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.

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Photos by Courtenay Photographic. You can see more of the set here.

Two years ago, we were joined by this little person.

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And now we’re expecting to be joined by another.

16 weeks pregnant

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.

harptree court
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.

Harptree

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”.

Harptree bamboo

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.

Harptree the great british bake off

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.


15 Comments

  1. September 9, 2013 / 2:39 pm

    Hope you had a wonderful time! And thank you for the really interesting post. I read that article too and I must say it struck a chord. Not just because I could recognise elements of my own life in the piece, but also because it seemed really clear that as well as the balance of kids vs parents, each parent had their own individual needs that had nothing to do with their relationship with each other or the kids. I think that, in reality, every family will work out their own way of doing things while trying to keep a delicate balance on what everyone within the family needs. At the moment I’m quite aware that our 3yo often takes precedence – and that’s largely because she’s not got any brothers or sisters and is so little. As she grows and her needs change so our life will adjust again. But I do think it’s important to try and remember EVERYONE in the family, not just the kids. And being nice to each other helps! x
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    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 9, 2013 / 3:01 pm

      That’s a really good point and one that struck me as well. Who comes first? My partner or my kids? Well, sometimes, it needs to be just ME, actually. And I agree, it’s a balance that each family has to work out for itself. Thanks for the rich comment. x

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 11, 2013 / 8:25 pm

      Thank you!

  2. September 9, 2013 / 10:17 pm

    I completely agree that it is not an either/or, it is both in their own way. I do think that it is important to keep a relationship healthy but a child’s need is just that, a Need. I hope you had a lovely night away.
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    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 11, 2013 / 8:27 pm

      We did, thanks. Relationships are complex by nature and need to be treated that way. Either/or doesn’t work.

  3. Elisa Edwards
    September 9, 2013 / 10:35 pm

    I didn’t read the article but say the guy interviewed on the telly. He had a valid point to make that it is important for children to see a healthy relationship between their parents so that they can learn from it. I don’t think that parents should always put the needs of their spouse before their child but children are reassured by knowing their parents love each other. If parent A comes home to parent B and says hello to them and gives them a kiss before being dragged off by the excited children I don’t think the children then feel ignored and pushed out. I think parent A is showing the children that parent B has their love and respect around which the family is built.

    Children should not drive a wedge between their parents nor should they be the glue. Children are a wonderful fruits ripening on the tree of their parents relationship. If the tree is strong and healthy and pays equal attention to nourishing all its components then the fruit will also be strong and healthy. If it is struggling to overcome disharmony then the fruit may not develop well at all. While the fruit is on the tree it shines in all its glory. Never will the tree be so fit for purpose. It is at its best when it is nourishing the next generation. In time the fruit will fall away and develop into its own tree, maybe one day bearing fruit too. How successful this venture is depends on the foundations laid by the parent tree all that time ago. Its not a perfect analogy but if you see the tree as the child’s perspective of the relationship between the two parents rather than as representing individual people it works best.

    Hubbie and I also recently tried for a night away from our 3 1/2 year old and 15 months old daughter. The invitation to a school friend’s evening reception in London came up so we booked the hotel and got my parents to look after the kids. They both had colds on the day but they have colds fairly frequently and nothing seemed out of the ordinary save for the snotty noses. We arrived in London just after lunch, had a lovely walk around Bushy Park then dozed off for an hour before getting ready. We arrived at the wedding shortly after 7pm, walked up to the bar and had just ordered our drinks when the phone rang. It was my parents telling us they were at the Children’s Hospital with our youngest who was struggling to breathe and had been diagnosed with croup. Of course we dropped everything, made our apologies and rushed back to Bristol to spend the next week in hospital with her. She was well looked after and the nurses at the children’s hospital were fabulous. The doctors, as always, are a bit hit and miss!

    We were very relieved she was ok but after the dust had settled we both felt a mixture of guilt that we hadn’t been here and frustration that the one time we tried to have a night to ourselves in 2 1/2 years everything does horribly wrong. We’re very reticent about trying to go away again now but I think it might be a good idea to go somewhere more local. Might have to look into Harptree Court now!

    I think it is wonderful that you took the opportunity to remind yourselves what your family is based on, the love between you two. I think that the couples therapist has a point that when you have children you then have to make an effort to keep up good communication and remember to express the love you feel for your spouse. It is not easy when you are so mush busier both practically and emotionally than you ever were before you had children but it is paramount to raising socially and emotionally well developed children.

    That’s my tuppence worth any way! Do you agree?

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 11, 2013 / 8:33 pm

      I definitely agree that children benefit tremendously from a healthy relationship between their parents and it’s important for us to nourish that and not forget about it in the process of raising them! But equally, I think it’s a bit weird to prioritise that above very young children’s very real needs. I just don’t think it’s that simple. Parenting is part of the relationship, which is why I thought it was odd that at one point the guy said that he doesn’t write about parenting but about couple’s relating – odd because the way you relate to your partner is bound up in the way you parent together. It just all goes together, if that makes any sense? I think we’re saying similar things, though, you and I. I’m so sorry that that happened to you guys. That’s so unlucky! Hope you get a night away when you’re all ready. I definitely recommend Harptree Court! x

  4. Elisa Edwards
    September 9, 2013 / 10:36 pm

    Gosh! That was longer than I anticipated. Sorry! :S

    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 9, 2013 / 10:39 pm

      Haha! No worries! Great comment. But I’ll reply tomorrow. My brain is running out of battery. 🙂 I do agree with a lot of what you said and I did see that from the article as well, just felt that the way of coping with what is a complex dynamic was oversimplified but that could have been the journalist’s doing rather than the interviewee’s.

  5. September 10, 2013 / 9:39 am

    Quote from Nicky Gumbel that is relevant to this

    “Sophie is an only child. Her mother had fourteen miscarriages before she was born. Her parents adore her. She adores her parents. Sophie is now in her twenties, and still loves to spend as much time as possible with her parents.

    She told me that when she was at school she and her fellow pupils were asked whether they thought their parents loved them more than they loved each other. Most of them replied that they thought that was the case. However, Sophie replied that she thought her parents loved each other far more, but that it was this very bond of love that made her feel so secure and so loved.

    At the heart of the Christian faith is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to know and love Christ.

    What is this relationship like? The Bible describes it using human language, and human analogies. It is a relationship of the closest possible intimacy. It is like that of a parent and child (Luke 15, Romans 8). But Paul goes even further in terms of intimacy: he even refers to Christ as our husband and the church as his bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; see also Ephesians 5:22–33).”

    From Intimacy with God (Day 252) #BiOY
    http://www.htb.org.uk/bioy/commentary/629
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    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 11, 2013 / 8:35 pm

      Nice one, hubs.

  6. September 10, 2013 / 10:39 am

    Love this post, I feel the same way and the article irked me too. It certainly is tricky to make the balance though, I often feel guilty of not putting the time in for our relationship, it’s something we need to work on but it’s not a either or thing for sure. xx
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    • Adele Jarrett-Kerr
      September 11, 2013 / 8:37 pm

      There are definitely going to be times when we don’t strike a balance. It’s something we need to keep working on too.

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