When my son was around 2-weeks old he, developed colic. He cried gut-wrenching sobs from 5-10 pm every evening. I read everything I could about colic in the hopes of alleviating the dreadful screams that ushered in our evenings.
Eventually I developed a technique that seemed to soothe my son for brief periods of time. I would swaddle him tightly, swish him in my arms quickly and shush loudly in his ear. I would do all this while speed-walking around our home. Never stopping – NEVER!
If you had walked in on me back then you probably would have deemed me mad.
Matt, my husband, came to view this as my “normal.”
Each night when he returned from work he would simply strip off his work shirt* and open his arms for our baby. He would then attempt to soothe our son by whispering gently to him. This would naturally be met with screaming rage from our son and silent disgust from me.
For God’s sake, shush in his ear! Shush in his ear! I screamed in my head.
Slowly he would start to bounce our baby and I would think:
What the hell are you waiting for, you dolt! I’ve been swish-shushing this baby for an hour and a half already! This is all that works! I’ve read the books. THIS (swish-shush) is the only thing we can do to comfort this poor child.
After about 10 minutes of a half-hearted version of the swish-shush routine, my husband would collapse in a chair, put my son in his bouncy seat and announce “I’m exhausted.”
One night I had it.
“You’re exhausted? YOU’RE EXHAUSTED?!!!” I screamed. What followed was a string of expletives as my head spun round and pea soup came flying from mouth (not really, but you get the picture – very Exorcist-ess.)
Do you read BOOKS on our baby’s development? NO! So you don’t even know what you don’t know!
How can you listen to him cry like that?!!!! And just sit there?!!!
And on and on it went. But even as my tirade progressed, a small voice in my head said Patty, what are you doing?
A part of me knew my husband had the right approach. He did the best he could and if it didn’t work he was satisfied with his own efforts. I pushed myself past the point of exhaustion each night because I thought I was letting my baby down when he cried uncontrollably for hours every night. My approach made no sense to my husband.
I read books that left me feeling like I just wasn’t doing enough, like if I used the “correct way,” with enough effort I’d eventually be a “good mother.”
I even read a book that inferred my son’s colic may have been as a result of our long labor (36 hours) and eventual c-section. Even at the moment of his birth I didn’t quite get it right.
I had a mental list of what it took to be a good mother and it drove me to do more and more, all the while feeling less and less. And as I pushed on, my resentment towards my husband grew.
He did not worry about being a “good father.”
He loved his son. That was all he needed to know.
But that never seemed to be enough for me and I resented how little my husband seemed to strive towards “good parent-dom.”
I’d like to say that the small voice that said Patty, What are you doing? snapped me out of my fevered pursuit of “good mother” right then and there, but it didn’t. It took me close to three painful years before I finally started changing my definition of good mother.**
If I hadn’t, I’m not sure our marriage would have lasted. I’d like to believe it would have but my husband and I had entered that vicious cycle that perpetuates itself unless it is actively stopped.
You know the one…
I tried harder. He did his best. I criticized him more. He did less (why bother when you are only going to get criticized, right?). I became more resentful. He became resentful. I took on more to fill in the gaps, which allowed me to criticize him more… You get the picture…
I’m not completely sure how we pulled out of that ugly place. I’m glad we did. I’ve watched so many friends’ and clients’ marriages drift apart in this sea of early parenthood. Of course, no one person is too blame most of the time.
I do know that changing my definition of what a good mother looked like played a role in our comeback. Once I started taking care of myself I didn’t resent my husband for doing the same.
What about you?
How has your definition of “good mother” affected your marriage?
Do you have some “shoulds” and “have-to’s” that need to get dumped to free up time for you and for your marriage?
I’d love to hear about it!
*Embarrassing sidenote: I required Matt to take off his work shirt before he held the baby. I was convinced it would protect my son from the dark, evil germs that lurked amongst the recycled air and great unwashed of corporate America.
**You can read more about my story and shifting my definition of “good mother” here.
On my MomGAL call with the members this month we’ll be talking all about shaking off the “shoulds.” I’m going to share two powerful tools I still use that helped free me from my shoulds and get me back to a life filled with “want-to’s” and “love-to’s”! You can check out membership here if you could use these tools!