When DD was about 20 months old, DH and I would watch the Sopranos every Wednesday. I’d put her to bed around 7:45 or 8 pm and hope she wouldn’t wake up to nurse during the show. She almost always did, and sometimes more than once. I remember one night feeling really sorry for myself that I had to keep missing out on the show; I felt like I would never have an evening to myself. I looked down at DD…she was curled into a “C”, facing me, her little feet pressed into my lap, her hands resting on my chest while she nursed, half asleep…Suddenly I was hit with the realization that this adorable little girl would very soon be gone. Sure, she’d be replaced by an older, more mature, and just as amazing, older girl. But this little toddler lying here beside me would soon be just a memory.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and I tried to take a picture of that moment. I still remember it so clearly. From that night onwards I did not resent having to go to her. I accepted that this was the way my life was for now, but would not always be. I resigned myself to it, and in doing so was able to truly treasure that time. Whenever I have moments where it feels like I’ll never be free to do X again, or when I’m sick of always having to do Y for the kids, I remember that night and I remind myself that accepting what is for now is truly the best way to get over feeling sorry for myself.
It’s amazing how, once you resign yourself to something, the energy you save trying to “fix” it makes it all so much more bearable. That lesson has made itself known in another aspect of my life lately: the sharing of duties with my partner.
Like many mothers I have felt all along that I am the default caregiver. If DH is home, I am still the one who tends to the children unless I specifically ask him to do something. If we’ve been out all day together and come home with the usual piles of clothes, bags, and other stuff kids accumulate – the first thing he does when we get in is go change into some comfy clothes and then sit himself down for a rest. As much as I’d like to do that, there are kids that need to be undressed, bags unpacked, snack containers rinsed, shoes put away, and children’s needs to be tended to before I can sit down and rest (even though all I want to do when I walk in the door is sit). If a diaper needs changing, or a dispute needs resolving, I am the one who seems expected to do it.
Now don’t get me wrong, if I ask DH to do something he almost always complies willingly. He seems eager to help whenever I ask. It’s just always bugged me that I have to ask. That it’s just assumed I will take care of all this stuff, as if he doesn’t even see what needs to be done (which makes me feel even more taken for granted, not to mention underappreciated).
What I find striking about this situation is how common it is. Among virtually all my mama friends this is a common complaint, even though their partners span the range of totally involved to couch potato. One mama wrote that her DH, after taking the kids all day so she could do some consulting work, had to go out to a movie to “unwind” that night. She wrote: “I’m thinking that would be cool if I got to have the evening off every time I took care of the kids while he’s working .”
I told DH about this post, and we had an interesting chat about it. We talked about the different roles men and women have biologically and how that factors into the way we perceive the world (a theory which I wholeheartedly agree with). And the point he made was this: it’s not like he thinks I should be the one to do everything even when he’s home, it’s just that he doesn’t perceive situations the way I do because he doesn’t have that mothering instinct. He used the example of how I would get a physically sick, nauseated feeling when DH would push her really high on the swing (even though she was clearly loving it and seemed to be perfectly safe), DH did not get these feelings yet it would be ridiculous to suggest he doesn’t care about their safety the way I do. I’m programmed to respond that way, he isn’t.
So perhaps when we get home from a long day out his mind is focused on other things. Perhaps he’s looking at the house and thinking about the odd jobs he keeps meaning to do. Maybe he’s thinking about some project at work and wondering how many emails he’s received about it while we’ve been out. It’s likely not that he’s looking at what needs to be done with the kids and saying “oh, let her do it”, since he’s willing to help when I ask.
After thinking about this alot today, and in light of my experience with the kids this past week I came to the sudden realization that perhaps the best course of action here is the same as it was for DD: resignation. I don’t mean that I’m going to turn into a doormat. I will ask for help when I need it. What I mean is that I’m going to stop harping on about it in my head, as if it is something that can really, truly, radically change. I don’t think it will change. DH will never be me, he will never have household priorities ordered the exact way I do (and why should he, he’s not me?) And the truth is, my life isn’t going to be like this forever either. The kids will soon be old enough to hang their own coats, and I won’t be hauling diaper bags full of crap around with me everywhere. They will soon be old enough to help with tasks like unloading the dishwasher, or throwing a load of washed clothes into the dryer.
And so I’ve decided to resign myself to the reality of my life right now. And in light of the past week that actually suggests I’m going to be much happier. I’ll have ditched the resentment and instead can revel in cheering on my own accomplishments rather than expecting that DH should see everything I do in a day and tell me how much he appreciates it. I’m going to return to the mentality that I’m “going it alone”, which will hopefully lead me to be more thankful for all the things DH does do around here to help out.