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Saturday, 8 August 2015

The challenges of asking for "help"

Life in the Duck Pond has been a trifle wearing over the past few weeks. Duckling is going through some manner of ultra clingy developmental stage, he's all over the show with naps as he drops from two to one, he's had a snotastic cold (as have Drake and I) and as of Wednesday, we added Hand, Foot & Mouth to the mix too. I thought I was coping pretty well, all things considered, but as ever, you think you are until you're not. Cue a day of arguments with Drake, shouting at poor spotty Duckling and ultimately tears of the "why is this all so hard?" variety from me.

Part of the problem is that I'm rubbish at asking for help. For much of the week, I am on my own. I don't really have any option but to get on with things and immerse myself in the routine. Shattered? Tough. Craving adult company? Tough. Want to go for a wee without a child trying to post bits of loo roll between your legs? Tough. You'd think that when Drake comes home, I'd hand over the reins, but I don't - my gritted teeth determination simply spills over into the weekends as though the train might derail if I slow down too much. I still do at least one weekend breakfast, most morning dressings, all nap times, most nappy changes, lunch, dinner, bath time, bedtime, and all the breastfeeds and soothing of injuries in between. Drake is great and does most of the washing and hanging up of clothes, odd jobs, DIY, gardening, cleaning and general tidying. He also cuddles and plays with Duckling a lot (he's much better at it than me), and will take him out for a walk and a push on the swings if I really need to get on with something uninterrupted (like filing or cleaning the fridge - the thrills). But the mundane childrearing activities are still mostly me.

I am a feminist (in as much as I consider myself an egalitarian generally) so I'm not really sure how we've ended up with such a traditional division of responsibilities in our house. I honestly can't decide if it's a practical response to circumstance, or whether some more sinister and pervasive gender brainwashing has occurred somewhere along the line. I imagine it's a bit of both, given that our circumstances are the result of a traditionally gendered job set up - Drake has a well-paid role in the (male dominated) IT Sector, and I have a less well-paid position in the touchy-feeling and very flexible (female dominated) charity world, so practically and financially, it makes more sense for me to work part time and do much of the childcare. Duckling's personality plays a role too - he's very Mummy focussed, and won't settle for Daddy for any length of time if he knows I'm in the house (though he's fine when I'm not). I still breastfeed Duckling, so all things related, such as sleeping and comforting, are primarily me. I've always cooked (because I like it), so that lands on my plate, and bath time always seems to involve lots of singing, which I'm better at than Drake, so, err, that's somehow me too. Mostly, it's fine. But sometimes, like today, I have simply had enough of wrangling a cling monster, and I just desperately want to have the 'Mummy' responsibility lifted from my shoulders completely while I do something else for fifteen minutes - preferably sitting on the sofa eating chocolate and watching something exorable on SyFy. I find it almost impossible to ask for this though, which really, really annoys me, and really, really annoys Drake too. For him, in man-land, the process is simple:

Duck has had enough. > Duck asks for help with whatever task she doesn't want to do. > Drake helps with task. > Duck feels better and Drake feels helpful.

For me, it goes something like this:

Duck has had enough. > Duck would like some help, but she doesn't really know exactly what with, or how to articulate the fact she's had enough without sounding like she's moaning about how hard this Mummy thing is AGAIN. And besides, Drake did look after Duckling for a couple of hours in the park earlier while Duck got to see her friends, so she should really be feeling refreshed and relaxed, not shattered and grumpy. > Duck carries on and ignores fact she's had enough. > Duckling has a screaming fit in the bath. Duck has now REALLY had enough. > Duck snaps at Duckling. > Drake comes up to see what the issue is, but conveniently doesn't notice Duck's at her wits' end so doesn't offer to help and wanders back downstairs once Duck has dried the Spotty Goblin (sorry, Duckling) and he's stopped screaming. > Duck carries on with bedtime, cursing Drake for being oblivious, and for the fact he's now downstairs with his feet up, watching the cricket. Although, she supposes he did have to clean up the dinner mess, so it's not like he's spending the whole time relaxing. > But FFS, he has almost definitely spent at least 5 minutes doing bugger all hasn't he?! > Duck's resentment festers as she attempts to get Baron Von Lotsaspots to lie down in his cot and not wail like a banshee. > Up, down, up down, feed feed feed. Duck decides this is probably all that 'no feed to sleep' sleep training out the window, goddamit. She is so crap at this. > Finally asleep, Duck returns downstairs, muttering obscenities under her breath. > Drake makes a comment along the lines of "ho hum, that's just what parenting is like I'm afraid." > Duck explodes.

It's not that I'm not capable of asking for help generally - Drake is forever running up and down the stairs to fetch things for me that Duckling has discarded in another room. It's that I find it very hard to ask for help with things that have somehow become 'my job' - i.e. the childcare stuff. Because I CAN do it - of course I can - it's not rocket science and I do it every day. I just DON'T WANT TO. As much as I know that it's important for parents to give themselves a break, it feels lazy and unfair to pass something over to Drake that I don't want to do, because why would he want to do it any more than me? He works crazy hours when he's away, so needs his weekend downtime too. Plus I'll just feel irrationally guilty if he does do it, so cancelling out the pleasure of not having to do it myself. And, if I ask this one time, I won't have the 'right' to ask again for at least a couple of weeks, and what if I really need to, even more than today?! Or, what if this opens the floodgates and I suddenly can't stop offloading and I turn into a dreaded Lazy Mother?!!

So, yes, it would be much easier if Drake would just offer sometimes so I could avoid all of this idiotic internal melodrama over my totally self-imposed rules of childrearing responsibility. It might also make me feel slightly less taken for granted. But it simply doesn't occur to him, because we're both in our little routines, he feels like he's doing plenty of useful stuff already, and he's not the one in demand 24/7. When you're away a lot, time with your child is precious, so I'm sure it is hard for him to understand why I resent being with Duckling sometimes. Although at the same time, let's be honest, why would he actively want to do the (literally) crappy bits?

I did say a lot of this to him this evening, and I think I got through, after a bit of umbrage had been taken on both sides. I have agreed to be more forthcoming, and am going to start requesting he does at least one bath time over the weekend (even if this means I have to clean the fromage frais off the wall, post dinner). Ultimately though, I think I need to keep reminding myself that beyond breastfeeding, there is no rule book that says any of the childcare stuff is intrinsically My Job. I am not technically asking for "help" therefore, but simply stating that I believe it to be Drake's turn to do the task in question.  Drake is eminently capable (I can even live with his interesting sartorial choices for Duckling), so it is perfectly fine to ask him to do more. It doesn't make me lazy and he can always say no if he really doesn't want to. This shouldn't need saying. And yet here we are. Does anyone else over-complicate things to this extent, or is it just me?

2 comments:

  1. Oh, do I feel your pain! This so resonates with me - thinking back a few years to when my boys were younger (now 3 and 6). Even from the earliest days when I had to get up in the night to breastfeed I did my fair share of duvet slamming as I hauled myself toward my screaming baby, often with my most used phrase of "this is f**king ridiculous." Extreme fatigue, resentment and hormones didn't particularly help me cope with good grace as I watched my husband sail in from work after a day at the office, knowing however hard his day was, MINE WAS WORSE. I think we all labour under the illusion that only we can do this, that or the other when it comes to the kids, and you are right - we often don't know quite how to ask for help. And as it turns out, the other half are often desperate for us to ask, as they dare not venture an enquiry as to if we need help for fear of having pureed apple shoved up their nostrils with a Peppa Pig spoon until their brains pop out their ears. (I only considered doing this once. Well, maybe twice). Great post!

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    1. Aww, thank you, glad it's not just me! "This is f**king ridiculous" is pretty much a catch phrase for me too. I honestly wasn't much of a swearer before Duckling came along - now I can't seem to stop, which is unfortunate as he's currently learning to talk... I think my other half's just lucky I can't reach him with a sharpened baby spoon when he Skypes me to tell me about his EXHAUSTING day of dealing with idiots, which necessitated an evening outing to the local bierkeller to unwind. Poor lamb, I don't know how he copes!

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