End the Chore Wars by Handing in Your Martyr Badge

“C’mon now. Hand it over.”

 

Parenting is an unbelievably exhausting business and a certain amount of complaining, even moaning, about the daily grind is understandable and probably healthy. (Maybe it’s just me … but isn’t there something unnatural and Stepford Wife-ish about the mother who never has a bad word to say about her husband and children? Or maybe I’m just jealous.) But many of us moms – including me – take things a little too far and play the Martyr.

Haven’t we all slaved away on our husband’s behalf, and made damn well sure he knew about it? But a woman getting bent out of shape about an incomplete shopping list, or driving ten miles out of her way to get the special carpet cleaner, or staying up into the wee hours to hand-make party favors is virtually incomprehensible to a guy. Then, when we start keeping score with our husbands because they don’t adhere to the same meticulous (some might call it anal) standards, they consider it unnecessary, annoying, and largely ridiculous—“martyr-ish” is the word many men use.

“A lot of the stress women feel is self-created. There’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses.”

—Felix, married 6 years, 1 kid

“My wife’s maternal instincts whiplash the whole family. I feel like I spend half my time depressurizing her. It’s just too much.”

—Toby, married 9 years, 2 kids

When we feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated and totally put-upon by our spouses, we play the martyr, but our great shows of suffering don’t really get us anywhere do they?Our husbands get annoyed by the inference that we are working harder than they are, and they withhold the very appreciation and validation we are seeking. Men are just as guilty as we are with their high-drama highjinks, “My whole life is about taking care of you and the kids. I have to get a signed permission slip from you to watch a game in my own home!” And so on. No one wins. So let’s hand in those badges once and for all.

In addition to playing the Martyr Wife, some well-intentioned, loving mothers also play the Martyr Mom which is an even more high stakes game, as it can lead a child to have a “helpless” self-image. Empoweringparents.com has a great article on this topic:

“… the martyr parent is not the parent who simply does a lot for their kids or with their kids. The soccer mom who takes her kids to soccer games and then swings around to pick up her daughter at her part-time job—that isn’t a martyr. The father who, instead of golfing on Saturdays, goes to his son’s baseball game and then goes out with the team afterwards for pizza is also not a martyr.

What is a Martyr Parent?

Martyr parents have two big fears: that their child will get discouraged and give up, or that their child will act out behaviorally. Martyrs are often the parents who have a lot of anxiety if their children feel any discomfort or distress in daily life activities. These are the parents who constantly worry that their child is not going to feel good enough about themselves, and in pursuit of developing their child’s self-esteem, they undermine development of his or her coping skills. How do children develop coping skills? By dealing with adversity—and I’m not talking about artificial adversity as controlled by the parent, I’m talking about the real distress that happens when a kid has a ton of homework and he can’t get it done because of soccer practice, or has chores to do around the house but hasn’t completed them because he’s been playing video games, or has broken some rule in school and now must face the unpleasant consequences.”

You can read the entire article here.

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Dads Are From Mars, Moms Are From Venus: Men and Women Respond Differently to Parenthood

For many of us, it takes having kids to realize that men and women are completely different animals. It comes as a surprise when, post-baby, men and women respond to parenthood in drastically different ways and start to assume different and not always complementary roles. Hardwired instincts nudge women into the role of nurturers and men into the role of providers. Given that we stepped out of the caves about 8,000 years ago, just a nanosecond in terms of evolutionary psychology, it shouldn’t be surprising that when we become parents our most basic instincts rise to the surface. We find ourselves back in the prehistoric suburbs, where women wonder if baby might be allergic to mammoth and if there are enough wild berries in his diet, and where men stalk buffalo and question whether their hunting abilities will be good enough to get the family through the winter.

 

A Proud New Father

 For many men, becoming a father triggers a sort of Provider Panic, sparking a laserlike focus on work. Meanwhile the new mother’s focus turns inward to protecting her baby and we are often deeply afraid that something terrible might happen on our watch.

A Proud New Mother

Not surprisingly many couples find themselves in a perpetual debate about whether the kids are safe enough/dressed warmly enough or whether the baby is old enough to ride a scooter. This natural tension is actually good for the kids. The Yin Parent (aka The Mama Lioness) thinks “safety of the offspring,” while the Yang Parent (aka the guy with the club) thinks “developing skills so the offspring can survive on his or her own.” In a recent article, bestselling author and parenting expert Harry Harrison writes that “while tension between Mom and Dad is inevitable, it’s worked for thousands and thousands of years. Both parents just need to realize a healthy child needs what both parents are genetically equipped to give—love in their own way.”

You can read the article here.

 

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Chore Wars: Why Men Keep Score with Wives over Housework

As we’ve said, in most relationships, women are the primary scorekeepers. But men play ball, too. In the following entry, we’ll try to unravel the reasons why. Here’s what we think they are (brace yourselves!):

1.  To preserve parity. Men feel like whatever they do, it is never enough.

2.  To maintain control over their lives. Men express irritation that, often, their wives control (or attempt to control) their relationship with their kids, their home environment and, inadvertently, their free time.

3.  They need acknowledgment (just like their wives). If the “Thank yous,” the “You’re working really hards,” and the “You’re a great Dads” are few and far between, they begin to wonder if their wives take them for granted.

Just as most women are stunned by, and rarely happy about, the domestic obligations associated with motherhood, men, at times, rail against the lack of freedom that accompanies fatherhood. Some men despair that fatherhood has reduced their life, outside of work, to one of relentless domesticity. It is this fear (that nagging “is this it?”) that serves as a backdrop to much of male scorekeeping.

It’s Never Enough!

“I get zero recognition for work. It doesn’t matter how tough of a day I’ve had. I get home and I have to be on.”  

—Phil, married 7 years, 2 kids

Welcome to the doghouse. Most men feel like, no matter what they do, It’s Never Enough. They make comments such as, “my contributions are never appreciated,” or “I am behind, and always will be, for the rest of my entire life.” Many think that their wives have superhuman expectations of them. Most say it is completely unfair for their wives to criticize them for not helping enough at home when they make Herculean efforts to excel at work. This sense of unfairness is especially acute among men who are the primary, or only, income earners.

“You women want to have your cake and eat it, too. You can’t actively choose an aggressive alpha male because he’s a good provider and then expect him to be Mr. Mom at the same time.”

—Harrison, married 8 years, 2 kids

Another friend, Lee, said, “I cannot, cannot function at work when I’m constantly down in the weeds scrubbing bottles and burping babies at 3:00 a.m.” He may have a point. The three of us have all felt, at one time or another, that our husbands don’t do enough, despite the fact that they all do a hell of a lot. There are several categories of It’s Never Enough, including:

1.  A man does not get credit for what he does do, especially what he does at work.

2.  When he does do something around the house, it’s never right.

3.  He has to guess what he is supposed to do.

4.  When he doesn’t do something, or he doesn’t do it right, his wife holds it against him . . . indefinitely.

The three of us will be the first to admit that we’ve been guilty of some, if not all, of these infractions.

Work Counts for Nothing

“Why does work count for nothing in her mind? Shouldn’t there be some kind of percentage exchange going on here? If I am contributing eighty percent of the household income, shouldn’t I just be responsible for twenty percent of the domestic stuff?”

—Vince, married 5 years, 2 kids

Once children arrive, men feel the weight of the potential long-term consequences of every decision, whether it is seeking a promotion or selecting a college savings plan. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been, especially if a man becomes the sole breadwinner. To him, it is a new world order. He is now shouldering 100 percent of the responsibility to provide enough money for the family. He starts to see it, as Vince does, as a percentage exchange, and he wonders why work is not included in his wife’s fifty–fifty calculation. Women born any time in the last fifty years, however, expect their husband’s share of the domestic workload to remain, if not exactly the same, at least in the same ballpark as it was before kids. Many men think this is totally unfair.

It is an ironic coincidence of timing, or the twisted sense of humor of an omnipotent deity, that the baby-making years occur just as the heat turns up on the work front. If, like many couples in our generation, you are marrying and having children in your thirties, you feel considerable pressure to make these years at work count, just as your responsibilities on the domestic front explode. (Women also feel this pressure. If they have taken a career break to focus on the kids, they fear they will never be able to catch up with their professional peers.)

“This is all happening during the sweet spot of our careers. The stakes are really high at work. Your thirties are make or break time. You can’t take your foot off the accelerator.”

—Karl, married 12 years, 3 kids

It’s Never Good Enough

Guys, as we’ve said, are problem solvers. They see a situation, especially one in which their beloved is not happy, and they want to fix it. They will fix it in the most expedient manner possible, but they are not detail-oriented about it. Wife wants to sleep in? No problem. I can turn on the Baby Einstein and the kid will be happy and she can sack out. Baby needs changing? Change the diaper. Doesn’t matter where I put the diaper after the changing part is over.

“Here’s an example of not good enough for you: last week, after I got up early and made the kids breakfast, I scrambled to shower and get dressed to make the 8:00 a.m. (i.e., late) train into work. I conscientiously threw away the dry-cleaning wrap from my dress shirt into the wastebasket in our bathroom. On my way out the door, my wife came at me with a scowl and said, ‘I don’t mean to be picky, but can you throw out all your dry-cleaning wraps in the downstairs garbage and not the one in our bathroom?’ I mean, come on! Which garbage can is the right garbage can? Has it come to that?”

—Robert, married 12 years, 2 kids

“So I took both kids and went to Costco. Just sucked it right up and did it, just like I thought she wanted me to. Did I get even a ‘thank you’ when I got back? No. Instead, she went through the shopping list and sighed and told me I forgot the detergent and the plastic cups.”

—Frank, married 7 years, 2 kids

 

 

Guys asked us, we guess because we’re women: why does she always want to micromanage everything? Why is doing it my way so terrible? What does she care if I take Matt and Andy to my parents while she’s at the gym all morning? They wonder why they don’t at least get partial credit for trying.

Men Answer Women’s Number One Question (Well, One of Them)

Question: Why don’t guys see the domestic crap the way we do?

Answer: They don’t see it because they just don’t care. They just don’t care.

Do you remember his apartment when you were dating? Would you have ever taken a shower in there? Or, God forbid, used the moldy, festering towels that hadn’t been washed in months? Today’s husband is not a closet chauvinist. He has no interest in seeing his wife on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor. He’s probably not even threatened by her earning power or self-sufficiency. He is fully prepared to step up and help out. But he doesn’t like the routine running-of-the-household stuff and he never will. In his mind, it has no value and it should be avoided. If it cannot be avoided, it should be minimized. If possible, a shortcut should be used. He cares about getting it done, but not how it gets done.

Top Five Shortcuts Men Use

1.  Change the diaper. Put soiled diaper on the floor or on top of the Diaper Genie, but not actually in the Diaper Genie.

2.  Take the trash out. Don’t replace the trash bag in the kitchen.

3.  Never change the toilet paper roll. Use tissue from the tissue box instead.

4.  Place dirty clothes on top of the dirty clothes hamper.

5.  Dress the kid in the first thing you pull out of the drawer. Whether it “works” or not is not an issue.

 The Moving Target

When my wife is upset about something it doesn’t matter what I say, I just make her madder. I never seem to help the situation. Whatever she’s upset about changes on a daily basis. So every day, I have to figure out what the ‘issue du jour’ is and avoid it.”

—John, married 11 years, 2 kids


 

 

To a man, every single guy we’ve spoken to said something along the lines of, “It seems that the hardest thing for women is to articulate what it is they want us to do. We’re just supposed to know what they want.” And, shockingly, when a guy can’t read his wife’s mind, he gets in trouble.

“We would help out more if our wives would tell us exactly what they want us to do. For example, last Sunday night the house was a total mess and I said to my wife, ‘When this TV show is over we really need to clean up.’ She said, ‘You mean I need to clean up.’ And I didn’t—honestly—I meant that we both needed to do it. She got so annoyed with me and then told me about all the ways I had not helped her over the weekend. And I swear I had asked her so many times, ‘What can I do to help?’ ”

—José, married 7 years, 2 kids

As much as we want them to be, men are not mind readers. When they don’t have targets, they get frustrated. When we expect them to just “see” the things we see, we are bound to be disappointed.

Prior Convictions and the Log of Evidence

“If a guy messes up and does his ‘penance’ that should be the end of it. It’s not right to throw it back in our face six months later when we can hardly remember what it was all about anyway. Each individual incident should be dealt with separately. No mention of prior convictions.”

—James, married 9 years, 3 kids

Guys told us they feel there is no statute of limitations for their violations. What can we say? That statement is absolutely, totally, one hundred percent true. We can’t seem to forgive, or forget. It’s not one of our more attractive feminine virtues. (In our defense, though, we usually have to bring up the “priors” because our husbands are Repeat Offenders.) When we rehash old incidents, our husbands, quite naturally, get defensive and angry. They are less likely to want to talk about the issue at hand or be receptive to what we want to say.

Lack of Control

Most men feel as if they have little control over their environments. They are rarely the boss at work, and hardly ever the boss at home. Their wives act as Gatekeepers to the house and the children. Their wives plan weekends, select baby names, and evaluate vacation destinations. In many cases, their wives simply tell them where they need to be and when they need to be there. Lots of guys like it this way, but many others complain that their wives try to orchestrate their lives and fatherhoods.

They’re My Kids, Too

“My parents were divorced, so I never spent much time living with my dad. I don’t want that for my own kids, and I don’t want it for myself, either. I want to be there with them, watching them grow, sharing their ups and downs. And I want to help my wife. I don’t expect her to do everything.”

—Omar, married 10 years, 3 kids

The overwhelming majority of men want to be active, hands-on fathers, but it’s hard for a man (as it would be for anyone) to enjoy being a parent when his wife micromanages that relationship.

“I come home at night and it’s a great way to let off steam, rolling around on the floor with the boys. But I don’t do it anymore because she yells at me about getting them ‘all riled up’ before bedtime. Even when it’s ‘allowed,’ like on Saturday morning, she’s still kind of hovering over us. I can’t wait till they’re bigger. Then maybe she won’t be so worried all the time.”

—Luke, married 7 years, 2 kids

Men have commented to us that they “fall more in love” with their kids when they are left alone with them. As long as Mom is around, Dad is just the copilot.

It’s My House, Too

Some men confided to us that they can feel like (unwelcome) guests in their own homes. It’s their wife’s way or the highway. What’s the point of showing any initiative if you’re always getting smacked down? As Doug says, “Why do I always have to raise my standards? Why can’t she lower hers? Why is it when I clean the bathroom—and it looks totally clean to me—she gets mad and redoes it? Then I get no thanks for what I did do!”

“Sometimes I just want to retreat to the basement and watch a game for a few hours. I feel like I need to get a signed permission slip from my wife to watch the Rose Bowl in peace. I repeat, the Rose Bowl!”

—Jack, married 7 years, 1 kid

I Have a Life, Too (Don’t I?)

“I don’t even bother to plan anything on the weekends anymore because my wife has already planned every minute—on Microsoft Outlook, no less.”

—Joel, married 10 years, 4 kids

Why do guys keep track of points? To trade them in for freedom. As much as they love their wives and kids, a lot of guys feel the leash tighten around their necks as their families grow. They keep score about how much free time they are losing. Lance put it this way, “To men, marriage equals ‘I can’t do the things I want to do anymore.’ ” Charlie said, “I want it to be a quid pro quo so I can get some freedom.”

Men just want a little freedom from their responsibilities. “I want time away.” “I just want a break.” “My wife has never said to me, ‘Go do your thing. I’ll see you whenever.’ ”

Why Doesn’t She Just Go?

Guys also find a particular element of female scorekeeping confusing and annoying: they are perfectly willing to give us free time in exchange for their own. But then we don’t take advantage of the opportunity, and, exacerbating the problem, we turn around and: a) complain that we never get a break, and b) make our husbands feel guilty for taking their break. Understandably bewildered, they say, “She tells me she wants time to herself, but when I say go, she doesn’t go. Why doesn’t she just go?”

“If my wife hasn’t spent enough points, I’ll encourage her to spend them so that I can redeem mine. I want her to max out her points so I can use mine. I can’t go play golf for five hours if she hasn’t had a break for days.”

—Nathan, married 6 years, 1 kid

“I buy her spa time with an expiration date so she’ll be forced to use it.”

—Paul, married 9 years, 2 kids

Stop the Complaining and Start the Validating

“Last week, I had to go on two business trips for work. It was absolute hell, but she just seemed annoyed that I wasn’t around to help with the kids. Like I had some choice in the matter! Doesn’t she realize that I am working my ass off for everyone?”

—Mark, married 11 years, 2 kids

Just like women, men need validation. Just like women, men can feel their efforts on the domestic and work fronts go unnoticed and unappreciated. When a guy hears his wife express some appreciation, he feels like a million bucks. Who wouldn’t? They are disheartened by martyr-ish tendencies and too much complaining.

“I’m Married to a Martyr.”

“A lot of the stress women feel is self-created. There’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses.”

—Felix, married 6 years, 1 kid

“My wife’s maternal instincts whiplash the whole family. I feel like I spend half my time depressurizing her. It’s just too much.”

—Toby, married 9 years, 2 kids

All of us girls have played the Martyr. We’ve all slaved away on our husband’s behalf, and made damn well sure he knew about it. But a woman getting bent out of shape about an incomplete shopping list, or driving ten miles out of her way to get the special carpet cleaner, or staying up into the wee hours to hand-make party favors is virtually incomprehensible to a guy. Then, when she starts keeping score with him because he doesn’t adhere to the same meticulous (some might call it anal) standards, he considers it unnecessary, annoying, and largely ridiculous—“martyr-ish” was the word many of them used.

Well, gals, what do you think about what the men had to say?  If you read both posts about why men and women keep score, you’d realize that we both have it pretty tough, we both work really hard.  The important thing is that we get it out on the table and start the conversation.  Keeping quiet and sweeping all that under the rug doesn’t do any good for anyone, especially your kids.  

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Chore Wars, Why Women Keep Score with Their Husbands over Housework

“Despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, I have not been able to answer . . . the great question that has never been answered: what does a woman want?”  —Sigmund Freud

All Dr. Freud really needed to do was spend a day with a mother of two preschoolers and he would have had his answer: we want a partner, not a helper on the domestic front. We want the gender equality we were raised to expect in our marriages and our parenting. And we’d also like some validation from our husbands to go along with it.

Expectations about Equality

“We had our first kid and almost overnight I felt like I went from being an equal to being the lesser partner in my marriage.”  —Becky, married 8 years, 3 kids

“Why am I the only one in the house who knows where the pacifier, diaper wipes, and sippy cups are? Where the hell has he been living for the last three years?”  —Rachel, married 6 years, 2 kids

In the course of writing about this topic, we realized women tend to keep score more than their husbands. There are two very good reasons for this:

1.  We are blindsided. No matter how much we love being Moms, it’s difficult to reconcile the first thirty (or so) years of our lives, which we spend pursuing education, careers, travel, and all manner of personal and professional fulfillment, with the physical and emotional reality of domesticated motherhood.

2.  We wonder what happened to That Whole 50:50 Thing. We expect equality in our marriages, and are surprised when, after the kids arrive, the domestic and childrearing responsibilities, for the most part, fall squarely on our plates, whether we work or not. We feel like our husbands somehow pull a Domestic Bait and Switch.

Our experiences growing up in the swell of the feminist-minded ’70s and ’80s did not prepare us for what we encountered when we became mothers. Most of us grew up in homes where, even if we saw Mom doing most of the household stuff, we were encouraged to excel academically and succeed professionally. The message we got from home and from society was that we could do anything we set our minds to—in school, in sports, in the workforce, in family life. Few, if any, of us (and we say this as a statement of fact, rather than one of judgment) were raised to place much value on the role of housekeeper. While many of us looked forward to one day becoming mothers, we were often surprised to learn that the housedrudgery is inextricably linked to the babies. “Oh, you mean you have to cook for them and clean up after them, too? Well that sucks.”

What’s more, the playing field with boys was, for the most part, totally level. We viewed ourselves as equal to men from a very early age. As a second grader, I gave a third-grade boy a fat lip when he told me boys were better than girls, and that they should have different rules for flag football. Julia, at age nine, bought herself a T-shirt on a family trip to Washington D.C. that read, “A woman’s place is in the House. And the Senate.” Growing up, Cathy always asked for (and got) a biography of a trailblazing, force-to-be-reckoned-with type of woman in her Christmas stocking.

We’d spent our entire lives up to this point sharing basically the same experiences as men—in education and in seeking the challenge and reward of a profession. These experiences shaped our expectations about marriage and parenting. When the three of us met our husbands and got married, we felt like their equals, and our husbands viewed us as such (we asked them again, just to be sure). They liked it that we were independent and opinionated.  Our marriages did feel like equal partnerships. We had attained the ideal.

But when we became parents, somehow, the ideal of equality came unraveled. Aside from the few exceptions who’ve achieved the nirvana of co-parenting, most women we talked to were disappointed that the post-child division of labor was not more equal in their marriages, and that the increased volume of work was not more obvious to their husbands. Women don’t understand why the sharing thing is not working out the way they thought it would.

The Working Mother: Having It All?

“I expected to have it all. I didn’t expect to be doing it all.”  —Debbie, married 8 years, 2 kids

When a woman remains one half of a dual-income household after becoming a mother (which most do), she wonders why the parenting and housework “buck” stops with her. Most working mothers we spoke with feel, accurately or not, that they are the alpha parent and by default responsible for all things domestic. A far greater percentage of the work created by babies and preschoolers falls on their shoulders. They are ultimately responsible for the children’s day-to-day needs—selecting day cares, making doctor’s appointments, keeping the mental grocery list.

Working mothers feel that they have two full-time jobs: work and motherhood. The motherhood piece is often referred to as the “second shift.” Shift! That’s a euphemism. It’s a round-the-clock, day-in-day-out job. Men, on the other hand, have one full-time job: work, and one part-time job: fatherhood. If the milk supply runs out at dinner, whose fault is it? Hers. She didn’t notice it was running low, and she didn’t stop at the store on her way home. To women that just seems patently unfair. When both spouses are working, why does the lion’s share still lie with her?

Working mothers told us they feel enormously overburdened. Not only must they meet all of their professional and domestic responsibilities, they must also bear the weight of societal and their own personal expectations to “do it all” perfectly.

“If I leave work at 4:00 p.m. to go to a soccer game, people wonder if my desire to be with my kids is compromising my professional responsibilities. If my husband leaves work at 4:00 p.m., people say, ‘Oh, what a great Dad.’ ”  —Holly, married 11 years, 3 kids

“The expectations are so high. We are expected to outperform our fathers at work and outperform our mothers at home.”  —Pam, married 3 years, 1 kid

The Stay-at-Home Mother: Whiplash

Our friend Janice echoed the disappointment of many formerly equal-status women turned stay-at-home moms when she said, “It’s like his job is more important than my job. In a way, it’s like all this stuff is beneath him now. It’s ‘woman’s work’ and he can’t be bothered. I don’t think he respects me anymore, and that makes me feel awful.”

When a woman decides to stay home after becoming a mother, she often experiences Whiplash—the sensation of hurtling back to the 1950s. When her husband, her supposed equal, moans about having to help, or is constantly looking for the nearest escape hatch every weekend while she is up to her ears in kids and slimy, wet things, it feels like he is the one setting the dial and pushing the button on the time machine.

Most of us are shocked by the Whiplash phenomenon. It can feel like our lives have diverged completely from our husbands’. We may cherish the role of Mother, but we often do not cherish the “mind-numbing monotony” of domestic minutiae. Women tell us that they start to feel their husbands take them for granted after they stay home.

“Sometimes I feel like a stay-at-home slave.”  —Brandy, married 8 years, 2 kids (Ouch!)

The Trend Is Our Friend

Over the last ten years, however, we have noticed a positive trend.  There is definitely more equality on the home front.  Women have been speaking up,  and to their credit, men are hearing the message.  It’s so important to open up the dialogue and talk about your division of labor and the best way to divvy it up.  When you make an Everything List, everything from mopping the floor to earning a paycheck check, and actually see the mountain of work in front of you, it’s much easier to Divide and Conquer.

When it comes to Scorekeeping, it’s not like we’ve fully leveled the playing field, but at least we women don’t feel the need to dunk the ball every chance we get.  Men are getting much better at picking up the ball and scoring some key points on their own.  In an ideal world, we would do away with the fun and games of Scorekeeping, join forces, and play on the same team… Some day.

 

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Bethenny Frankel Learns that Parenthood Changes Everything

 

Bethenny Frankel in her new show Bethenny Ever After opens up about the trials of being married.  In the season premier, she talks of how she feels “tortured” in her marriage.  At the NBC Universal TCA Press Tour, she stated that, “I just turned 41, and to be perfectly honest, I unintentionally crammed everything in. I got pregnant. I got married eight months pregnant and now I sold my business.”

Wow.  Bethenny definitely  has a lot going on.  But we know one thing is clear.  She and her husband of two years, Jason Hoppy, just had a baby.  They are now learning that parenthood changes…everything.  Here are a few gems we heard along the way:

“I expected to add diaper, pacifier, formula to my new motherhood vocabulary—I didn’t think f*!# and s#*# would feature so prominently!”

—Lisa, married 5 years, 1 kid

“What I get from other women is what I need, and that is help. I don’t even have to ask other women for help, they just volunteer. What do I get from my husband? I get a sink full of dirty plates, a pile of dirty clothes on the stairs, and a child dressed for church in a football jersey.”

—Katherine, married 8 years, 2 kids

“My wife doesn’t understand how important sex is to me. Everywhere I go, sex is screaming at me. There are hot women in advertisements on billboards, and before I know it I find myself imagining Gina down in Accounts Payable wearing a nurse’s outfit.”

—Thomas, married 11 years, 1 kid

We are three women who love our children. We love our husbands, and they love us. Like Bethenny and Jason, we wondered, why on earth did we find ourselves so often at odds after the babies came home? Our pre-baby marriages were really good, maybe even great. So why weren’t we talking the way we used to? Why were we bickering? Why were we so infuriated at our husbands’ inability to find the sippy cups? Why were our husbands distraught that our enthusiasm for sex had dwindled to “folding the laundry” levels? Were we normal? Or was something seriously wrong?

Turns out we were totally, utterly (even slightly boringly) normal.

We figured this out because we started talking; first to each other, then to a handful of friends, and then, well, things got out of hand and we started writing a book about it. At that point, no one was safe. We accosted total strangers in checkout lines and captive fellow passengers on airplanes. We talked to legions of women who, just like us, dreaded their husbands’ Ten O’Clock Shoulder Tap.   They wondered what had happened to That Whole 50:50 Thing and why the lion’s share of the domestic crap was falling on their plates. We talked to countless men and learned that, like our husbands, they despaired that their wives had pulled a Bait and Switch in the bedroom. They complained that no matter what they did to help with the kids, the house, and the bank balance, It Was Never Enough.

Through all the talking, it became clear that most couples, no matter how happy and secure their marriage may be, find the early parenting years a challenge (on a good day) or even seriously relationship-threatening (on a bad day).

In fact, if you read the latest studies, you’d think we have a national epidemic of miserable parents on our hands. A well-publicized 1994 Penn State study said that, “two-thirds of married -couples report a decline in their marital relationship upon the birth of their children.” Ten years later, things hadn’t improved at all. An August 2005 report from the University of Washington found the same thing.  What’s more, a December 2005 study of 13,000 people published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior said parents reported being more miserable (“sad, distracted or depressed”) than non-parents.

How did so many of us wind up here? And, more importantly, can we do anything to avoid spending the next fifty years of our lives here? Parenthood changes us, and our lives, so profoundly. It changes how we view ourselves and each other; what we need from and are able to put into our marriages. Babyproofing Your Marriage is about understanding these changes and how we react to them. At its heart, it’s about keeping marriages on an even keel after the baby bomb arrives. It’s about the simple things we can do to stay connected as a couple after we have kids.

So, What Is Going On?

During our intrepid journey of marital discovery we learned—much to our relief—that many of the bumps couples might encounter along the way just can’t be helped. The emotional, psychological, and lifestyle upheavals that accompany parenthood are unavoidable. They’re nobody’s fault. We’re not necessarily doing anything wrong.

Topping the list of things we just can’t help is our DNA, or as we three aspiring evolutionary biologists like to call it, Hardwiring. It took having kids for us to realize that men and women are completely different animals and, as a result, we respond to parenthood in drastically different ways. Our genetically-programmed instincts are at the root of many of our modern-day frustrations. They affect our post-baby sex lives, how we parent, and our relationships with our families, often in ways we’re not conscious of. Secondly, there’s the inconvenient matter of planetary rotation. Our sixteen waking hours are not enough to do everything we have to do, much less anything we want to do. And finally, it doesn’t help that most of us are Deer in the Headlights. We’re basically clueless about how parenthood will make us feel. An iron curtain of secrecy hides the reality. No one, not even our own parents, will tell it like it is. (Remember those cryptic comments you heard before you had kids: “Don’t have a baby until you’re ready to give up your life”? To which you responded, “Huh?”) This Global Conspiracy of Silence means that most of us are ill-equipped to deal with the sea of change that a baby brings. No one prepares us for the Parenthood Ass-Kicking Party.

To some extent, we new parents are at the mercy of millions of years of evolutionary biology, the twenty-four-hour day and pure ignorance. These three factors set the stage for the various post-baby disconnects we’ll describe in this book. Add in the facts that (a) we aren’t very nice when we’re tired and (b) we think we can get our lives back to the way they were before kids, and we can find ourselves facing some serious marital struggles. No matter how good our intentions are, most of us encounter some, if not all, of the following issues:

1.  How We Behave as Parents. Those hardwired instincts we just mentioned, the ones we never knew we had, kick in when a baby arrives. A woman’s Mommy Chip is activated and she gets compulsive. “Is this sunscreen strong enough? Do we have enough bananas in the house?” Meanwhile, a man’s first instinct upon gazing into the crib is Provider Panic: “Gee, I better go make more money.” She thinks he just doesn’t “get it.” He wonders why she’s turned into a control-freak, bottle-wielding shrew.

2.  The Post-Baby Sexual Disconnect. His sex drive doesn’t change. She wants to shut down the factory while caring for the most recent offspring. To be honest, the three of us breathed a sigh of relief when we learned that ours were not the only marriages with some supply and demand issues. It was comforting to learn that like us, most women’s libidos had also gone MIA after the kids arrived. Men, however, told us they still wanted sex just as much as they always had, baby or no baby. We were amazed at the level of anguish men felt when they were rejected repeatedly by their wives. When we heard guys like Thomas say, “It’s humiliating and painful when you are rejected at your most vulnerable, when you’re naked. And when that happens three times in a row, it’s soul-destroying,” we rushed back to our own husbands to ask them if that assessment was accurate. Their response: “AbsoF’nlutely.”

3.  The Division of Labor. It’s hard work, and there’s a mountain of it. Dishes, laundry, feeding, changing, picking up toys, and keeping a job—every day is Groundhog Day. Not surprisingly, couples end up fighting about who does what, or rather who’s not doing what. We keep score. No matter how spectacular the Scorekeeping, however (and the three of us have been fairly spectacular), no one wins.

“Am I supposed to gush over what a fine job he did emptying the dishwasher? What does he want, a gold star?”

—Leslie, married 8 years, 3 kids

“What’s the score? Ha. The score is always zero when I walk in the door at the end of the day.”

—Nick, married 7 years, 2 kids

4.  Family (aka: The In-Laws and Outlaws) Pressures. Before we have kids, our extended families, for the most part, stay on the sidelines of our marriages. Have a baby and it all changes. Our parents and in-laws all jockey for a piece of the kid action. Their desire to be involved is another evolutionary imperative; each set of grandparents wants to leave the biggest mark on the child for all posterity. And plenty of us cheer them on. We want to make sure that our families have as great, if not a greater, influence than our spouse’s.

No matter how wonderful and helpful they are (and for the record, all of ours are fabulous . . .) balancing the time spent with, and the respective influence of, our extended families is a challenge for most couples. Meddlesome in-laws can provoke an “If I have to spend one more weekend with them, I’m seriously going to hurt somebody” response from even the most tolerant of spouses. And some of us infuriate our other halves with our exceedingly poor job of Cutting the Cord (“When Danny’s mother is here, he turns into a complete lazy ass.” “Why does my wife want to move back near her family all of a sudden?”) as we don the new and unfamiliar mantle of grown-up-with-kids-of-our-own.

5.  Who Gets to Sleep In or Go for a Jog on Saturday Morning? Naturally, “me time” takes a big hit after we have kids. We quite rightly give our children the time and attention they deserve, but doing so means the days are full and our tanks are empty. We often end up fighting over the precious scraps of free time that remain.

“I really resent that he wants to take off for five hours to play golf on a Saturday, then he expects me to be oh-so-grateful because he watches the kids while I go to yoga for an hour. Big friggin’ deal.”

—Jane, married 9 years, 2 kids

When we don’t find the time for the activities that recharge us, we get testy, and our spouse’s habits—once “cute and quirky”—become infuriating. A little bit of self-neglect can actually spell trouble for our marriages.

6.  What Happened to Us? After kids, because we’re so busy, it’s easy to neglect our relationship. There are no more “deep and meaningfuls.” Instead, it’s “time to make the donuts” . . . every single day. When we don’t spend time together, our marriage can slip into Autopilot. Destination: “Who are you and what are you doing in my bed?”

“The people I know whose marriages are breaking up now have ignored their relationship like a houseplant that never gets any water.”

—Mark, married 11 years, 2 kids

Ultimately, we all want what’s best for our kids. We’ll do pretty much whatever it takes to make them happy. Many of us, however, overlook the fact that a husband and wife’s relationship is the linchpin of the family. When it falters, a child’s world is unhinged. We know that can seem counterintuitive when we’re heading out for a date with one toddler clamped to our leg and another pleading for a bedtime story. But nurturing our marital relationship is central to our children’s sense of security and happiness. Being a good spouse and a good parent are not mutually exclusive.

What Can We Do About It?

The dark, looming abyss that seems to separate us after we have kids is an impediment, but it is not insurmountable. We’ve learned that there are many things you can do to improve your relationship, and quite frankly, most of those things aren’t really all that hard.  So check out Babyproofing Your Marriage.   You may find a solution or two that can make a difference.  Or better yet, you may read the side-splitting quotes and stories of over 500 people and realize, hey, we are NORMAL.

Bethenny and Jason, let us know if you’d like us to send you copy.

* Image from http://www.gossipcenter.com

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In-law Problems: Do You Need to Cut the Cord?

Cut the Cord

Becoming a parent often propels us back to our own families as we seek out their guidance and emotional support in dealing with this new chapter in our lives. Parenthood also demands, though, that we step into adulthood once and for all and make our new family our first priority.   And for many of us it’s a difficult step to take. We all love and feel a sense of obligation to our families of origin, but if we put our “old” family ahead of our “new” family, we are effectively telling our spouses, “You are not my number one priority. They are.” Even though that is rarely the intention, it can have a devastating effect.

This is from William who has been married for eight years and has two kids:

“My wife wanted to live near her parents, so we moved. It’s great having them so close by to help, but I can’t quite figure out where I fit into the whole equation. I’ve changed my job, I’ve no close friends. We see her family almost every day and mine a couple of times a year. I’m not the head of the family. I’m just a sidekick to theirs.”

Most family management issues can be resolved if you make it clear to all concerned (sometimes that includes yourself) that your spouse and your kids come first.

The Pecking Order

My Spouse and Kids

Everyone Else

 

If you are a Mama’s Boy,

Not an attractive look …

or a Daddy’s Girl (or vice versa) it’s time to Cut the Cord.  In case there is any doubt, the cutting ceremony is long overdue if:

• You can’t make a move without consulting one or both of your parents.

• You make the aforementioned move after consulting your parents, but you don’t ask your spouse what he or she thinks.

• You take a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach to implementing your family traditions.

• More than ten percent of your sentences begin with “My mom/dad always says . . . ”

• You make unfavorable spouse/parent comparisons (e.g., “My father worked on the yard every Saturday, why can’t you do it once a month?” “My mom always cooked dinner and she had two more kids than you.”)

Scissors, anyone?

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Love and Marriage When Your Child Has Special Needs

Most couples no matter how secure and happy their marriage may be find the early parenting years a challenge (on a good day) or even seriously relationship threatening (on a bad day). And when you are dealing with the unique challenges – and joys – of raising a child with special needs, the stresses on your marriage can be magnified. Robyn Monaghan, a mother and long-time journalist wrote in Chicago Parent earlier this week that, “Until recently, conventional wisdom has pegged the divorce rate in families with autism at around 80 percent. But new research is debunking the myth that relationships for parents of children with disabilities are statistically doomed.” In fact, it seems that the odds of a couple, raising a child with special needs, divorcing are no greater than the divorcing-odds of any other couple with kids.

The advice that Monaghan sets out on staying together through special needs is applicable to all couples who are engaged in the overwhelming, and wonderful business of parenting.

1. Protect your marriage

2. Embrace your differences

3. Take care of yourself

4. Become a team

5. Protect romance and sexual intimacy

6. Practice forgiveness and realistic expectations

You can read the article here.

 

 

 

 

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A Love Song for Couples with Kids

There is a beautiful Irish ballad called “The Voyage” that is almost always played at wedding anniversary parties in Ireland. When I was young, free and single I never understood why the forty-somethings would get teary-eyed when this song was played. Now that I’m rapidly approaching that age myself, with kids and husband in tow, I get it. This song celebrates the journey that two people who have “coupled their fate” make together and the steadfast determination that it takes to continue when times get tough. To me, this song tells the life-story of those of us married-with-kids.

Here are the songs lyrics. There is a video of Christy Moore, a wonderful Irish singer, performing the song at the end of the blog.

The Voyage

I am a sailor, you’re my first mate

We signed on together, we coupled our fate

Hauled up our anchor, determined not to fail

For the hearts treasure, together we set sail

With no maps to guide us we steered our own course

Rode out the storms when the winds were gale force

Sat out the doldrums in patience and hope

Working together we learned how to cope

***
Life is an ocean and love is a boat

In troubled water that keeps us afloat

(As a mother of four, I always get a bit misty-eyed when I hear these two lines.)

When we started the voyage, there was just me and you

Now gathered round us, we have our own crew

***

Together we’re in this relationship

We built it with care to last the whole trip

Our true destination’s not marked on any charts

We’re navigating to the shores of the heart

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New Moms and Dads: The Importance of The Training Weekend – Mom Gets a Break and Dad Gets a Clue

Yes, we’ve already posted a video talking about The Mother of All Solutions – The Training Weekend.  Go away for the weekend and leave your husband alone with the baby for 48 hours. No sitters. No in-laws. No cavalry whatsoever. The point is to let him figure things out for himself. He doesn’t get it because he hasn’t done it!  We now want to discuss why it is such an important tool when it comes to babyproofing your marriage.

The Benefits

The benefits of a Training Weekend are many and varied:

Mom gets a break. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So give yourself a little girl time or alone time. Everyone, including you, will benefit from your well-rested, recharged self.

“I didn’t know I needed it until I had it. Boy, did I need it!”

—Valerie, married 7 years, 2 kids

Dad understands. By taking sole charge of all baby- and house-related duties for a weekend, a man will better understand his wife’s challenges and frustrations. He will have the same sink-or-swim experience that she has. If he wants to take shortcuts by not feeding a full meal, or leaving dirty diapers all over the floor, for once, he will have to deal with the consequences. He learns because there’s no other way out. Just a small glimpse into this “real world” will improve your communication level and your ability to work together as a team on the home front.

“I had a list of things I wanted to get done when I had the kids by myself, and I was lucky if half of it got done. I didn’t shower and I didn’t shave. I could barely hold things together. It gave me an enormous appreciation for what my wife does. This was eight years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday.”

—George, married 13 years, 2 kids

“I had no idea taking care of a baby was so hard. How does she do this day in and day out? I was truly in awe of her when she got back.”

—Brandon, married 3 years, 1 kid

Dad bonds with the baby. Dad will, possibly for the first time ever, connect with the baby on his terms. Once Mom is gone, guys can figure it out for themselves. They get to play by their own rules. This knowledge makes them more confident and competent fathers.

“It gives you a chance to get to know your kids better. It allows you to really fall in love with them.”

—Ian, married 7 years, 2 kids

Not convinced yet?

To All the Female Doubters Out There: Let Go of the Reins

To our surprise, when we suggested a Training Weekend, some women looked at us in horror as if we had asked them to donate their babies’ kidneys. One of them even said, “Is that safe?” They also said:

•  “My baby needs me; she can’t survive without me.”

•  “My husband wouldn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t do anything right.”

•  “If I went away, it would be a Baby Einstein Extravaganza.”

•  “I would have to write out twenty-two pages of notes before I could get out the door. It just wouldn’t be worth it.”

The baby will survive! Your husband is, we assume, a highly functioning adult in full command of his faculties. (If he’s not, OK, you have bigger problems and don’t have to do the Training Weekend.) He can do this. The occasional Baby Einstein Extravaganza never hurt anyone. (We said occasional!  We’ve heard about the new studies!) And if you have to write twenty-two pages of notes, so be it. Just do it.

The one legitimate objection we heard was that it’s too hard to organize a girl trip. Most women just won’t go away on trips and leave their families. It took me six months and over a hundred emails to organize my college friends to go away on a girl trip. Another friend’s first effort was aborted when one of the women wanted to bring her one-year-old along. By comparison, when men sense an opportunity for escape, they quickly organize themselves like flying geese in Perfect V Formation headed straight for the airport.

Don’t let a logistical dilemma prevent a Training Weekend. Spend two days and nights on your own if that’s the only alternative (sounds heavenly, actually). Yes, it is hard to leave your kids. Yes, you will miss them. But you will feel so much better when you get back. And, best of all, you will have a grateful and helpful husband greeting you at the door.

To All the Male Doubters Out There: You Can Do It!

“I’m not sure what the big deal is. I’m their father, for God’s sake.”

—Lee, married 9 years, 3 kids

Have you ever thought to yourself, “Aw, c’mon. What’s she complaining about? It can’t be that tough.” Or maybe you’re a little frightened at the prospect (we promise not to tell anyone) and you’ve thought, “It’s unnatural, not to mention dangerous, to ask the JV squad to suit up for a playoff game, right?” Well, it’s harder than you think, but it’s also easier than you think. If you can change a diaper, and if you can feed the baby a bottle while you watch SportsCenter, you can do this.

True Story

My Story

When our daughter was about four months old, Ross, who had told me he would be home at 7:00 p.m., rolled in the door two hours late. I was pretty ticked. I had had a day from hell and hadn’t showered in three days. When he said to me, “Why is this so hard for you? She napped twice, so you had two breaks, right? What’s your problem?” I knew there was no other recourse than for him to see for himself, so I planned a trip away.

His Story

Mainly, I was happy that Stacie was getting a break. I could tell she really needed one, and, honestly, I did think, “How hard can it be?” I thought she was making a big deal over nothing. Turns out I didn’t need a Training Weekend; all I needed was one morning. I was dying. I just wanted it to be over. On that Sunday, she was supposed to get back at 2:00 p.m. I was counting the minutes. At 2:05 I called her cell phone. She said she was stuck in traffic and she’d be an hour late. I started yelling at her, “This is absolute b*#*s#*#. You told me you’d be home at 2:00!”

My Story

It worked. Ross’s attitude totally changed after that weekend. Now, he always lets me know his ETA. He makes no more insensitive cracks (well, hardly any). And I hear the words, “You’re amazing and I don’t know how you do it” (which is really all any mother wants to hear), a lot more often. He’s really stepped up on the domestic front, too. He hits the house with a “what can I do?” attitude, and it just means the world to me.

His Story

Yeah, yeah, I get it now. I’ll never forget how relieved I was to see her walk in the door. I was beat up. Now I know that’s how she feels when she sees me. I have a lot of respect for her job now. I couldn’t do it.

 

So get it on the calendar…FAST!

 

*Illustrations by Larry Martin

Posted in The Chore Wars, The Great Mom-Dad Divide, The Newborn Stage | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Daughter-in-Law Won’t Let Me See My Grandchild

Q. I have only one child, my son, who got married a couple of years ago to his girlfriend who was pregnant at the time. I’ve never talked to him about it but I think he only married her because she was going to have his baby. I’ve always thought I had a good relationship with my son. For many years I was a single mom so it was just me and him for a long time.

I’ve never really liked my daughter-in-law. She is a manipulative and spoiled person. A few weeks  ago I was at their house to babysit my granddaughter. I took her to the mall for an icecream and got her a haircut – she’s about a year and a half, and really needed a hair cut with summer coming. My daughter-in-law was very upset when she saw her daughter and since then I have not been invited back to their house. I think she is overreacting. I am a Grandma, shouldn’t I be able to take my granddaughter for icecream and a haircut? I’ve called my son many times to talk to him about this and he says that his wife is upset and that I just need to stay away for a while. He has not been to see me and I am broken-hearted.

I am so hurt, all I want to do is see my grandchild.

A.  First things first, you did do something wrong. You took an eighteen-month-old baby for a haircut (I only hope that it wasn’t her first) without checking with her mother first. You were disrespectful to the child’s mother, you did not recognize that she is the one who decides where her baby goes, and the activities her baby engages in. Not the grandmother. Whether you intended to or not, by your actions you dismissed her as a mother. You behaved badly and now you are being punished. And what you need to do now is graciously accept the consequences of your behavior. Apologize to your daughter-in-law, but don’t push for an immediate invitation back into their lives. Be patient. She needs to see that you respect her as your son’s wife and as the mother of your grandchild.

I realize that your intention was not to be deliberately mean. You were just enjoying time with your granddaughter. But the fact is that you don’t like your daughter-in-law, and she must know that. We all know when someone does not like us. And not liking your daughter-in-law is not a smart move. She is the gatekeeper that you have to go through to see your grandchild. So what if she is a little immature? She is a new mother, and don’t we all behave territorially and a little bit insecurely as we try to find our footing as parents? You have more life experience and parenting experience than she does, so why don’t you use it and act with compassion and patience.

As for your son, you have put him in a very difficult position. You should be proud of his response to this difficult situation. He is acting like a husband/father first and as a son second. His primary allegiance should be to his wife and child and not to you, as his mother. I know that is hard to hear, but if he was running to your house trying to make you feel better about the situation he would undermine seriously his position in his marriage and his wife’s trust in him.

The bottom line is that you must accept your daughter-in-law’s status even if you don’t particularly like her. Do that and everything else will fall into place.

Good luck to you.

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