*Penny arrived to her Parenting Reset day visibly frazzled. She used whatever energy she still had left to force a smile before flopping down heavily on Love Parenting Studio’s new and particularly snazzy green velvet lounge. There was an audible sigh that told me she was physically here, but the rest of her was still arriving.
I handed her a lime to scratch and sniff while she caught her breath. I poured our tea.
She scratched and sniffed the lime and then looked slowly around the studio. After paying particular attention to the lush hanging plants she commented “Gee it’s nice in here.”
The distance between her shoulders and earlobes already looked more spacious.
Across our time working together we explored what Penny is responsible for doing in a day. Starting with what she had already done in the hours before arriving here for 9:15am.
Let’s just say it was a lot. I felt weary just hearing it all.
While working through Love Parenting’s ‘Sharing the Household Load’ activity Penny was able to see how it had gotten to the crisis point that it had.
She and her husband *Dan had gone from 5 years ago barely having two life-admin tasks to rub together, to flailing in a deluge of them. From years of working corporate jobs with after-work socializing and ducking away for fabulous local and overseas trips, to counting showering alone or a solo trip to the supermarket as ‘me-time’.
As romantic partners *Penny and *Dave were finding themselves less and less likely to make it to the end of the day with energy left for anything coupley.
She was in a constant state of exhaustion with the kind of fatigue sleep doesn’t fix. Her body was in ‘survival’ mode. This was from both the frenetic pace her ‘under threat’ nervous system had been operating at “just to keep up” and from all the berating of herself for not being able to “keep up” to the unrealistic expectations she was trying to meet. Procreating or even just fostering relationship with those around is the last thing a nervous system prioritises when under that much pressure. It is in fear state and using all it has to watch for threats and put out spotfires before they escalate.
The new household responsibilities had crept in one at a time. Each on their own didn’t feel worthy of a formal conversation to allocate someone to carry that task’s mental load, and as a couple they accommodated them as best they could. Over time that brought plenty of doubling up and time spent conversing and handing over boring details about boring things (like which car needs servicing) or disputing emotively whose turn it was to action something.
Penny and I identified her hot organisational skills as a double-edged sword. Being incredibly efficient and able to get a whole lot done in short pockets of time meant she and Dan tended to see her has a natural choice for most of the life-admin tasks.
Then there were all the new responsibilities that started in the period of time that she was home on maternity leave and which had stayed ‘hers’ to see to even once she went back to paid work. As is often the case, Dan’s job being more highly paid and involving early/late meetings and travelling away contributed to the expectation that it be Penny who would keep absorbing new responsibilities as they came in.
Penny being able to see the big-picture of the many variables that led to her sliding down that slippery slope into mental and physical distress was crucial to her being able to converse differently with Dan than she had been.
They were able to approach the situation with curiosity rather than blame. Speaking later to Penny she said the biggest difference for her has been enjoying feeling united with Dan over problems as they come up. Dan likes that their new focus on collaboratively solving issues rather than having a tug-o-war against each other over them means they move through kerfuffles with way less emotive outlay. And that old game they used to play of who had the hardest day? GONE! Both of them said they agreed early on to not go there and now when they catch themselves starting to play it, they stop because they identified that it doesn’t serve any of them.
Nothing is utopic. They might be a whole lot less stressed and enjoying parenting more but Penny still gets the big sighs going when Dan says “I need you to remind me to do xyz”. Whenever she can manage it she uses her Emotion Coaching skills to meet him in his feeling before she gives him content (“connection before correction” also known as “validation before information” or “feelings before content”). For example. “Worried you will forget? I don’t like being called on to remind you of things. It adds to how much I’m already balancing and it will be on me if I forget. You are going to need to put something in place to remind yourself.”
Helping parents in this way FLOATS MY BOAT. It is a marry up of so much that I am passionate about, skilled in and value. Currently I’m doing this work with parents who come in for a Parenting Reset, but am just back from a big drive out West for work where I was able to spend literally days following the tar thinking of how I can support more couples to learn how to navigate this as a family and thrive through rather than surviving through.
Do you get my Sunday night email where I send out a Parenting or Connection tip for you to head out into the new week with? Subscribe here so you don’t miss those or upcoming offerings I’ve got in the pipeline.
Also – shoot me an email here and now to email@example.com and fury-type a list of all you have done already today and what you feel responsible to still do before you go to sleep tonight.
Everyone that does that will be contributing to a Sharing The Household Load resource I have almost ready to go up on the Free Resources page of my website.
Hang in there. If you’ve read to here then you can identify with it being A LOT to be a parent at the moment and I really look forward to contributing in all the ways I know how to you moving into parenting over there with:
MORE CONNECTION. LESS OVERWHELM.