This high-wire act starts with me toppling.
We were living in a tiny apartment. My oldest daughter was starting full day kindergarten at a new school and my son was starting pre-school. They were both miserable. Mae would bury her sadness inside and walk, dejectedly, to the bus stop. Lalo would cry a dramatic, drooly, red-faced cry every afternoon when I would drop him off, and I had a restless baby waiting at home for me. Of course, my husband was working a lot and I was doing the meals, the house, the clothes–you know, everything else. All of which I was happy to do, but I just couldn’t listen to everyone cry all the time. Sadness is a heavy burden.
Even though you are never alone, being The Mom is a lonely job. Sometimes I feel like I am the last soldier defending Sanity Castle. If I can’t stop the baby from crying, who can? If I won’t clean up the midnight vomit, who will? If I don’t figure out a way to stop the kids from fighting, who is working on the problem? And that’s why being The Mom can be exhausting. It’s not the physical work, it’s the emotional burdens we carry.
It starts with babies. They are so wonderful and cute, but they only want their Mommy. It’s a biological fact that you are more important to your baby than your husband. And while this is necessary and right when they are infants, this can set up a pattern that becomes burdensome later on. The baby is happy, she plays with Daddy. The baby is tired/hungry/cranky, she goes to Mommy. Does this sound familiar?
My husband is a wonderful dad. He helps coach pee-wee league and puts my daughter’s hair in ponytails. He can make better pizza than I can and does the dishes happily. But because he’s never read a parenting book he isn’t the one to break up fights. In so many ways he is the perfect parenting companion, except one: I do all the emotional heavy-lifting. Or at least, I did.
One day after listening to Mae complain about her stomachache all the way to the bus stop and peeling Lalo off of my leg so I could leave him at preschool, I finally asked for help. I went home and cried and cried and said to my husband, “I feel so alone and crazy. I need help.” I gave up being the defender of Sanity Castle. And you know what? We all went crazy.
Modern parenting has a confusing list of duties to delegate. If he earns the money, does he have to do the grocery shopping? If she has a job to go to, does she have to stay up with the sick toddler? If he is getting up early, does he have to help when the preschooler wets the bed? Every couple has to navigate these to-do lists, but the one job they must share equally is the emotional burden of raising a family. And the only way to do that is to talk. Really talk.
We share the happy emotions all the time. How many times have you and your husband laughed about the cute things your children did that day? So why don’t we share the harder things?
In my case, I both love and resent that I’m the end of the line. It’s so wonderful to be the one that a crying child comes running to, and I’m so glad I have the power to kiss boo-boos away. But the price I pay is that I always have to kiss the boo-boos away. And as the boo-boos get bigger, I feel less and less able to do that all on my own. So I must walk a line between loving my role and letting my role be shared.
I don’t always trust my husband to do it “right.” I’m the one whose read the books on sibling rivalry, so I’m supposedly the expert on breaking up fights, right? But I don’t want to be. So how do we break out of this president/vice-president parenting? We talk and then I let go.
Right now my husband is watching TV with the kids. I never do that. But they are laughing and having a great time. It’s okay, they are with my other half.
Next week we’ll talk about how you balance being both your child’s coach and cheerleader.
Question: Have you sunk into the pattern of happy kids go with Dad, sad/mad/frustrated kids go to Mom? How can you change that?
Challenge: Set aside some time this week to talk to your spouse about what the kids need emotionally. Share those heavy burdens.