Do good wives make bad mothers?

Do good wives make bad mothers? How’s that for a loaded question! In 2013, what qualities make a woman a “good wife”  or a “good mother” anyway?

The opposite question, “do good moms make bad wives?”  was debated a while back on the Huff Post divorce page where Jackie Morgan MacDougall argued that those perfect moms–with their talent for all things craftsy and their trigger-happy willingness to volunteer at school–are not showing the love to their husbands. (How she knows this is unclear.) It’s true that there are some moms others just delight in hating. You know, the ones who always have the time and energy to make their children the most awesome sunflower costumes and always (or ever) sign up to chaperone class trips despite working full-time at amazing careers. The mere existence of these mothers, who lack even a mote of ambivalence about driving their kid 45-minutes to a gymnastics class three times a week, can lead others to question their own adequacy. So it can be cathartic to assume that their husbands must really, really hate them–or at least feel neglected.

But what about women who make no bones that their husbands come first? (Or gay couples where one or both spouses always put the relationship ahead of parenting?) Are their kids worse off for this devotion? No doubt, there are benefits to growing up in a happy, two-parent household. Such offspring get to witness up-close what a healthy, long-lasting adult relationship looks like. It’s hard to over-emphasize the value in that. But what if some of these kids are also getting the daily message that they are “second best?” That, if Daddy needs her, Mommy is going to drop them like a hot potato?  A good friend describes her own childhood as being raised by “Ronald and Nancy Reagan,” a famously devoted couple who were also notoriously .Ronald and Nancy Reagan

challenged as parents. My friend grew up with a revolving door of babysitters because her parents often dined out and traveled “alone together.” Her stay-at-home mother’s motto was “Dad comes first” and her actions made that clear. He was served before all others at dinner (and that meal never commenced until he came home from work–even if that meant 9 pm). The TV in the family room was turned to Dad’s favorite show. On car rides, Dad chose the radio station. “My father thought Mom was over-the-top with this attitude, but he certainly appreciated the attention.” Now with three kids of her own, my friend has created a very child-centric life. She and her husband eschew date night for Family Night. “If you don’t want to spend your free time playing Apples to Apples with your kids you shouldn’t be a parent,” she insists. She says her husband is supportive and I’m going to go with that.

A while back, the novelist Ayelet Waldman caused a stir when she declared she loved her husband more than her kids. But I always thought that was a false dichotomy. Love that’s rooted in a romantic companionship of equals has a different quality than love founded in nurturing and protecting the vulnerable. That’s why people can be great parents but lousy spouses or exes. And vice versa. So whether kids get shortchanged by a mother’s devotion to her husband depends on whether she prioritizes based on who she loves “best” rather than who needs her most at the moment.

Of course, the whole notion of judging women based on how well they perform at these two roles is loaded. Can’t we just stop with all of the judging? And why is it that the question, “do good husbands make bad dads?” is somehow not so provocative? head-scratching.

I’d love to hear your answers!