Sunday, 15 January 2012

A Mother first

“When a woman has a baby, she is a Mother first and a wife second. A man will always be a husband first and a father second.”
Oprah Winfrey said this about 18 years ago. Despite my status as a fully-paid up, grant maintained (those were the days) layabout student, it stuck with me. Filed away for future use to put to the test in my mid-thirties.
What she was talking about was how women’s priorities change when they have a baby and more importantly how the men in their lives react. Some feel total rejection, some view it as everything they’ve ever wished for.
My own experience has proved this theory right. My children are my number 1 priority, whether I like it or not. This has nothing to do with being an earth mother; I am not a stay-at-home Mum, doing craft, teaching foraging skills and making play clothes from curtains. But I have bumped my husband down the pecking order to sit proudly at number 3. He gets fed last these days.
But what about him? Does he put me or the kids first? It’s a tough one, he idolises the children, but it seems to me that he also knows I’m the one he needs to keep sweet. Because he loves those kids so much, it makes sense to keep their mother happy.
And I think that’s what Oprah meant when she said a man will always be a husband first. It’s not that he loves me more than his children, it’s more that he values my role in being their mother SO much, that he will put me first. Well that’s my theory anyway.
That particular episode of Oprah dealt with the men who felt rejected. They’d been number one in her life until that baby was born.  I’ve seen this happen and it’s a shock, who knew a baby could have such an impact on the male ego?  I think even the strongest man must feel a twinge of envy, or longing for their old life together, when they see the way a mother looks at her child.
And sometimes us women don’t help. A letter in this Saturday’s Times magazine talks about ‘martyr mothers’, it says:
“if you ask them how they are, they recount an exhausting list of after-school activities, domestic chores, play dates and doctor’s appointments…..their personal identity sucked into some horrible child-centric vortex”
Recognise yourself in there? I do *cringes and takes another gulp of wine* This particular man said he just didn’t find his wife attractive anymore and couldn’t view her as a ‘sexual being’. This is serious stuff. How do you get down and dirty with the woman who is also the mother of your child?
So for all our complaints as women (and mother martyrs in particular) I think we need to spare a thought for the men. Just a thought mind, don’t dwell too much on it.
If you are a husband and father reading this, no matter how bad you are feeling about being pushed down the pecking order, you’re still not at the bottom. There are four people in my family and when it comes to priorities, who sits at number 4?
You guessed it. I always get the burnt toast.