Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Which Came First?

I read a post by R&R about how her marriage was affected by parenthood. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to click over. It's a good one, because it is written very well, but also because it encompasses so much of what marriages go through when two become three. . . or more.

No one really talks about the reality of this transition. Oh, I am sure there are books about it, but really, women should just be more open with other women. Then again, it might just be one of those things you have to experience for yourself to completely understand. Just as the fertiles of the world tried to tell me how exhausting having a newborn would be, I really didn't "get it" until I got it.

I remember when I was about three months pregnant with Will and my mom did try to warn me. She told me that my husband would become a lazy arse, I would hate him, and he would resent the baby. I pretty much laughed in her face and and told her that would certainly not be the case. Not my husband, the man who would run all over town looking for the "right" kind of lemonade for his queasy, pregnant wife. Not my husband, the man who was such a good Daddy to our furbabies. Not my husband who went to every. freakin'. doctor appointment without fail. She just said, "You'll see. . ."

Now, to be fair, my husband did not become a lazy arse, but it sure did feel that way sometimes. Not all of the time, mind you, but on weekends, when he considered himself "off" for 48 hours, but I was still on fulltime infant duty, I would look at him and think "What the heck?"

When Will's diaper was poopy for the 4,325,945th time and I asked him to do it and he said, "No." As if No is an option? I guess for him, it is. Not for me. Can't let the baby sit in his own feces and he sure isn't going to change it himself.

When all of the laundry, dishes, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, scouring floors, etc., became my "jobs" now that I wasn't working outside of the home, but he would lay on the couch during Will's nap time? Yeah, I guess I felt as if he was being pretty darn lazy then.

Whew, getting a little fired up here. That is not the purpose of this post, but I wanted to give some examples. Now, please don't misunderstand me here, my husband is a good man. He gets up every single day, goes to his job, which he works hard at and is very, very good at, he brings home a good living, and he also manages our household budget, which is another very big responsibility. But it did seem that when Will came into our lives, a lot changed for me, but not as much for him. And while it seemed my workload increased exponentially, his seemed to stay about the same.

In talking with other newer moms, I see a definite pattern. Husbands defer the bulk of childcare to the wives. This seems to be the case regardless of whether the mom works outside of the home or in it. On weekends, husbands might eagerly play with their off-spring, but when it comes to the dirty jobs, they gladly hand it all over to their wives. Now, if this is not the case for you, I am really happy for you (really, no sarcasm intended or meant), but doing informal polling a lot of my friends and reading blogs, this seems to be the general case.

I have talked to my husband about this, and he does not see this to be true. He thinks that I "prefer" to do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to Will, that he thinks that he cannot do it as well as Mommy can. I feel badly, because if he thinks that, it must be that I have conveyed that. If I am honest, I definitely know there was a time or two (or twenty million) when he wasn't doing it the "right" (my) way and I stepped in and took over.

To show both sides here, an event that clearly illustrates this is the day that my husband was feeding Will lunch while I was doing some dishes. He turned to me and asked me if he could feed Will some more green beans. I automatically answered, "Yes."

Then I stopped and thought. This man is this child's father. He shouldn't have to ask if he can feed him something. . . especially something as innocous as green beans, but really anything for that matter. I never turn to M and say, "Can I do X?" when referring to anything in his day-to-day care. I might ask his opinion on some larger issue, such as discipline or whether to enroll him in a certain activity, but honestly, I probably already have my mind made up there, too, and would only change it if M had serious reservations. Why does M feel the need to ask my permission to do something so. . . simple? It is pretty clear to me, folks, that I was steam rolling my poor husband and being controlling when it came to taking care of my child. No wonder he hesitates to step in and help.

So, in the spirit of being completely honest, is this the classic "chicken vs. egg" scenario? Are men the ones that are lazy or do women take over? Since I find this repeating in so many households, I have to say that it can't just be me. I see it happen with all of my friends as they grow their families. So many have told me that when they add another baby to the mix, their husbands really step up and become more involved. I wonder if that's because the wives don't have the time and energy to take over as much and have to start letting go.

In addition to shifting roles and responsibities, becoming parents adds an entirely new dimension to the relationship. This dimension is both wonderful and unsettling all at once. Some of my favorite moments in my marriage have been watching my husband with our son. M is responsible for putting Will to bed everynight, and sometimes, I stand on the other side of the closed door and my heart just melts as I listen to him talk to Will.

The other side of the coin, however, is that there have also been times when M has let me down as a husband since we've had a baby. I'm not exempt here, either. Will definitely took first place for me for a long time, especially in the newborn days. Our marriage took a backseat while I was adjusting to mommyhood and while I know M "understood," it was something that we both had to get used to.

There is much to say on this topic, but I know that there is probably a lot that you can add about your experiences shifting from a couple to a family. What do you think has been the hardest part? The easiest? The lowest point? The highest?


Joy@WDDCH said...

Very interesting post! And just got in a HUGE FIGHT yesterday with DH about the exact topic; how he never does a darn thing and I do everything. Except I feel I've encouraged him to use his own parenting styles and skills in the past year or two. It really bothers me when he asks if he can do such-n-such or he has to wait for me to tell him to do something. I always get aggravated and ask him if he can use his own brain to figure this out and why on earth is he asking me what the kids can have for lunch?!

Amanda said...

I think so many of us could write post after post after post on this topic.

I must admit that Tim seems to be more involved than your run-of-the-mill Dad, but we do have two (and he's not your run-of-the-mill guy).

ALL THE SAME he feels that the weekends are time for him to relax. He also feels that all housework is my job. No matter how many "discussions" we have on the subjects.

I also don't get any days off. My only time off is when I need to run to the store and he's home. Even then he seems disgruntled with having sole charge of the boys. And we shouldn't even talk about when I get sick vs when he gets sick.

Tim also continually ask me, "What should I feed them?" or "Should I put them down for a nap?" or other questions like that. I have constantly pushed him to use his common sense and personal judgment, but it only happens if I'm not home and unable to answer my cell phone.

All in all he's a wonderful Dad. I think there will always be some sort of push and pull between us until the kids are more self-sufficient. Luckily we're getting better at drawing the line between us as parents and us as a couple.

Rachel said...

I enjoyed reading this post and will come back for the comments. I am a bit nervous about this since my husband and I don't (currently) live together but we'll be moving back in together soon (unlike many families who live apart I left for work with the baby and he stayed in our apartment) and I'm worried we'll need to redo all the groundwork we had laid in the first couple of months co-parenting - especially since I've been doing everything now.

I always fantasized about my husband grabbing a broom and sweeping up or spontaneously deciding to mop but since that didn't happen and I got sick of nagging him long before the baby came along, there are simply things around the house which I WILL. NOT. DO. Pre-baby these included mopping, taking out the trash and recycling, and cleaning the bathroom. Those tasks simply wait - even if it means piling the trash in the apartment. With the baby he has sole responsibility for cutting her nails (it really terrifies me) and washing pump parts. So much so that I'd never done either task until we left. He is also usually in charge of laundry (including cloth diapers) and dishes and cooking one homemade dinner per week.

I'd love clever ideas for getting around the problem of knowing how to do things properly and always being the reference person with the baby, but for now I think the easiest solution is to put him 100% in charge of certain things. Definitely thinking about looking for a baby swim or music class on the weekends so that he can take our daughter out someplace (he is terrible at packing the diaper bag) without me every week and get used to getting her on the bus, coat on/off, snacks when out, etc.

HereWeGoAJen said...

Yeah. Just yeah. Since I no longer "work", all the baby stuff is my stuff.

And she just woke up and no one else is going to go get her, so...

Tracy said...

Good topic, Katie. I could go on and on here, but you've hit most of it on the head. While I do wish Scott would step up once in awhile (and don't get me wrong, he does his share...there are just times...you know), I know I am also guilty of holding him to too-high standards. "Why don't you do it THIS(read:my) way???"

It's a tough one, and a fine balance. For us, the key has been communication and compromise in all things.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the blog love! I think there is a fine balance in a marriage after a baby comes into the picture. Society tries to dictate what we should expect and when it doesn't quite happen that way we become ashamed or fearful that our marriage is broken or in harm. In reality, I think people just deal with things differently and that's no different when it comes to being a new parent. Now that #2 is on the way, we both realize that that "ideal family" picture everyone tries to recreate won't happen for a while. Jaspers arrival will mark the beginning of survival mode and this time it won't just be personal survival it will be survival for us plus the girls. I'm ok with our marriage taking a step back while we step up to parenting 2 under 2 and that's because I know once we find our stride we will make our way back to each other.

Elise Ford said...

I can SO relate to this post, as can all of my close friends. It helps to know you're not alone!

peesticksandstones said...

I'm so glad you wrote about this, too! I feel like this topic is like some big secret that no one is fessing up to.

That green bean thing really resonated with me especially. I hate being the "guardian" of my baby's ass, for example. What came out of it today, where did that rash come from, etc. But then again, maybe I should just back off and stop being so on top of all these details and maybe my husband would step in more? I dunno...

I also promised myself I would not refer to my husband as "daddy" so much when with the kid -- it starts to really take away from feeling sexy toward your husband, kinda infantalizes you. But what can you do?

Guess I'd better just drink a jug of wine and get over myself!

Nicky said...

S and I are definitely exceptions. He does a ton around the house, including all the laundry and most of the dishes, and knows all of LL's routines as well as I do.

But, I do think that a LOT of it comes down to not hovering around him when he does stuff. While I was pregnant with LL, I read advice to let daddy do things his own way and mommy should keep her mouth shut unless there was something dangerous about what daddy was doing. I completely took it to heart. When LL was a newborn, I left the room when S was changing a diaper or soothing LL for a nap. I didn't want to even be tempted to point out a "problem" with what he was doing. I knew I'd succeeded when S started hovering around ME, saying things like, "That's not the way I do it, do you want me to show you what I do?"

We each do things our own way. And we've each asked the other for advice when our own way starts to look inferior in some way. It truly feels like we're a team.

We're definitely still figuring out our roles, though. Amanda's comment about when daddy is sick vs. mommy being sick really hit home. S is excellent about letting me get a bit of a break during part of the weekend, but a sick day? Not gonna happen for me.