My wife is out all day at play groups, toddler gym, the
park-anywhere but home. So when I come home from work, everything
still needs to be done around the house!"
"He gets home from work at 6 and sits down in front of the
television set. When I ask him to take the baby so I can have a
break, he says he's had a rough day and needs to relax!"
Complaints such as these are typical of new parents. No matter
how committed you and your spouse may be, after a while the dirty
diapers, the endless loads of laundry and the 2 a.m. feedings can
seem overwhelming. One parent may think he or she is shouldering
the brunt of the responsibilities at home and become upset with the
other for not doing his or her share.
All of this can catch new parents by surprise.
Before becoming parents, you and your spouse may have worked out
an even division of chores at home, run errands together, or worked
side-by-side preparing meals and doing yard work. Now that you're
parents, one of you needs to be available to the baby, leaving the
other to do the same chores alone. It may take a lot longer to get
housework done-if it gets done at all.
If both parents have jobs outside the home, there can be
different views regarding how off-time should be spent.
In situations where one parent is at home full-time, each parent
may feel the other has it easier. "The stay-at-home mom may think
her husband has an easier time because he gets a break each day
from the children, goes to lunches with co-workers and may travel
on business trips," says Mary Halpin, a clinical psychologist in
Deerfield. "The husband, on the other hand, may feel the burden of
being the sole provider and view staying at home as time off."
The parent who works outside the home might see his or her work
responsibilities solely in terms of 8 to 5. The stay-at-home parent
might never feel off duty.
Whether Mom and Dad both have outside jobs or one parent is at
home full-time, it's important to view parenting as a partnership.
"If Dad has been away at work all day while Mom has been home with
the children, when he gets home both parents should be on duty
together," says Diane Glazer, a family counselor in Santa Monica,
Calif. "One parent should not be 'in charge' while the other is
just a helper." Four or five hours at home with a baby may net only
as much productivity as an hour spent alone.
Granted, being partners is often easier said than done. You and
your spouse may have different ideas about what it means to work
Yet with kindness, understanding and open communication, you can
keep your partnership intact. Here are positive steps you can
n Set aside regular "check-up" times. Have a weekly meeting to
discuss any concerns you may have, talk about how your week has
been going and address issues before they become problems. Schedule
a regular time when neither of you feels harried and you won't be
interrupted by the baby.
n Calmly broach your concerns. Help your spouse understand your
perspective without nagging, criticizing or complaining. Don't sit
down to talk when you're upset, after you've had the worst day of
your life or the minute your spouse comes home from work.
When discussing issues, make "I" statements: "I feel
overwhelmed; I need to know that I'm not in this alone." Avoid the
word "you," as in "You don't know how hard it is for me." Such
statements "often sound accusatory and make the other person feel
attacked," says Kathleen Galvin, a communications professor at
Northwestern University who has a special interest in family
Explain what you need from your spouse in terms of support, then
offer some practical suggestions. For example: "I really need to
get a good night's sleep. If you could take the 2 a.m. feeding
Friday night when you don't have to get up for work the next
morning, that would really help." Or "I know you don't mind
vacuuming; it would be great if you would take that over." Give
your spouse a chance to respond to your request, and be open to any
ideas he or she might have to improve the situation.
n Allow your spouse time to unwind. If you are the primary
caregiver for your child, let your mate have a few minutes to
unwind after he or she comes home at night. "Don't jump on him the
minute he walks in the door, demanding he take the child so you can
have a break," says David Krauss, a psychologist in Cleveland,
Ohio, specializing in transition to parenthood. "Give your husband
[or wife] 20 to 30 minutes as a transition period so that he can
change clothes, look at the mail and gather his thoughts." Once
Dad's had time to unwind, it's Mom's turn to relax for a half hour
or so. Even a short break can be enough to feel rejuvenated and
ready to handle the rest of the evening.
n Establish a support group. Get to know other new parents so
you can support one another. Talking with other first-time moms and
dads who are facing the same challenges will take away some of the
tension you and your spouse may be feeling. According to Galvin,
"It can be a tremendous relief to discover lots of people are
bumping up against a lot of the same issues and managing okay."
Of course, the key to receiving or giving support is to be
constructive. Don't talk to other moms to gripe, complain or tear
your husband down. Focus on exploring solutions.
n Be flexible. Don't frustrate yourself by establishing a fixed
schedule or ironclad division of chores. This may have worked in
pre-baby days, but much of what takes place in your house over the
next few years will be beyond your control. "Be willing to pitch in
wherever necessary," Krauss says. "Learn to see responsibilities at
home as ours rather than categorize certain jobs as hers and other
tasks as his."
n Show appreciation. Keep in mind that a lot of what your spouse
does, whether at home or at work, is undertaken with an eye toward
lightening your load and creating more family time. Look past the
streaks on the windows he just washed or the spots she might have
missed while scrubbing floors. Look at your spouse's good
intentions and let him or her know you appreciate how much effort
went into easing your workload. Put a note in his briefcase to say
how much you appreciate him. Send her flowers with a note attached
saying you think she's wonderful. Small gestures go a long way in
showing your appreciation.
n Have realistic expectations. Take an honest look at what you
can reasonably accomplish with your time. "Sometimes we expect
everything to be perfect-we should be able to deal with the baby,
the dinner should be made, we should be cheerful and have
everything picked up and neat at home-but life is not always like
that," Halpin says. Accept the fact that sometimes the house is
going to be messy, dinner may be late or burned, and the atmosphere
at home chaotic.
Scale down expectations of what you can accomplish in one day,
and save high-intensity jobs such as balancing the checkbook or
paying bills for when you and your spouse are both home so one
person can watch the baby. Keeping a realistic outlook and open
lines of communication may require extra effort, but it's a small
price to pay for harmony, respect and the optimum enjoyment of your
new roles as parents.
How to maximize your time
With the arrival of a new baby, time becomes more precious than
Chores, errands and other household duties can quickly consume
what used to be free time. Try these ideas for creating more time
for yourself and your family.
• Embrace routines. Establish a daily and weekly routine for
household chores. Schedule set days and times for trips to the
bank, grocery store, wash days, meal times and yard work. And stick
to a dinner schedule: if it's Wednesday, have pasta.
• Accept help. Hire whatever outside help you can afford during
your baby's early months. Chances are there's a teen in the
neighborhood who'd love to earn extra money doing yard work,
running errands or babysitting. Don't be shy about accepting offers
of help from friends and neighbors.
• Get organized. Try getting up 30 minutes before your baby
normally wakes up in the morning to get a few must-do chores out of
the way. Make lists and plan what tasks need to be done each day,
week or month. Condense errands into a single shopping trip.
• Learn to juggle. Never tackle anything when your baby is
sleeping that can be done when he or she is awake. Sit her in a
swing or playpen while you work on your grocery list, cook dinner
or fold laundry. Talk or sing to your baby while you take care of
these chores. Save jobs that require your full attention for times
when your spouse is also home.
• Just say no. Learn to say, "No, I just don't have time for
that." If you try to do it all, you'll get stressed out and your
whole family will lose.
• Reduce clutter. If you're not using certain toys, clothes or
other items, give them to local charities or take them to resale
shops. It's easier to keep your home neat when you have space to
put things away.
• Go barefoot. Take your shoes off by the door. It keeps carpets
cleaner and means less vacuuming and carpet cleaning.
• Divide and conquer. When faced with a large job, eliminate
interruptions by having one parent take the baby out for a while
rather than lend a hand with the task.
• Be sociable. Share weekly jobs with a friend-one week at her
house, the next week at yours. You'll cut work in half and have a
chance to visit with another parent.
Rebecca Sweat is a freelance writer based in Chicago
specializing in family and health topics.
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