Wednesday, April 20, 2005

mommy's choice

Being a Lady of the Day (aka, unemployed) means that I have the occasional moment to sit and watch Oprah while eating cereal in the morning. Monday morning I watched Jon Stewart cavort with Oprah until we were rudely interrupted by the Conclave; this morning it was a mother’s shocking confession that…she loves her husband more than her children.

Yes, Ayelet Waldman (wife to Michael Chabon) made the stunning announcement that she is in love with her husband and not her children; that if he died she would be devastated while, if one of her children died (God forbid), she could dare to imagine a life for herself. The stay at home mothers gasped in horror as if she had said, I would stab all of my children and drink their blood rather than be apart from my husband.

These mothers were horrified that she, another mother, could pick her spouse rather than her child; one woman had even asked her own daughter what she would think if she knew her mommy loved daddy more and brought a note to the show to chastise Waldman – ‘Bad mommy,’ she said. (What an inappropriate question to ask a child.) The outrage and insecurity these women showed seemed out of place to me.

In the essay that sparked the discussion, Waldman had written:“…my husband will say that we, he and I, are the core of what he cherishes, that the children are satellites, beloved but tangential.”

It was this marginalization of the child that outraged the mothers in Oprah’s studio; how could she say that, they cried. How could she call herself a good mother when she’s told her kids they don’t matter to her? Their blatant misunderstanding of Waldman’s position aside, my roomie and I found the other women’s attempts to get her to reorient her passions toward her children away from her life partner bizarre and rather cult-like.

It seems logical to me that a woman would feel for her husband more than her child(ren). Yes, I’m blatantly commitment-phobic but there is enough of a Catherine/Heathcliff-type romantic in me who thinks that’s the whole point of being in a relationship: to shout to the world that the metaphysically impossible has happened. You’ve met your soulmate.

I remember a day when it was made very clear to me and my sister that our father loved our mother more than he loved us. We had discovered a part of our mother’s past – a secret that my father had known all along; feeling hurt and betrayed we confronted him – how could he keep something like that from us, his children? My father’s answer was firm and quiet.

‘She and I – we – chose each other,’ he said to us. ‘That woman is my wife and I will not stand for anyone, not even you, stepping in between that.’ My father’s love and loyalty, we learned, was absolutely unwavering, as was my mother’s for him. My sister and I, as loved as we were, stood outside of their circle, only curious observers to what happened inside of it.

I’ve never been a mother so I can’t speak to the special bond one feels when breast feeding, blah blah blah. However, feeling so much passion for my partner it turns me into an oddity at Gymboree?

Sounds good to me.


St. Casserole said...

I read Waldman's essay. I make it clear to our children, as does my husband, that our marriage is the primary relationship in our family. The health of our family depends on the health of our marriage. I suppose there is a great deal to dislike about this position but it seems cruel to make children bear the focus of a family. I think it takes away their freedom as well as gives them the idea that they hold things together in family life. Too much responsiblity for them, to my mind.
Thanks for writing about this. I don't get to watch daytime tv so I missed Oprah. Ayelet is quite the gal in my book. I read her blog until she began to write for Salon. I miss her regular posts on her "Bad Mother" site.
I found your blog through Reverend Mother's blog. Glad I found you!

the reverend mommy said...

Yep, I agree as well. And I was an at-home-mommy for 8 years. I wonder if there is also a perception of a personal type attack -- by chosing husband over children, she is seen as invalidating the at-home-mommy's personhood. (I don't think even I follow that sentence...)

My love for my children is so totally different than my love for my spouse. The kids and I are connected on such an instinctual level -- there is no decision to love them. I have decided to love my husband. It was a choice. I willingly pledged my troth.

Why do I have to choose?

Chris T. said...

I loved Ayelet's blog, too. I was bummed when she stopped writing.

I am failing to come up with anything constructive on the issue of relationships. I agree with the three of you, and I'll leave it at that. :-)

ding said...

the way our country treats motherhood is so strange; we put it on a pretty untenable pedestal, making it nearly impossible for any woman to feel adequate, and then, when a woman says she enters motherhood differently (so that she won't feel inadequate) our society then tries to make her feel conflicted about it.

it's as if we don't really like mothers.

Daddy said...

Thanks Daughter. I remember the day of that conversation. Now that Mom is away from us, both of you have taken her place in my book. As far as I'm concerned, you gals make a good read.


ding said...

i posted this on my other blog and a comment was left asking if an all encompassing mother-love isn't something we all need?

perhaps so, but as a child, i'd feel smothered by an all encompassing mother-love. maybe my mother's own childhood in an island village made her see motherhood differently - it was clear that the end goal was for us to become adults (in other words, leave) and so she moved us incrementally toward independence. oh, her love was felt.

in fact, her love was the hand at our back pushing us forward.

reverendmother said...

I just realized this post was from a week ago, and the discussion had moved on, but I'd already written this rant! :-) So here goes:

I've read her essays, her blog, and discussed her at length with friends. I haven't seen the Oprah yet, although my guess is that there were two and only two kinds of mothers represented: Waldman, who has written that she would throw one of her children in front of a bullet to save her husband, and the other mommies, who watch Wheel of Fortune during sex.

Woe to those of us who reflect a shade of grey.

Look, my life does not revolve around my child. I work outside the home, and I am convinced it makes me a better parent to do so. I also think a strong marriage is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a child. My husband and I go on dates, we go away for weekends together, and have frequently, and our kid's only 2.

Nonetheless I find Waldman utterly batty. First of all, to talk of loving one person MORE than another person smacks of middle school--"she's my bestest friend, but she's my second best friend, and she *used* to be my fourth best friend, but now she's my third best." They are different kinds of love, and it is daft to quantify love in that way.

Second, yes I chose my husband, but I also chose to be responsible for a life that depends on me. Different needs take precedence at different times. It's a false dichotomy, and a gross oversimplification, to say that either the spouse takes precedence OR the child. Guess what? Sometimes they both have to take a number and it's *my* needs that come first.

There's more to be said, but suffice to say she gets on my last nerve.

ding said...

but we do love people more than others.

tonight, i discovered that i love my irreverent, sometimes sacriligious church friends more than the average christian joe. sitting at the fondue table with other people from my congregation, i discovered that i, deacon to be ordained on sunday morning, did not love the guy sitting across the table from me.

to be exact, i loved him less than the two women sitting next to him who agreed with me.

we make these arbitrary categories all the time and they shift constantly, for different reasons.

but i totally agree - the oprah episode was horribly uneven. it ariel gore had been on there it would have been fabulous.

Songbird said...

Coming in even later than reverendmother, the thing I find worrying about Ayelet Waldman is not that she thinks the marriage relationship deserves priority but that she is obsessed with her husband. And that is not a healthy model for her kids. As people of faith, we know that the Source of Love is there for us even when, especially when, we lose the people who mean the most to us. She backtracks in the Times piece and says, yes, she would have to find a way to go on living for the sake of her children even if she lost her husband. But all of this is a manifestation of her own admittedly fragile mental health. I don't mean that as an insult, but as an observation, and a concerned one at that.

Songbird said...

P.S. I hope you won't mind that the story about your mom and dad has walked its way into my sermon this morning. It just wouldn't stay out!

ding said...

...and, not to make generalizations about my home state, but being in california probably doesn't help her with the whole stability thing. (heh)

and i'm glad my parents' story could make its way into a sermon. that's a first!