When my son was a three year-old, and “No!” was his favorite expression, my husband and I decided upon a strategy. We hadn’t had a clue how draining parenting could be, and we only had one child…
We banned the word “tired” from our vocabulary, as we were both tired of hearing the word “tired.” Of course, we came up with various ways of saying it… “I’m extremely fatigued…” or, “I’m totally zonked at the moment…”. And hopefully the other would laugh.
This was an effort to avoid the argument I’ve heard over and over again between parents. Whether or not they’re a dual career couple, one is a stay-at-home parent, or whether they’re divorced, “Who’s working harder?” is a repetitive, going-nowhere-fast conversation that usually leads to a blaming and defensive argument.
“I go to work every day and then come home and work some more. I do everything around here.”
“I can’t handle how stressed I am at work, and your job is easy compared to mine.”
“You don’t understand how hard it is to be with these kids all day long — alone. You get to go to lunch with people. You get adult time.”
“You only have them on the weekends, and you don’t realize everything that goes into the daily grind.”
And one of my personal favorites…
“It’s your job to keep the kids. I have a job that I go to every day.”
Except for the last biting comment, which belongs back in the 50’s somewhere. the rest are versions of the “Who’s working harder?” debate. If you scratch the surface, you can hear the pressure, the fear, the anxiety, the loneliness, even the jealousy that they convey.
Children are little black holes of need — typically the younger they are, the more this is true. And you may have a child or children who have special needs – children who aren’t going to reach normal markers of growing up and away.
Parenting — good parenting — is hard work. It brings a sense of fulfillment found no where else. But it’s continuous, non-stop effort for many years. Often, you’re not quite sure you’re doing it “right” — whatever that means. So parents are waffling around in insecurity and ambiguity, hoping that their efforts are rewarded by kids who will launch successfully into their own lives.
There are signs along the way that point to whether or not your child is growing in confidence and stability. But a lot of things can happen that frighten a responsible parent. Drug abuse, alcohol use, sexting over social media, bullying, depression, peer pressure to do crazy things…
And what do a bunch of us do when we’re afraid?
We feel vulnerable. We can get lost. We reach out to our partner, or even ex-partner for help. But if we reach out with blame, it will not go well.
What would have to happen for us to say the things that lie underneath that confusion and fear?
“I’m needing a little reassurance from you.”
“So often, I’m not sure what to do.”
“I worry that we’ve got too much going on. The kids are on their I Pads all the time.”
“I’m not sure how they’re handling the divorce.”
“I’m afraid my job is taking over my life. And I feel like I’m not present with the kids.”
You may not be married to, or divorced from, someone who’d naturally think of having this kind of conversation. Or maybe you struggle yourself with revealing vulnerability.
That doesn’t mean you can’t try.
The conversation would sound something like this.
“You know, sometimes when we try to talk about the kids, I know I get mad and want credit for what I’m doing — and sometimes I feel that you do too. It’s hard to risk hearing that you may not agree with me about something, because I’m worried or scared. I want to get to a place where I let you know that I respect you, and even thank you more for what you do. And it would feel good to get that back. But I’d like to try to talk about Aaron’s dyslexia (or whatever the topic might be…), and try to be more open about what you’re saying, and you be open to me. Would you be willing to do that? Maybe we can decide what both of us need to try to do, and do it together.”
Here are seven things included in this opening dialogue that may avoid falling down the rabbit hole of blame and defensiveness.
- You’re talking about talking — trying to set up the conversation for success before you actually begin it.
- You’re taking responsibility for what you do, and gently pointing out that sometimes both of you can get angry or blaming. But you’re talking about it rationally — not jumping down anyone’s throat.
- You’re admitting that you don’t show gratitude enough. Many of us don’t.
- You’re talking mostly about yourself, not your partner. (Notice all the “i” statements.)
- You’re asking a question– not telling your partner something. You’re inviting them to try to do something better, which would hopefully appeal to the part of them that wants to parent well.
- You’re revealing your own vulnerability, and inviting your partner to do the same.
- You’re setting the stage to make decisions together — you’re saying you value the partnership. And that will feel good.
You can do it, if you try. It may be a little awkward at first, and may even deteriorate into the same old, same old. But you can get up and try again.
Not only will your kids benefit, but maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear a little more gratitude for all that hard work.
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