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, I 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?