Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column What The Actual. Warning: This is not a f*cking baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do my husband and I keep from killing each other in the middle of the night? It is somehow the best time for not hearing each other, misunderstandings, not being kind, and generally trying to get out of being a grown-up, but also our favorite time to chat? I don't want the baby's first word to be "f*ck." Help!
Dear Serenity Now,
I have never made a decision later than about 1 p.m. that was in any way advisable. I'm a morning person CORRECTION FOR THE LAST EIGHT MONTHS I'VE BEEN A SHIVERING SACK OF BONES WAITING FOR THE ZOMBIE BABY TO DEMAND MORE MILK and when I wake up, I make decisions in descending order of wisdom.
Before I had a baby, by the time midnight rolled around, I was asleep and unable to continue making bad choices. Have a baby, and you have your first problem: YOU ARE NOW ALWAYS AWAKE IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR AND NOT IN THE FUN WILSON PICKETT WAY. Then there's the fact of what you spend your waking hours attending to: feedings, diaper changes, pediatrician's appointments, an older child's needs, your job, your mental health, household labor, concerns about the division of household labor, and a complete life change involving EVERY LAST ONE OF YOUR NEEDS BEING SUPERSEDED BY SOMEONE ELSE'S AM I TALKING ABOUT MYSELF HERE MAYBE I AM.
My first thought, Serenity Now, is that you can keep from killing each other in the middle of the night by not limiting yourselves to the middle of the night. ANY time is a good time for low blows, name-calling, and dredging up the past.
Here is a sample schedule for how to avoid killing each other in the middle of the night:
7 a.m.: Baby wakes up, yet husband snoozes on. Lean into husband's sweet face. Scream, "WAKE THE F*CK UP MOTHERFUCKER."
7:05 a.m.: With baby on hip, angrily: 1) unload dishwasher, 2) load dishwasher, depending on state of dishwasher.
7:10 a.m.: Change baby's diaper and dress him in adorable baby clothes. Remember for a moment that this was your choice and you're happy.
7:18 a.m.: Feed baby Vitamin D drops and collect items for daycare.
7:19 a.m.: Angrily point out to husband that he has never given baby Vitamin D drops or collected items for daycare.
7:30 a.m.: Sheepishly eat breakfast husband prepares for you every morning.
7:35 a.m.: Relate your disappointment with husband's choice of friends.
7:45 a.m.: Hand off baby so you can get dressed for work. Stand at bedroom door listening to husband baby-talk about what a good crawler baby is and wonder how much longer you have before husband realizes what a terrible choice in life partner he has made.
8:15 a.m.: Load baby into car for ride to daycare. Sob to husband that you're sorry for your behavior. When he graciously accepts your apology rather than also apologizing for his behavior, scream and throw your travel mug of coffee onto the sidewalk so it splashes his precious socks.
8:16 a.m.: Boom! Fighting accomplished and it's nowhere close to midnight!
I haven't had more than five hours of sleep in a row since July 25, 2017, and that happened once. No matter when I fight with my husband, but especially in the middle of the night, it feels ugly, as if I've never learned any communication skills, as if I haven't lived in Northern California for 20 years and sat around numerous campfires belting out Indigo Girls songs about personal growth. I over-explain my position. I interrupt. I WAG MY FINGER. And when I'm feeling the most vulnerable, I throw open my laptop and look at our financial spreadsheet and try to figure out if I could live on my own with the baby. The answer, at all times, is NO. F*CK. I GUESS WE HAVE TO WORK THIS OUT.
Fighting itself isn't bad. And feelings aren't right or wrong — they're just feelings. It's how we express our feelings, and how we receive other people's feelings, that gets us into trouble — and, yes, affects our kids, even when they're too young to look like it. Remembering the basics of non-violent communication — using "I" statements ("I feel overwhelmed by the amount of housework I'm doing") rather than "you" statements ("You're a lazy piece of shit") — is one way to help keep everyone on the rails.
Fighting is the province of new parents. More accurately, fighting is the province of people, unless those people are Scandinavian. I can't tell you how to stop fighting — I'm not even sure it's advisable — but I can pass on a few pieces of advice that have helped me over the years:
1. It's OK for your children to see you fighting, so long as they see you resolving the conflict later. Caveat: This does not mean it's OK to throw glassware in front of your children so long as they hear you getting it on later.
2. Make a joke. Not a snide joke meant to escalate the conflict, but a joke that indicates you're aware you're a cliché: two overwhelmed parents who, with a little more sleep and a little more sex, would be snorting rails in the back of a club and doing the Roger Rabbit to "Bust a Move" instead of screaming at each other that the sleepless/sexless situation is the other person's fault. I make jokes about how much I hate my partner because he knows I'm desperately in love with him and would be devastated if he were ever hit by the bus I keep chartering to run him over.
3. Take a walk.
4. If your partner takes a walk, don't chase him into the other room/down the sidewalk screaming at him not to walk away from you.
5. Remember that most marital/partnership conflicts can't be resolved. THIS IS A RELIEF IF YOU REALLY THINK ABOUT IT. YOU HAVE TO MOVE ON.
6. Thank your partner. Right in the middle of a fight. No strings attached NO STRINGS ATTACHED JENNY NONE JUST F*CKING THANK YOUR F*CKING HUSBAND. Simply name something you're grateful for with no expectation of reciprocity.
7. Have a plan for the nighttime. And I say this knowing what a bullshit piece of advice this is. Example: The baby's crying. It's your partner's turn. You established this before you went to bed. Guess what? JOKER IS STILL SLEEPING. WAKE UP JOKER. IF YOU WON'T WAKE UP THEN I'M STILL RESPONSIBLE FOR SOMETHING WHICH IS WAKING YOU UP. Or: The baby's crying. It's your turn. But you've been nursing him for 45 minutes because the baby won't fall asleep without your nipple in his mouth whereas when your partner bounces him he falls asleep in seven minutes RAGE RAGE RAGE.
And the No. 1 piece of advice, which my friend Jeana told me:
8. Your partner is not the enemy. The baby is the enemy.
FIGHTING IS A NORMAL PART OF LIFE. IT'S HOW (NOT WHEN OR HOW OFTEN) YOU FIGHT THAT MATTERS. ESTABLISH SOME GROUND RULES: NAME-CALLING AND LOW BLOWS ARE NO-GOS. OBSCENITIES ARE UNADVISABLE. ABANDONMENT AND THE SILENT TREATMENT ARE THE ROAD TO DIVORCE SO PROCEED WITH CAUTION. KIDS ARE NOT RESILIENT (REMEMBER YOUR CHILDHOOD?) SO GET RIGHT WITH THE IDEA THAT YOU'RE RESPONSIBLE FOR CREATING A FUNCTIONAL ADULT AND ACT ACCORDINGLY. WHEN YOU'VE FIGURED OUT HOW TO STOP FIGHTING, LET ME KNOW.
IN THE MEANTIME, PERSONAL GROWTH IS A LIFELONG PROCESS, SO KEEP TRYING. YOU GOT THIS.
Are you currently asking yourself What The Actual about a parenting sitch? Send a question to Jenny by emailing email@example.com.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.