My husband and I were brilliant communicators before we had children. I don’t just mean talking about mindless drivel over a pint or five. I mean discussing as in depth as was humanly possible about what our lives together would look like through every eventuality.
We discussed everything about making living together work, making the finances work, splitting up chores, making a marriage work, making everything fair. We even discussed what our divorce might look like. Just in case.
As if we were following some cliché storyline, we fell pregnant; then came the biggest discussions of all. We covered everything we could possibly think of on how we would make it work; what our expectations were of each other as parents, what our expectations of ourselves would be as parents. We meticulously picked apart our childhoods to take the good and dump the bad. We were ready. We were mildly smug about our readiness. We were communication connoisseurs. We couldn’t fail.
Baby arrived and our expert exchanges rapidly turned into the contents of baby’s first nappy. A hideous, sticky mess. It was shocking how quickly it deteriorated into utter chaos. You’re pre-warned about how it changes everything – that it equates to no sleep, no social life, no fun, blah blah blah. However, we just weren’t prepared for how it fundamentally changed us as people.
I suppose the most shocking transition was mine. Of course, there’s all the well documented topics about how sleep deprivation effects the brain but I don’t think my husband was ready for how it would strip me of being able to respond to simple questions, have an inability to think of more than one thing at a time and never being able to switch off. I felt shocked that his unbounded pot of patience that he once had for me and my quirks disappeared along with my sense of humour.
Once the mother switch had been flicked, I revelled in all its responsibility. Far more than I ever imagined possible. I secretly thought that I was the ONLY person that could possibly know how to do things perfectly for my baby. That I would be the better parent and I was best for baby. I had maternal instinct whereas my husband had to be taught baby telepathy – it doesn’t come naturally to men.
The downside to this was the anxiety in having all the responsibility and the resentment at my husband not knowing when I’d had enough and desperately wanting him to take over. I resented even more that he could flick his father switch off at will meaning that his body could fall into a deep sleep given the opportunity, or have a sense of humour again when he was eating lunch with his work mates. I resented the fact that my once high firing brain needed at least 30 seconds to make sense of the words being said to me before being able to incoherently ramble a sentence together. I resented the fact that his body didn’t lurch at the first sound of a whimper sending adrenaline firing through his body. I resented the fact that everyone else’s marriages seemed more brilliant than ever and children had truly completed them.
Everything my husband did irritated me. Why couldn’t he think ahead? Surely it’s not that hard to get the change bag ready before you start changing the baby? Surely it’s common sense not to shine the light of your smart phone into the baby’s face when it’s sleeping? Surely he can sleep perfectly still and not snore like a freight train waking me and the baby?
Everything I did irritated him. Why couldn’t I just answer a simple question? Why was I suddenly such a boring cow? Why did I have to make pointed remarks about everything he did with the kids? Why couldn’t I take a joke any more? Why couldn’t I get off his case?
We sleep-walked through the first year until baby started sleeping through. Slowly, as if by magic, the fog lifted and life started to feel normal. Friends had said that things would get easier and they did. Then I fell pregnant again. That’s the danger of getting things back on track.
Fast forward another two and a half years. Two and a half toughest years of our lives.
Predictable arguments about who is more tired. Who has had the hardest day. Who should be getting the biggest recognition. Whose turn it is to get up in the night. Whose turn it is for a lie in. Whose undermining who more. Who makes the biggest effort. Sex being completely off the table because quite frankly, how on earth could anyone find a women with body hair that resembles a 70’s German naturist with the personal hygiene of a vagrant sexy? How does a women that feels like a 70’s German naturist with the personal hygiene of a vagrant, and a brain that can’t stop thinking about the odd colour of child number two’s latest bowel movement (possibly with supporting rash) feel sexy?
At times it seemed like it would be so much easier to just throw in the towel. Kids require so much emotional energy. We were running on empty and these predictable arguments that were frustratingly textbook had taken us to the brink. Why? Because of what was underneath those arguments. What was hiding a lot deeper beneath the surface.
Fear. Fear of failing ourselves as parents. Fear of failing our children as parents. Fear of becoming just another divorce statistic.
We were forgetting who we were as people, both projecting ourselves onto our children. I became our daughter and he became our son. We were desperately trying to ward off any potential threat to their happiness, anything that could possibly make them feel like we felt during bad times as kids. We both came from ‘broken homes’ and were fighting invisible ghosts that had remained clung around our necks. The same ghosts that meant that we constantly, perilously tried to stay in control of everything, hence the dissecting, planning and perpetual need for an action plan for every eventuality. Needless to say, all that control didn’t help us at all.
When we were both stood on the cliff edge, facing the very possible future of creating yet another broken home, we asked for help. This in itself caused tension. The fear continuing to make fools of us. But it worked.
I would love to say that instead of staring down a precipice, we’re now bounding through the fields and meadows that lay before it. What I can say is that we’re a lot further from the edge and so much happier for it. There is always more work to be done but during those seven months of counselling, we both learnt a huge amount about ourselves as people – that we’re stronger and more capable than we give ourselves credit for. We learnt how important we were for each other when we found each other fifteen years ago and how important we are for each other still. We learnt how we weren’t failing our children and how we can be better parents, better people and better for each other – break free from the historical hangovers. We did the most difficult thing – we looked at ourselves in all our ugly glory and it was bloody hard, but the fog is lifting again. We’re clinging on.