“Everyone I know says ‘but isn’t it best that his parents [they have a son] be happy?’ Yes but this country doesn’t offer universal healthcare and daycare, so some of us make choices we would never have dreamed of before we became parents, just because single motherhood is financially so difficult…do I want to send my young child to daycare 10 hours a day so I can go work some job I hate? Hell no! Does living with my sometimes ex and sharing time and financial responsibility seem like a better option? You bet.”—Holley Anderson
Ms. Anderson’s letter was just about the most empowering (for lack of a better word) statement I’ve heard in quite awhile. Hell, yeah. I think of this every day. My husband and I are coming up on six years together and two kids together and little time to remember being our pre-parent romantic selves. We both have honestly and openly told each other ‘you know, if we hadn’t had kids? We’d probably have broken up by now…’ And that isn’t in a hurtful or antagonistic way, that’s a full on let’s be realistic—we-were-both- serial-monogamists-and-cheaters-before-I-met-you kind of way. Some days we are compatible, most days we aren’t, but what keeps us trying isn’t a fear of being single again, it’s a fear of not providing our kids with the stable environment we know and love—our little family.
Perhaps part of our determination of staying together despite some obvious incompatibility issues (I’m a fiction writer and artistic type and yo, he hates reading—how’s that for non-validation) is the broken home factor. It weighs heavy on both of us that we can only remember very few times when either set of our parents was together (he has some photos, I have the memory of my high school graduation and my wedding). We both have some scary ‘uncle’ scenarios and would never want to put our kids in the position of dealing with a stepfather or ‘uncle’. I know there are good ones out there but geez…statistics earlier this year stressed that a child in a step situation is 50% more likely to be abused. That alone is good enough reason for me to stay right where I am.
We don’t fight. Not physically, not verbally. Not in front of the kids. We aren’t miserable. We are maintaining. It’s about the kids. It’s about keeping the mortgage paid. It’s about getting ahead in our careers. It’s about Sundays in the park. But rarely, and sadly is it about the two of us alone, grown up humans, in love. Personally? If I could go flirt one day a month and have the flirtation returned—not even doing anything necessarily, I think I could feel alive enough to carry on. I think my husband feels the same on this.
The truly odd thing is I’ve thought for a year now that I was alone in feeling fulfilled by family life but not fulfilled in relationship land. But whether it be the ladies I exercises with on Monday mornings, storytime at the library on Wednesdays, the tavern for a couple of hours on Friday nights—the same story seems to be written. The mommies and daddies I meet that stay together aren’t necessarily the ones who stayed in love, but the ones devoted to it working out despite the lack of romantic love. I’m not saying we should all stay in abusive relationships—by all means run screaming if you’ve got one—but when there’s no harm done, is there harm done by staying around?
My husband suggests that we save up for time alone together—time when my mother has time to watch the kids over a weekend to spend time on us. Perhaps that would do some of the trick. I suggest separate vacations where one of us goes off by ourselves one at a time—no questions asked—so we can remember who we are when we aren’t being mama and papa. And while this probably sounds like it is suggesting random wanton sex, it’s also suggesting—perhaps more so—time alone. I’d absolutely love to spend a day sitting drinking coffee, going to bookstores, seeing a movie that I want to see, and making purchases I don’t have to account for. I’m sure he’d like to do some of his stuff too. And if the groaning during workouts on Monday morning is any indication, so would lots of mommies out there.
I like the way Holley Anderson put it. Leaving wouldn’t really solve much. It would split an already financially precarious household in two. We’d have to both rent. We wouldn’t be able to afford the private school my son goes to on two households. I’d have to send them to daycare more. My husband wouldn’t be able to take work on the side. And that’s just the practical aspect.
We make all family decisions together. We’ve backed each other up on getting rid of questionable friends we didn’t think were child appropriate. We’ve worked out schedules were just about anything that needs to happen can happen to give the kids opportunities to explore. The happiest moment of my kids’ day is when their father walks through the door at 5:30. Why would I want to screw that up for freedom and happiness?
A childhood isn’t really that long a time. It’s a little less than two decades. You blink and it is gone. As my husband says, we only have fifteen years left until our youngest leaves us. Only fifteen. Our son is about to start kindergarten and our daughter preschool and we remember their births like yesterday. He’s right. It will be over soon. It’s not too much to ask. I think we can make it that far.
So this is the story of my friends, the woman in the magazine, me. I suspect, though, that there are many more parents with young children out there willing to forgo the quest for the perfect relationship and partner for the sanity of well-adjusted children. Am I correct in this assumption? Are there anymore out there?