I think something has clicked in my partner’s head in the past two weeks. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m clearly showing, or the weekend we spent with friends who already have two kids, or even Isa’s sudden interest in being a big sister, but something has clicked in my partner’s mind and now this whole having a second baby thing has become very, very real.
As in–Holy shit! This is probably happening. We’re probably having a second child.
He’s having a hard time with it.
It doesn’t help that Isa is going through a challenging time right now. She is obstinent in her refusal to do even the most mundane, necessary tasks. Everything is a power struggle. She is clearly aware of boundaries and is testing them constantly. Her stubborn refusal to do the most basic tasks–like having a poopy/wet diaper changed or putting on pants–makes our normal routines almost impossible. She really is hard to handle right now.
Mi.Vida is the only one home most mornings. He gets her up, changes her diaper, feeds her breakfast, puts on her clothes, does her hair, brushes her teeth, get her shoes and socks on and takes her to school (on the bus, no less). It is definitely a big responsibility even on days when all goes smoothly. On days when Isa is being especially obstinant, it can be soul crushing.
One problem is that Mi.Vida and I deal with Isa really differently. I don’t know if it’s just who I am, or how I was raised (by a teacher), or my years babysitting and then even more years teaching but I know how to approach a situation with a certain amount of authority. I know how to speak with Isa in a way that demands she at least hear me, even if she chooses not to listen. I also have more tricks up my sleeve that help me get the result I want or need. I know how to leverage her love of the toy she’s currently playing with to get her to do what I want/need. I know how to “coax” her with the promise of some surprise (usually something I would have given her anyway, that I dress up into something more exciting) that awaits at the end of her cooperation. I know how to distract her with something shiny and then sneak in and do what needs to be done. I just have those skills. And Mi.Vida doesn’t.
The fact that I deal with Isa a lot more exacerbates the discrepancy. I have so many more chances to perfect my techniques, whereas Mi.Vida doesn’t start with as many techniques and has even less time with her to perfect them.
I was thinking the other day that parenting is a very different experience for both of us. I liken the difference to taking a Master’s program (probably the next most challenging, time-intensive, exhausting thing I’ve ever done) in your native language and in your second language. I got my Master’s in Spanish Language Education which meant 75% of my classes were in Spanish. I am a decent Spanish speaker but writing graduate level essays in Spanish was VERY challenging for me. An essay that would have taken me an hour or two to bang out in English took three times that long in Spanish. I labored over each sentence, sometimes many words in a sentence. The truth is I probably didn’t have a high enough fluency level to participate in the program but what I lacked in skill I made up for in sheer force of will and determination. In the end I learned a lot and I’m glad I did it, but man, at the time, it was fucking HARD.
So when I think of how my experience with parenting differs from Mi.Vida’s I think of the contrasting experiences I had when writing my essays in Spanish and in English. The task was basically the same but the language required changed my experience drastically. The few times I got to write in English everything came so much easier. Sure it was difficult sometimes to figure out what I wanted to say but once I did, the words just flowed. When I wrote in Spanish I had to fight to form my thoughts and to express them. Every moment of the process was difficult and it didn’t matter how much I practiced or how many essays I wrote, completing each one was an uphill battle that drained me completely of mental resources. It never seemed to get easier and I dreaded each and every encounter with the Spanish written word.
I imagine that I experience parenting as I did writing those English essays. It was hard and it took time and I felt frustrated and challenged and annoyed, but in the end I was generally happy with the result. I felt successful. I image Mi.Vida experiences parenting as I did writing Spanish essays, which was a much more negative experience. It exhausted me and in the end I usually felt incapable and demoralized. I never felt like I was getting any better, because each essay required more from me than the one before, so I only ever learned enough to barely keep up with the following requirements. I imagine that is how Mi.Vida feels parenting Isa, like he only ever learns enough to just barely allow him to manage the next challenging developmental stage. He can never get ahead and he never feels completely competent at any given time, because by the time he does feel competent, the requirements have changed.
All of this is helping to make the expectation of this transition a difficult one. It doesn’t help that we just visited friends who have an almost three year old and a nine month old and we saw how challenging it was to manage two needy beings. Neither ever seemed to have a moment to his or herself. When one was doing something for the family the other seemed overwhelmed by the needs of two young children. When either parent had to deal with the baby the almost three year old was immediately all over that parent, demanding attention. It did seem very challenging, and this is with a toddler who is MUCH more low key than Isa and a very easy going baby.
I have to admit, I’m not all that afraid of parenting two children. I feel competent. I feel capable. Even though I don’t know what the specific requirements will be, I believe I can meet them. Sure I think it will be hard. Sure I’m terrified by the idea of never having a moment to myself. But I do believe I can manage it, just like I’m sure I could successfully complete a PhD program in English if that were what I wanted to accomplish. The thought of completing a similar program in Spanish literally paralyzes me with fear; I just know I don’t have the skills to be successful.
Recently Mi.Vida mentioned that every time Isa has a tantrum or meltdown he thinks of how even if she learns to manage her emotions better (which he seriously doubts sometimes), these uncontrollable outbursts will be a part of our lives for so many years to come. Instead of moving past these hard years, we’re entering them all over again. I have to admit, the prospect isn’t so daunting to me, because those moments don’t traumatize me so completely. And yet I understand that they are totally draining to Mi.Vida and the prospect of so many more years of them is more than just a little disheartening.
I just wish I could help him to make it easier. I wish I could give him the confidence that I have, the real belief that it will be okay, even if it will be difficult, even if we’re scared. Of course I can’t give that to him, not now or ever, and it’s so hard to see him struggle.
Do you and your partner experience parenting differently? Can you recommend any ways of leveling the playing field?