Playful, elegant, and not above the judicious use of the word “shit."

For better, for worse

I wanted to post this episode of Momversation and open it up for discussion here because it’s not usual for me to have such a different opinion than that of the other panelists, and in this case it’s not so much of a different opinion than it is a different experience. What’s more difficult, motherhood or marriage? And when I thought about this question it was pretty clear cut for me. I mean, six months into parenthood I checked myself into a mental hospital. That’s a pretty good indication that the software was not compatible with my operating system.

Whereas my marriage has caused its fair share of wrinkles, but it hasn’t ever made me consider checking out of life.

In the original videos that I submitted to this conversation I go into my reasoning a bit more, but the constraints of the Momversation platform sort of make it impossible to include all the footage, and this is perhaps my only complaint about this project. Sometimes a key point or explanation is edited out or sentences are cut in half, and what I originally hoped to get across is compromised. In this instance I wish they had left in the part where I talk about how much easier motherhood has gotten for me, how the instincts I thought would kick in immediately took their damn sweet time and I had no idea what I was doing for about a year. Those instincts finally did settle in, and when I look back at those first few months the memories have the same tone and color as the memory of being dropped into a pool not knowing how to swim.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I really had no experience with babies, whereas before I got married I dated a wide variety of men, some hairy, some bald, many of them gay. I’d lived with men before, had shared my stuff, had compromised my tastes and time to make things work, and so I understood what kind of energy it requires to make a relationship last. And when I started dating Jon I knew that he was the person with whom I could make it work, with whom I wanted to make it work.

This does not mean my marriage is easy by any means, and in the original footage I talk about the many years of therapy we have been in personally and together as a couple. Our therapist has been paid a lot of money to teach us to tell each other, hey, stop treating me this way, you’re not meeting my needs, I feel this way when you act like that. And yes, my nose scrunches up like that often when we have those types of discussions. And the argument usually ends with Jon going OH MY GOD I’M MARRIED TO YOUR GRANNY.

And while motherhood has become so much more natural to me there is still so much uncharted territory ahead, and I find that each age is so different than the one that preceded it that sometimes, although infrequently, it feels like we’re starting from the beginning all over again. Sure, there are similar surprises in marriage, but right now almost eight years into our relationship I feel like what we share is the rock I use to stabilize myself when being jarred by everything else around me.

I’m curious about your experiences. Do you find one is easier than the other? (And since some of us aren’t allowed to marry the ones we love let’s extend the discussion to relationships in general.)

  • Can dads comment on this one?

    [I’ll pretend Heather answered “Why, of course!”]

    Hmmmm … let’s see … is sharing an abode with an adult female who is (mostly) willing to have sex with me on a semi-regular basis easier or more difficult than 15 hours per day spent dealing with screaming, whining, crying, breaking up fights, getting covered in partially eaten food and snot, and wiping someone else’s ass?

    I’ll get back to you on that.

  • emily

    No question about it: parenthood is harder than marriage.
    I must include the caveat, though, that marriage is only easier if your partner is a good friend of yours and someone you genuinely like. I’m so happy that’s the case with you, Heather, and it’s certainly the case here.

    Glad you enjoyed the Oy To The World CD!!!!

    Emily (and Robert)

  • dooce

    Why, of course!

  • Meg

    This is a very tough one for me.

    Overall, I have to say that parenting comes easier than being married. Though on a day to day basis, being a parent is much more frustrating.

  • I commented on the Momversation, too — I agree with you that marriage is easier, so far, but both are so joyous and delightful that it is hard to choose. But those first few months with a baby: Man, those are stunningly hard.

  • I used to think the motherhood part was easier, but now that he’s 15 it’s gotten a lot harder. For one thing, your teenager doesn’t really appreciate you sharing everything they go through with the whole world wide web, so you don’t even have that open forum of the “mommy blog” anymore. For another, the teen years are just HARD. They can be unspeakably sad and painful and it is so devastating to watch your child have to go through that.

  • both are a never ending work in progress. a spouse you can lean on, and support is always nice, while a child – well, you’re their support even when you’re weak. so i would agree, raising a child would be more difficult – but both equally fun.

  • I too have had a much more difficult time adjusting to parenthood than I did to wifehood. I feel very blessed to have found my husband who is a perfect match for me. We rarely fight–he is an awesome communicator. I am often the one who doesn’t want to talk. This is not to say that there aren’t things that we disagree on, but we both know and are committed to our marriage in a way that allows us to have enjoyed 12 years of bliss with just a few minor moments of irritation/anger with the other.

    Parenting gets easier but so does marriage as we learn the other person’s ins and outs, etc it all gets easier, but from the start marriage was easier–at least for me.

  • Oh my God, being a mom is SO MUCH HARDER than being married. Just my .02 …

  • Abi

    Marriage is definitely more difficult for me. It is more emotionally challenging and demanding. I agree with Alice Brady when she said that its clear what your duties are as a mother. Feed child, change diaper, play, nourish, teach, etc. It doesn’t seem to be as simple or clear cut with marriage. The needs and wants seem to be more complicated… or perhaps I just haven’t learned or acquired the tools to make it seem not-so-complicated?

  • I wish I had a clear cut opinion on this but since I’m not married nor have a child I can’t validate either difficulty. But just the idea of marriage seems immensely difficult to me for some reason. Just the thought of living day in and day out with the same person for the rest of your life. My heart palpitates thinking of it.

  • With my first kid, I would have said parenting was more difficult. With my first marriage, I would have said marriage was. (Ha!) I don’t see either as more difficult than the other now, having the experience in both. I learned from each “first” on what worked, what didn’t, what my boundaries were, and basically how to cope with problems ranging all over that spectrum. Not to say I’m an expert, but I learned how to pick and choose my battles in both wars and take it all in stride.

  • thom

    i’ll be honest, i’m terrified of both.

    but i love kids and i love my girlfriend of 2 years, so i have a feeling that i’m gonna make it, no matter what challenges there are.

    and thanks to you, heather, for always starting the conversation.

  • Anonymous

    I am happily married and it’s not hard at all. Parenting on the other hand scares the crap out of me and I’m gonna remain childless because I know I can’t do it. so from a not parenting person you parents ROCK!

  • Anonymous

    My vote: Motherhood has been MUCH more difficult than marriage.

    Marriage is also a creature which needs constant work, but the kid thing blew my circuits in the early stages.

    I, like you, lacked the software to get it in the beginning. It didn’t help that my first was quite difficult (again, similar to your situation). I consider myself to have grown into an excellent mother and have two thriving young adults to show for it.

    Interestingly, now that they’re driving, and exposed to all of the demons of the college years, the anxiety I had in the first couple of years is returning. I’m losing control over their safety and it’s not easy for me.

  • SideShowRob

    This is a super difficult question – considering I am not in a relationship at the moment. Obviously my marriage failed – but it wasn’t due to us not being able to ‘make it work’. There were outside influences let’s just say. Regardless, I did enjoy being married and I enjoyed working at it. So I have to say motherhood is harder for me. Every day it seems like a struggle that I have to learn how to deal with. Relationships come a lot more naturally to me. I think it is truly a personality difference – some just ‘take’ to motherhood very naturally. I am not one of those! It has been work since day one, but work I am glad I am doing in the end of course.

  • Amy

    they are both pretty hard. I grew up with lots of kids around me. I was the youngest so my brother’s had kids way before I was even married and I had a lot of experience helping out with the kids so I was pretty prepared when I finally had a baby of my own. That’s why I would have to say that marriage is harder for me than parenting. I married an only child who never lived with a woman before me and figuring that whole thing out was much more difficult for me than figuring out why my baby was crying.

    but it has worked out so far, so I think we have things pretty under control (for now).

  • love you, heather! i haven’t yet been married or parented, but i’m guessing that marriage will be much harder than parenthood, because i don’t know of people divorcing their kids, just their spouses. that speaks volumes to me.

  • Being a mother felt natural, for the most part- whereas being married to my daughter’s father was miserable- but he was high continually once we got married, so I don’t know how that would have been different had he been a clean sober human being.
    I’m getting married to a wonderful guy in July who loves me, loves my daughter and we all fit together in a way that feels right. We live together- so mostly we feel like we are married. I find being a mother MUCH easier with a partner who is involved.

  • Maya

    I’m not a mommy, but for a very good reason. I don’t think that I’m cut out for it. I work with children each day. I’m thankful to send them home at the end of the day. Parenting isn’t something I think I’m qualified to sign on for full time.

    I read a book that I think you would find interesting Heather – Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. It was the first book(memoir) about parenting that I read that didn’t make things sound like instinct would take over and all would be fine.

  • Heather- Welcome back and Happy New Year

    I think you’re hysterical! And I couldn’t agree with you more. I think when it comes to motherhood I’m clueless. It’s much easier being in a relationship with my husband than it is a ten month old whose only language is crying. After I’ve gone through a laundry-list of things that might be wrong with him, than and only then have I maybe figured it out.

  • Dee

    I still don’t know the answer. When my first child was born I appeared to be a natural mother and my marriage was also stable. When my second came along, both areas of my life were in turmoil. Neither was easy. I doubted my mothering ability – how could I not instinctively know what this second child needed like I did the first time. And who the hell did my husband think he was having needs of his own. Couldn’t he see that I was falling apart? Was it my marriage or becoming a parent? All I know is that it was a lot of work and worth every bit of it.

  • cj coats

    Marriage is way harder. My kids came OUT OF ME. Daddy is just some dude I met on the internet. We have a good laugh about it when he’s at work!

  • Cammie

    Being a mom is much more difficult for me. I think part of the reason is that I’m trying to help shape the people my children will grow into while I’m just enjoying the person my husband already is. I imagine that if I was in a relationship with a person who didn’t have the same values and beliefs as me, or who was just a total ass, it would probably be harder to for me to be a wife!

  • Anonymous

    MARRIAGE has GOT to be easier! Although, I am biased due to the fact that I have yet to procreate.

    I’m super happily married, but at 26 years of age and without a maternal bone in my body, I doubt that road is for me – seems wayyy too scary. Besides, wasn’t it Aristotle that said “Children are but mere sex trophies”? j/k 😉

  • For me, motherhood is harder, hands down, but it’s getting easier. My first marriage, which produced my now-7-year-old [“And a HALF,” she’d interject], was a disaster of epic proportions. She’s the only thing we did right. Well, maybe some of the home remodels and trips we used to distract ourselves from the fact that we were Israel and Giza could come in as honorable mentions.

    My first three years with her were awful. First, I wasn’t completely certain I wanted to BE a mom (she was the product of goodbye sex). Next, she didn’t speak for, like, 20 months, and I never quite got the gist of Baby. She was a very happy baby, yet I still felt inadequate in meeting her needs. Also, I suffered from pretty severe postpartum depression, which left me kicking holes in walls, etc. etc. My divorce further complicated matters, as we have joint custody, and my ex has just recently decided that I’m not such a bad mommy after all. Once she started talking and being able to express her feelings in a manner other than biting, screaming, and pouring grape juice all over my leather seats, mommyhood got easier. Now, we understand each other, which means we know exactly how to push each other’s buttons, and how to remedy the reaction that comes. It’s gotten so much easier. And that’s why I intend to keep my one-and-done promise. I can’t imagine going through the hell of infancy and toddlerhood ever again.

    I recently conversed with a woman who’s a world-renowned child psychologist, who says that the first three years set a child’s personality and life track in place. All I can say to that is, Lauren, I’m sorry, and send me your psychiatry bills. Then again, this same expert told me not to worry because a parent’s only job, really, is to fuck up their kids and keep her in business.

    Now, I’m engaged to be married, and while the relationship is tricky because he has a special needs child and weekend visitation, we’re doing it so much better. First of all, we actually have chemistry, and compatibility. And we can talk about anything in our indoor voices, even if it’s touchy. I think the stability of our relationship can be credited to our mature ages at which we met (37, which is 50 years older than when I met my ex, at age 23), some counseling and drugs, good drugs. It’s a walk in the park compared to mommyhood.

    Lynn

  • Laurie

    Parenthood has been much harder for me than marriage. When I got married I had known my husband for more than four years and we had lived together for more than three years. We had a baby less than a year after getting married. Marriage feels like a continuation of something that is already there and solid. As a parent I first felt like my entire world was turned on its axis never to be righted again. Now that my son is fifteen months old I do feel I’ve found my footing to a degree but I know as he keeps changing I’ll have to keep finding my balance.

  • dmatthews

    I think being a parent is harder. You have to try to understand the child you made. What there needs are and no child is the same what makes one happy might not be the same for the other. Where marriage is you pick that person and you are friends and you love them because you chose to. Were having a child is you get what you get a don’t pitch a fit!

  • bohica

    For me, marriage is tougher. I think I EXPECTED that I wasn’t going to know what I was doing with my children, so every time I was successful at something, it was just a bonus. Each time I did something naturally, I was thrilled. Eventually it all came easier. Marriage just continually throws me curve balls. My own illness, his issues, our issues at the same time: what the HELL. Just when I think I have it all figured out, something else comes up. The difference is that with parenthood, I don’t EXPECT more. With marriage, I expect him to have some intrinsic knowledge (my bad), or that we’ll break into some sort of conversation that will miraculously explain our differences.

    Still waiting.

  • Acher

    I have no kids yet, but am fully expecting motherhood to kick me in the ass, especially since my marriage is pretty much a piece of cake. Oh yeah, and I was a good kid and my hubby was a hellion, so I am quite sure that I will get paid back for EVERYTHING HE DID.

    I should add, though, that though my marriage is great now, I think that’s only because we got all the crap out of the way before we ever even got married. We started dating freshman year in college, and fought like crazy during school. We graduated, got out of said fraternity and sorority houses, and discovered that we really liked each other! He’s my best friend, and I his (he did admit that to me) and for us, it makes the petty arguments easier to get over, and the big stuff easier to discuss.

  • Anonymous

    Marriage is much harder for me than being a mother. My parents were married 26 years before my father died and had a good marriage. My mom was a crazy nut. So it really should be flipped, all things considered … but I find mothering to be much more natural.

    An interesting topic, indeed.

  • Anonymous

    I would say motherhood is certainly more difficult, but maintaining a marriage while being a relatively new mom is tough too. I naively thought there would be a 50/50 division of labor when it came to kids, but I realized (and now excepted) it is not that way at all. At least in my situation, as the mom, I do WAY more stuff. Not to say my husband isn’t a good father, he is. But I am the one who has the running list in my brain of feeding times, what should go in the diaper bag, getting stuff ready the night before for daycare, when she should have a bath, etc. My husband just doesn’t think that way. It took me a while to accept that and many conversations with my husband for us to understand each other.

  • trinsch

    being a parent is the hardest. on a day to day basis my kids can drive me crazy. i totally love being a parent, i love my kids, but i don’t always love the way i deal with my frustrations. and being tired. and not having time to myself. being married is easier. but those few times i questioned my marriage, it was so much more frightening and made me feel absolutely empty. the thing about parenting is, that it’s a part of you, always, marriage is not a given. most of us will experience doubt. and even if you have doubts whether it was the right thing to have kids, it’s not going to change the fact that you’re a parent and you’ll make it work. and then you love it again a moment later. doubts about your marriage can destroy it.

  • For me, the two are similarly difficult, but for very different reasons. They’re both very very hard work, energy-draining and unforgiving. However, they are both also wonderfully rewarding, miraculous and always-changing. Kind of life itself!

  • kassi

    I personally have found that motherhood has been easier. The perimeters of my relationships with my children are much easier defined that with my husband. Though, candidly…I have had 2 marriages and one horrific relationship in between. I am much better equipped for the care and feeding of children than a husband…but I am working on it.

  • Heather, I am with you.
    My husband and I had it figured out with each other and knew how to fix it when it was broken. It was a give and take, fulfilling each other’s and our own personal needs on a regular basis. We knew well how to compromise. With Baby, there is no compromise. With our baby girl who is now 13 months old, it was just me giving and fretting and caring for and feeding and consoling and cleaning her. I also think because we had very full, fulfilling lives before adding Baby (and although we wanted one desperately), we had to work hard to make room for her in our everyday.

  • I know I won’t be able to clearly judge until I have a child, but from what I’ve seen with close friends and younger siblings I think raising a child is much more difficult than marriage. At least you get to pick your spouse. Kids? You have to make the best of whatever comes out! That being said, I think both are what will be the most meaningful part of my entire life.
    Phoo-D

  • Anonymous

    Married for 7 years and I’m expecting our first child, I’m much more nervous about motherhood than I was about spousehood. At least a spouse can be reasoned with, carry their fair share, work toward common goals. They are a partner. A baby isn’t. And then if you mess up, they blame you and spend years in therapy. Not that is isn’t rewarding and all that crap, but it’s not the same.

  • Sandra

    Parenthood is beyond any magnitutde scale of difficulty. WHEN one gets married you LIKE THEM!I love ALL THREE OF MY KIDS BUT–Do they test me continually? —I csn go on for days here.Do they value a paid for college education? No Kids are separate personalities and just because you carried them in your womb it does not mean YOU LIKE THEM. Blasphemous you say? Strike me dead. A 16, 18 and 20 year old and the oldest HAS always been difficult.

  • Margie

    I’m due with my first in April, and this very question is the thing I worry about the most! My husband and I get along like peanut butter and jelly most of the time, and we’ve had a really fun 6.5 years just the two of us. We’ve weathered some pretty decent challenges and come out great on the other side, and I feel so confident about our relationship as it is. And now we’ve decided to add a brand new personality into the mix in the form of an infant! I hear all these horror stories about moms who can’t stand their partners and I’ve seen my friends get all weird about letting their partners help with the baby, etc., and I’m terrified that somehow there is this lurking demon inside of me that will come out as soon as the baby is born and all of a sudden my marriage will become like all the marriages on sitcoms and for the first time ever we’ll yell at each other and snip at each other all the time. It seems unlikely, but most of the time I don’t see what people were like before kids, so I can’t compare and decide whether I’m susceptible or not! Heather, you make me feel more confident that my hubby and I can stay good, even if the parenting thing is even harder than I imagine, and I am totally grateful for that. There doesn’t have to be a lurking demon, right?

  • While I definitely don’t have a child yet, I will say that marriage is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder than being raised Baptist. Harder than going to an obscure Christian college. Harder than trying to find my first job with a degree in English from an obscure Christian college.

    For people who are control freaks like me, I assume there’s some sort of peace, however, in choosing the person you spend the rest of your life with in holy matrimony. One does not choose the kind of person one gives birth to.

  • I’m in a 3.5-year relationship (we live together in sin), so I might as well be married. We don’t have kids, but I’m going to venture a guess that motherhood is much more difficult than marriage. Actually, our relationship seems pretty easy, but I cannot imagine having my life dictated by a baby. Plus, nothing terrifies me more than the thought of being responsible for another human being’s life.

  • I suffered from post-partum depression twice, and I don’t ever want to again! I agree, marriage is easier compared to early parenthood.

  • Carrie

    Hi, Heather – I agree with you. Motherhood is much harder for me than marriage. Your analogy about a screaming baby vs. a screaming date is spot on.

  • Iris

    Sorry, unrelated:

    Dooce, you might enjoy the link below. It’s a Flickr set with some really great vintage illustrations:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/glenmullaly/

    Also, I love your photo of Leta in braids. The background colors are wonderful, there’s a stunning crispness near her shoulder and sweater, and Leta’s growing up to be a beautiful little lady!

  • At this point in my life (with my husband for 8 years, married for 5, 8 month old daughter), I am a little sad to say that marriage is harder. I love my husband; think he’s handsome, funny, smart, and most days he gets me. But, unlike Heather, I was very fortunate to have the parenting instincts kick in immediately. (Had I not gone back on meds at week 26 of my pregnancy, I don’t think I could say that).

    Being a working mom is hard; hard to juggle everything that must get done just to maintain a semi-clean home, spending time with Ellis, maintaining my relationship with my husband as we settle into roles as parents, and then, having time to actually do something I WANT to do, not HAVE to do. Having said that, I still think it’s easier to meet the needs of my daughter than it is to meet the needs of my husband, or to get my husband to understand that I need more help than he give; a perpetual argument in our household.

    I think my answer to this question may be quite different if Ellis was a toddler or a teenager. I am waiting for the day that she tells me “no”, or flips me attitude. I think as Ellis changes, and we learn to adapt our parenting to the stage Ellis is in, the dynamic in my marriage will also change.

  • KT

    Parenthood is definitely more difficult than marriage in my experience. At least in marriage you’re (usually) dealing with another adult with whom you should be able to reason with. Infants and toddlers, on the other hand, don’t have the best reasoning skills which really tests ones patience. Furthermore, as a full time professional who has a 2 year old and another baby on the way, balancing work and parenthood is extremely difficult. Balancing work and family before babies was a breeze.

  • As someone who’s married and never had children (planning to never have children) seeing all of these women talk about marriage being harder than parenting has be wondering if they made the wrong choice as to who to have children with. Their view of what a child’s needs are compared to an adult’s seems absolutely ass-backwards to me.

  • Kim

    I have twin toddlers, and there is NO way I could continue in my role as mother without the support of my husband. So, for me, parenthood is absolutely more difficult than marriage. We’ve been together for a long time, and our relationship has evolved through all kinds of phases, but I can honestly say that it keeps getting better and stronger over the years.

  • I find them equally hard… sometimes I feel like when my son arrived, my husband and I married another person.