Monday, October 20, 2008

I need advice

The first trimester + high holidays and sukkot + hitting midterm time = I’m drowning. I feel as though I shouldn’t complain both because I don’t feel sick and dog tired myself and because I don’t want to make Lyn feel bad because she does feel sick and tired. But don’t worry; I’m going to complain anyway. I really am happy to take care of Lyn – after all she’s going through the first trimester for both of us and I’m glad I'm not the one puking. But I now have more chores to do, a messier house, and a spouse who just isn’t much fun. Lyn's symptoms seem to vacillate between total exhaustion with nausea and the kind of crabby weepiness I generally associate with the worst day of PMS.

So we’re trying to lower standards (I thought they were already pretty low, but I think I’m about to discover I was wrong) and to remember that this too shall pass. By which I don’t mean that Lyn is suddenly going to be back to her old self (that won’t probably happen for a while since these symptoms will be replaced with other ones), or that suddenly there will be fewer chores to do (nope, in eight months or so there’s going to be a lot more), but rather than we’ll all adjust to the new normal, and someday we’ll look back on the old normal and say “We didn’t know how good we had it back then!”

So, I’m asking for your advice. I want to be supportive, care for my wife and daughter, and not burn myself out. To those of you who have done it before or are doing it now (especially but not exclusively from those of you who have handled a toddler plus a pregnancy):
  1. How do you cut back on the volume of work that needs to happen around the house? Do you have shortcuts, hire help, or just organize things better?
  2. How do you handle your own personal stress and fatigue as a non-pregnant parent/spouse/mother?
  3. How do you not turn into a jerk that takes care of everything, but uses passive aggression to subtly punish your partner for not being more capable?


Anonymous said...

Apart from the toddler issue, I know how you feel. My wife is in her 13th week and for a large chunk of time there, I have been picking up a lot of slack and dealing with a spouse who just wanted to lay on the couch :)

I did continually tell myself this too shall pass, and in truth, it has gotten better now that she's entering into the second trimester. But I also had to change the way I was seeing myself. Her being pregnant and carrying our child is a HUGE deal (even though it is something she always wanted and something I never wanted to personally go through). Now that's she's pregnant, I have to step it up as the one who is feeling healthier, the one who has more freedom (to drink, stay up late, whatever), and as the family's "protector." In a way, it's sort of "fatherly" in, I imagine that is how men of pregnant women must feel as well. That they have to step it up even more when their wives are pregnant.

It can be overwhelming at times, but it helps to share your feelings with your partner. When I needed more acknowledgement for everything I was doing, I let her know...although she's always been very good about praise. It really helps if your partner lets you know just how much she appreciates you. That kept me from feeling at all resentful and made me want to help out even more, knowing how appreciative she was.

1- There really is no cutting back on the volume of housework. The only thing that makes it easier sometimes, since I hate cooking, is bringing food in more often or going out to eat.
2- I handle my stress by talking to her about it, or if she's not up to chatting, talking to my friends...taking a walk, spending time with the dog, taking some time out to have to myself...whether it's to watch stupid tv or surf the web. I also keep a personal journal so that helps with venting.
3- I did feel sometimes that I was turning into a jerk and it sucked. I hate being "that person." Sometimes it helps just to take a breath and not get caught up in the moment. It helps to see the bigger picture...what we're doing all this for. I asked for help when she was feeling good enough to do so, and she did and continues to do her part. I can see how pregnancy and child-rearing can strengthen a couple's relationship.

One final note is that I'm a neat freak and I've had to let go of my standards a little. A few dishes in the sink or clothing strewn about isn't going to hurt anyone. Sometimes it's just better to cuddle the wife now and take care of that stuff later :)

Gail said...

Thanks for the thoughts, strawberry. The sad thing is that I remember how nice Lyn was when she took care of me when I was pregnant, so I feel bad about being crabby :(

You know I hadn't really thought about the possibility of sometimes getting take-out. Oh, I know it seems obvious, but we are cheapskates. Maybe we could do a once-weekly takeout meal. Oh, and I'm on the verge of trying to convince Lyn that we should stop using cloth diapers (Leigh is potty trained except for nights and naps).

Lyn and I have also been talking about how find chores that she can do easiest (those that can happen while sitting, e.g. laundry-folding), and we've talked alot about how she's growing a freaking baby and thus contributing quite a lot to the household labor. Still I worry about becoming a nagging b*ch.

Ah, and letting the standards'll get a LOT better at that once a baby rolls around. I do still know some people that have impeccably clean house, but I think they are all nuts and they have housecleaners. Still, I guess I have to get better at it too!

Alayna said...

My wife and I have a 23-month-old and a 4-month old, so we have been in your shoes rather recently. I gave birth to our son and then she got pregnant with our daughter when our son was about 11 months old.

The first trimester of my wife's pregnancy was rough for both of us. She was sick and exhausted and working full-time, while I stayed home with kiddo #1. Looking back on it, we both wish we had spent the money to hire some household cleaning help. Even an hour or two a week would have made a difference.

I definitely got into that doing everything but feeling resentful and then feeling guilty because I felt resentful thing. I think we got through it by taking it one day at a time (I used to recite that to myself like a mantra) and trying to remember that the first trimester would eventually end.

However, even though the first tri did end eventually, things didn't actually change much. Looking back, the first tri was really just the beginning of a major change in our lives. Most of my wife's physical energy went to our son and growing daughter through the rest of her pregnancy, although she tried to help with the house and such as much as she could, and so I continued to take on a lot more of the work around the house and with the kid than I had before she got pregnant.

Then, there was the whole giving birth and post-partum period, in which she was exhausted and healing and learning to breastfeed, and so I still did most of the rest of the household upkeep and kid wrangling....and eventually, eventually, we began to come to more of an equilibrium. I'd say that it's been just in the last month that things have felt more like they used to, with both of us having relatively equal energy throughout the day.

I don't mean to be discouraging at all. Having a second child has been miraculous and amazing and added immensely to our family. I just think that I was misguided in thinking that things would go back to normal for awhile after the first tri. Really, it was the first step into life with a second child.

The difficulty of it was the shock of the change more than anything else. By the end of the pregnancy, I was still doing just about as much house work and other things, but it didn't feel nearly as difficult as it had in the first few months. And now, even though our lives are infinitely more complicated than they were with one kid, we feel mostly normal most of the time.

I really sympathize with where you guys are right now. It is hard work for both of you! Just know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that it is well worth it in the end :)

Anonymous said...

It's not easy to cope with another child and a pregnant partner. Our "FenFox" as she is now known is 8 1/2 and so eminently easier to deal with than a toddler, and Clark has, throughout the entire pregnancy, still been doing a large share of the child care, so I don't really have any advice to help with dealing with a toddler.
When Clark was still working and we could afford it, we had a cleaner come for 1 to 2 hours a fortnight to do the hard bits, the bathroom and floors and kitchen - it made a massive difference. Since then, things get done when they desperately need it. Keeping the place tidy as you go helps - its easier to spend 15 minutes every day on tidying up than try to find the energy for 2 hours of tidying on the weekends - same with dishes and laundry. A load of laundry in the washing machine overnight can be hung out in the morning, brought in after work, folded while watching tv and then put away as you go to bed. And one load is not so onerous.
Ironing has completely gone out the window - I used to iron everything, and now I can't remember the last time I even had the iron out.
I, like you, don't like to spend too much money on take out, but sometimes, especially at the end of the week, its just too hard to come home from work and cook. You just have to buy meals reasonably often. And as 80s as it sounds, meal plan - its amazing how much easier it is to come home and cook when you know exactly what to make and have what you need in the fridge. We tend to go shopping and get a selection of meat and veges, come home and put together a list of things we could do with those things, then use that list through the week - its always a bit flexible, for the times when Clark REALLY wants one particular thing.
As for the passive aggressive jerk - that's going to happen. At least you recognise it. Keep talking through it is always the best way. I know I've been guilty of doing that to Clark, but I try to be conscious of it. Bad days are inevitable.
I don't think its possible to have it all, you just need to wear the higher stress levels and tiredness. But the payoff is that (eventually) you'll have a cute little baby - which of course will bring it's own set of new chores and stresses - but will make it all worth it. I just keep thinking to myself at least I don't have the physical discomfort to go through.
Good luck!

Kathryn said...

Hi, I just found your blog and haven't had a chance to read over it or anything, but I wanted to add a quick thought about your stress and discomfort. While my wife and I don't have any kiddos yet (we've been trying), we do have an odd sort of set up that isn't always even in terms of work and stress, or at least it doesn't always appear even.
I'm currently in school full time and working a tiny bit, she works FULL time and brings home all the money. This has been a bit of an issue with us because both are valid positions, both are useful for the family and both have their own individual and very different stressors.
One thing that really helped us was just to talk about how we were feeling, all the f-ing time! Seriously, for the first few weeks of my semester and new (unpaid) job this school year, it was a daily discussion around our house about who was feeling bad, why it was bad, who was feeling good, why it was good, who should do the dishes, walk the dog, etc... There was some serious negotiation going on!
All this aside, however, my main point in commenting was that I was able to find a small way to help myself to feel less stress and that was through music. I burned a cd of my favorite relaxing songs (James Taylor, Nick Drake, etc) and I pop it in when I'm driving home from work or school. I've found that it works as a signal to me to put aside the outside stuff and come home fresh and ready to deal with the home/family stuff. I take some deep breaths, close off that portion of the day, and end up smiling more and having more energy to take care of things at home.
We also have friends who would do this at home, pop in the same cd as soon as they walked in the door... clear signal that the day's work was over and family time had begun. No matter what family time consisted of, it made it more clear that this "stuff" was stuff that we are choosing to do to care for family, for those we love.
Don't forget to take care of yourself in this as well, a nice hot tea in a new flavor, a walk around the block in the crisp fall air, etc...

Gail said...

Thanks for the comments alayna, pbxmakesfour, and kathryn! I'm printing off this comments thread so I can keep it with me.

I have heard from lots of folks that adding a second really throws your whole family dynamic out of whack, and I feel like it is already happening. But I have confidence the dust will settle eventually. Lyn and I have come up with a list of shortcuts we're going to work on and I'm going to comb through your suggestions to see if I can find some more things.

And it's good to have a reminder to take care of myself. That's not really my strong suit at all, but I think I should push myself to do it now that my caretaking responsibilities have increased.

Oh and BTW Lyn has felt better over the last 24 hours or so, which means things are a little calmer and cleaner around the house...