a baby, parents who were complacent about the process, and parents who never had the chance to plan (the so-called "oops" pregnancy) were much more likely to struggle post-birth.

Professors Philip and Carolyn Cowan report that parents who walk in with their eyes wide open and all their wits about them are in for a pleasant surprise. Planning parenthood makes for happier parents, in other words.

When I gave birth to my daughter, we weren't looking to fix our marriage with a baby. We weren't on two different pages, one of us baby-hungry and the other just going along for the ride. We -- both of us -- wanted to be parents, which left us both open to falling in love; this time, that all-consuming love you have for your child.

And while we loved -- and still love -- each other, when we looked at the little bundle placed in my arms in the delivery room, we were -- as a couple -- hopelessly, totally gone. We love each other as two best friends who have shared passion and triumph and had a meeting of the minds. In the other, we found our other half, and we were fulfilled.

And we love our daughter, too. Fiercely. And in ways that we can't love each other. It's partly because we created her -- although I firmly believe that parents who adopt have as strong a claim to the love of a child as we do. It's also because we chose her -- we actively made a decision to become parents.

Since our daughter was born, love is Saturday mornings when I stay in bed while he gets up to turn on cartoons and pour cereal in bowls; it's the Sunday mornings I let him doze while I cuddle on the couch with our toddler and a pile of books. It's a kiss and a hug on the way out the door to work ... followed by a high-five, as directed by the three-year-old who gets the same routine. And I love him all the more for letting her play cruise director.

My husband and I became parents because we want to give everything we have to our daughter, and the reward will be watching her walk down a graduation aisle, get married, have children of her own. When she makes a mistake or lets us down, it doesn't decrease the love, it makes us work harder.

But perhaps the biggest difference lies as much in the past as it does in the future. With a child, you will always be her parent. Without me, there is no her. With a spouse, there is still that life before you met, the period of time when you were two distinct people. I am still me without my husband. Our daughter isn't.

Together we fell in love and made a child. Together, we fell in love with that child. As my husband says, "It's just a different kind of love completely." He calls how he feels about our daughter a complete attachment, a bond that he never saw being created and yet can't imagine ever undoing. He picked me (well, he asked me out!), he dated me, and he slowly fell in love with me, but he loved our daughter from the second she came screeching into the world.

So when my three-year-old works her way into my lap and asks, "Do you love me the best, Mama?" I wrap my arms around her and reassure her, "Yup, Mommy loves you more than anything else in the whole wide world."

Because I do. And her daddy is OK with that -- because he does too.

next: Can You Fall Back in Love After an Affair?
24 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kel February 6, 2011, 4:22 AM

@Linda, YOU dear are the reason children nowadays are so screwed up. And I am the perfect example of it. Growing up my bio mother valued my father, but not us kids. Did she love us on some level? Possibly. But my dad always came first. Which whether you realize it or not, is wrong. Children depend completely on their parents, whereas the adults can fend for themselves. And you know what? Kids NEED that constant love and devotion, they need the constant reassurance. My parents never gave that to me. Which is why I’m glad at 13 when my mom went to prison and my dad kicked me out, my grandparents adopted me and I got to know what it would feel like to have a REAL mom and dad.

And you know WHY you love your husband more? Because your husband GIVES. he fulfills your romantic needs. Your children need THEIR needs fulfilled, they don’t set out to make you happy. And that’s pretty typical feelings of SELFISH people. You cannot possibly imagine life without your husband the one who is always fulfilling your emotional needs, but your itty bitty children, who need and depend on you, you could imagine life without.

I think its sick you feel that way. I have had 2 miscarriages and am trying to conceive again. And I had this image of my child…and now I cannot imagine not having them. They aren’t even here and I can tell you I KNOW I will love them so very much, and once they are here they will enrich my life so much I couldn’t possibly imagine my life without them. My children, those beautiful gorgeous little miracles.

THAT is how a real mother feels. And kudos on the article, it was beautiful

breatrist March 27, 2011, 12:45 AM

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sl May 10, 2011, 7:01 PM

This article came off narcissistic to me.

Kristen May 23, 2011, 2:44 PM

Who in the hell TELLS their children that they love anyone more than them??? Jesus… It’s one thing to feel that way but to actually tell them that causes so much hurt! I agree completely with everything Kel said. Your children need to hear that they are valued and loved above everything else… They are building a sense of self worth and self esteem. Your husband should already have that. I love my SO and would hate to be without him, but I know how to take care of myself and my daughter and could get by without him if I had to… I could NEVER imagine life without my sweet baby. When you have kids, you are supposed to become LESS selfish, not more…

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