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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Q. 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 haircut 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.