Monday, August 18, 2008

What's the Score?

In an attempt to BabyProof My Marriage, I've been studying up. After my last post on the subject, I got a comment from Alicia who's getting close to her D Day... Here's what she had to say (and it sounds pretty universal from all mom's I've talked to):

About the Mama Bear syndrome and hormones-- you know, I think I get it. Earlier this evening I was just commenting to my husband how hormones seem to have kicked in the anxiety and worry. I'm NOT normally anxious or a worrier, so this is a notable change. Worry about what? Oh, you know, any little thing. Was that piece of meat cooked enough or will my baby get sick from some parasite? Have I done something at some point in my life ever that might impact my developing child in some bad way? Is that vibrating thing at the chiropractor shaking the poor little guy silly? I can see how this can turn into hyper-protectiveness once the baby is born. Very easily. It's not oxytocin, it's worry-tocin.

Continuing my studies in the book, it appears that this Mama Bear Syndrome can be a key reason for conflict in relationships during the early years of raising a child. The problem? Men don't get it too. And we, as new Mama Bears, don't understand this. Apparently, this inevitably leads to some degree of disappointment that we will feel in our mates because they won't act in the same protective manner we do. Whether the baby is dressed warmly enough or has enough sunscreen on can turn into major spousal battles since our men aren't wired like we are.

Because of this, sometimes we, as new Mama Bears, insist on taking care of all of baby's needs all on our own. Who else could possibly do it better? Certainly not dad. When it's his turn, baby may not be dressed appropriately (think football jersey to church) or may not be held/bathed/fed the exact same way we would be doing it. And as the resident experts, we have no fear of correcting dad and making him feel like he can't do it right... which inevitably leads him to give up on trying at all. See where this leads? Now even when we want help, we won't get it. The solution? Let dad take care of baby all on his own sometimes. In fact, go away for a whole weekend. Call it a Training Weekend (for both of you! He gets training on baby caretaking and maybe you'll get in a good bike ride). He is a competant man who we married and decided to start a family with, so he's going to figure it out just like we did. He'll appreciate you more upon your return, and baby will be fine. Allow yourself to have a partner by encouraging dad. Tell him he's doing a great job and you'll inevitably get more help.

Additionally, after a baby is born, it can happen that household chores no longer (if they ever were?) seem to be shared equally between partners. By default, guess who ends up doing more around the house? And because of this, Mama Bears turn from amateur to pro Scorekeepers. Apparently the Scorekeeping is worse when mom stays at home with baby while dad goes to work. He sees his job as 'at the office', bringing home the dough, and her job is everything else. Fair enough in his mind, but he really has no understanding of how tired she is and how much work 24/7 it is to keep up with an infant AND all the household chores. And when mom starts keeping score, it's always 200 to 0 in her favor.. because the things he does (checking air pressure in our tires or pulling weeds in the backyard) don't count nearly as much as the things we do (all the laundry, cooking and toilet cleaning). You can see how this kind of thinking can lead to enhanced conflict between partners over time...

As with most problems, communication is going to be the key to avoiding this lose/lose scenario and keeping all the humans out of the doghouse. As disappointing as it is, men can't read our minds. We have to tell them what we want/need them to do. So we can nip this problem in the bud early by dividing up the chores and activities ahead of time. One of us cleans the kitchen while the other gives baby a bath. One of us fixes lunches and then the other drives kids to school. (I get Saturday mornings to ride my bike with my training partners and you get Sundays to surf with your friends.) You get the picture. Scott and I have already started talking about this kind of stuff. He plays soccer after work on Tues/Thurs... I'll go run with the baby jogger while he's playing then do the hand-off when he's done so I can swim with the masters team those evenings... realistic? I hope so. Having appropriate expectations will go a long way toward making you feel like you can rip up the scorecard.

Final point here then we'll call it a day. "Your husband won't act like a partner if you treat him like an assistant." I like that quote from the book. Let him be the dad he wants to be. When he wants to take your kid to the beach, give him the sunscreen, but don't tell him where/how to apply it. Tell him where the diaper bag is so he can pack the diapers himself. And although it's possible that both he and your child will come home with a little rash from the reef or a jellyfish sting, be joyful that they had a fabulous time together while you were able to do a little regrouping yourself.


hatfields-in-hawaii said...

Wow, Michelle! I feel like I have my own psychologist by reading your blog :-) These are great things to be thinking about before the craziness and sleep deprivation kick in. Thanks for the great blog!!

Mama Simmons said...

Thanks, Kelley. I do think that now is the best time to be considering these things... since people who are very tired aren't always so reasonable! ;) Glad you're enjoying it.

TrainingtoTri said...

I will have to check this book out, it sounds great. My biggest fear, outside of not having a healthy baby of course, is that it's going to make our relationship suffer. I've seen it happen to way too many people.

N.D. said...

this was super helpful and great ideas to keep in mind! thanks!