The Amazing Survivor Race Challenge: Parenting Edition

February 17, 2009

Babies are hard on a marriage.

It’s sort of ironic, really, seeing as babies are so often understood (rightly or wrongly) to represent core bonds of a life partnership, but still: for every measure of centripetal force that they exert upon a relationship and bind partners more closely, babies exert a half measure – maybe more – of centrifugal force, pulling those partners away from their center. It’s true. If I understood Newtonian physics well enough to explain it fully, I would, but I don’t, so just trust me on this: babies bring couples closer together and pull them apart in a million teeny tiny and not so teeny tiny ways, and the yank and tug of this phenomenon can exert an uncomfortable pressure upon a spousal partnership.

Pets do not have this effect, I’ve noticed, possibly because you can just put them out in the yard when they start to get difficult. You cannot do this with babies. When caring for babies gets difficult, you can only turn to your partner (if you have one – I cannot begin to address single parenthood here, other than to say that I have NO IDEA how people do that. Superheroes, seriously) and negotiate some means of coping and hope to hell that you can figure this shit out together. So when the moments come – and they do come – when you realize that you are not figuring this shit out together – that you’re either not figuring it out together, or you’re not figuring it out, period – it can be hard. You can put it down to lack of sleep, to lack of alone time, to sheer exhaustion, but it still feels the same: you’re struggling. And you’re not always struggling together. And in those moments when you’re struggling apart… those moments feel isolating. Lonely.

The first baby isn’t – I don’t think – as hard on the relationship as the second: with your first baby, the novelty of the situation can cause you to overlook or ignore the fact that you and your spouse are almost never together alone, that you almost never sleep, that your romantic dinners for two have become mac-and-cheese for three, that your bed has become the gathering place for a tangle of toddler and toys and cats. The first baby can be a great romantic quest, like backpacking together through Europe – full of all variety of trials and discomforts, but nonetheless an adventure, one that is full of new experiences that you are sharing! Together! So who cares if the hostels are crowded or you’re eating bad food or the pack on your back is crippling you with its weight? You’re having an adventure together, and it is awesome.

But when the second baby comes along, you’ve been there and done that and sent the postcards and you’re just not as open to feeling romantic about this whole journey as a quote-unquote adventure. The novelty has worn off. The hostel conditions – the noise, the squalor, the bathroom shared with too many other, messy people – no longer represent adventure, and their effect on you – sleeplessness, disorientation – is harder to bear. You’re still thrilled to be doing this again – you love so much about this journey – but you’re older now, and more tired, and the sleepless nights and bad food wear you down so much more quickly and so you look at each other and you both wonder why the other hasn’t booked you into a plush hotel already.

And this is where everything – including the extended travel metaphor – breaks down, because there are no plush hotels in New Parentland. New Parentland is not a backpacker’s Europe; it’s not even the outer reaches of the former Soviet Union, where at least they have beds and a limitless supply of vodka. New Parentland is more like a deserted island. It’s survival conditions, no matter who you are, unless you have the means and the foresight to have brought an entourage that will attend to your basic needs and forage for your food. There’s no straightforward solution to your discomfort here; there are no resources beyond what you can gather and/or jerryrig together. Neither you nor your travelling companion has it within their power to make things easy. With the first child, if you’re lucky, this is like Blue Lagoon: you’re so enthralled with the romance of the situation that you don’t care that you are – figuratively – wearing loincloths and drinking out of coconuts. You might even find that kind of thing sexy. But by the time you’re on baby number two? The loincloths are starting to feel scratchy and you’re sunburnt and sleeping on the sand is making your back hurt and that other person is eating your coconut, dammit. You are on Survivor: Child Island and it’s only a matter of time before you turn on each other.

My husband and I haven’t turned on each other (*knocks wood*), and we wouldn’t reverse the steps that brought us here to our own, personal Child Island. We find pleasure in this place; we bask in the sunshine here. But still: we find it challenging, coping with the hardship. I find it challenging. Once the chores are done and the children are tended to and this place falls silent, I am so exhausted, so spent and worn, that I want only to crawl under the blankets and escape – with a book, with some Ativan – and rest and I know that he experiences this as a withdrawal. But then I – perversely – resent him for experiencing it as withdrawal. I’m so tired, I tell myself. This is so hard. He should get that. I tell him that this is so hard and that I am so tired and he tells me that he is tired too and instead of feeling sympathy, I feel frustration. It’s harder for me, I think, and the resentment starts to burble. And then I catch myself and tell myself that hard is hard is hard and just because I have spent whole days and nights on my own wrangling our two creatures and lived to tell about it doesn’t mean that he can manage the same thing and in any case he gets up at night and first thing in the morning with the baby, right? And then I think, maybe if we just had some time together, just the two of us – or better, what if I had some time for me, just me, alone, and THEN we had some together just the two of us ?- but then I immediately think, why doesn’t he make that happen? Why must it be ME?

And then I worry us about turning on each other. I worry about even considering the possibility that we might turn on each other, because once upon a time – in the carefree days before we embarked upon this strange and wonderful and impossibly challenging journey – I would not have imagined for a second that we could turn on each other, that we could be anything other than perfect allies. (This is the tragic innocence, to borrow another pop culture analogy, of couples on the Amazing Race; the bluster behind their bold claims, before running a single step, of being a brilliant team, of knowing that they’ll work together perfectly, masterfully, that they will, as a unit, dominate the race. This bluster invariably end in shouts and tears in the empty corridors of this airport or across the field of that Road Block challenge, and we the audience murmur, from the security of our armchairs, that we knew that they would fall apart and, also, that wouldn’t happen to us.) We are allies, my husband and I, we are, but that I doubt our alliance for even a second weighs upon me heavily, presses the air from my lungs.

It weighs upon me, because how could I feel any doubt? He is wonderful, my husband, really wonderful, and I love him so much and am so, so lucky to have him as my partner. But, still, also, there is this: I am tired, and I want to be carried, just for a little while, just until I get my strength back. And this is where the doubt resides: in my fear that he might be getting tired of carrying me, that although I know he will give me his last coconut, he might resent doing so. That I might resent his resenting doing so. That that resentment might build, and that we’ll end up yelling at each other across the crowded airport corridor that is family life or turning on each other in our own personal Tribal Council. That I want a day off, alone, just by myself, just taking care of myself, more than I want a day alone with my husband – and that I want him to want that – hurts my heart, in a way, because I do want time alone with him, just me and him, with no children attached to our bodies and no cries ringing in our ears, time to reinforce our alliance, our team, so that we can continue to endure the challenges of this island, this race, this reality, with grace and humor. I really, really do. I just need to be rested first. I just need to be carried for a while, or allowed to stop and rest.

We’ve come this far together. We know that our alliance, our partnership, is the key to everything. Our alliance, and maybe a few naps, some liquor and an all-expenses-paid holiday somewhere warm, with soft beds and babysitters and, yes, coconuts.

That’s all.

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    { 114 comments }

    Motherhood Uncensored February 18, 2009 at 10:48 am

    It actually got easier for us as more kids came. He owned up, got a clue, and had to help out.

    It’s still really REALLLLLLY hard – when you’re hopped up on hormones (pregnant and/or breastfeeding for 5 years STRAIGHT) – and I’m not sure he’ll ever fully “get it.”

    I will say that I was still totally attracted to him sexually, even after all the crap. His libido left the building when I got pregnant with the first.

    But with this kid, I’m trying to find my libido. I think it finally caught up with me. And what I’ve found lately is that I don’t really long for sex, but more for intimacy. A shoulder to cry on. Someone to commisserate. Hold my hand. Tell me everything is going to be okay.

    The boob grab and ass smacks just don’t cut it anymore.

    Unfortunately, my husband has never been like that (for the most part). And it’s hard for me to ASK someone for that.

    wherewiller February 18, 2009 at 10:53 am

    I don’t even get, at this point, how the human race has continued. I mean, people have been having babies for ages. Didn’t they feel as pissed off as I do?? Didn’t our foremothers think – what the hell am I doing, when can I have some time to myself and (in common with your earlier commenter)why the hell do I have to make sure the planets align before mommy has some time to sit on the toilet?!

    Why do we keep doing this? Why haven’t we made it easier or better?

    I guess I feel less resentful since I’ve gone back to work and I’m not with them ALL DAY LONG. But we don’t even get any time to ourselves as a couple (we’ve litterally been on our own without them a handful of times since number 2 arrived 15 months ago. I don’t know when we’ll be able to go away by ourselves. My parents are not retired; his parents live in another country.

    Argh. Thank you for writing this. How did our foremothers cope without blogs and thoughtful online discussions?

    Eva February 18, 2009 at 11:02 am

    I work from home, and I work out of the home a little bit. I do my work-from-home stuff when she is asleep, and my out-of-the-home stuff when she is with a babysitter (super cheap in-home care lady). To me, of course you are overwhelmed without any time to feel or think for yourself if are trying to work full-time without childcare. With two kids! I won’t even attempt to work when my kid is awake (except for a weekly conf call that always is really stressful). I do only have one kid, but the time to myself, and to focus on my work, and even just driving to work from the daycare lady, really makes a huge difference for me. That you never get that time seems like torture. It was hard for me to start leaving my kid (six hours a week) with the daycare lady, but I think she has the most fun there, and while I didn’t plan it to benefit me as a person, it really does. I suggest at least trying something like that. I bet it would make all the difference and take the pressure off your marriage, off your husband to do the other half, if you tried an arrangement like that. Make it in threes–you, the husband, the babysitter–and it’s much more relaxed. I only pay 5 dollars an hour for my awesome childcare, too. Oh, and by never working when she is awake, we have huge blocks of free time to do fun stuff for me and her. If you are trying to work and manage kids all the time, that’s going to make having fun stressful, too, because you really “ought” to be working. At least I imagine. (I used to try that myself–didn’t work).

    Tracey February 18, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Good analogies. Sadly, having children is thought to be a huge cementing factor for a marriage. But for many couples, it is that which rips them apart.

    The kids ARE important. Yes. But your husband is MORE important. Your relationship with him is the one that has to be the strongest before your relationship with your children can be allowed to flourish. I have made several mistakes in my marriage regarding this. It is a constant struggle to remind ourselves that WE are the ones who will still be here when they grow up and leave. That HE is the one I CHOSE. The kids were flukes of nature. Random personalities thrown at me to contend with and relate to. But my husband? He is the one that I CHOSE out of all other men.

    I owe it to him and myself to make our relationship more important.

    Please don’t read too much into this comment. I am just writing it out for myself to read. I really needed to write it down today. On that note, I am off to call him. Or maybe write a romantic email or note…

    madgetastic February 18, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I’m getting a lot more out of your most recent posts than I am from Couples Therapy.

    Keep these coming on a weekly basis and my husband can skip therapy and go out to dinner with your blog as a discussion tool.

    Thanks, Catherine, for being able to distill such potent thought even through the haze of baby #2. I’ve been there and that is next to impossible. XO

    Jen L. February 18, 2009 at 11:14 am

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posting this today! I needed to hear that someone else was experiencing it. I know others always ARE, but it’s nice to see it when you need to. I’m only on baby #1, but it’s still hard. And it does take its toll on your marriage. I had some pretty wicked PPD a few months ago,which has thankfully hit the road and left me stronger and happier. The one thing that’s still lacking, though, is time with my husband. At the end of the day when our son is in bed, we both just want to veg out and do our own thing when we used to have “us” time.
    This post was the kick in the pants I needed. My husband and I work in the same field and we have a long-weekend conference to attend next month. It’s only 20 minutes from our house, but it would be really nice to have a sitter for our son overnight so we can use our evenings (after loooong days of presenting workshops and such) to network and friggin’ RELAX! (and attend cocktail hour, of course) This post made me realize that my kid will be just fine if he spends a couple of nights with my aunt and will benefit from his refreshed parents, especially if they get some. ;)

    Major Bedhead February 18, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I feel like I should be sending you chocolates or flowers every time you post something like this because these posts have helped me immeasurably. The one you wrote a few weeks ago about resentment? I paraphrased it to my husband and he got it. I’m sure it will take numerous repetitions, but he did get it and for that, I am eternally grateful to you. You put this whole motherhood gig into words that I’m unable to form and I can’t thank you enough.

    I’m sure I’ll be paraphrasing this one to him, too, because our second daughter has made this marriage thing much more difficult than I ever expected. I wouldn’t trade her for the world, but man, it’s changed everything.

    Thank you, Catherine.

    Must Be Motherhood February 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

    Hollah to the I DON’T REALLY WANT TO BE TOUCHED after wearing a baby and being smacked by a toddler all day sentiment. Oy.
    I feel us slipping apart too. So much yelling and resentment and fatigue. So little time, just he and I, cuddling and making love on Sunday afternoons.
    And I hate that whenever we do have time when the kids are FINALLY fracking asleep, we’re too tired to talk, or I just want to be alone and read, or he just wants a scotch and stupid television. We try to escape the children but we just escape eachother.

    Karen Sugarpants February 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Trust me when I say, it gets much easier when they are clear of the diaper/nursing stages. Try to relish those tender moments, and if you can? Go on dates. Seriously. That saved my marriage.

    anita ovolina February 18, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I have five children and I go through many moments or days when it’s tough to connect with my husband.
    So many things need to get done – girls screaming for attention, husband not focusing on me or them.
    Then he deploys and all of a sudden I miss getting angry at him, I miss his presence just him being there.
    And that helps me put things in perspective, until of course he gets back and leaves all of his stuff in the living room kitchen, bathroom, all over the house, I start getting mad again.

    PunditMom February 18, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I probably shouldn’t sat this, but it really doesn’t get easier as the babies grow. Actually, in my case, we have grown even further apart as PunditGirl has grown and developed into her own stubborn, hard-headed self who also has anxiety issues that drain me daily.

    Don’t want to leave a novel as a comment, but I wonder every day what happened to the closeness and love we shared. Signing off from pre-teen island.

    Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    I think the birth of our first daughter was harder on our relationship than the second, but only slightly.
    The Hub (late Hubby now, died in Oct. 2003 when our daughters were 3 & 5) had a horrible childhood, was kid #7 of 9. He didn't want children, and I thought I didn't until I was in my late 20's. After a Big Talk, when I told him I did want children & if he didn't, we needed to part ways, he supposedly decided he wanted children also. We were married for 8 years before our first daughter was born, and he had grown accustomed to being my first priority. He was not thrilled to hand off his position of Top Dog over to our daughter. I stayed home, he worked, so it wasn't that big of a problem during the week when his only responsibility was to hold her while I took a quick bath, then handed her back to me with a scowl, but he wouldn't even take a shift on weekends and was annoyed when I napped while she napped.
    After the birth of daughter the second, he did take over some of the care of daughter the first, but made a point of letting me know he felt very put out. He worked 7 hours a day sitting in front of a computer.
    I was livid when he asked (several times) what I did all day when D#1 was 2 & D#2 was 6 weeks old. I was furious when he said he didn't understand why I wasn't willing to give up just one night of sleep (his words) & stay in the bed with him although his snoring kept me awake. I had not slept for more than 2 hours at a time for 3 years (unless my mom was visiting) and began to resent the fact that he even breathed.
    I advise all women to think long and hard before having a child with a man who may not be willing to help care for his children. The paycheck came in handy, of course, but when he died, I felt relief because then I only had to care for 3 people.
    Ame in TN

    Becoming Sarah February 18, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    What an honest and personal post. Although, I have to admit, it scares me a little bit. Thank you for writing this.

    Ali February 18, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    #2 was way harder than #1. no question. and #3? let’s not even go there. but, my baby is now 3 1/2. and my life is better than it’s ever been. my husband and i have a better relationship than we’ve ever had.

    getting through the baby years is tough…but once it’s over…it’s good. it’s really good.

    Heather February 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    My kids were easier on me with each addition. Adding #3 barely caused a ripple on my radar as far as parenting goes. But as for the marriage? Kids have definitely changed us. We disagree on how some things should be done and I generally feel that he should defer to me since I am with the children a lot more than he is (and I’ve done the reading, conversing, etc). It’s hard to be excited to be with someone who screams at the kids for talking during the news. And I’m not saying I don’t ever scream at the kids because I certainly do.

    It’s still hard as the kids get older too. There are just different things that you can disagree on and pull you apart…and sometimes the kid instigates the fight.

    But you just have to decide whether it’s worth it to stew and harbor anger and resentment or if you want to just get over it and move on so that tomorrow you can all smile and laugh together.

    crazylovescompany February 18, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    God that’s a great post. As a mom to a 9 week old, the only child in the house, yes, he’s been harder on us than when we got our puppy 2 years ago. I heard a lot of myself echoed in there. There was a question on some blog a few weeks ago that I thought was great.
    What is harder:
    marriage?
    kids?

    I have to say that the first 2 months of our new baby has been way harder than 10 years of marriage.

    thediaperdiaries February 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    So much to say to this brilliant post and the thoughful comments with no idea how to make mine brilliant or thoughtful.

    Here is what I know to be true: marriage is hard work. Daily, exhausting, hard work. And somehow, somewhere, we came under the illusion that it shouldn’t be. And that when it is, we should jump ship. And that somehow that is the easier choice.

    But it isn’t easier on us or the kids. As someone married to a child of the most wonderful divorce I have ever heard of, I see nearly daily the scars of that. I don’t mean that to sound condeming or judgemental, I just think we think it is an easier thing than it is sometimes.

    I teach marriage prep and just think a lot of “kids” are going into marriage looking for a fairytale and it just isn’t. It sucks a lot, and there are days when I want to vote him off the island. And I say that knowing full well that I am married to one of the greatest husbands on the planet.

    We live in a society that tells us as moms to pour our lives into our kids and then we wonder what has happened to our marriages. Kids can’t and shouldn’t come first. I remember watching a woman say that on Oprah once and nearly getting stoned by the audience.

    If we don’t put our marriages before our parenting, we are no good to them. We are certainly no good to our spouse or to ourselves. I realize this all sounds quite lovely in theory and is next to impossible to carry out, but I believe in it strongly. We simply must be intentional about this even when we don’t necessarily “feel it”.

    If we don’t do it, once the kids leave we will look at this “partner” and wonder who the heck he is. Then we will completely miss out on the beauty of looking across at someone we have weathered life with, battled through yuck with and who knows all our crap and loves and chooses us anyway. I long for that kind of love and don’t want to miss it.

    Mr Lady February 18, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Imagine you’re building a house. You pour a big slab of concrete down and then put up walls and a roof. You paint the walls, get the perfect appliances, and you love it. It’s perfect. You NEVER want it to change.

    A few years later, you realize you hate blue all of a sudden, so you repaint the walls. You realize that Reidel crystal in the cabinets is pretty, but hell is it maintainance, so you get those Ball canning jars for glasses instead.

    Later, you totally outgrow your Zen phase and move on to Art Nuevo, so you have to redecorate the whole thing.

    Later, you decide that the games room is just stupid and you put in an office.

    Your house changes constantly. It stops being that old one and somehow transforms into another one entirely. The only thing that stays the same is the foundation and the roof. You never see either of those things. Well, until the roof starts leaking.

    Sometimes you have to re-shingle that roof. Re-roofing a house sucks. It’s hard, you get sunburned, and it’s dangerous. What if you fall? What if you don’t do a good job and have to keep re-roofing over and over again?

    All the while, you still have a slab of concrete that you’ve totally forgotten about, but you know it’s there. No matter what happens, you can always tear down those walls and build up again. You just have to keep wanting to live on that block.

    That’s a marriage with kids. Not one thing stays the same when you come home, and thank god for that. You can’t love that person you married eons ago; that person is gone. You are gone, too. That person got a new coat of paint and a decorator. You have to keep learning to love the new house, over and over again. That’s the challenge. So long as you’ve got that concrete and the roof that keeps the rain out, the rest works itself out. You just have to keep painting until you find the right shade.

    Her Bad Mother February 18, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    Mr Lady: God, I love you.

    Cassi February 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    As a huge fan of Amazing Race and a recent mother of two kids two years apart and with special needs, I can say this post is dead on! Thank you so much for your honesty…and flair for metaphors. :)

    Little Nut Tree February 18, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    We definitely struggled with the 1st baby way more than the 2nd and yes the 2nd baby was a much easier baby… my first daughter thought sleep and milk were for pussys – good times.

    But we never turned on each other. Sure we bickered – absolutely. Yes we niggled at each other when tiredness was peaking. My dad, bless him, gave us this talking to when Rowan (1st) was born and said – there’s this time of the night when they’re awake and all you wanna be is asleep and you feel like it’s never going to end. You find yourselves ripping into each other about the temp of the milk, the tightness of the swaddle, the brightness of the lamp or the noise of the flush… and all you have to do is remember that this is tiredness talking. Recognise it. Hug it out and love each other. You made a choice to have a baby and it does get easier.

    Tiredness is the meanie in this relationship – you and hubby and tiredness are all fighting for top billing and unfortunately, 80% of the time tiredness wins and plays you off one another.

    Luckily for us – because my dad had the sense to say it to both of us at the same time – every so often we would look at each other and say – you know what? It’s 4am. This is tiredness talking. Let’s hug it out and get some kip.

    Baby number 2 was a sleeper – eater and a sleeper – so to be honest? We just thought we’d hit the jackpot and I don’t think we even had a cross word for over a year because we were too scared that someone would hear us and give us our real baby and take away the narcoleptic milk hoover that liked to sleep alone!
    In fact we had our first row 2 weeks ago – the first real door slamming groundbreaking, insult hurling, daughters crying, all out war we’ve had in ages. It was awful but I’m glad we had it because it made me realise how good we have it. And it was nothing to do with the children. Just us stupid adults.

    Sleep deprivation is crap and it hits all of us in different ways. God knows my husband has his own little gems of personality disorder when he’s lacking in the brain down-time. Me too I’m sure. But to blame it on having children around…. seems just like hunting for a problem to explain the symptoms.

    So … does it get easier? Yes I think it does – because on the whole, if you’re lucky, they start to sleep as a necessity rather than as a refueling mechanism for the next onslaught and you start to get your evenings back. You get alone time – you get couple time and you realise there is a marriage in there somewhere instead of just parents. A couple that decided to have babies.

    We have a 4yr old and 2yr old and I can honestly say that we are A OK. Happy and working our way through the madness and the attitudes and the tantrums and the stroppiness as well enjoying the love and the craziness.

    Best wishes :)

    ClumberKim February 18, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    There was a recent nyt op-ed on this topic http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/opinion/05coontz.html?_r=1

    You said a hell of a lot better. May you find those soft beds and coconuts.

    Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I am a new mom. I have been a follower of your blog for close to a year. You write well and express interesting and insightful ideas and thoughts on parenting but, my God, you are negative. Especially lately i.e. in the past month. Your recent/repetitive missives on breastfeeding and sleep deprivation alone are enough to scare anyone away from parenthood. A vast majority of new moms and dads dont sleep, yet you keep harping away about the issue. Then you receive a truckload of e-mail from comrades saying their kids dont sleep either. I take it that, for you, that level of sharing helps. Good on you if it does. They say that if you dont like a particular blog or a bloggers style the simple solution is to just stop reading and that’s what I will be doing with yours. The negativity is just too much.

    Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Wow! I have to say that if we could have afforded it we would have been divorced when the children were babies. It’s a tough time and staying connected takes a lot of energy when you are already exhausted. For us it got easier for sure. Yes, it’s more complicated with older children but at least you get 8 hours of sleep and a little bit of freedom. I always say “the children came to live with us, we did not go to live with them”. Meaning we were here first and need prioritize needs. Getting away is key. It helps you reconnect and be you for a while. Every child should know the joy of a parent’s return! I hope you find what works for you.

    iMommy February 18, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I feel as though I could have written those. These are certainly the tears I would have cried had I written this, streaming down my face.

    Her Bad Mother February 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Anonymous 2:05 – Wow. I know that I’m not always the most cheery blogger – I’m not a humor blogger, and I certainly am not interested in shooting rainbows and sparkles up anyone’s ass – but I actually don’t think of myself as wholly negative. Quite apart from the relentless onslaught of chirpy baby pictures and toddler videos – which are as close to rainbows and sparkles as I can get – I like to think that by writing out the truth of motherhood – MY motherhood – I keep things realistic. I’m glad that there were people telling me that sleeplessness would be hard, or that there would be pressures on my marriage, or that I would feel angry sometimes – because otherwise I would feel very alone, and very isolated in my experience, having only the sunny covers of parenting mags and celeb gossip sites to go by. This shit is hard, it really is. I would hope that it’s clear from posts like these that I wouldn’t trade it for anything – but the truth of that doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard.

    I don’t know what you gain from chastising me for my negativity, but good on you, you win: I’m now fretting over my negativity. Which is a pretty effective silencer.

    Sherry February 18, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    God. I just effin' LOVE people like anonymous 2:05. They're the kind of people that make mothers feel like they're supposed to be perfect and just buck up & shut up. That's what makes parenting now so isolating, when you bury everything and pretend it's all easy.

    HBM, you're the kind of person who makes everyone else say, "hey, shit, I'm not alone. It's not just me."

    Because the parenting books may help you figure out some things, but it's blogs like THIS that make a community and help people feel like it's normal and okay to go through the tough times. To hell with people who are so brave with their words that they have to play the anonymous card.

    crunchy February 18, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I don’t think she was chastising you..it is just her pov…as your blog is yours..

    With parenting at all ages and stages..you have to remember..each stage will pass…the lack of sleep will pass..or not (heh)..but what does happen is you and the family change and adjust and move on to the next thing.

    You just have to roll with it.

    zchamu February 18, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    A few thoughts:

    Is it negativity or is it honesty? Does truth always have to be sunshiny and bright?

    Why do people insist on critiquing what a blogger writes about, when it’s their own space to write about what they choose?

    And when there’s 70+ comments of people going I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN, I don’t understand how it makes sense to say the writer is being gratuitiously negative – she’s obviously touched a nerve with many people.

    And I don’t understand when people hide behind anonymous to bash. If you feel the need to hide in order to post these words, should you be posting them at all?

    Little Nut Tree February 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    My mum used to say (when I was little) that if you didn’t have anything good to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all.

    I think this deserves a moment’s thought here…

    I think if it’s your blog then you should say what you damn well please. Luckily for you, you have 70 other people who are here to tell you that this is all OK and you’ll get there – you’re not alone. And I think you deserve that. Everyone deserves friends.

    I think if you’re reading someone’s blog and it’s not for you or something isn’t falling in line with how *you* think or with what *you* want to hear/read – and your first reaction is to shout her down or criticise her for not being humorous enough then think before you speak. Negativity goes two ways you know, Anonymous. If that is, in fact, your real name… You don’t sound all that chirpy sweetie!

    Karen Sugarpants February 18, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Hey 2:05 – don’t let the bloggy door hit you in your high-and-mighty butt on the way out. Seeing as you’re a parent of ONE, I highly doubt you can relate to this post. May you be graced with all the positivity and sunshine that can safely fit up your cowardly anonymous ass.
    C – keep on keeping it REAL. For those of us who a) care; b) relate; and c) love you.
    xo

    rachel - a southern fairytale February 18, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I think this was brilliantly written, as your stuff usually is, I may not be able to relate to 100% of it, but I relate to a lot and i appreciate that you put it into better words than I.

    Your unabashed honesty and real writing, is what I respect and adore about you.

    There are lots of things that I wish people had been real about, and told me about before getting into this parenting gig (heh).

    Parenting is scary as hell, people should be afraid, excited, exhilarated and yes, even rainbows shooting out of their various orifices, but still afraid. It’s a monumental thing, it is taking charge of another person and only having a limited amount of time to truly leave your mark before they become their own person, and you.. you’re just there to hopefully catch them when they fall, love them unconditionally and cheer them on, even when it embarrasses them.

    And now that I’ve made no sense at all, I shall say Thank you, for being you.

    and leave you all wondering what I’m drinking at 2PM (diet coke) that makes me sound so bizarre and disjointed.

    dawn224 February 18, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Fuck a bunch of Anonymous 2:05. I always love people who find it necessary to say “I won’t be reading you anymore” and closing the door with a huff. Seems a guarantee that person will be back to 1. read the comments and 2. see if you are still negative/tired/whatever tomorrow… and the next day … and the next day ….

    The hostel/travel metaphor is awesome – and after time passes, we all look at the photos and tell the survival stories and smile.

    And shoot a shot of vodka.

    Dana February 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    just, ditto. marriage is hard, harder to be married parents and balance the couple vs. the family.

    i won’t say that it gets easier for all, but for us it got easier when #2 became more independent. so much so that we’re considering #3.

    i keep reminding myself that these times are short. one day the kids will leave my home and i can keep it as clean as i want, i will have more free time, i will have all teh sex with my husband and those years will be more numerous than the years that my kids actually lived with us. and when i think of that i’m still a bit sad because then they’ll be gone. it’s like it’s a no-win, argh.

    anyway, love you.

    pkzcass February 18, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    I wonder, since it cannot ever be known, if couples who don’t have children ever grow tired of each other? Granted, there isn’t the constant comparing of notes on who does what and how much of it they do, but your post made me think about this. You know, the grass is always greener…

    Anyway, I do feel that being sleep-deprived and always having a baby on your boob would be enough to send anyone over the edge. Especially since it’s been going on so long for you. I only nursed for 5 months each time (two kids) and I was very glad to at least get myself back. Things will be much brighter when/if you get some sleep.

    My mother-in-law has taken my boys one weekend a month since they were born and it has saved my marriage. My boys are older now (9 and 12) and even though they don’t go to bed earlier than we do anymore, we plop them in front of the TV sometimes and escape to the bedroom.

    I joke with my husband about how I’d never divorce him because he’s not getting off that easy. I think it helps in some crazy way to know that divorce is not an option for either of us. Will Smith said once, “Once you make divorce an option, you end up getting divorced” or something like that. I think it makes sense.

    I say keep trying to get some sleep, hire a babysitter for a few hours each week so you can go to get coffee or shop by yourself, and for God’s sake, get that baby off your boob! From the looks of him (and he’s stinkin’ adorable, that’s for sure), he’s not going to starve if he refuses to drink milk or formula or something out of a cup.

    Colleen - Mommy Always Wins February 18, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    You’ve put this so well (while using Pop Culture references – bestill my heart!) that I wanted to stumble this and lo and behold my damned IT dept has uninstalled my tool bar – gasp! (32 people have probably stumbled it already…)

    Anyway…I think my kids are just *slightly* older than yours (my “baby” will be 2 this weekend) and I remember feeling exactly this same way just a few months ago. And I’ll just reiterate what I’m sure all 89 other people have said already: It gets better. My experience has been that just when you think you can take no more, that’s when the baby turns the corner and can go a full four hours without needing to be fed.

    The fact that you worry and feel guilty at all speaks volumes on its own – you know the value of your relationship and will still go those extra 14 miles for it!

    Julie Pippert February 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    I wonder how it is that there are people who do not miss themselves, at all, or who and how they used to be with their partner, at all, after becoming parents. Maybe, I think, maybe they have different lives, different expectations, had kids much younger than I did, or something.

    Even if I do travel away somewhere, alone or with my husband, it is never as get-away-ish as it was before kids. They are still in our hearts, as sure as the coconut drinks are in our hands.

    But we are different, he and I, and he is less hmm anxious I suppose, and he reacts and acts differently and so sometimes, we aren’t per se on the same team and you don’t have the same time and space to achieve all that compromise that you once did.

    So all that to say…oh yes, and what this is? is real. It is what it is, and that carries no positive or negative to it.

    One can subscribe to the “always look on the bright side of life” philosophy, but I always thought of that as a sort of irony—you know, a sort of “Monty Python was kidding, folks” kind of thing.

    Everything in moderation.

    One can drown in sunshine and unicorns, too, you know.

    Colleen - Mommy Always Wins February 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    And now I want to stumble Mr Lady’s genius comment!

    wyliekat February 18, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    My ex left when our child was not quite two, after nearly eight years of being together.

    Yeah. Babies are hard on marriage. This is especially true if you have, in fact, married a baby. You never know until you make a child with them.

    monkey girl February 18, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I don’t know that I’d take anything that you’ve written as negative – it’s the truth based in your reality.

    The joys of writing a blog involve having words posted on the InterWeb. The readers are the ones who ultimately apply the emotion to your words.

    Life is hard. I can’t imagine being a mom on top of everything that I’m dealing with. It’s okay to bitch about it. Everyone is aloud to bitch. And seeing that it’s your blog – I think you out of everyone should express your opinions because we want to hear what you have to say otherwise we wouldn’t keep coming back for more. :)

    Lotta February 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    “And then I worry us about turning on each other. I worry about even considering the possibility that we might turn on each other, because once upon a time – in the carefree days before we embarked upon this strange and wonderful and impossibly challenging journey – I would not have imagined for a second that we could turn on each other,”

    I think this is one of the best comments on marriage after children that I’ve ever read.

    cheesefairy February 18, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    I enjoy a little negativity. Oh, except I call it reality. Because for me, what you write about is real *right now* and if even one other person is enduring it (let alone 70) then I can take a breath and realize I am probably going to be OK.

    …and thank you to the people who say it gets better.

    …and also I recommend massage therapy. The good touching, without sex pressure, AND time alone but not a whole baby’s meal time away. Winsies!

    Haley-O February 18, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I feel the EXACT same way. I can’t even tell you. EXACT.

    I have figured out, though — since a Valentine’s date with my husband this weekend — that, no matter how tired and spent you are, get out with your husband. Because it’s rejuvenating. It’s escape. Even just going to a movie. In your lulus (I didn’t dress up). Does wonders.

    I have to make a point to do that more….

    Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I am happy to read this post and the replies that follow it, because it reminds me of why i read mommyblogs in the first place. I’m not married, don’t have kids. I came from a highly dysfunctional family (and extended family), so I have very little example to go by. I want desperately to have kids one day, but I want to raise them very differently than I was raised, and I like to read about others’ experiences.

    Chief among the things I’ve gotten from this post and the responses is that one must 1) put the marriage first, for the sake of everyone involved, 2)continue to actively take care of yourself, so as not to resent others for doing the same 3) go with the flow, assume the best of your partner, and allow for give and take.

    Catherine: I enjoy reading you blog a lot. You are a very analytical, heavy thoughts kind of person. Though it is very much my cup of tea, it’s not everyone’s, and that’s okay. Hopefully that person will find another blog that better resonates with her (with no hard feelings from this reader), and the rest of us will stay right here.

    Also, I was wondering: Many people continue to recommend you find some time for yourself, and suggested many means of doing it (ie babysitters, etc.). Is this something you have considered or tried? Is there a difficulty in your life that does not allow you to do this, as at least one commenter above has in her life? I may have missed it somewhere (I do not scrutinize carefully), but mostly I see that you do not respond (at least publicly) to these recommendations. I wonder, if you have not been able to do this, if talking about it here may help you get from A to B.

    Are you worried the little ones will not be okay without you? Are you having trouble asking for help? Finding help even though you’ve asked? As I’ve stated I know next to nothing about this parenting thing, but I do know that sometimes getting to the root of the rate-limiting-step (sorry, the scientist in me) can lead to improvement.

    Sorry for the extra long post. I blame it on the caffeine.

    Her Bad Mother February 18, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    ANonymous 6:07 – no apologies for extra long comments (have you seen the length of my posts? ;) )

    I do what I can to get time for myself, but I’m limited in that Jasper will take nothing but boob – so I can’t leave him for much longer than four or five hours here or there. We have a mother’s helper to come in once a week so that I can catch up on work (or sleep ;) ), and we’ve talked about hiring a sleep doula, but money is tight right now. So my ‘me’ time is dictated largely by when my husband is home to take over with the kids – which he does readily, but if he’s working long hours, he can’t.

    So, yeah – I do what I can. Every little bit helps. But I’m limited, and that’s a tad frustrating.

    Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    HBM, THANK YOU once again for putting into words these simple truths such as “parenting is hard and it’s okay to say so”. God, why has it been so hard to say so. Why is one made to feel like such a loser because they think parenting is hard!!! It doesn’t make you a bad or weak person because you are having a difficult time managing it all. Did I mention running the household as well? And, by parenting I don’t mean just all the shopping, cooking, feeding, cleaning up, laundry, bathing, taking to the dentist, remembering the vaccinations, figuring out the disintegrating moods from true illness (is the little person sick, and if so is it just the cold or flu, or do we need to go to the hospital). Parenting is hard and the consequence of that is that it has an affect on the spousal relationship. I think you are fabulous. Thank you for being willing to put into words the realities of the world. I knew having 3 babies in 3 years, two and a half months, was hard. The husband works 80 hours a week. The grandparents, both sets, and all the aunties and uncles lived on another continent. It is hard. The mother was not a bad person because she doesn’t always handle it well, because she doesn’t always feel like handling. You continue to do it because they are here, and they are yours, and you love them. But dammit, how do you keep track of your spousal relationship along with all this other hard work when you are exhausted all the time? I am sorry for saying this but…I think if the husband stayed home for one week with the three of them (ages 3 year, two and half months, age 23 months and newborn) and the wife disappeared for 80 hours a week, he would get it. He might work 80 hours a week but she work 168..always on! It is all consuming. I love those little people. I want to do right by them. I love my husband. But, if he even looks like he is irritated with me because three kids are screaming at once and the pasta is boiling over and my hair is sticking out all over the place, it is pretty darn hard for me to rise above it and be the better person and win for the couple and all that jazz. If he looks irritated with me I will resent him in that moment and that is when it starts to spiral down hill. I need to pause in that moment and not assume he is irritated with me. I need to offer him a kind tone so that he can in turn offer me a kind tone so that it spirals up hill. I know what I need to do…it is just do darn hard when I am so darn exhausted with no me time. And, I have the type of personality that needs me time more than his type of personality does so I think he doesn’t get it.

    Velma February 18, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Wow. Your post brings back so many memories and visceral feelings that have (thankfully) ebbed away from my life. You are right to wonder and worry about all of this – it’s complicated and deep and worthy of discussion, no matter what you might hear from people who don’t want to think about stuff.

    I went through this same “Daily-grind-with-small-children” phase 5 years ago, and I wish there had been more women writing blogs that I could have related to. It was so dammed hard, and your description of the process of having multiple kids is spot on.

    I spent any lucid time I had thinking things like, “Aaaargh! EVERYBODY STOP TOUCHING ME! How come nobody warned me how sensual this would be?!? I’m so damn physically overstimulated that I don’t want to have sex until the kids are in college!”

    It’s small comfort, but if you can gut your way through the early years, it really does get easier. Is there any way you could up your mother’s helper hours? Maybe barter with some grad students who need critiquing or editing? Find a 14 year old who would work cheap during the witching hours each evening? I say this because I was very lucky to be financially able to afford part-time daycare, and I am so grateful, because it saved my sanity… and bolstered my marriage as well.

    (Speaking of which, in the TMI department, I also highly recommend occasionally yanking your husband into the bathroom, locking the door, and giving him a quick blow job. Doing this changes your perspective from “resentful” to “bountiful” and his from “resentful” to “I am married to a superhuman goddess.”)

    And last, but not least? Could I please get some info on the kick-ass course in “Analogy Writing 101″ that you and Mr. Lady have obviously taken? ;)

    Elizabeth February 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    HBM-thanks for answering! It sounds like the hold-up on more help is financial in origin, which is in equal measures understandable and completely frustrating. I must say that I would be sticking my neck out wayyy too far if I tried to give you any advice (therefore I won’t), but you do have my sympathy.

    Though I am not a mother/wife, I am a med student and a girlfriend (to another med student). Often we spend upwards of 80 hrs/week working in the hospital and then are expected to study at home, all the while being judged on every move we make. This life is exhausting and anxiety provoking (and sex-life killing). Many of my classmates (myself included) yo-yo in weight due to the stress and look worse for the wear after 4 years of this. Many of us are clinically depressed.
    I write all of this to say that I neglect my relationship too because school takes up my time, physical energy and emotional energy. Just today, before I read this post, I was thinking that I would like to go on vacation to reconnect with my boyfriend, but that I would like to go by myself for a few days so that I could get to my happy place before he and I got back to ours.

    So, I can relate to a feeling of loss of control of your own time and needing to reclaim it before sharing it with someone else. I don’t have the money to go on vacation either, but I’m thinking that somehow I should try to go anyway.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Elizabeth February 18, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I’m anonymous at 6:07, btw. I have no idea why it put my name this time, I don’t have a blog . . . hope I wasn’t sleep-blogging!

    Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Annonymous 2:05, you should have followed your own advice “They say that if you dont like a particular blog or a bloggers style the simple solution is to just stop reading”. But, not, you chose instead to drop your bomb. Shame on you, really. This shit is hard enough without having to deal with that oh so common judgement that talking about how difficult something is is unwelcome or wrong. Next time just stop reading, we won’t miss you.

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