The perils of scorekeeping
“My marriage is like The Walking Dead, OK? We’re all just trying to get out alive.” — Paula from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
As every new parent will come to realize, bringing home a new baby is weird.
Before the baby, you can do your own thing. Tired? Head off to bed — no one’s stopping you! Want some exercise? Trot on down to the neighborhood yoga studio. Hungry? Take yourself out for a leisurely lunch. Hey, you’ve earned it!
After the baby, these things tend to change a bit. Unless you’ve hired a full-time night nurse, you’ll be woken at all the wrong times, and you’ll be tired.
As for exercise, there’s always bring-your-own-baby yoga — where you’ll pay $15 to do a few baby massage-type things to your infant until she starts wailing and you spend the rest of the class trying to soothe her in the corner.
And you can always take your colicky newborn to a Japanese restaurant, absolutely. Simply have everyone at the table take a turn walking her around the block while she screams. The negihama can wait.
The new normal
In short, your life is no longer your own — at least, not in the way it used to be.
You’re now suddenly in charge of caring for a small person who can’t feed or clothe herself, who can’t crawl or walk and who can communicate only via her cries.
This is a lot of responsibility.
As you embrace your new parental duties, you may begin keeping track of various things. In fact, you may be instructed to track various things, such as the number of wet diapers your baby produces in a day, when your baby breastfeeds and so on and so forth.
These practices are generally intended to make sure your baby is getting enough food and is developing healthily.
Tallying the workload
However, this new habit of tracking various things (feeding schedules, sleep patterns and more) can sometimes encourage an insidious tendency to keep track of other things — like how many times you got up last night with the baby while your partner slept; how many loads of laundry you did last weekend while your partner was reading a book; or how many completely unappreciated meals you prepared while your partner was working late.
In other words, there can be a tendency to keep score — who did or didn’t do what, and when, and how often. And it’s a tendency that can lead very quickly to resentment and all those arguments about “stupid” things such as garbage cans, forgotten wet laundry, kitty litter, filthy kitchens and many other scenarios.
What to do?
First, notice when you’re keeping score. For example, maybe your blood is boiling because you put the baby to bed every single night. (Evidently your partner can’t be bothered to pitch in once in a while.)
When these sorts of thoughts come up, resist the passive-aggressive urge to internalize your discontent and then express it later through sarcasm: “Wow, glad to see you’ve been taking care of important business on Facebook while I’ve been dealing with the baby for the last two hours.”
Instead, consider that these thoughts are expressing an unmet need and then figure out what you can do to address it.
For example, maybe you’ve had a long day and cleaning up the kitchen is going to push you over the edge. Instead of making some snippy comment — “What do you think I am, your maid?” — or sighing dramatically while you do it yourself, seething not-so-silently, consider simply stating what you need: “Hey, I’m exhausted. It would be really great if you could clean up the kitchen tonight.”
For those of us who grew up suppressing our true feelings and pretending that everything was just fine, asking for what we want can feel daunting if not impossible.
But seriously, give it a try. It’s good for you, good for your relationship and good for your kids, too.
Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.