More thoughts on Parenting (and some on Marriage)

I wanted to write a follow up to those last two posts for Friday, but I’m glad it didn’t happen. My perspective has changed a little since the weekend and now I appreciate the time and space these last days have given me.

As I expected, publishing those posts was cathartic. While I didn’t feel like I learned much from writing them–there was no revelatory moment as I processed those feelings, in fact I don’t feel like I processed them so much as vomited them, but it was all I was able to manage, so I’ll have to take it–the comments were so eye-opening and validating and interesting, I feel like I can look at this topic with a new perspective and that is something I value more than words can say.

I was thinking a lot about my posts and everyone’s responses over the weekend, as my family and I spent two days at a beach house with my parents. My husband came, which is a rare occurrence, and I’m so glad I had those two posts, and their comments in the back of my mind as we meandered through the weekend.

It ended up being a really nice two days. The kids were pretty manageable, all things considered. We got decent sleep, it wasn’t torture keeping my son safe (and the house undamaged) despite the fact that it wasn’t child-proofed. The weather was beautiful and we didn’t have any grand expectation. The kids played at the beach a lot, shivering with their feet in the waves, then warming up in the dry sand. My parents provided just enough support to allow us to make small, but important, strategic moves throughout the day, but didn’t get in the way of our parenting. The close proximity to the beach meant our son’s nap schedule could be accommodated for without trapping our daughter in the house. We each had time with the kids one-on-one and also hung out as a family.

Actually, it was a pretty perfect weekend. It was exactly what I was lamenting we don’t do in my last two posts. It was exactly what I envisioned having a family would be like.

Sure there were meltdowns. Sure my daughter was being difficult a lot of the time. Sure my son required constant supervision (and still managed to give himself a few shiners). Sure my husband and I hardly got to exchange two not-parenting related words with each other. Sure it was exhausting. But it was also fun, and I made some really wonderful memories with both my kids, and I felt closer to my family for having braved the weekend away.

It was in coming home from that weekend, awash in the salt and sand and sun of a successful trip, that I realized what has really been bothering me about parenting. It’s not so much that I think it’s hard and that I don’t feel like anyone talks about that. It’s that I disappointed, heartbroken really, that it doesn’t resemble my expectations in the slightest.

When I wrote before that my greatest aspiration in life was to parent, I thought I was explaining that my current ambivalence toward parenting was not rooted in some previous ambivalence about becoming a parent. But what I was actually doing was explaining why I am so deeply disappointed by my reality of raising two kids. This was supposed to be my life, and it was supposed to look and feel… well… positive. But it doesn’t. And I think there is a part of me that is mourning the life I thought I’d have. The life I fought so hard for. The life that I thought I couldn’t live without.

Part of the disconnect, for me, is rooted in the idealized version of parenting we, as a culture, espouse. But ultimately, my disillusions about parenting are wrapped up in my disillusions about my marriage.

Ultimately, the vast majority of this is actually about my relationship with my husband.

It’s not that I hate parenting, it’s that I hate how we handle parenting together. It’s not that I’m overwhelmed managing my children, it’s that I’m overwhelmed managing my children without the support of my husband.

It’s that most of the time, I feel like I have to manage him.

I’ve started reading a book about marriage. I’ve read parts of it before, but never finished it. I REALLY want to finish it this time. I want to do the exercises. I want to do the work so that we can get to a better place. I think, if we came to some kind of understanding, all of this would be so, so much better. And I think we can arrive at that better place.

At least, I’m making myself believe it right now.

Because if I don’t believe it, what is the point?

Just the first fifty pages of this book have been really eye opening. I have been reminded of all the negativity I bring to our marriage, all the things I’m doing wrong, and there are a lot of them. A LOT. I have been kind of mortified by how much antagonism I’ve bringing to our interactions. I really need to change the way I do things.

I’ve talked to my husband about it. I know it’s not his thing to read a book or see a professional (I think both would be IMMENSELY helpful for him, but I’m trying hard to accept what he is and isn’t willing to do), but he has said he’s willing to do some exercises with me on Friday evenings when we have a little time. I’m letting myself believe that things will get better between us and that I can be happy with where we end up, even if my husband never has the attitude toward raising kids I’d hoped he would have.

I think, if we get to a better place, the parenting challenges will seem a lot more manageable. There will still be issues that I have to accept to enjoy the arduous task of raising small children, but I think I can get there. And even if I never truly enjoy it, I hope I can get to a place where I feel some contentment at the end of the day.

Does your marriage mitigate or exacerbate the challenges of your daily life?

21 Comments

  1. Great that you have a plan to increase communication with your husband etc. Glad overall the weekend was successful and smile productive.
    Interesting you are saying your images of parenting are perhaps not reality based but more formed by idealized… perhaps Brady Bunch… portrayals. A common thing I believe.
    But the one point that really really stopped me was your remark about managing your husband. Because really we can only manage ourselves and trying to manage another person generally doesn’t work well, even in a work setting one really manages the flow of work and expectations not the person. But then I thought “huh, really it sounds like your husband manages you really well so you carry the organizational/resonsibility load for the kids and whatever else” so maybe some people really are good at managing other people’s lives …. and why am I am thinking it is ususally men who manage women’s lives so that wives do so much more caretaking and mundane task management of every day living? But I have no idea where this goes and REALLY hope you and your readers can tell me where I have fallen off the brain grid. HELP!

    1. What I meant when I said I manage my husband is that I manage his moods, or better said, I have to manage myself a lot more when he is in a bad mood because when he is a defeatist mindset I have to do a lot of work to assure him that things will be okay, or to just assure myself that things will be okay, and keep myself from getting pulled down by his negativity. So it’s not really that I manage my husband, because I certainly don’t get in his business as far as parenting or house keeping is concerned–I let him do things in whatever works for him, even if the sink full of dirty dishes makes me crazy. But I do feel the need to be reactive to his moods, and that is where I’m trying to step away and let him feel what he is going to feel and stay responsible only for what I feel. But it’s hard, because when you partner is in a bad place, everyone feels like they are in a bad place.

      1. THANK YOU!!!!
        I figured I had probably fallen off the brain grid. I had. And it didn’t sound quite like you to be trying to ‘manage HIM’. Managing Yourself and paying attention is VERY different from what my brain read into what you had written.
        THANK YOU for elaborating especially because my generation really was taught and judged by our ‘success’ in ‘managing the men in our lives’. Such hocky puck and so terrible for both genders!

  2. I totally agree with this. When the going gets tough, it’s so much easier to handle if you have someone at your side handling it WITH you. We were in a bad spot a few months ago, and a lot of it came down to me not feeling supported and helped at all, which basically turns me into a raging bitch and makes him shut down even more…so you know, a vicious cycle. When we can break out of that though and work together – it’s SO much better, because we’re facing the challenge of parenting/bills/lift together and feel good about helping each other out instead of feeling like we’re picking up each other’s slack because we have to.

    1. Ah yes, the vicious cycle. We know it SO, SO WELL. I think I am the one who perpetuates the cycle the most and I am realizing, after reading the beginning of this books, the ways in which I do that. Just identifying those things and changing how I initiate conversations has helped immensely.

      I have to admit, I have taken to blaming my husband about a lot of our issues, and not taking responsibility for the parts I play in our problems. Recognizing that I was bringing as much negativity to our marriage as he was has been really eye opening and ultimately a really good thing for me. Already, things are better. I hope they continue to move in a positive direction.

  3. I relate to so much of this. Managing my husband’s mood is really overwhelming. I find that I can never really relax when I’m with him and my family. He doesn’t get really angry or anything, but he can get so frustrated or withdrawn and he has a hard time masking it (or, rather, he doesn’t even try). And I often mind myself doing something or saying something as a preemptive move and then I resent it. I mean, obviously it is good to be sensitive to your partner’s needs and moods. But, it shouldn’t be so challenging.

    1. Wow. You are inside my head right now. It’s kind of scary.

      I’m sorry you have to deal with challenges in your marriage. It is so, so hard.

  4. I’m lucky in that DH participates fully in childcare and housework. But one nagging issue is that *I* am pretty much solely responsible for doing things like bills, taxes, making appointments, researching and arranging for things like a refi, daycare, vacation, etc. I’m just better at it, have more suitable education, job (such that I can make calls and Google from there), etc. But still a lot of weight on my shoulders.

    And we also have the issue of me reading books on parenting issues and DH not wanting to.

    1. “But one nagging issue is that *I* am pretty much solely responsible for doing things like bills, taxes, making appointments, researching and arranging for things like a refi, daycare, vacation, etc.” Preach. This is absolutely our experience and it doesn’t necessarily drive me crazy that I do it, it drives me crazy that I don’t get any recognition for doing it. This is the invisible work, you know?

      Are there any men who want to read books on parenting? My husband always appreciates the perspectives I get from reading those books, or the assurances that whatever our kids are doing is developmentally appropriate, and yet he doesn’t seek out that information himself. Baffling.

  5. I’m commenting again. I really want to thank you for putting this out there. Although people often complain about their husbands in a “cute” way, I actually think it is harder to talk about frustrations and disillusionment in marriage than frustrations and disappointment in parenting. At least for me, admitting that there are problems with my marriage is far more shameful than admitting that I find being a SAHM unfulfilling (luckily I’m slowly returning to work) and that I am often frustrated by my lovely, lovely son. I have lots of ideas as to why talking about marital problems is more difficult, but I can’t really articulate this now. I think for me it has to do with shame. I’m curious to know what you think as you are one of the most self-aware and insightful voices I have ever come across.

    1. I really appreciate your honesty and perspective on this. I will definitely write more about struggling in my marriage and the shame associated with it. I am lucky that I have a few good friends I can talk to about this stuff, and they very much understand me and have common enough experiences to know where I am coming from and know what to say. So I have people to talk to about this stuff, both IRL and online. I’ll keep writing about it, knowing that it’s helpful for people. Thank you for telling me that it’s relevant to your life and you value my thoughts on it. I appreciate knowing that more than I can say.

  6. I find this fascinating. I can’t always comment on your posts about parenting, for obvious reasons, but this one saw me answering your questions or nodding and responding as i read through it. First, you must have had an idyllic childhood if you thought parenting was going to be so picture-perfect. Not that my childhood was unhappy. But I saw the struggles between my parents, and the to-be-honest sheer grind of motherhood for my mother. Which is why I waited till I felt I (and my marriage) was read for that. None of us though are ever probably ready, though, and I’m sure it is always be different to what we expected.

    I was nodding when you said you had to manage your husband. I realise from the comments you didn’t mean it in quite the way I assumed. But in my observations of all my friends and family who have children, it always falls to the mothers to “manage” things. Men seem to be far less personally aware, particularly of how their emotions or actions are going to affect everyone else. I remember a friend saying she always enjoyed her husband going away on business trips, because then she only had her job and two kids to manage, instead of her job and what felt like three kids!

    And we – the nurturers and peacemakers – make allowances. I’m really annoyed at myself at the moment for trying to “appease” my husband over the last year, and now we’re in a situation that I hate. We’re organising our way out of it, but it’s only because I didn’t try to manage him (because emotionally that can be so hard) that we are in this situation at all.

    When I read your last question, I laughed. What a provocative question! Ultimately, I think my marriage does both. At different times. As it should I guess.

    1. PS. “Are there any men who want to read books on parenting?” you ask. I’m not sure about parenting, but on relationships? “Probably not!” is my answer.

      1. I have asked that question before, about if men read books about relationships and I’m sure the answer is no. I really can’t figure out why. Any thoughts on that?

    2. I try to always make my final question relevant to everyone reading. I don’t know if I succeed with that, but I really try to word it so everyone feels invited to respond and so that everyone feels their experience is relevant and valid to the discussion. Please let me know if I’m ever failing to do that.

      It definitely does seem to fall women to “manage” things, whether kids are a part of a marriage or not. I read once that men who grow old without a woman in their life die much younger because they just don’t manage their own care (go do doctor’s appointments, fill/take their medications, get tests done, etc) as well by themselves. So even in matters of life and death, men seem unable to do these things for themselves. It’s kind of astonishing that they are credited for carrying the human race this far… 😉

  7. This was us last year at this exact time. We did not like each other, we fought with or ignored each other, and we were too exhausted to even try to be nice to one another. It took a lot of work and communication on both of our parts, but a lot of directness from me. “I’m not spending my life managing your mood. I’m not letting your mood be my problem to fix. You take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself. Tell me when I’m pissing you off. Tell me what you don’t like about me. Tell me how I anger you so I can fix it. We can’t live forever like this.”. We got out of it, and we talk all the time, at least once a week, about how hard that time was. We remind ourselves of it because we don’t want to go back there.

    You will get through this because you’re working hard on it. He never went to therapy with me, but my therapy helped us tremendously. He never really took his meds as prescribed, but the need for them made him change his outlook on things. Be kind and gentle with yourself and him, and you will succeed!

    Good on you for working so hard!

    1. I love hearing the actual things you said to start changing the atmosphere. I have been rolling them around in my mouth since you left them here. Thank you.

      I really need to go back to therapy, but I’m not sure how to find someone new (my therapist practices on the other side of the bay now, and only sees people once a month) and it would require a lot of work to make someone new fit in my budget. Plus, there is a part of me that feels resentful that *I* have to be the one to go to therapy so I can work on *our* marriage. Why do I have to do all the work and he gets to reap the benefits?! That just seems so unfair. And I get that if *I* want it to get better I need to just suck it up and do it for myself, but it still makes me angry. I need to work through a fair amount of resentment on a lot of this.

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