Suddenly, it clicks, and it’s scary

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?

10 responses

  1. B and I do approach parenting differently, and it was very obvious to us both last night. Matthew woke up at 2:00 and would not go back to sleep. We brought him in with us and B threw everything in front of him to get him to calm down, including the TV. Eventually (2.5 hours later), he realized that was a bad idea and turned the TV off and Matthew freaked out. B was all, “it’s OK, buddy, just relax” which gets him nowhere. I looked Matthew in the eyes and told him that he’s a big boy and can’t have everything he wants, and that he needs to put his head on mom and settle down. He asked quickly for “cars?” and I said no, and he laid down with me. B just shook his head in disbelief. HA! Matthew and I slept 5 hours together after that. B was so rattled, he never fell back asleep.

    It is so hard when you approach it differently, an done parent is more successful at navigating the child than the other. It’s hard on me because I get stuck managing almost every single situation, which is exhausting. It’s hard on B because he just doesn’t know what to do. B gets so frustrated, and I think his feelings hurt, when Matthew won’t respond to him positively. I keep telling him he needs to be more firm. And he does.

    I don’t know how to level the playing field – we sure can’t figure it out over here.

    • I ALSO end up managing most difficult situations when we’re together, which frustrates Mi.Vida because it both doesn’t give him a chance to do it himself AND it furthers Isa’s belief that I’m the only one who can fix situations, which belittles Mi.Vida’s ability to do things when he’s alone. For that reason we choose (both consciously and subconsciously) to solo-parent a lot on the weekends, to avoid those difficult situations.

      But yeah, I really don’t know how to manage this issue and it’s hard for me. I know it’s hard for Mi.Vida too. I guess this whole parenting thing is just hard. 😉

  2. He takes her to school on the bus?!?! Dude. That must be so hard!!!!! I could barely handle the twins on a bus from a parking lot to the airport when they were Isa’s age. He gets major points for that…

    2-3 was a really difficult age for me to parent, so I can sympathesize. My husband was not very involved in the day to day or discipline because of his job, and when he was he got easily frustrated. He had no experience with kids at all, whereas I had many years of babysitting and also being a caregiver to my brother who was 11 years younger. So, the masters degree analogy makes a lot of sense.

  3. I think some books or classes can help level the playing field. For myself and my partner, I think we may be even in a lot of ways, because he has parented before (as a step-parent), and I have a lot of training (being a social worker, ex-preschool teacher, and working at a parents center now). For me, though, when I go through rough patches with our three-year-old, the thing that really helps me is pulling out the Positive Discipline book (they have them for every age and developmental stage). This philosophy just helps me so much in getting myself out of the power struggles and not taking it so personally, and therefore not getting so f’ing drained by my kid’s normal behaviors. I don’t know if your man has read or would be willing to read these books, but they help me a lot!!!

  4. I don’t know that we approach parenting differently, but I definitely understand about you have more time with Isa to hone your parenting skills. While Jon doesn’t travel a ton, when he does travel it’s usually for a week at a time. Because I have to cope as a lone parent during those weeks, I end up having all that time with Gus. Gus knows that when I start counting, he needs to do what I’m asking him to do because he KNOWS that when I get to 5, the consequence for not listening is going to happen; he’s tested me enough to know that.

    One thing that worked for us was consciously asking each other which one of us was going to take the lead in a challenging situation. This helped me in that I didn’t always have to be the “bad” guy, but it gives Jon the opportunity to have that time being the lead parent. After the situation is resolved, we can then discuss what went well, what didn’t go well, and what to try next time. That way, Gus can have some consistency, regardless of which parent he’s dealing with.

  5. Ugh, I can TOTALLY relate to this. My husband and I parent very differently, and the vast majority of the time, I’m just better at it (mostly b/c of the amt of time I spent one-on-one with her, I’ve just learned on the job!). I think it hurts his feelings when she responds better to me, but I’m not sure how to “fix” that. I literally have to be out of eyeshot/earshot for her to listen to him, and I know that’s only going to get worse as she ages. *sigh*

  6. Reading this and the previous comments has been good for me, because I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who feels this way. I get so frustrated with the way Ryan parents- he gets very exasperated very quickly and his solution to everything- feed the baby or put the baby in the swing. We haven’t yet had to deal with discipline but some of the remarks he’s made makes me fearful that it’s going to be a tough road to navigate together. Thank you for your honesty in this post- I wish I had words of wisdom/advice but I don’t- searching along with you.

  7. Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. I have a lot more kid experience than H does, and so I manage the boys very differently than he does. He gets so, so, so frustrated. And yes, furthermore, I am with them so much more than he is that I get more practice, which just further alienates him. He really, really does not want to have another kid, and I am still very up in the air about it. He doesn’t get why I would want to do this all over again, but then again, I manage it all better than he does.

    And yeah. Three is a bitch of an age (or rather, ALMOST 3… the closer we get, the harder it becomes). My boys have never been perfect angels, but they are *far* from that at this point. They are very difficult to manage. We don’t really go places in public that often with them anymore, and every time we get crazy and decide to go out in public, they smack us down with their totally uncontrollable behavior, and we go home and lick our wounds, swearing to never take them out again (until we get stupid enough and/or forgetful enough and decide to give it another try…).

    Anyhow, I kinda think parenting two at once, whether they are twins or of different ages, is just a whole different ball of wax, and something that is in many ways unfair to parents who have them one at a time. You have one, you figure out the basics of it, you share the duties, you think you’ve got it basically under control, and then you have a second, and realize that all kids are not the same, that you have no choice but to share the duties (which breaks down to neither of you ever getting a break), and that you do not have things under control! But, you do eventually figure it all out, and generally, by force, the second kiddo ends up being more laid back, as they sort of have to be.

    And with that, my two lovelies are beating me about the head and shoulders and screaming for peanut butter sandwiches… together, you’ll figure it out soon, I know it.

  8. Oh yes, THIS I get. Both the challenges of raising a spirited 3-year old (you can read my last post for the gory details) and the different parenting approaches G & I take. Like MiVida, G does the daycare run with both boys—either on foot (2 miles pushing double stroller through the city) or on the bus, and there are many morning I leave early & he has to handle the ordeal. He gets frustrated REALLY easily with B, and I think has way too high expectations for him—maybe because he is so verbal, that he seems like an older, logical child, and he’s certainly NOT. Maybe its my training in pediatrics or the fact that I seek out books, blogs, INFORMATION about challenges I’m having, or just intrinsic personality, but I find that I generally have much more patience and therefore success with B’s defiance and outbrusts (though I’m reaching the end of my limits these days, too!) G has actually gone to counseling earlier in the year because he was scared at how angry he was getting at B, and it helped a lot at the time…but with the new challenges, I think maybe we BOTH need a refresher.
    As for handling two…I’m with you…it is hard. No lie. But its a relatively short period of time when they are both going to be so demanding. Head down, power through, as per Michael Bluthe.

  9. I have been reading a lot of posts lately about moms fearing the second child and the reality and what it will look like to have two. I’m not even pregnant yet and I already worry about adding another child to our family. It seems really challenging and exhausting. And I definitely get how the discipline aspect can seem especially scary. I think it’s probably very, very normal for a couple to parent differently. And I think that kids can be really flexible and can learn how to operate with one and then with the other. An idea for getting on the same page though would be to read a parenting book together and talk about each chapter as you read it. It doesn’t even really matter what the book is. The important part is the conversation. I don’t know…just a thought.

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