Who comes first, my spouse or my child?
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Four years ago, I made big promises to this guy and to God, before our family and friends. It’s still one of the best decisions I’ve made in life, the start of a real adventure.
Two years ago, we were joined by this little person.
And now we’re expecting to be joined by another.
So, we realised that we better get it in quick before February if we wanted to have a romantic getaway because the opportunity probably wouldn’t present itself for another few years.
The thing is, it just wasn’t as simple as that.
We decided to revisit beautiful Hartpree Court, the 18th century bed and breakfast where we’d spent our wedding night and where this season’s Big British Bake Off was filmed. Holy ground, my friends.
You see, back when Talitha was 19 months and we’d made these plans, 27 months seems proper grown up. “So much will have changed by then,” we told each other. And we were right. She now sleeps in a single bed in her own room, doesn’t breastfeed at night anymore and mostly sleeps through. The “mostly” is what bothered me in the lead up to our big weekend.
Talitha recently stopped waking up and reassuringly staying in her bed, calling out or crying for us in the night. Instead, she disconcertingly comes straight into our room and asks for one of us to do something for her, usually me but Laurence does most of the nighttime parenting now. She has even gone downstairs looking for us if she doesn’t find us in our bedroom.
I didn’t expect her to do this at someone else’s house, though, but it turned out that she is so familiar with her grandparents’ house that when we stayed there the weekend before so she could try out the room she’d be in on her own, she happily got out of bed and came looking for us in the room we usually all stay in together.
So, of course, my mind started going into overdrive. What if she just gets out of bed and goes looking for us downstairs in their house? What if she gets confused and scared? How much of this “special holiday” we’ve been preparing her for does she understand?
We had a long chat about it and agreed that Laurence’s parents would likely hear her because you’re always more alert if you know you have to be. We also felt that Talitha has a strong attachment with them and would be reassured by their presence in the night, even if she’d rather have us with her.
I have, a few times in the past, brushed aside my discomfort with leaving her because I felt it was what was expected of me and it’s gone against my instinct. I’ve always ended up regretting it. But I knew deep down that it wasn’t the same this time. I wasn’t really worried. The fact that my concerns only surfaced days before the event made me think that they didn’t run that deep.
As it turned out, they had a lovely time. Talitha did wake once in the night but it seems she wasn’t fazed by us not being there. She’s so at home with her Grandmum and Puppa. So, it seems that it really was good timing, even if we had been a bit worried about it all.
But it sparked for us a really interesting conversation about where the balance of needs are at this point in our family. I read an interview last week in The Guardian of a couples therapist who’s written a book about prioritising our marriages above our children for a number of reasons.
It irked me. Not because I don’t think Laurence is important or that our relationship needs to be guarded and nurtured but because it just seemed to be such a simplistic take on the matter. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on that but from what came out of the article, I just couldn’t understand how you could reasonably boil it down to “my child or my spouse”.
Parenting our child is our joint mission. It has actually made us closer together. We are more deeply in love with each other because we are so in love with her. That dynamic will change over time as Talitha separates from us and goes out into the world. We will all change. And so will our needs.
There are times when her needs take precedence over ours because of her primal helplessness as when she needed to be constantly held. I sacrificed my need for space because I knew that her need for physically intimacy would not always be as great. At other times, one of our needs has taken that place. My pregnant discomfort led us to gently night wean. She is over two and I knew that she was able to cope. My need for sleep without nausea and nursing aversion had to take precedence.
And now it seems that the balance of needs is such that we can have the odd night away – and so can she. No rushing or forcing necessary. Everything’s happened in its own time.