Panic and Dread

On Sunday night my husband alerted me to the fact that he would not be home before bedtime one night this week, and I promptly had a panic attack. A real, legitimate, rock on the chest, panic attack. And then I asked him to please be home at least one day that week, because I couldn’t do all the days by myself.

And then I cried myself to sleep.

It’s been building over the past few weeks, this looming feeling of dread about the evenings. I’m not sure when it started (maybe with vision therapy?), or when it got so bad, all I know is that the thought of 5-9pm fills me with a panicky sense of dread.

Did you catch that? The mere thought of the only hours I spend with my kids during the work week fills me with apprehension. To say I feel guilt about this would be an extreme understatement. The guilt is suffocating.

But not as suffocating as the dread.

Those hours after work and before bed are my perfect storm. I’m tired after a day of giving myself to others who would do nothing but take. The transition from child care to home is a hard one, fraught with whining, yelling and full blown melt downs. Preparing food and feeding my children is the parental task I most loathe, and they have to eat dinner every. single. night. My son is increasingly a two year old and my daughter is increasingly her stubborn, emotional, aggressive, pre-diet self. Vision therapy requires I give 100% of my attention to my daughter for 20+ minutes. My son’s bedtime requires I give him 100% of my attention at exactly the same time I should be doing vision therapy. If I have to give either one of them a bath the whole schedule gets pushed back half an hour to an hour. Most nights I stumble out of my daughter’s room at 9:30, having not eaten dinner, with a load of laundry to fold and another to put in the dryer.

It’s a marathon and I have to sprint to the finish line. It requires a patience and empathy I just don’t have at the end of the day.  When I’m home alone it feels relentless and takes forever and even if I time everything just right, I’m still not done until late into the evening. When it’s over all I want to do is unwind for an hour but I don’t have an hour to do anything but laundry, pick up the house (not to make it clean, just to clear paths from one space to another), wash the lunch dishes, and pack the next day’s lunch. If I spend even 30 minutes on the couch reading blogs, I’m not asleep until midnight.

When my husband is home it’s more manageable, but he’s had work obligations a lot this month (fucking holiday parties, which he HATES to go to, but feels he needs to be seen at), and I’ve been alone until after bedtime most nights.

Asking him not to attend one of his events this week was the first time I’ve ever admitted that I couldn’t handle something with the kids. Want to go to SXSW for six days again? Sure! Feel you need to make that once a week nightly commitment because of your new job? Go for it. Want to take the weekend to attend a friend’s wedding? I got this.

But I don’t got this anymore.

I don’t got this.

I don’t know which felt worse on Sunday night, realizing that a week of nights alone with my kids gives me a panic attack, or admitting to myself, and my husband, that I can’t manage it anymore.

PS – I finally responded to all the comments on my last two posts. Thank you for your kind words of support. Sorry it took me so long to get back to all of you.

37 Comments

  1. I’m just going to say it, so it’s out of the way. Leaving you to do EVERYTHING all week when he’s not out of town is bullshit. BULLSHIT. You know that I think he’s got these “obligations” to avoid the stress of bedtime with the kids, and that’s not ok. I told you yesterday that if I worked outside the home, that with how Bryson acts right now, I wouldn’t want to come home at night…. But that doesn’t mean that I’d really not come home. He knows that 5-9 is the hardest part of your (and most parents) days and he’s ditching you with it, not seeming to care.

    I know he’s not an asshole, but this is an asshole move. It needs to stop. Of course you had a panic attack…. Lots of moms would. When Brian travels for more than 2 nights at a time, I get downright impossible to be around. I’ve sent him texts saying, “please do not call to chat, I have nothing left in me. Enjoy your quiet hotel.”.

    I don’t know how you get this to change, seems he’s done a good job setting this routine in motion, but there needs to be more conversation with him about what is and is not ok. “I hate going to these things but you know I have to,” is a bunch of bullshit.

    Sorry for the tone. I just understand this so well because my neighbor has a similar husband.

    1. He may just be avoiding coming home, but I think there are also a lot of holiday parties right now, and with a job like his, he probably should go to them. Does that mean he has to? I don’t know. I’ve never worked a job where my obligations were very specifically written out in a contract, so I don’t know much but about “being seen,” at the holiday thing when you have the type of job where you have to interact with a lot of different groups to do your job well.

      And to be fair he had three of the four events on the calendar, it was just the final event that I didn’t know about, but I also kind of hadn’t actually thought about how he wasn’t going to be home M-Th (F isn’t so bad because my in-laws take my daughter). I don’t know what the answer is.

      1. Yes, this has happened to us. Things get put on the calendar and you think of them individually, and then it’s go-time and you’re all, “WHAT???? ALL WEEK?”. Brian asked to take a 10 day trip next summer, two days after returning from a week of training out of town. I lost my shit on him. He said, “well, I didn’t look to see how close it was to training,” and I said, “of course you didn’t.”

        This is a man thing. I hate saying it, but it is.

        Sorry to have been so hard on your hubs. I obviously projected. 😉

  2. I also think it is BS that he’s gone five weeknights. If my husband did that I would flip out, and I only have one pretty easy kid! I would dread it too. I also know women who, in this circumstance, would hire an evening helper/babysitter. And get takeout. Nothing to be ashamed of.

    If this is really truly necessary, he needs to change his job. Guess what: parenting compromises your professional flexibility. You have to miss things for your family sometimes. Or choose a job that allows you to be an adequate parent and spouse. Those are the sacrifices we make to be parents.

    I think you are holding yourself to a standard of personal performance appropriate for a woman with a more helpful husband and easier children. I get that it would be nice if you could handle everything and enjoy the benefits of clean house, a nice homemade dinner, etc. But it isn’t realistic right now, and it isn’t fair to tear yourself down over it.

    1. His job doesn’t usually require him to be away a lot in the evenings, but he’s had a lot of holiday parties to go to, as it’s that time of year. I think he is probably able to be home as much in the evenings with this job as any other, but maybe I’m incorrect in that assumption.

      One of the things he does once a week (but it’s not every week anymore) is for an organization that he founded before we got together. It’s really important to him and I PROMISED him, when we were talking about having kids (::cough:: I was convincing him we could handle having kids ::cough::), that he could continue participating in that. He has scaled down his responsibilities A LOT, both for his family and because of possible conflicts now with his job, but I would feel horrible asking him to step away from something that he founded and worked so hard to create, especially when I assured him that he could keep doing it. I really don’t know what the answer is.

      1. I think that’s an awful lot, even for the holidays, for any job. Never, ever, ever have I or my husband had 5 weeknight activities in a row, even before having children. Weren’t you saying he is an introvert? Limiting social obligations is something that we introverts are usually pretty good at. Can’t he leave a little early at least?

        Just because you promised him the activity does not mean he has to have perfect attendance.

        Also, what can he do ahead of time to make this easier for you? When my husband travels he usually does some advance cooking so that dinner is ready for me to microwave.

        1. Agreed. If he absolutely HAS to go, why not have him make a short appearance every night so that he can help you when he gets home? He doesn’t have to speak or do anything at these events right? So make sure that the important people see him and then leave.

          My husband is the main cook in the house and he does exactly this. When he is leaving for a work trip he will make a big meal that I can microwave for at least two nights. We also have a lot of food in our downstairs freezer that I can heat up.

          I don’t know….two working parents is so tough but it sounds like you are making all of the sacrifices while he just continues doing whatever he wants to do. What is he going to do when your kids have after school activities? Skip them because he has work commitments? My dad did that- he missed all of my sporting events because he was working and it made me really sad (my mom would come).

          Even if he can’t get home in time to help with putting the kids to bed, what could he help with when he does get home? Chop some veggies or make dinner for the following night? Clean up the house a bit? Do some laundry?

          1. Maybe it’s because I’m a lawyer and I interact with a lot of people with high-stress jobs at firms or in government, but not all jobs allow you to consistently duck out for family obligations without there being some type of repercussion, even if subtle. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect parents to come to sporting events during work hours or at least not more than maybe once a season. Am I wrong? I just feel like we are being hard on this couple. That being said, maybe he could make an appearance and leave a few nights. Or not go to south by southwest every year (unless he comes back and completely takes over while mom is off duty for a few days)

            1. One more comment. I do agree that this arrangement isn’t working for you. And you seem to be making more sacrifices to keep the ship running. Maybe he should get a better paying job if he is going to insist on living in such an expensive city. This is really hard! It seems like he has a lot of non-negotiable points that have really hamstrung you into an arrangement that brings you a lot of stress.

              1. This, exactly. There are too many non-negotiable items on his list, and it’s boxing the family into a bad situation. He needs to make some hard choices and put his own preferences and well-being on the chopping block just like NKJ has been doing all these years.

                Maybe it’s true that missing an event has subtle repercussions, but so what? Sometimes that’s what it takes to be a decent parent and spouse. Letting down your family has subtle repercussions too. And of course, it’s NOTHING compared to the price women pay at work for daring to have a family.

  3. Does anyone ever really look forward to those hours at night? I rarely have to do the whole nighttime/bedtime routine for more than a night or two, unless McRuger is out of town (which is not frequently). But, when I do…it’s stressful and tense. I think most parents would say the same thing! Sending you love and the hope that this week isn’t as bad as you’re fearing.

    1. Thank you for saying this! I feel the same way. 6-8 (my husband is gone by 6 and the kids are in bed by 8) is my worst time as a mom. I’m completely checked out.

  4. I think you may need to flip the scenario and you just drop a “I won’t be home for this night…good luck with dinner, bedtime routine, vision therapy, etc.” He needs to know what you’re going through and perhaps be GRATEFUL for you and your time. Whether working outside the home or inside the home, you’re still contributing to the family, the financials, the home. It sounds like he’s just contributing a paycheck…and sounds a lot like my husband.

    But I hear you, after interacting all day with grown people who act like kids, I’m spent. Then to come home & while tired & frustrated…you take care of your kids (not complaining about taking care of my kids but you get where I’m headed)

    You can manage your kids…remember that. It’s the whole your husband not helping you…at least in my opinion.

    1. I think I do need to flip the scenario on him, it’s just that our whole daily schedule makes that so difficult, which is why I end up being home most evenings and it’s so easy for him to be away… We’d need to overhaul our entire day to make it work, and with our limited resources I just don’t know if that is feasible.

      I asked him what he would do if I said that I’d have something every night this week. The meat idea is ludicrous, it would just never happen, and I really don’t think he can fathom what it would be like. I told him this is EXACTLY what I’m talking about when I bring up dissatisfaction with our status quo and I think he’s starting to understand. But he still has a long way to go before he really gets it.

  5. I agree it’s a hard time of night for everyone, even with one not that difficult kid. Good for you for asking him to come home one night this week. I don’t know the particulars of his job but unless he holds elected office, I find it odd that these functions are an absolute obligation but there may be subtleties that aren’t apparent to us readers.

    I would serve eggs, cereal, grilled cheese, spaghetti and butter, quesadillas, etc for dinner.

    1. That’s already what I serve my kids for dinner. Every night! 😉
      Is not in an elected office, but he works for someone in an elected office. And his position is relatively new, and the specific obligations are as yet somewhat undefined. So I really do think that he truly believes he has to go to these things. Whether or not that belief is accurate, is another thing entirely.

      1. I believe him too. Jobs often have unspoken requirements that are tricky to navigate. The difficulties are often compounded by weird dynamics with a boss.

        I take it there is absolutely no way to get your daughter to bed earlier?

        1. For the record, I do not hesitate — and this is easier at this time of year, because it gets dark so very, very early — to set the clocks in our house ahead during the witching phase of the day. I generally only do this when I’m the only adult home (though I have occasionally done it when my DH is there, while SWEARING him to secrecy), and rarely if ever by more than about 30 minutes (often 10 or 15 at a time, to avoid detection), but it is a useful tool for shaving time off DS’s propensity to stall the bedtime routine and even (ironically) for shaving my very own propensity to allow him to do so. Sometimes (often?) he needs the earlier bedtime and does fall asleep, sometimes not. But no harm in trying and having the clocks early forces me to insist, because no way am I allowing him to think he can be anywhere other than in bed by 9 on a school night. Even if 9 is really 8:30.

          I do feel that the contemporary phenomenal prevalence of time-reporting devices in formats that small children can readily decipher (i.e. digital, not analog) is a remarkable challenge for the parents of those children. I do not yearn for the days of yore, but I do yearn for the ability to say, “it’s bedtime,” (based on my own judgment about our family needs, my kid’s included) and not be challenged on the basis of some red LED lights displaying a series of numbers.

          There are 3 clocks I have to change to make this work, and a bunch I can ignore. It is very important to remember to undo the tweak, or the benefit is lost the next morning …

  6. I am almost always counting down the minutes until 4pm when hubby gets home from work. The 8 screaming daycare kids have broken me by 4pm.
    That being said, I think if he honestly does go, he should only stay an hour. He can make the rounds, be seen, shake hands…if anyone asks he can explain that he has small kids who haven’t spent time with him, and that he wants to be there to tuck them in. When he comes home, you let him take over bedtimes and relax in your room or grab a coffee!

  7. I can understand how your husband has to be at these functions for political and employment reasons.
    Can Grandmother come to your house so the vision program and bedtime routine happen without distraction by the other child? Can Grandmother bring dinner? Not that I think your in-laws are your best friends but ‘he who will be absent’ is their child and it is short term right now. Besides they helped deep-6 the diet so they should help with the fallout. Unfortunately I suspect you do not want her in your home and she might not be much, if any help.
    Second idea: do you know anyone with a high school aged child that you can hire to spend the evening at your house dealing with the children? Yes, I know you are strapped financially but this is mental health work.
    I am SO very sorry. I think you mentioned earlier that you have been struggling against germs and illness all fall and you are exhausted. Hoping that you have two weeks off for the holidays and that your children will be out of the house for significant parts of that time. Wish you had your side of the family around to help!!

  8. I have 3 kids, eldest a teenager, the younger two are 8 and 4. I have been doing bedtime for the younger ones alone 100% of the time for several years now (unless I travel for work). These days the 8-yr-old takes a shower and brushes teeth on his own in our bathroom, but still needs water and tucking in and cuddles, while the 4-year-old gets a bath, teeth, pj’s, the works. So I kind of handle them in parallel. Sometimes the 8-yr-old will read a story to the 4-yr-old, and it melts my heart. Other times they smack each other over the head or yell and run around naked like crazy chimps. Sometimes I have the energy, usually I don’t. There may or may not be parental yelling involved.

    The thing is that now the kids don’t even want to go with my husband if I am at home, and I don’t think he’s heartbroken about it in the least. He often eats dinner and then just goes in front of his computer and stays there all evening. While I feel guilty if I ignore the kids before bed and do my thing, he doesn’t have this problem.

    I have just made my peace with the fact that bedtime is my obligation and I don’t even mind it that much any more. My kids are really, really cute (so say I), and I get lots of hugs and kisses at bedtime (also whining and complaining and them being obstinate). After we are done, if I can’t do the dishes, I don’t. If I am too spent to pick up the slack, I don’t. DH would love a spotless kitchen, I say fuck it. I think I have lowered my expectations of my husband, and in return I have dropped some stuff I just don’t have the energy to do and he’s picked it up (like laundry, vacuuming, dusting) or has to suck it up and live below his standards. (Years ago we moved from me doing laundry all the time to DH doing all the laundry on the weekends; whites on Saturdays, colors on Sundays).

    Generally, I do not begrudge the time with the kids, even though they can be tiring. I actually much prefer the time with the kids alone than with DH around.

    I am doing it the “DH way”. He takes the time for himself when he needs it and drops the kids on me. I take the time when I need it by not doing some kidless chores. He has much more spare time than me and also is painfully introverted, needs a lot of down time. Fine. I accept that I will do more overall (at work and at home), but I will not be anyone’s martyr and am definitely not going for a home featured in “Better Homes and Gardens” or whatever. I quickly shut him down when he complains about cleanliness or whatever.

    I am not sure where I was going with this lengthy post. My guess is I wanted to (a) say that there’s another person out there who does the bedtimes 100% of the time, and (b) has made peace with it and doesn’t expect help with it any more, and instead counts it as quality time with the Littles (even when the quality is not all that great), and has (c) dropped other stuff like a hot potato and they either they don’t get done in a timely fashion or DH has started doing them.

    Good luck!

  9. Sorry in advance for the length of this comment! I have a lot to say on this subject.

    I am sorry that this is happening to you. Your situation sounds very similar to my own (although my kids are older and it’s become easier for me) so I understand how frustrating this all is.

    Something, something, in your life needs to change. Your last few posts show your resolve weakening and your despair deepening and you just cannot go on like this for any extended period of time. When I was in your shoes a few years back I came to the point of accepting that things really weren’t going to change because the changes I wanted would involve my spouse becoming a different person. I don’t believe that changes in temperament or personality are really possible so I accepted that I was/am essentially a subsidized single parent. Once I got to that point, things actually got much better and I stopped feeling let down by expecting him to do things that he just wouldn’t or couldn’t do (but that I saw other men doing, willingly).

    It sounds like the absolute best thing your husband can do for your family is to aggressively seek out a higher paying job. If he doesn’t want to or can’t pull his weight as an equal parent–and, to give him some slack, a lot of people are just not cut out for it–then he needs to take on the breadwinner role with complete gusto. Your day-to-day life will stay roughly the same, but you will be able to pay for the help that he is not able to provide (e.g., someone to pick up your children from school and bring them home, housekeeper, weekend babysitters).

    I apologize if this is all coming off as incredibly harsh. You deserve more help. And your husband needs to step up in some way and provide it to you. I found this Ask Polly column (http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/10/ask-polly-should-i-tell-him-what-i-want.html) very eye opening for me in regards to my own relationship and how I was too easy to be with for too long. It really sounds like you’ve always done way more than your fair share in this relationship and now that pattern is so entrenched that getting him to do even a little bit more seems like a huge burden to him. But you should know that your expectations of him are not too high and that he has likely coasted on you for too long. Here’s a blog thread about emotional labor that might also resonate with you (http://www.metafilter.com/151267/Wheres-My-Cut-On-Unpaid-Emotional-Labor).

    1. I agree. This cannot go on. He needs to find a way to make more money, or a job that allows him to be a better partner or parent. Making whatever he makes and also leaving the home front mostly to you is not working. Or maybe it’s working for him, but not for you and the kids.

  10. I think that if he has to go to these things, and it sounds like he does, then the two of you need to look at ways to make it easier for you. Grandparents, hiring someone, making meals in advance, going to a party but coming home before bedtime… if he helps you come up with some solutions, it’ll be less of a you-against-him scenario.

    That said, as much as I often lament my husband not being more helpful, there’s a part of me that’s pleased at being able to do it all myself. He’s been helping more at bedtime lately, and I have this fear now that if he ever works really late, I won’t be able to do it anymore. Which I guess is better than never having his help. But I don’t like feeling like I NEED him there.

  11. I totally get you on the panic. Hell yes I’d be panicked having to do the 5-9pm hours on my own for five days in a row, & mine are a bit older in ways that are pretty important (though still can be very tough). I get that he has to go to these events, fine. Suck it up, make it through the week. And then what is he going to do for you? How is he going to make up for your stress & panic & dread? Will he take over all the chores for the weekend? Will he give you hours on your own Saturday? Its really not equitable or thoughtful if you don’t get a break at some point.

  12. When I first read the start of your post I read it as there would be 1 night this week he wouldn’t be home. I thought, hmm, I’d be pissed but a panic attack seems a little extreme. Then as I read further I realized you meant he’d be gone every night. Hells no, no wonder. I agree with others, you’ve gotta put your foot down. Does he REALLY need to go to all those things? It’d be one thing if he had done sort of exec job that required it, but then that would probably come with exec pay with which you could hire a nanny, housekeeper, etc.

    The longest I’ve done nights alone (and DH too) was 3 days, for required out of town training (him) and sort of required out of town conferences (me). But only maybe 2x each ever. And it was hard. DH resorted to allowing after school tv which is NOT allowed so I was pissed.

    1. I’d totally be OK with TV if I was away for 3 days and he needed a break…it definitely isn’t part of our norm AT ALL (we rarely do screen time ever). but you gotta do what you gotta do for sanity! I’m thinking of going to a conference in April for 5 days. I REALLY want to go, it’d be awesome for my career, BUT…that is a long ass time for him to be alone with the kids. We’ll have to think of how he’ll manage.

      1. Yes, it’s not the end of the world but my kids treat every excursion from rules as precedent. Then mommy’s the bad guy…

  13. I completely understand the panic and dread feelings, and the guilt that goes along with them. I dread the mornings I have to get all 3 kids ready myself (when G’s nurse isn’t here) and the afternoon hours when I have them. These precious children I prayed for and adore, and yet make me crazy when it’s just me alone with all of them. G’s nurse told us last night she’s going to Africa for 8 WEEKS starting next week- cue major panic attack today. It’s so, so hard to do it all yourself, especially when you are tired.

    I get skeptical about the having to be “seen” obligations, but what do I know? Ugh- I guess we just power through.

  14. I don’t know the company culture at your husband’s company but many companies do expect face-time and attendance at functions, and those who attend can benefit career-wise. Assuming he can’t get out of these this week, I would focus on what I can do at home to make it less anxiety-ridden.

    BTW, I totally understand how you feel. If my husband is gone a lot /most of the weekends, I get anxious about managing kids by myself. I love being with them but it’s also stressful and tiring. I cheat by inviting a family member or 2 friends who like to help me with the kids. I also schedule make-up ABA therapy sessions on weekends to help break up the day. And sometimes I just ask if my mom can drop by for an hour or two!
    If I’m truly alone, I make sure kids are safe and then lie in bed for a bit.

  15. My husband’s job requires him to be gone many, many nights and honestly it’s come to the point where when he is home he interrupts our mojo and I feel resentful. And two year olds are SO MUCH WORK – I swear mine has a death wish. I guess I don’t really know what to say that hasn’t been said – with my husband’s job there is no way he would be able to miss the events he has to attend, and we rely on his salary so I wouldn’t want him to experience any subtle repercussions! It seems like he has a job with a great future and putting in the time now is important. I know you have talked about looking for different work…ugh. Honestly I just think this sucks for both of you and the kids and there isn’t a great solution other than having a glass of wine while handling bedtime? And finding a way to eat with the kids. Sometimes the kids and I have a crackers, cheese, fruit and salami for dinner, LOL. I don’t think that fits in with your daughter’s diet but maybe something similar? I just want you to know that I hear you, that this is a really difficult situation, and I don’t necessarily think husband shirking his duties or, as someone who has recently moved, moving are realistic solutions.

    1. honestly it’s come to the point where when he is home he interrupts our mojo and I feel resentful.
      This is how I feel when DH interrupts out bath time or gets up before noon on weekends.

  16. This is totally our relationship too: “Asking him not to attend one of his events this week was the first time I’ve ever admitted that I couldn’t handle something with the kids. Want to go to SXSW for six days again? Sure! Feel you need to make that once a week nightly commitment because of your new job? Go for it.” I’ve been so accommodating of stuff like this and it WEARS me down. I get it.

  17. I had to comment on this post, since tonight was night 4/4 of solo parenting doing the ‘post-work/bedtime’ shift. And it was PAINFUL (mine are 3.5 and 1.75). I am hoping that someday when they are older (it DOES get easier . . . right?) I will feel the way xykademiqz does, because I don’t have much hope for my husband being home regularly at that time. And I think I could be at peace with that. AS LONG as he comes home occasionally, and as long as I get mornings or some other reasonable trade off to have some time for myself.

    Anyway, I just wanted to commiserate.

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