Tips for New Moms: Three Steps for Sanity
In the sleep-deprived haze of baby care, most couples settle for the easiest solution Mom's breast and comfort instead of ensuring that the baby associates Dad with comfort, too. Unless early on you started leaving Chloe with Dad for several hours at a time, neither duckling nor man with ruffled feathers will now be comfortable in a pond without you. In this way, the combo of child dependence and underdeveloped Dad is often the death knell of equal parenting.
Despite how well babyhood trained you, couples can renegotiate and share more responsibilities. Truth is most husbands and fathers are willing to help more but they simply do not know how to carve a role out for themselves. From lack of either nature or nurture, guys don't look at an empty table and perceive it the way women do: that the table needs placemats, napkins, silverware, and glassware for a meal. Nor do they look at a baby's snot-covered face and immediately conjure, "I should get a tissue!" Men's brains don't work that way, and women are cursed with a mind for detail, so experts tell us that wives often have to detail to their mates what needs doing.
Tell Him What You Need Him to Do
You don't have to nag. Just state what you need. All these months, perhaps even years, you thought your spouse was a slug or a jerk, either neglecting or assuming you would set the table or wipe the nose. When cognitively, he really did need you to say, in the same firm but positive voice you'd use to teach your kids: "Honey, please set the table with placemats, napkins, silverware, and cups." Or, "Sweetheart, please get a tissue and wipe the baby's schnozz."
Again the way you would with a three-year-old, remark afterward, "Great job setting the table!" or "Don't you feel good, having met your baby's need for mucous relief?" You're seething that he hasn't lifted a finger for years, but if you want him to start, you have to coddle him.
Tag Teams and Other Methods
Other tried-and-true methods my mommy friends recommend? Prioritize your most pressing household needs and then divvy up duties based on jobs you can stomach, and those that he can bear. Trade off, do together, or hire help for the items neither of you cares to do.
In child care, adopt a tag-team approach, in which he gets to play golf on Saturday mornings if you get Sunday evening for a movie with friends. If you have a couple little darlings, split errands so that each parent has only to tend to one child.
Enlist Your Tike
As early as appropriate, get your child involved with chores or meal preparation. Busy moms often forget to delegate as their charges grow and become more capable. Yet, two-year-olds get a kick out of wiping countertops and spritzing plants, and three-year-olds can be champion wastebasket-emptiers and clean diaper-fetchers. Of course, research demonstrates that kids help out more in families in which fathers chip in on household chores so there's more grist for the man-helping mill.
Renegotiate with the Help of a Therapist
The floor dropped out from under a friend of mine three years into parenthood. It was the middle of the night, one of several in a series in which Carole Ann had to awaken to strip her daughter's soaked sheets and remake the bed. Carole Ann's husband stayed in bed, rationalizing that he had never felt the rush his wife did to get their toddler out of diapers. "The full weight of my anger and resentment hit that night," Carole Ann remembers. "The marriage I had expected to be a partnership was a farce."
As a result, potty training was put off in favor of marriage therapy. And today, with three daughters and a swing set that keeps the kids occupied while Mom and Dad sneak away for a "quickie" in the bathroom, Carole Ann's marriage is all grown-up and contented again.
Nearly half of the couples I talked to for this book have taken their turn on a counselor's couch, and many of them credit it with saving their marriage from the anger that threatened to consume it. As one mom told me, "Our counselor helped us listen to each other and appreciate that both of us felt aggrieved. She urged us not to resort to fifty-fifty thinking but to acknowledge that both of us were giving 80 percent. With the stresses of early parenthood, way too much was being asked of both of us."
More on: Adjusting to New Motherhood
From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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