Expectations

I start bedtime with my daughter at 7:30, right after I finish putting my son to bed. I have tried all kinds of techniques to move the routine along, but no matter what I do, I’m never out of her room before 9pm. And I’m rarely done interacting with her (responding to calls for me, helping her go to the bathroom, etc) until almost 10pm. With my alarm going off at 5am, this doesn’t leave much time for me to get stuff done after bedtime, let alone get a decent night’s sleep.

This extended bedtime was driving me crazy. I spent the whole time in a state of mild to extreme frustration. My highly sensitive daughter easily picked up on my feelings, which fueled her own distress, causing her to act up more and create further disruptions to our routine. By the end we were both distraught. Bedtime was something I dreaded.

At some point I recognized that bedtime was going to take 90 minutes, no matter what I did. Once I fully embraced that expectation, Iย  was able to shift my perspective to see bedtime as an opportunity for my daughter and I to enjoy each other and soak up some much needed quality time. I began getting laying my clothes out for the next morning right when I got home from work, and I tweaked the cloth diaper laundry schedule around so there wouldn’t be two nights a week that required late night diaper assembly for my inlaws. I stopped bringing work home to grade on the days I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it during my son’s nap. I told my husband that I was done trying to rush bedtime and instead was going to savor those moments with my daughter, who was starved for my undivided attention.

Bedtime can still feel like monotonous drudgery (how awful is it to floss a four year old’s teeth?!), but I have a much better attitude and we both end the night on a much more positive note.

At some point yesterday I realized that one of my husband and my big problems is in our expectations. The ongoing fight about who does more or who has the harder day is really about what we expect from the other person at some of those harder times of the day. If we could just clearly define our expectations in the evenings, we could shift our perspectives, and change the ways we view each other’s involvement.

Concurring with my husband that he has the harder time of it because dealing with the kids is more challenging for him–and he’s not a morning person to begin with–doesn’t mean much when I just say it. My expectations have to match that belief.

I used to do some very straightforward math (my husband has the kids (mostly just my daughter) for about two hours in the mornings and I have them both for about two hours before he usually comes home, which meant we BOTH should be on duty for the final two hours of bedtime. So when I did all or most of the bedtime routine whenever I was home, I would resent him not only for failing to help, but for failing to recognize that I was going above and beyond what is required of me. Our expectations during those final hours of the night were the source of much of our discord.

All that is going to change. My husband and I have decide to change our expectations so that we can both feel supported. We are no longer forcing family dinner on the weeknights, so my husband doesn’t feel rushed to leave work (he usually ends up arriving later than he’d like because my daughter lags in the mornings), and we will instead embrace family meals during the weekend. I highly doubt this arrangement will scar our still very young children; there are plenty of years for us to eat together when they are older.

I am no longer going to expect help during bedtime, but instead will respect that my husband needs this time to unwind and recharge. I wasn’t getting much help before, but now I won’t feel resentful about that, and I will appreciate that it’s time my husband needs. Once a week I will go out and see friends and my husband will deal with bedtimes. If I happen to be gone more than once in a week, I will make sure my husband gets some extra time to recharge during the weekends.

We will try to make sure we are both getting what we need on Saturdays and Sundays. I will wake up early with our son because my husband has the kids every weekday morning, and because it messes with my internal clock if I wake up way later than my normal 5am time. My husband will happily take the kids if I want to visit with friends or run errands at some point before Monday.

We decided to give these new expectations a month trial run, after which we’ll revisit to tackle any feelings of inequality either of us might perceive. I don’t expect these altered expectations to completely change the way we interact, but I do believe they will remove much of the resentment we’ve both been feeling. Hopefully, in the absence of those negative feelings, we can find some ways to reconnect, despite the constant exhaustion.

Have you ever changed your expectations, to positive results? How do expectations help, or hurt, your marriage?

12 Comments

  1. I just started a new book called “Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All” which may be helpful. Even if your expectations are lowered I worry that if both of you are still exhausted it is not solving the problem.

    1. Can you let me know if that book is helpful? I don’t really have the bandwidth to read another how-to-improve book right now, but if you think it’s good I’ll pick it up in a month or so, when I’m done with all this parenting stuff.

  2. Brilliant of you.
    One thought of mine about bedtime for small children now that I don’t have my own any longer so I am NOT an expert:
    1. Move tooth brushing/bath/pj time to directly after dinner separate from ‘going to bed’ time. A) it reduces stalling delay time with those activities therefore reducing stress about these activities. B) it means going to bed is just the stories, last toilet stop, last drink is a shorter process. C) it means the interval between post dinner and bedtime is not a wind-up period where the child’s behavior is really active rather than a calm quiet play time making them more not less ready for bed.
    2. I am a Huge advocate of laying out everything for children and parents for the next morning before they go to bed. Clothes, sweaters, shoes, lunch in the lunch box in the fridge, all papers and back packs, musical instruments, permission slips, required cash, sport activity special clothes for the next day etc. Have the Launch Pad all set PRIOR to start of ‘go to bed’. Start the habit young and it will help them all their lives.
    3. What is proposed in Noemicjames’s post: relax into the process by setting your expectations to agree with history and Enjoy the Bonding/Sharing Time with your child.

    1. I wish I could move teeth brushing up, but my daughter drinks warm milk right before bed. This part of her routine is non-negotiable, so it will have to stay where it is, right in the middle of her bedtime routine. She’s actually pretty good about it, but the flossing is the worst.

      I have started laying out my daughter’s clothes at night, to help my husband out (and to makes sure there are clean versions of everything he needs, since I’m in charge of the laundry). I hope that helps his morning routine.

  3. I relate to having the argument over who works harder/does more with the kids. Usually, by 4pm I’m pretty much wiped out and at the end of my rope so to speak. When D gets home, I want him to just take over. But often I forget (ok, I pretty much always forget) that he’s had a long day too. It’s so easy for me to say “being a stay-at-home mom and daycare owner is way harder than teaching band.”
    I know that’ s SO not true though, because I remember being mentally fried after teaching 5th grade and wanting to do nothing but sit on the couch and have a drink or three after school.
    I love that you and your husband are committed to working through this together. I appreciate that you are so honest, about your struggles and that you are choosing unselfish things like getting up on the weekends with the kids, etc. I can’t say I’m that unselfish, as I pretty much always get to sleep in on weekends. ๐Ÿ™‚ This is a great reminder that I need to give some in my married life as well.

    1. It must really help that you’ve been a teacher too, so you have a better idea of what it’s like for your husband. I think that is one of the problems in my marriage–my husband has no idea how hard it is to be a teacher. And maybe he shouldn’t have to know, because I chose my job so I should be able to manage the stress and exhaustion. I certainly don’t know how hard his job is, and I probably underestimate how tired he is when he gets home.

      I don’t know if I’m being unselfish in giving up weekend mornings. The reality is, if my husband went to get my son, my son would probably yell for me until I showed up. Mommy never gets to rest if the kids are around. ๐Ÿ˜‰ At least this way my husband gets a little more sleep.

      1. Wouldn’t it be eye-opening if we could switch places with our spouce for a day? I think sometimes I need a refresher on what it’s like to teach again, the pressure, the kids, etc. I know when D is home with the kids for an extended period of time, his favorite comment to make is “this shit is hard.”
        My SIL and her hubby switch off days to sleep in. That never worked for us, because for the longest time Callen ONLY wanted me, so I just got up in the mornings. Now, he’s a bit more independent and I can sleep in. It might just be for an hour, but that’s been very refreshing!

        1. I wish this were possible. My husband sells cars, which I would HATE doing, but he loves it. So even if it were logistically possible, it wouldn’t give us a true sense. But i do sometimes wonder who has it harder: he’s on his feet all day in a high-pressure job, working 70 hours a week. I’m in a lower-stress job, fewer hours, doing all the childcare and household management. Both are hard in their own ways, but so different.

  4. Having reasonable expectations absolutely saves us. We check in at least every 6 months to make sure we are on the same page about things and that system helps too.

    1. How do you remember to have the biannual check in? Does it happen at a certain time of year, of can you just sense when you need one?

  5. So, here is what I was going to say yesterday… I’ve done a lot of revising my expectations over the past year or so. It has made a HUGE difference in my happiness. K and I are so much happier together and have so much less conflict than we used to. The difficulty that I have, which I notice when talking to other married people, is that revising expectations often sounds like settling. I hear people say “I wouldn’t let my husband do that” or “that’s not acceptable” or “I shouldn’t need to…” and when I tell them that I’ve accepted that this is just the way it is, I feel like they’re thinking i’m a doormat. I actually got into an argument with someone on FB about this (in a closed group). One woman was going through a horrific situation and said her husband wasn’t being supportive. I said she should try to understand that he is hurting too and may just be dealing with it differently. Then a third woman said we shouldn’t have to always be second-guessing our partners and sidestepping around them, and her husband’s behavior was just unacceptable, etc. But overall, 90% of the time, I feel like trying to understand where my husband is coming from helps both of us. It’s not just me doing all the work, either, although I don’t think K is conscious of it (I think when I’m more patient with him, he’s more motivated to do things for me, without necessarily realizing it). So then I feel guilty about revising my expectations. But I also feel bad for these people who are so stuck in the “everything should be 50/50” mindset that they don’t realize marriage is all about compromises. They don’t seem very happy.

    Maybe this should be its own post…anyway, I’m so glad that you and your husband have both agreed to this. I hope it helps!

  6. Changing my expectations changed my marriage. For the better. I stopped expecting my husband to think like me and react like me, and allowed him to be himself. Of course, we still had to talk, and argue (yes, including just yesterday), but changing my expectations really made a big difference to my life and, I’m sure, his. Because I am so much nicer now!

    When I was volunteering on the ectopic site, one of the main causes of grief for the women there was the fact that they expected their men to react the same way they did, or they expected their men to know what they were thinking (without telling them), or they expected everything to go right.

    Satisfaction equals performance less expectation. You’ve got me thinking. I might blog on this.

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