Digging Deeper

I appreciated Polly’s comment on my last post. It got me thinking: Where were these feelings coming from? Why was I jealous of my own husband?

In my response I said that it wasn’t what my husband did or didn’t do, but instead his attitude that bothered me. But as the hours marched on and I thought I about it more, I realized my husband’s attitude has been changing. He isn’t so negative these days. He recognizes and validates my efforts more than ever before. I returned to that knee-jerk response because it was true for a long time, but I don’t think it is anymore.

So I dug a little deeper.

It turns out my response to Polly’s comment is not accurate at all. The real reason I envy my husband is that I feel totally and completely overwhelmed in this role. Motherhood doesn’t play to any of my strengths. I feel like everything I’m forced to do as a mother goes against who I am. It’s exhausting, and I never feel like I’m doing a good job.

I’m not particularly patient. I’m not a good listener. I’m not good at staying present. I am not good at being, really being with my children day in and day out.

I’m scatter brained and distracted. Making–and keeping–appointments is hard for me. That is probably why I spend so much time thinking about them–I’m terrified I’m missing one at any given moment. I forget about an appointment and make other plans and then have to cancel something. On Wednesday morning I woke up to a reminder from Kaiser about my pap smear Thursday, at exactly the same time I had plans to visit the Discovery Museum with new friend. (Obviously my pap smear is going to wait.)

I hate food. I hate having to plan to make food, I hate preparing food. I hate bringing food with me and remembering to feed it to my kids. I hate trying to get my kids to eat food and I hate cleaning up after them when they don’t really eat it. Basically I hate food, and I hate that now I not only have to worry about what I eat every day, but what two other humans eat too. (Especially when there is so much out there about how what we feed our kids is the pinnacle of importance in parenting and I’m constantly being berated by messages about how I should only be offering organic, free-range, locally grown, fresh fruit and veg and protein and also dairy is the devil and gluten will f*ck your kids’ fragile gut and you are seriously ruining them if you feed them proceeded shit from a store, which is exactly what I feed them for every single meal because it’s all they’ll eat.)

It’s so much pressure. And I feel like I’m shouldering it all.

I want to feel like I have a partner in all of this. I want to feel like it’s not all falling on me. I don’t want to feel like I’m failing. At the very least I want to feel like we are failing, instead of just me.

Because he doesn’t have to feel like a failure for yelling at the kids; he’s not usually with them at the hardest time of their days (and he’s not the one telling them they can’t have gummy bunnies because they screamed through the shower). He doesn’t have to feel like an asshat for showing up at the birthday party without a gift when everyone else brought one (he wouldn’t even be at the birthday party to see he’d forgotten the gift). He doesn’t have to worry about missing the appointment because he didn’t make it and won’t be bringing the kids to it anyway.

All those things, they chip away at me, they are tiny weights that eventually bow me at my very core. I wish I could share that burden with someone else, with my husband, so that it didn’t feel so oppressive.

But there’s more. The real reason I wrote that post yesterday and not months ago, is that right now things are especially intense. I’m home all day with my kids, which I’m not used to. We are all on the cusp of major family transitions with Kindergarten starting for our daughter and daycare/preschool coming up for our son. I’m seeking professional help to better meet my daughter’s needs, sitting across from someone and assimilating words like “atypical” and “concerning.” And I’m sitting there alone, trying to keep it all straight so that later I can relate it all to my partner, even though I’m not entirely sure of any of it myself. I’m deciding if we should move forward with the sensory assessment and then if we should move forward with Occupational Therapy (or just stick with PCIT). These are big decisions, associated with significant dollar amounts, not to mention my daughter’s future contentment and well being. I don’t know what the answers are, and it feels like it’s all on me to figure it out.

It’s not that my husband isn’t there to talk about these things. He is. Kind of. But he’s removed enough that it doesn’t seem to touch him like it touches me. And it’s his habit (our habit) to default to me on this stuff because I’m the one who’s read the books and been to the appointments and talked to the therapists and witnessed my daughter’s behaviors in these myriad environments.

I can’t even get into how much of myself I see in my daughter and how that can be a gift because it helps me empathize with and understand her better but the guilt of knowing I gave all this to her is its own massive burden.

When my husband is with our kids he is 100% with them. He doesn’t do anything else, he follows their leads and plays their games and immerses himself in their very being. He is way better at being with them than I could ever be. (I like to tell myself it’s because he isn’t with them as much, but I know my distractible ADD-ridden self could never just be with them the way he is.) He is so much more attuned to their subtle cues; he can tell they are getting tired or over-stimulated way before I do. He is an amazing father, and when I think of what a great team we could make it tears at my heart.

But we’re not that team. Not yet. Maybe some day we will be, but I’m not sure how we’ll get there. Right now my husband seems to overwhelmed by the enormity of our children’s needs. He’s too tired at the end of the day to talk about simple things, let alone tackle sensitive, complicated topics. He says that these years are just going to be hard, and there is nothing we can do to make them better; we just have to wait it out and reconvene on the other side. While I agree with him that these years bring with them a certain level of unavoidable stress and exhaustion, I think a shift in our perspective could make the whole thing seem a lot more manageable. So I take on more in an attempt to alleviate his burden and then the weight of it all becomes too much and I get envious and resentful and write posts like yesterday’s.

We have our weekend together without the kids soon. I want to bring all this up, but I know I’ll botch it somehow. (I so wish I owned a copy of Crucial Conversations so I could review–there are downsides to only borrowing books from the library.) I’ll still try, and I’ll still hope for the best, even if what I’m expecting is less optimistic.

29 Comments

  1. Here’s my suggestion: it’s probably too late this summer, but next summer try to find summer employment. This could be something like working for an educational program (does SF have programs for migrant kids? summer school?) or something completely different (temp work, customer service work, summer tutoring etc.). There’s no shame in needing time away from kids or more time with adults, even if that time away only covers childcare.

    https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/crucial-conversations-a-book-review/ has a summary of the Crucial Conversations steps.

  2. One thing that has helped me cope with some of these same issues is to firmly switch my mindset to thinking of parenting as a relationship with my child rather than a job to be performed. Parenting as a job has become accepted wisdom these days, and I know there are many good reasons for that, but I think it is important to remember that at its essence it is a relationship. Children are not widgets in a people factory where the success of the product is determined at age 18.

    With that in mind, think about all of the other relationships in your life. Do you get frustrated with those? Lose patience? Want to disengage at times? Need more support at other times? Your relationship with your children is governed by the same rules and is bound to fluctuate and get stressed in the same ways.

    All of that is a long way of saying: give yourself a break. Don’t think of parenting as working towards an end goal. Accept that all of you will screw up, a lot. Not every moment needs to be perfect and wonderful to be valuable and worthy.

    1. I understand what you mean, about switching my mindset from parenting as a job to a relationship. I appreciate that idea. But parenting is so much more than just a relationship. There is no other relationship where you are so totally and completely responsible for the other person’s well being. The dynamic is just different. OF course that doesn’t meant there isn’t a relationship, and I am actually excelling at the relationship aspect of parenting right now, it’s all the background noise that is wearing me down.

  3. I really think you’re on to something here that could pivotally change your relationship with your husband for the better.

    I’m obviously looking at this through my colored lenses, but I wonder…
    -Do you feel you have to be strong around your husband or is he your safe place to fall (a good gauge may be – how many times have you completely fallen apart with him (e.g., ugly crying/can barely talk kind of thing – completely emotional, not at all rational)?
    -How much do you trust your husband, specifically insofar as if you were to completely fall apart, do you trust his ability to pick you/the family up and manage the situation?
    -Do you believe your husband loves you and all of your weaknesses/imperfections or do you believe there are things you could do or ways you could behave that would cause him to leave you?

    Please don’t feel like you have to answer on such a public forum. May just be some things to think about (especially if you reread what you wrote today)…

    1. This really made me think. Are you supposed to be able to fall down so completely with your husband? Your insight into marriage is really eye opening to me.

      1. My husband is one of two people I can completely fall apart with…and have done so many times in our life together. Is this not the norm??

        1. You’re definitely not alone, but who knows about what norms are. I’m not even sure it’s necessary for a healthy relationship because different people have such different preferences and relationships and can be happy in all sorts of different situations.

    2. I will definitely think about this and reply either in a post or to you privately. Very good questions to think about.

  4. Sorry, this will be disjointed. Also, you may not want advice/suggestions, in which case it won’t be helpful (but if you do maybe there is something of value in here — maybe not as I am not you and don’t know you).

    I was thinking about your yesterday post (and reply to my reply, to which I haven’t replied) this morning, and was thinking … [at least here, in terms of the school year] there are 6 weeks left of summer. Clearly where you are right now is really hard in terms of responsibility and set up. Two ways to approach this (somewhat, though perhaps not entirely, dichotomous) are to think you just have to get through these next 6 weeks, or that these 6 weeks are putting pressure on a lot of points that are issues more generally (but more serious/wearing now) and that need to be addressed.

    For the “just 6 weeks” angle, could you hire someone or make arrangements with family (not your DH) so that, say, 8 hours/week you you have your home to yourself (or even just 6)? This would make a huge difference to my sanity if I were you. Maybe when your DS is in camp, drop your DD with grandparents? Do this during the work week, while your DH is at work, so you really have time to yourself? And (although I appreciate the secret thrill of grocery shopping by myself as much as the next mom) not spend all that time doing errands? Even if not every week, just a few interludes like this matter hugely to me.

    My DH is like yours on some dimensions (not all — not recognizing our LO’s fatigue!) — he’d be perfectly comfortable feeding DS sugary cereal every morning, lunchables every day and pizza (not homemade!) every night. I’ve just come to accept this, not to say that I don’t try to minimize it. But I don’t think I’m going to get my DH to change, on that one. I’m lucky, my kid eats pretty much everything so I can e.g. keep fresh fruit around and dish it at him (one thing that works for me is having a piece of fruit in the car and offering it to DS, so it’s a “here’s what I have, you can eat it if you want,” with no alternative available, so no opportunity for discussion/negotiation — and then hopefully a less hungry kid by the time we’re somewhere more choices are available), but I will say one thing I’ve discovered is I do not need to prioritize variety; he’ll eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches every day for weeks, dramatically simplifying my thought process about what’s for lunch. But, yeah, I’m like you — totally uninterested in food prep and annoyed about how much time/effort it takes, even at its most minimal.

    There’s a summary version of Crucial Conversations available for Kindle for $.99 at Amazon, and a $9.02 full-length version, ditto.

    I myself *am* particularly patient, maybe too patient, but there’s lots about motherhood, particularly of a small kid, that I’m not good at and don’t like (to paraphrase another blogger, “Children, why are they so — childish?” Why, indeed?). Having time away from my kid is really crucial to my being a good mother to him. If there’s one thing motherhood’s taught me, it’s how much of an introvert I am — there’s really no one I want to spend more than 4 waking hours/day with, and to be at my best I need at least 2 hours/day when I’m not working, sleeping, or interacting with any other human beings (except possibly via typing blog comments 😉 ). Of course I don’t always get this, but I do embrace that I need it. I hope you can figure out what you need and ways to get it, and also particularly that you can find a place where you don’t feel bad about needing it or trying to get it.

    1. I am lucky in that I have gotten the last four Tuesday mornings “off” as my in-laws have taken my son and my daughter has been in camp. Those have been amazing. For the next two weeks my daughter is not in camp, but my husband and I get the weekend in between alone together (I can’t wait!). I do end up getting a few 2-3 hour stretches of time alone and that really does make all the difference. I’m VERY lucky to have family support around and a lot of it. I think that is another reason my husband hasn’t had to step up in some ways, because we have so much help from our parents.

  5. I understand that feeling of being overwhelmed, drowning under your own expectations of what kind of mother/woman you should be. Do you think you are close to “mommy burnout”? And you never felt heard and validated before so it’s hard to let go of those old feelings of resentment. I suspect because you never did tell your husband and he assumed everything is fine and always will be fine. At the root of this you sound like everyone else’s needs are being met, but not yours. Ask your husband for help in creating a family dynamic that can really enrich both of your lives.

    1. I have definitely tried to bring it up but I don’t usually go about it the right way, so the conversation usually ends up being about something else. I’ve tried to bring it up in little chunks, and very gently, over the past couple of months and I think it’s starting to sink a little bit, but I still don’t think he realizes how unhappy all of this makes me. I don’t know how to tell him how serious it is without him feeling attacked. It’s such a delicate topic and I am horrible at broaching delicate topics. I think part of our problem is my abysmal communication skills. I either get angry and resentful and attack or I get angry and resentful and shut down. Or I just get sad and cry. Usually it’s some combination of those three.

      1. If you’re worried about making him feel attacked–is this because the obvious solution is him doing something different?

        I would say it sounds like the issue is that you are overwhelmed, and you would like to feel certain freedoms–i.e. you would like the freedom to have an evening out without restrictions on who will watch the kids, you would like to not deal with you prep, you would like to have some time to yourself every day.

        Then discuss how these could be possible. It doesn’t *HAVE* to be that he helps more, but he likely will see that obvious solution.

        Basically, your full-time job is being a mom, but your hours are too long, there is no PTO, and you don’t enjoy some of the tasks. If he were miserable in his full time job, you’d probably sympathize and have suggestions about finding a new one, or something.

        It’s not an exact parallel, because you can’t quit the kids, but maybe start by letting him bring his suggestions–maybe he would rather spend more money on extra help rather than suggest helping out himself, just an example.

        In summary, I am guessing you are worried it will feel like an attack, because you already have decided he should do more, and should not be irritated when you request help (I agree with that!), but to bring up the topic so it’s not just you telling him you would prefer him to act differently, rather bring up the underlying issue–your overwork–and see what his feedback is.

        1. Also, I’m a little confused by work situations–when I posted the above comment I thought you were doing SAHM, but I see in other posts you work too. It sounds like you do most of the kid-work too though? He’s never given the kids a bath? He doesn’t prep any of their food? Does he feel like he needs permission to do these things or something? Or does he actively not want to?
          Obviously your daughter screaming at bath time doesn’t sound like fun, but I feel like that’s a fairly enjoyable kid-centered event, since you’re interacting with the kid, etc. I feel like I know lots of dads who handle bath time.

          1. I’m a teacher so I work full time during the school year but get summers and other random weeks off. Even when I’m working I do the majority of the child rearing. It’s a weird dynamic–I’m home so much more so it makes sense for me to the primary child care provider, but then when I’m working I get the short end of the stick. It’s frustrating to have to find a balance that works for us during both parts of the year.

        2. This is a really good way to go about it–just ask for what I need and see what he suggests in terms of achieving it. I’ll try this approach. Thanks for the advice.

  6. I completely relate to the “everything falls on me” problem. I’m the one who makes all the crucial health decisions- dr appointments, knowing a prepping meds (grrr- it’s been 5 years- why can’t he learn to prep meds?!), feeding the healthy kid, bedtime routines, etc. And he gets to be the fun parent- although R is also way better than me at being really “fun”- I get bored with play really fast. Feeling like partners in parenting is such challenge, along with everything else that comes with being in a relationship- you are definitely not alone.

    1. It helps to know I’m not the only one dealing with this in my marriage, though I wish you weren’t. Marriage is hard and parenting makes it a million times harder.

  7. “The real reason I envy my husband is that I feel totally and completely overwhelmed in this role. Motherhood doesn’t play to any of my strengths. I feel like everything I’m forced to do as a mother goes against who I am. It’s exhausting, and I never feel like I’m doing a good job.

    I’m not particularly patient. I’m not a good listener. I’m not good at staying present. I am not good at being, really being with my children day in and day out.”

    Yes, yes, yes times infinity. My husband is all of those things and, in my opinion, the better parent on the day-to-day stuff. I hope you and your husband can work everything out so that you feel more like a team.

    1. I hope so too. I think we are headed in the right direction in some ways, we just move at a snails pace and I’m so freaking impatient.

  8. I’m with you about motherhood not necessarily playing to my strengths. I am not patient. I am not good at just sitting & playing. I AM more in tune to the kids needs, and I am way more empathetic. We both yell and then hate ourselves for yelling. We both need alone time and can’t be with our chatterbox kids non-stop without slightly losing our minds.
    Maybe the key is really focusing on the aspects that you ARE good at, and taking on more of those (you are good at taking the kids on adventures!). The food thing—is a post I am going to write soon. I am SO TIRED of spending hours & hours every day thinking about/prepping/making kids eat/cleaning up food. And my kids are CONSTANTLY hungry and eat a LOT (volume…not necessarily variety). Its exhausting. I used to ENJOY cooking but I hate it now. Its not creative, its utalitarian and did I mention the CONSTANT nature of it?
    I wish I could lend you my crucial conversations. I bought it (but still haven’t read it) on the kindle. I think you should give him a head’s up that you want to have a serious talk about abc issues on your weekend—springing that kind of thing on my husband could seriously ruin a weekend (this actually happened).
    I like—no LOVE—the suggestion re: summer employment. Is that a possibility for you? Would you make enough to outset the cost of childcare? Even if you broke even it would be better for your sanity than trying to be a stay at home for 8 weeks (which seems really hard—like you said before, once you get into a rhythm, its over).

    1. I was just thinking about how I should tell him I want to talk about some stuff this weekend. My big plan was to wait until the last day so if I mess everything up at least it will just be the end that’s ruined. I do think I’ve learned enough from Crucial Conversations that I can do a better job of broaching the subject than I have in the past. If I decide exactly what I want the outcome to be and only bring up what I predetermine will help me reach that outcome, I might actually manage a productive conversation. I think he knows all this is starting to wear on me too, so I don’t think it will seem like it’s coming completely out of left field.

      I also won’t drink to much and push us to stay out too late. I haven’t forgotten that clutch move you two pulled, where you went home before it could potentially get ugly. So well played. I hope I remember that is an option for us too.

  9. It is always lovely when you write about your husband’s strengths as a parent. You, however, do not acknowledge your own strengths as a parent. You are wonderfully well acculturated to taking all blame about who your children are and no credit. I understand seeing your ‘shadow side’ in your children (I am a past and present master at this) and not acknowledging the fabulous side you contribute. (Again, me too! Only I have decades more experience at doing this.) Rather than praise yourself when you do control yourself and respond therapeutically to your child striking out physically, you only focus on the times when you insist on putting your child who is in the biggest need first. Your priorities were right but you blow past that to take on the culturally taught guilt of not being a perfect therapeutically wonderful parent to the child who was not in peril. WOW!!! (I think somehow this is how you were raised… ergo your parents were human and imperfect too. How much guilt does your mother, and/or mother in law, carry and feel? Can you talk to them about it? I am 100% guilty all the time. I am really well acculturated. Sad to admit but true.)
    You are not a perfect parent. No one is. We are just the best parent we are able to be at any given moment. You grew up with the Brady Bunch where Alice did all the chores and Carol wandered in and out in a pretty dress with pearls and smiled at the children. Dad Brady came home and did ‘Father Knows Best’. TOTALLY unrealistic picture of being in a parenting/mothering/fathering role. No one paints an accurate picture of being a parent. EVERY new parent I have talked to honestly admits shock and surprise at the reality of parenting. Maybe, over time, honest bloggers like you will start the revolution of truth telling and sharing. Look at the HUGE reaction these postings has created.
    You are both overwhelmed by the reality that comes with parenting. You do not have the easiest children AND you both work at stressful jobs. You are both under more massive pressure than you imagine or will understand for at least 20 more years, probably 30 years.
    There is no magical way to have this conversation with your husband if he doesn’t want to participate in it. You will mis-state, he will mis-hear. He will mis-state, you will mis-hear. You will both be frustrated. IF you are lucky, you will both be trying, you will both have a sense of humor and kindness during and after the conversation, and you will both remember you love each other. And saying that it is still better to try to talk and listen and really hear each other. Good luck.
    PS: The only person I know who claims they were a perfect parent is not in touch with reality and OH MY you should hear their children’s opposite point of view! I bet your husband feels as inadequate as you do, but perhaps in different areas.

    1. I don’t write as much about what I do well as a parent but I want you to know that I do acknowledge it to myself (though probably not as much as I should). I’ll write a post about it soon, because I do do something rather well. It just feels a lot like they aren’t the most important (or at least not the most recognize) aspects of parenting.

  10. There’s a lot of interesting perspective above, all I wanted to respectfully offer was… You’ve mentioned more than once that you feel that your husband excels in areas that you don’t and vice versa. I’m curious why you appear (at least through your writing) to view that as a negative? To me, a partnership allows you, as needed, to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If everyone was good at the same thing, who would do the other stuff? To go back to your last post, what are your expectations of a partnership?

    1. I don’t think it’s a negative that my husband excels in areas that I’m not as strong in. I definitely think that’s a plus. It can be frustrating that he doesn’t excel at taking the kids out because it means I never get the house to myself, but I appreciate that when we are home he does a great job being with them. I didn’t mean to imply I thought the fact that we have different strengths is a negative. While I wish he shared some of my strengths (and I wish I shared some of his) I appreciate what he does well, especially when I don’t do it well.

    2. Oh, as far as my expectations of a partnership, that is a REALLY good question. I’ll try to articulate that in a post soon (it would be a really good exercise for me, because knowing exactly what I’m looking for would help moving forward).

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