Confessional Fridays: I wish I could make it easier

For my partner I mean. I wouldn’t mind it being easier for me, but I really want to make it easier for him. I see that he’s struggling with this transition into parenthood and it breaks my heart. I used to feel guilty about it (because I wanted kids now and basically had to persuade him to come along for the ride), but I think I’m finally past that. I know my partner loves our daughter. I have no doubt it my mind. I see it when they are together, I hear it when he speaks to her, when he speaks about her. I feel it when the three of us are together, playing on the floor, at the park, at the grandparents’ house. I’m certain he has no regrets and that he never has, not even for a second.

At the same time I can tell he’s not entirely happy. I don’t want to declare that he is unhappy, because I don’t feel that is my place, and I doubt he would say that himself. I also doubt he’d argue that he’s entirely happy. There is so much to do, so much responsibility. He feels trapped at his job, saddled with obligation of supporting not just himself but his daughter. He’s tired all the time; the fact is he’s exhausted, constantly. It doesn’t matter how much sleep he got the night before or if we order in for dinner, every night he climbs into bed a haggard mess. He seems weary, in body, mind and spirit.

I understand how he feels. There is always something to do; there is rarely, if ever, down time. Mi.Vida has really stepped up since Isa was born, taking on more and more chores around the house. While I still shoulder a significant portion of the “baby-related” duties, Mi.Vida does so much to keep things running smoothly. Using our interests and our skills as guides, we’ve divvied up the burden in a way that (I think, I hope) feels equal to both of us. The result, it seems, is we’re both equally overextended at the end of the day.

I’ve mentioned before the book When Partners Become Parents, which I read before TTC. It’s reports the findings of a study which intimately followed about 100 couples during pregnancy and into their child’s fifth year. Overwhelmingly the couples were less satisfied with their relationship, and daily life, after having children. I’ve encountered similar findings in other articles (which I don’t feel the need to source at the moment). They all seem to say the same things, the overall satisfaction of having children is incredibly fulfilling and ultimately no one would (or admits) to wanting to give it up. But the day to day drudgery of having kids can be brutal, on both the individual and a relationship. While children might boost the over all happiness of their parents, a random poll sent out at different times of the day asking how those same parents are feeling right then will show that they are more tired, distracted and overwhelmed than their childless counterparts.

I see this in my partner (and to a degree in myself). Would he say that having his daughter has made his life better? Absolutely he would. Would the results, from before becoming and parent and after, of randomly answered surveys throughout the day support that claim? I’m guessing they wouldn’t. That is where the disconnect happens.

When we were in counseling about having children, Mi.Vida mentioned time and time again that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to do the things he loved: continue working on his local music website/podcast and seeing live shows. I assured him that he would be able to do that. I told him I would support him, giving him whatever time he wanted to make those things happen. He predicted that even with my support it would be hard, because he’d feel guilty leaving us alone. I was adamant that we would find a way.

What neither of us predicted was how the sheer exhaustion would make seeing live shows all but impossible. Even if I support him 1000%, offering to “babysit” whenever he want to go out,  just being too tired can hold him hostage at home. Sometimes I feel guilty about that part, because he was right – he can’t pursue those interests in the way he wants and I told him that he’d be able to. I didn’t lie, but I was wrong and I feel horrible about that.

On Mothers Day the love of my life gave me the most amazing card, declaring what a great mother I am and thanking me for helping him embrace fatherhood at his own pace, in his own way. He added something to the effect of, “if you told me I could be this happy and this tired at the same time, I’d wouldn’t have believed you.”

I know my partner is happy. I’m certain of this. But I also see that he is struggling with the day to day. I recognize that he feels overwhelmed with chores and responsibility. I hurt that he misses many of the things he loves and that make him feel whole. I want to help him but I’m not sure how. I consider assuring him that it will get better but I worry that isn’t so.

We talk about having a second child. While he seems concerned about how we’d handle the stress of two children he never asks me to wait, he never requests a reprieve. Will having a second child be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Because we all know that a second child is a much more significant weight than any single straw. Will waiting make a difference anyway? Is it better to just get the difficult early years over with?

I have struggled a lot in my life. I handle disappointment and sadness in my own way. I know what steps I need to take to resolve my own feelings. Mi.Vida is not me. He processes things differently than I do. The strategies I use may not work for him. I don’t know how to “fix” this for him and I hate that. I feel insignificant and powerless and… sorry.

I knew parenting would be difficult but I didn’t foresee the degree to which it would test me and my partner. I also don’t know how to lighten either of our loads. I assume it will get easier. I hope that it will but I can’t be sure. In the meantime I wish I knew how to make it better. I wish I were strong enough to carry extra weight so my partner feels less burdened. I wish I had the power to make it all better. But I’m not. And I never will be. And I suppose I have to accept that.

Are you surprised by how parenting or IF/TTC/loss has affected your partner or your relationship? What do you do when your partner is unhappy you don’t know how to help him?

13 responses

  1. I think, as children get older and more self-sufficient, that it *does* get easier. And if you have another, you will be back in that exhaustion for a bit, but then you’ll blink and be doing the things you love again. When it was just my son (he is four), I was running every day, cooking, gardening … we were even starting to travel again. We will put that on hold for a little while, but N. will grow up more quickly than we might like. It’s hard to see out of that tunnel when you’re in it, but it does get easier. Sort of. 😉 At least, the battles become different.

    • I assume it will get easier as Isa can do more herself. Also, the more personality she can express the more Mi.Vida can bond with her. My cousin, who had a surprise baby with a girlfriend said he only enjoys his daughter more and more as she gets older, because he understands her better and can relate to her more. Mi.Vida already adores Isa so I’m hoping that as she gets older that will grow into something that overshadows the tedium more effectively. Being someone who’s son is a little older now that you have a second child, do you think it was nice to wait? Do you think having two under three would be really insane? I can’t tell if stretching it out and having “more” of the “early years” (but less intensely) is better that having “fewer” of the early years by overlapping them (thus making them more intense). I know we may not have any choice, as was your case and my mothers, but if we do, I can’t figure out which one be best for Mi.Vida. I guess one will happen and we’ll never know if the other would have been “easier”.

  2. I agree with Justine- I think it will get easier as our babies get older. We’ll be getting more sleep and won’t literally have to do EVERYTHING for them. Maybe Isa will have an interest in music and that will be something they can do together. I have a good friend who has 2 kids now (under 3) and she said the first year of her first daughter’s life was by far the hardest on her marriage. It’s such a life-altering adjustment, as well as an exhausting one. I’m optimistic that while having a second will no doubt be exhausting, maybe we’ll be kind of used to this new life by then and it won’t be such a strain (???).

    • I also think it will be easier as they get older. I hope it will be. Thanks for relaying what your friend has said. I really do want to know what other people who have been through these first years think (especially when they’ve had a second child). I think I’m very stressed that I we will have a second child sooner rather than later and it will be really hard for Mi.Vida. But as I said to Justine, what will happen is what will happen and we’ll never know if the other “option” would have been easier. That is just life.

  3. First of all, your writing is brilliant. I’m not sure I’ve ever said that, so I wanted to now. I’d give anything to be able to write like you.

    As for the content, the past year and half dealing with loss has definitely taken a toll on our relationship. Now that we’re on the other side of grief, I know as difficult as it was, it’s only made us stronger. I also have experience with sharing a child with him, too. In fact, I’m guessing it will help us when we finally do have a baby of our own…simply because I’ve never known a Tim and Courtney without a child between us. There has always been that responsibility and feeling of being tied down in a sense (that’s my feeling, not his), and from the very beginning we’ve missed out on things we’ve wanted to do because of responsibilities for her. So I wish I had advice for you, but I feel like I’m in your husband’s shoes in a way. I miss all the things we were supposed to be able to do as a couple, but the difference is we never got to do them. But would I trade being married to this amazing man for those things? Never in a million years. So I don’t know where I’m going with this except that I understand. I think the only thing you can do for your husband is what you’re already doing. Give him his time to himself. Chances are, he’ll still choose to spend it with you and Isa. Even though Tim gives me those days, the second I’m gone, I miss them and want to get back to them.

    • Thanks for the compliment. I must say my writing has improved tremendously since I started this blog almost two years ago. I guess what they say is true, practice, practice, practice!

      Yours is such a unique situation in that you’ve always had a child between you. That has probably also affected the way you’ve dealt with your grief, both individually and as a couple. Thank you for sharing an experience that is closer to Mi.Vida’s that is helpful. I’m sure he feels similarly to you, does he wish that he could do things that now he can’t do? Yes. Would he change it at all, choosing to not have Isa in exchange for those things? Never. I guess now it’s just reconciling those two things in a way that feels good on a day to day basis. I hope he can figure that out.

  4. Mi.Vida is lucky to have you as a partner. You are so thoughtful of his needs and feelings. This can only make your union stronger. As for his exhaustion, that’s a difficult one that I think so many men deal with after kids, but I never really hear that much about it. I think guys think they have to march through everything stoically. I’m glad you are on top of it and encouraging him to keep pursuing his passions. That’s what keeps us alive 🙂

    • You’re right that we don’t hear much about the transition that men go through to become fathers and it’s a shame. It’s a very big change for them as well but there are so few books written on the subject, perhaps because they probably wouldn’t seek out those resources if they were around. I was scanning Mi.Vida’s Your Child’s First Year Father Book to see if there was anything on any of this but I didn’t see much. It’s frustrating because I can’t find many resources to refer him to. I hope that me caring is helpful, I’m sure it is, but I wonder if it’s enough.

  5. I used to look at the exhausted faces of my friends and coworkers with kids and seriously wonder if they were duping me (or, more likely, themselves) when they talked about how “happy” they were to have kids. Now I understand it perfectly. Life is waaaaaaay more difficult and there is a new level of deprivation that even my careful study of other people’s misery couldn’t prepare me for. Nevertheless, you have this purpose that your previously lacked…Ahem, my “purpose” just woke up early from his nap.

    What I wanted to say is that it’s obvious that you recognize Mi.Vida’s difficulties and support him wholeheartedly and I think that’s what matters.

    • Mi.Vida used to say the same thing – about seeing other people with kids and how they looked so tired and unhappy. When I talk about having another baby he says that no one looks more dejected than a pregnant woman with a toddler. Maybe he’s right! I know you’re right, I feel there is more of a purpose in my life than there was before. But it is so much harder, the day to day. I hope that recognizing Mi.Vida’s difficulties is enough, sometimes I worry it’s not. I just need to there for him in any way that I can. That is all I can do. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  6. We were pretty naive in our predictions about how parenting would change the landscape of our life. We mostly thought of it in terms of how it would limit our activites, like, say not being able to go to shows with the same frequency or travel as often as we used to. Our conversations about this typically concluded with us agreeing that we’d been married for TEN years, those years were rich with cool experiences, and we were ready to downshift and try a whole new experience (parenting). We NEVER thought about how it would alter our very relationship. We thought we’d be the same T + N, just plus 1. And we’re not. (Though, admittedly much of my struggle has everything to do with my emotional struggle with staying home, which is off-topic fodder for another time.) We have way more good days than we do bad days, but those bad days can be pretty intense. I feel like N and I had the very best foundation we could possibly have had in terms of expanding our relationship to include a new little person. We have a very strong, longstanding, and tightly-knit friendship, and I have faith that that foundation will sustain us through this really awkward transition.

    Studies of the family life cycle will show that changes in your life’s trajectory are abundantly stressful, and new parenthood is obviously one of those. But a huge and repeatedly demonstrated protective factor is open and ongoing dialogue about the challenges.

    I feel like these challenging years (new parenthood) are an investment of sorts. And that they will have a big return in time. It’s hard now, but will get easier. Either it truly gets easier or we simply develop a better cadence and competence. Perhaps adding a second child delays that a bit?

    I want to caution you a little against an over-assuming of your influence in Mi.Vida’s happiness. I think there is this hyper-nurturing side to many of us, and that part of us tends to over-own certain roles and responsibilities. The reality is that you could probably overextend yourself in endless ways in an effort to make Mi.Vida feel less expended and more acclimated to his new role, and it might do very little to actually get him to that place. Because you and I both know (and you’ve even written about this recently!) that self-accountability is pretty key in finding some measure of resolution or finesse in a given circumstance. You are a terrific and giving partner…but you only yield so much influence in how comfortable, energetic or enthusiastic Mi.Vida is as a new father. When I read this back, I worry that it kind of sounds shitty, but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want you overextending YOURself further or over-owning in an attempt to grease Mi.Vida’s transition, because sometimes that can lead to some resentment which simply begets additional partnership strain.

  7. I was and continue to be shocked at what parenthood has done to my relationship with my husband. We were excellent partners in the years we lived together before getting married and excellent newlyweds. Infertility actually made us even stronger. And throughout my difficult pregnancy, my husband stepped up in ways I didn’t imagine he’d know how. But then the baby came and after the first two weeks of cleep-deprived delirium, it’s like….I don’t know. I can’t say we’re playing for different teams. It’s mroe like we’re playing different sports. We don’t think about the same things anymore.

    And Trinity makes a very important point about resentment. because I think we both try to make the other happy and fail, sometimes miserably, at it and then resent each other for not “getting” what we’re trying to do. Or he resents that I’m trying too hard with Nate while I resent he isn’t trying hard enough. Or he resents that he walks in the door to immediate baby duty so I can throw in some laundry or clean the bathroom and I resent that he gets to talk to grown ups all day while I can’t even get the time to dry my hair after a shower (if I actually got a shower, that is). Nevermind neither of us have the time or energy for fun, either personal or together.

    We regularly try to talk some of this through and both feel it’s a temporary (though by no means short term) situation and we’ll find our balance eventually. In the meantime though, “struggle” doesn’t seem to cover it.

  8. I’ll come out and say it, Nav and I have never had a great marriage. It hurts to say/type it but it’s the truth. We both know it. Add in twins and we’ve been close to the brink multiple times. We’ve been lucky enough to pull ourselves back but I do worry that one of these times we won’t be able to do so.

    The boys are a handful. They’re at that age (18.5m) where they are testing limits. And Nav doesn’t do well with that. He’s also not with them enough so they don’t respect his authority. He’s not an active participant in their lives.

    That wears on us. There is limited Tara-Nav time. We just don’t have the resources in place to fix that right now. As mentioned above, we definitely have resentment in our marriage. We’re trying to work through these issues but it’s not an easy road.

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