Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On parenthood...

Congratulations to Ament and Jaimie, who just announced that they're going to be parents!

What with Adrienne and Joel expecting their first and many of our other friends married and thinking ahead to parenthood, I thought I would offer up my advice to new mothers.

I don't have much because I will say that 90% of the time I have no idea what I'm doing and am making it up as I go along.

But I will share one piece of advice that was a very hard lesson for me to learn.

It's this: Stop keeping score when it comes to doing housework and baby care. Don't keep track of how many times you took out the trash or how many times he did or didn't get up with the baby, or how many minutes ticked by when he did.

Because no matter how great a father your husband turns out to be, a great father will never be a mother, and the reality is that when it comes to kids, moms will ALWAYS end up doing more. That's the way we're built.

So be prepared for the fact that most of the time, when the baby cries, YOU will be the one getting up. And on the rare occasions that your husband does get up with the baby, he will spend the remainder of the day lying on the couch with a blanket complaining about how tired he is and refuse to change a diaper for the rest of the day because he thinks his share of the work is done. Even though you wake up with the baby night after night and are still expected to be a functional human being afterward, don't be bitter.

Get over it now because that's the way it is.

And when you stay home with the baby all week while your husband is at work, you will kill yourself trying to interest your offspring with books and games, long walks in the park where you point out the names of flowers you recognize, and flashcards. You will feed him healthy nutritious food, pick out cute matching outfits for him to wear, and limit his TV intake. In addition, you will manage to do several loads of poopy laundry, change five or six diapers, keep the house fairly tidy and prepare dinner.

And when your husband takes the baby on Saturday to give you a break, you will be frustrated because your husband will do things more lackadaisically. He'll probably put the baby in the bouncer in front of Baby Einstein videos for several hours while he surfs the web, and will forget when and how much to feed the little guy. (Kyle once called me when I was working weekends at The Right Start to ask me- "what Owen eats nowadays." Gold.) The house will be a toy strewn mess when you get home, and at least ONCE your husband will leave the baby in a messy diaper until the poop crusts on to his poor little bottom- either because your husband didn't notice the diaper was poopy or because he was hoping you'd come home just in time to change it. Expect it. It will happen.

Get over it now and don't be bitter. That's just the way it is.

You will probably wish your husband was as enthusiastic about all things baby as you are- but try to have pity on him and remember that that's IMPOSSIBLE. You are Mommy, and no one on Earth is going to love your baby more than you, not even Dad. So it's only natural that moms end up with most of the heavy child-rearing, particularly in the first few years.

Remember that your husband has his own role to fill, too. It may not involve as much shit and puke as yours, but it can be just as stressful, lonely and difficult to be the provider and head of the family.

Keep in mind too, that while you are going crazy taking care of the kids to the extent that you forget your husband even exists, your husband will never forget about you, and part of that is because he doesn't lose himself in baby stuff the way you do.

So my advice to mommies is to remember that things are never going to be fair or equal and not to waste time squabbling over who held the baby for one hour or who had him for a whole day or who got up with him last night and for how long.

For me this was the hardest thing to learn- I was always trying to make sure things were "equal" and I would get so angry when Kyle was sitting around with his feet up while I was making bottles or vacuuming after putting in a full day with the kids. But once I started to let go of that idea of equality- I started realizing that if I let Kyle relax a little more, he had more energy to play with the kids and take them places. And once I stopped forcing the kids to be a chore for him, I noticed more spontaneous play between them.

There's no such thing as equality- so stop keeping score. Better yet, learn from my mistake and don't even start.


Unknown said...

Your advice is good advice for any marriage with or without children. I used to get so mad at Bryan because he wouldn't lift a finger despite the OBVIOUS need for a major cleaning around the house. But with a little advice from my mom I learned to just make a list and most of the time he'll get it done. I didn't like having to always be the "organizer" of the household but that's just the way it goes. The guys focus on hunting and protecting the tribe- the women run the household.

Nathan said...

Thanks for the advice Sarah! It will be interesting to see how our situation unfolds...I'll be staying home with the kid since I work from home and Jaimie will be teaching at the Preschool. It will save us a TON of money on daycare but hopefully I won't screw the kid up too bad...

B said...

i agree that your advice is good--and i agree that it definitely does go for marriages without kids--but it's damn near impossible for me to follow. i'm such an idealist that i can't let shit go. our problem is that scott actually thinks HE runs the household. i get so pissed when i hear him tell people that he takes out the trash (or something comparably petty). i finally made a chart to SHOW him how INFREQUENTLY he takes out the trash. and still, to no avail, he claimed it was becuase my definition of "full" was different from his. i say if i think it's full, and i ask you to take it out, and you don't (for whatever reason) i'm going to take it out myself--but you do not get points for taking out the garbage, since you were not the one who actually took it out. (insert napoleon "idiot!" here).

ramblings about chores and marriage aside, your post did depress me quite a bit yesterday--because as i was reading it, i could see how kids were going to play out in our marriage, and it's not pretty. we're either never having kids or it's going to be a long time coming--because i'm not ready to deal with all of those arguments and frustrations and "letting it go" things.

on a positive note, when we did our pre-cana counseling for the wedding, we read this book about "love languages"--the different ways people feel loved. we took a quiz to see what ours was--and it's actually helped us a lot! scott's was "words of affirmation"--so now i know that if i want him to feel good, i need to tell him positive things about himself or about what he's doing. mine was "acts of service"--so scott knows if he wants me to feel good, he needs to do things for me--like favors i asked or helping out with things around the house. it's so corny, but it's amazing how well it works!

Unknown said...

Bryan and I read that too. We liked it so much we shared it with someone else and now I wished we would have saved because I'd like to refer back.

Unknown said...

You're absolutely right that you shouldn't keep things bottled up. But I think Sarah F's point is that you have to come to a point in which there isn't something to bottle up/ let out, as far as fairness is concerned. If I got pissed off everytime I did the dishes more often than my hubby (or whatever it may be) I'd be spending a lot of time angry that we could be spending enjoying eachother.

Not that I don't ever do that or that I don't bottle things up or that I don't yell and scream at times. But I do notice that I do it a lot less than when we first got married. It's all about finding what works in your relationship. I think everyone would agree with that.

Sarah Ford said...

Of course I still love you!

I think Kyle would laugh at the notion of me being a slave who bottles up her emotions!!! Haha, as if!

See, my problem is I can't bottle ANY of them. I tend to make an issue out of EVERY little thing from the position of the toilet seat to where Kyle's bag lands when he gets home from work to the way he takes care of the kids.

And for me, I needed to focus less on bitching for bitching's sake and MORE on doing what you and Joel do- sit down and talk about things.

I didn't mean to make it sound like I never ask for help.

For me, the crucial lesson to learn was to ask for help when I NEED help and not to dole out chores just so we're both working 24/7.

I remember in the early days of Stewart's life- we had one child under two and another newborn so things were crazy and I wasn't sleeping at ALL.

Everytime Kyle even sat down, I would roost him up to do something, even something that could wait, just because it irritated me that I was on my feet and working while he sat.

At one point, he just exploded "Just because your life is hell doesn't mean you have to try to make me miserable!"

And I know he was talking out of anger but I realized that there was some truth in those words.

I was at times making things more difficult for both of us by not allowing EITHER of us a chance to relax, when if I had let Kyle relax a bit more, he would have had more energy to help out in ways that I really needed it.

I also was talking about this idea of scoring the babywork that many couples tend to do- like- say you take turns getting up with the baby- and you start fighting about "I was up with him for an hour and he fell asleep with you after ten minutes!" "That's not true, it was at least twenty minutes, I looked at the clock!" "Well, it wasn't as long as my turn!"

Sounds stupid, but it happens- and my point is, don't bother keeping track, it'll just make you angry. Most babies/kids seem to have a way of saving their worst behavior for Mom- often she's the source of food, too, which complicates the situation.

I know that when my kids were nursing, they would be fine playing with Kyle or my parents for hours, but as soon as I walked in the room, they'd burst out crying, suddenly DESPERATE for food.

The funny thing is, they're much older now and haven't nursed FOREVER, yet they do the same thing! They'll be having a ball with Kyle and as soon as they see my face, they're both sobbing and begging for things "I want yogurt!" "I wanna peepee!" "I want my shoes off!"

It doesn't matter that they could have asked Kyle for these things at any time and he would've happily obliged. There's something about Mommy, that's all I'm saying, and while I'm all for asking for help, my advice was to just be prepared for that inevitable fact- while you and Joel both have a lot of work ahead of you, some of it will be uniquely yours and you should be grateful for that and treasure that- the fact that for a brief beautiful span of years you are the most important person in someone's life. Don't waste time resenting it.

Of course, I know I don't have to tell you that, you're so much more patient than I am that I doubt you'll spend many hours feeling bitter about being so well-loved- I unfortunately did not learn that lesson until much later.

Sarah Ford said...

I am a control freak in the same way, which is part of what I mean when I say I've learned only ask for the help I NEED or want.

I don't even ask for help when I know that I will get irritated with the way Kyle does the chore. I'd rather do it myself.

However, when it comes to the kids, I have to be more flexible- obviously, I can't do 100% of childcare myself. I need a shower too, and occasionally just a break.

So when it comes to the kids, we agree on the MAJOR rules like no hitting, eating at the table, and being respectful, but vary in many other ways. Kyle, for example, tends to bribe the kids with too much candy and let them watch a lot of TV. I've gotten used to it and just learned to say that when he's in charge, it's his world. Otherwise he always feels I'm criticizing him or that I make him feel like he's not a good father.

In response to inheriting baby knowledge, I think this is a common misconception among men. I know that sometimes when one of the boys was screaming, Kyle would ask me "Why is he screaming?" I'm like "Hell if I know, what, do I speak screaming? If I knew, don't you think I'd do something?"