A Wife First, A Mother Second

This week, I joked with my friend that babies have the ability to tear a marriage apart and put it back together all in the same day. Though “tear apart” may be too dramatic a phrase, my flippant adage would be proven true within the next twenty-four hours.

The flu virus has been skipping around for months now, but somehow my daughter and I’ve out maneuvered it. However, yesterday I could tell by her glassed brown eyes, runny nose, and cough that the flu bug had landed. Was the carrier the librarian who had leaned in too close while handing back my card? The cashier? The usher at church who loves to gush over our baby girl, bedecked in her Sabbath trimmings?

There was no way to know, but one thing I did know was that it was going to be a long night. This made me nervous.

Have I mentioned I’m not a relaxed parent?

From the time my firstborn was four weeks old, I’ve threatened to take her to the emergency room for gas pains, for general irritability, for diaper rash, for roseola, and now for her first coughing fit.

I think, when God saw me puttering around down here, He knew I needed someone sensible; someone who could tip these histrionic scales of mine. Usually, my husband and I enjoy this balance without knowing we are balancing anything. But when our child’s sick, everything’s off-kilterthe pressure turning me into a worrywart and my scruffy mountain man’s good-natured pragmatism into mush.

Therefore, I paced the nursery, wringing my hands, and he wanted to walk our daughter and soothe her and pat her back whenever she cried. Believe me, I know I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who is also a proactive father. (Stupidly blessed, some of you are thinking.) But since I’ve taken care of Miss A all day, every day, for the past eleven months, shouldn’t I also be able to care for her at night?


Fast-forward four hours to one o’clock in the morning. The baby monitor had broken that very day (I might’ve stepped on the camera accidentally; it’s all a bit hazy now). This made my husband nervous to leave Miss A in the crib without Big Mama and Big Papa making sure she was okay after her last coughing fit. So she came to our bed.

Smack dab in the middle.

She would sleep, then gasp awake with a coughing spell, panic because she couldn’t breathe through her stuffy nose, and cry. My husband would roll her toward him and pat her back. She would fall asleep, and then awaken, cough, panic, and cry.

The terrible cycle continued. Sleep did not come for anybody. The next time she awoke, I rolled her toward me.

“Like that should help,” my husband muttered.

Both our fuses were awfully short, but our twelve-inch height difference made mine shorter.

“Fine then,” I snapped. “If you want to play nanny, I’m going upstairs to sleep.”

So that’s exactly what I did.

I grabbed my pillow, marched upstairs to the guest bedroom, and crawled beneath the covers. I slept so soundly, when I awoke at five o’clock, I didn’t even know where I was.

Feeling guilty because I had slept enough to properly think, I threw back the covers and followed the siren song of my daughter’s cries.

I cracked open our bedroom door and padded into the dark room. I carefully climbed onto my side of the bed and watched. My husband’s eyes were closed, as were my daughter’s. He was patting her little back as she hiccupped, and I heard the rasp of his calloused fingers on her fleece sleeper with the slim pink moons.

My eyes welled as I continued to watch them. And I understood – once again – that my husband and I are not in a competition to see who can be the better parent.

But that we are in this heart-wrenchingly beautiful and challenging journey of parenthood together.

This morning – all three of us raw-eyed and wearing hoodies or sweats – my husband explained that he hadn’t been trying to say that I couldn’t soothe Miss A, but that at that point neither of us could.

He then went to the couch to play with our daughter. I went into the kitchen and doctored his coffee with cream and sugar and brought the mug over, setting it on a coaster before him.

“What’s this for?” he asked, puzzled by my small kindness.

And that’s when I realized: I have got to do a better job at being his wife first and her mother second.

So here are a few things I’m going to do:

  • It may sound silly, but on the mirror in my closet I’ve taped a snapshot of us from the day after we became engaged. I like to glance at that picture and recall everything that has brought us to this point – as parents, as lovers, and as friends.
  • I’ve planned a little get-away next weekend—just the two of us. We did this six months ago, and it helped add that luster back to our marriage that time had dulled. If we want our marriages not just to survive, but to also thrive, we must invest in them. Cancel your cable and use the money to go on two small trips a year.
  • This hasn’t panned out yet, but I’ve been praying about working with an older couple, whose marriage has thrived through the parenting years. I love getting advice from family and friends, but I also believe it’s important to get an objective viewpoint whenever marital and familial obstacles crop up.

Any other suggestions for putting “wife” first, “mother” second?

Out for “date night” this past week.


  1. Hello from one half of an older (gulp!) couple whose marriage thrived during the parenting years! I loved this post — and I can relate. Yes, still. How I remember those worrisome nights. I didn’t do well, either, as a worrier of massive proportion. However, I, too have a husband who balances me. He never worries (or at least doesn’t let on if he does), when I’ve asked him why, he’s answered: “I know you’re taking care of that.”

    I love how you put this, and I’ve thought it myself: “…we are in this heart-wrenchingly beautiful and challenging journey of parenthood together.” And how I love the journey! Have a lovely getaway weekend!

  2. It’s so encouraging to hear from other couples who’ve succeeding during this time, Julia. I know it’s only going to get more difficult to communicate once we have more children, so I want to figure it out now! We’re getting there, though, and I’m excited about this weekend get away, too!

  3. This was so encouraging! I find that we fight harder but love more fiercely during this parenting time. You have offered some great insight!

  4. We too are taking an overnighter this weekend, LONG overdue- we encountered the same issues as you, DH and A have, with our firstborn. I think it’s magnified when momma breastfeeds because we mommas automatically assume that no one else CAN soothe and comfort our babies. Needless to say, it caused unexpected friction in our marriage because my husband has always been a very loving, gentle and caring dad to both our boys, especially when they are sick. (Unless it involves cleaning up after a throw-up spell, hahaha! :) He would get very frustrated with me and vis versa during the times of illness because we hadn’t yet learned how to relinquish and share those duties of nurturing and caring. I’ve learned to be thankful that I am not alone in this facet (and many others!) of the parenting journey, to shut my mouth, release my will, and when I wanted to throw a pillow at him, instead be thankful that he’s there to tag team with me and to share the bleary-eyed, half dead, exhausted days that come with helping our sick littles to get better.

    • Sounds like your husband is a lot like mine, Emily. We sure are blessed women. Maybe we’ll pass each other while driving to our Valentine’s Day destinations! ; )

  5. I know all parents have been there, and you are a wise one to nurture that marriage first. When the little ones see Mama and Papa happy together, they are more relaxed.

    I hope your little one feels better soon. You are wonderful people, and she is blessed to have you. xo

    • Aw, thank you, Erika. And we are blessed to have this little bundle. Just when I think I can’t love her any more, something like this weekend happens, and I realize how much she means to me.

  6. Thanks for the reminders. Marraige with kids is hard. I am having a hard time with all of the hustle and bustle, plus, trying to remember why I married this guy? I welcome your post, thanks! let’s connect on FB and twitter.

  7. Wonderful post, Jolina, it brought me right back to those days of trying to be a couple, while still doing a good job parenting. It’s not easy!

  8. It’s certainly not easy, but the best things often aren’t at the time. I know — looking back — this will also be the closest we’ve ever been! :)

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