Monday, March 2, 2015

The one with the mom who is 'stuck', but wants more kids

Dear Dad,

How do I make my husband realize that he is a great dad? We were high school sweethearts and got married shortly after graduating. He had told me that he didn't want to be a dad. His dad and his much older brother had both abandoned their families after divorce and have nothing to do with the kids from their previous marriages. He thinks that he will be the same, I think. I told him before we got married that I was going to be a mother and he needed to know that before he married me. I waited over 6 yrs and then told him that I was going off my birth control. It took 18 months but I finally got pregnant with our daughter. She is now 4. My husband is a great Dad. He is very active with her and he helps me out with dinner or her bath or whatever I ask for. They ride bikes together and play video games together and he is teaching her how to shoot. The problem is that they are exactly alike and both stubborn. She knows just what buttons to push and he gets frustrated with her. He is a little more strict than I am, so he gets her stubborn side a little more than I do, and she is very much a mommy's girl. She always wants to hold my hand and sit in my lap instead of his. He thinks that this makes him a bad dad. 

The biggest issue is that he refuses to agree to a second child because of his normal reactions to this child. He hates that he gets so angry with her. He always handles it well and does his best to teach her even when he is angry but sometimes he has to yell and then walk away. I've tried to tell him that this is part of being a parent and reassure him that he is great but it just doesn't stick. There are very few things that I want more than another child. My marriage is one. We are in a bit of a lose/lose situation right now and I am stuck. If he says OK and we have another child and he is stressed out more, I think he will end up resenting me for it, but if I give up and say never mind, am I going to resent him? I love him more than anything else and I hate that this is coming between us. Is there a good solution to this that I'm not seeing right now? I could use an outside opinion.

Dear 'Stuck',

I love synchronicity.  I just finished editing a chapter of the manuscript I've been working on in which I describe my first days as a stay-at-home dad with my oldest daughter literally moments before I read your question.  

In the chapter, I flash back to when my wife and I met at age 19, and how we both swore we were very anti-traditional and would never marry (not just each other, but anyone), and certainly would never have children. We are both the products of broken homes with marriages that did not end well, and found the concept of parenthood "limiting."  I recall within the chapter the extraordinary terror I felt taking care of a fragile and delicate human being, while completely clueless to what I was doing and endlessly searching for the "instructions on how to parent."  I remember the unimaginable self-critic I was regarding every single thing I did "wrong," or at less than 100%.  Your question made me re-conjure those images in my mind in my attempt to empathize and relate to where your husband is coming from.  

I realize, 'Stuck', that your husband is not in any position I've ever been in.  If you waited 6 years before having children, you are not a "young" couple as my wife and I were when we proclaimed our disdain for a traditional life.  If your child is four years old, your husband is a seasoned enough parent to not be wet behind the ears, and simply lacking confidence. My guess is that your husband feels he already compromised six years into your marriage, and in his opinion there is 'no room at the inn' for another child.  

My advice, 'Stuck', is to seek out marriage counseling.  The solution here is not to figure out a way to convince your husband to have another child, nor is it to just figure out how to get him to understand he is a good father.  I think he has made it clear where he stands.  I know more than one family that was in your situation, and the addition of another child did not fix anything, but led to the complete and utter destruction of the marriage and family.  

Your husband does need to understand that he is a good father and truly process that he is not his father nor his brother in order for him to truly enjoy his relationship with your daughter and not be endlessly worrying about failing her or letting her down.  Perhaps once he addresses this in a therapeutic setting he will, much down the road, change his mind about wanting another child.  I think you will benefit as well, because if having another child is of critical importance to you, you have a lot to explore for yourself regarding the issue of having more children and your husband's current stance. 

In a perfect world, my wife would not have had heart failure, we would not be in our early 40's already, and we would not be prone to multiple births.  I would love to have one more child.  Every time I talk about wanting one more child, my wife gives me the "no room at the inn" look.  Deep down, I know my wife is correct and that we are done having kids; but, the stay-at-home dad part of me wants this time in my life to keep going.  My children are aging me out of my chosen profession!  I can relate to how you feel, 'Stuck', and am sending you good thoughts and energy.  Please keep us updated.  

I know a lot of couples who planned exactly how many children they were going to have and were in agreement 100%.  I also know an equal number of couples who were blessed with multiples, who were barren, and who did not see eye to eye when it came to the issue of how many kids to have.  Do you think the issue of one wanting more children than his/her spouse is a deal breaker?  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The one with the creative soul sister

Dear Dad,

I've really been feeling pretty unfulfilled lately, and not in a "my husband doesn't love me enough" way. It is more like I just feel like I should be doing something, anything more creative. I'm having a hard time deciding what that is. I used to be a tattoo artist, and absolutely loved my job. I stopped doing it because the hours and times were way too much, and I never saw my little one (not to mention the guilt trips from my mother on never being around). 

I now work 2 jobs, one outside the home as a part time cake decorator/part time grocery associate, and another at-home dispatch job the other 3 days. I'm also taking care of 2 kids, and making dinner every night for my family, and being the primary cleaning person as well. My husband does help, maybe not as much as I'd like, but he does help. 

My problem lies in feeling like I have no time to try to be creative in the first place. I would love to be able to maybe make it where I only work 2 days out of my home (the 2 days a week I'm actually "allowed" to do my cake decorating at work) and spend some time making things to sell in an Etsy store or something, but we can't afford to take the monetary hit while waiting to see if it gets off the ground. Then there's the issue of buying supplies for something that may or may not work out. It feel like as much of a gamble as doing at home sales like Avon or Scentsy (no offense to anyone that's done it, I myself sold Avon for about a year). I keep seeing all these things online that people are making and selling and making good money off of them, but I'm so nervous about doing it. I've also thought about trying to go back to school since I never went to college, but everything that I could see myself being happy doing for the rest of my life doesn't seem reasonable. 

I can't justify possibly putting my family into debt to go to school for something that may or may not be lucrative when I'm done, and I'm feeling really lost right now. I feel like I've lost my creativity somewhere with being a mom and a wife (it probably ran off with my sanity, ha!). It is just really a bummer and I'm not sure what to do or where to go from here. [stomps foot and flails arms a la threenager style] I just wanna make pretty things and get paid for it!

Sooo..any advice?

Dear 'Creative Soul Sister',

There is a lot going on in your question, but I believe there is a common theme: you are a very creative person desperately in need of "me" time. I, like you, don't create because I want to - I create because I have to. I have been an aspiring artist my entire life - as an actor, as a singer/songwriter, as a chef, and ultimately as a writer (and I knew precociously this was how my path would unfold).

I experienced a creative pressure build-up within my soul similar to yours several years back. I had shelved my music aspirations to tend to my family after my twins were born and my wife had congestive heart failure. I was taking care of three kids all day, going to work at a call center at night, and then covering the night shift with the twins when I got home at two a.m., only to awake at 6:00 a.m. to start it all again. After burning the candle at both ends for nearly two years, I had a creative (and psychological) snap. I had to have "me" time - even if it meant taking time from my other responsibilities. My wife was given a clean bill of health, and the two of us had a long talk and agreed that we both need "me" time. I would have from when I got home from work on weekends until whenever I went to sleep, and she would wake up with the girls. I would then let her have a few hours in the afternoon - to sleep, watch movies, read, or go out with her friends. This arrangement has worked wonders for us both individually and for our marriage.

My advice, 'Creative', is to have a discussion with your husband and figure out a similar arrangement. You need time for yourself each week to let your creative juices flow - in whatever format you choose. You could take up tattooing on the side, or expand your cake decorating into a private business. I think the key struggle for you (assuming your husband sees what he will gain by agreeing to this), is to NOT feel guilty for taking that time for yourself. I suggest you create a blog (it is free), and then a related Facebook page (also free). Start posting pictures of your cakes and your tattoo art and "blog" about it. Perhaps it could lead to something that is a paid gig? At minimum, you are going to have a "canvas" on which you can express yourself, get some feedback and validation - and perhaps a second chance at a creative career.

Please feel free to email me at the address you submitted your question if you need help setting things up. Best of luck to you - and be sure to share your blog and Facebook page links here if you decide to take that route!

A lot of couples struggle with work/life balance and division of labor, and I believe most forget to incorporate "me" time. I can personally attest to the fact that giving a few hours when I can is certainly worth the few hours I receive. Do you have "me" time incorporated in your schedule?

The one with the discipline trend

Dear Dad,
Is it ever OK to discipline someone else's child? Physically redirecting? Time outs? Verbally? #WhatsTrending??

Dear 'Trending',

I know 'discipline' is a touchy subject, but I make no secret or apology for my stance on the physical discipline of children. I believe spanking is wrong and borders on abuse. If one has to resort to spanking their children, the person who is out of control is not the child, but the parent who should put themselves in time-out instead of lashing out at an innocent victim.

Having gone through the tyrannical threes and the frustrating time of toddler-hood with three children, I have changed my view to understand that an occasional swat (two fingers to the hand or tush while kneeling so the parent is at eye-level with the child accompanied with a firm and loudly stated, "NO!") is acceptable. When your child runs into the street or tries to stick a fork in an electrical outlet, sometimes it takes more than a "time out" or a redirection. I heard about those two situations from a friend. grin emoticon

In order to answer your question, I tried to think of a situation where someone was to physically redirect, or physically anything my children, and even as the pacifist that I am, "papa bear" would come out roaring and physically redirect any person who dared lay a finger on my kids! It is never OK to physically touch any child that is not yours -ever!

I have spent more than 2,920 days at the community park with my three girls. I would gander that on 2,918 of those days "Scrolly McScrollerson" was at the park, too - the mom or dad who forgot they were at the park with their children and were so engrossed in their phones and Facebook news-feeds, that he or she "was not aware" that his or her child was throwing rocks at other kids, pulling their hair, spitting on them, using inappropriate language, etc.

I share with you, 'Trending', my three strikes rule for this situation: strike one - I approach said child and say, "that is inappropriate behavior, do not continue or I'm telling your (mom/dad)!"'; strike two - I physically redirect my own children and say (LOUDLY): "you can't play with that child anymore because he/she is acting inappropriately, and no one is directing them!"; strike three: I go to "Scrolly McScrollerson" and directly say: "I realize that what one of your friend's ate for lunch is more important than your role as parent, but your child is out of control and making for an uninhabitable play space. Please redirect your behavior and do your job so we can all get along in a safe and appropriate fashion!" Ten out of the ten times I had to resort to 'strike three', other parents in the park applauded me and expressed their consensus about my take on "Scrolly." I believe the three strikes rules are the most appropriate way to handle the situation.

I admit that my 2,920 days at the park were a while back, and I miss the time when my kids were so young; more, I even miss the respite and solace I found while relating (or sometimes commiserating) with other parents at our shared haven. What's trending folks? Is my answer still the appropriate way to handle things with the toddler gone wild, while their Scrolly McScrollerson parent "doesn't see" the havoc being wreaked?

The one with the 'not selfish' former stay-at-home mom

Dear Dad, 

I was a stay at home mom for 10 years before choosing to go back to work last August. I walked into the perfect job for me, I got paid to do something that I 100% loved. I loved every moment of being at work so much, I started taking on any extra hours that I could. I was covering for other people when I could. I was the first person with my hand up when the company asked for volunteers. I loved being at work and loved the way it made me feel. The people I worked with didn't know me as 'Mom', and they didn't care if I forgot to pay the water bill. I found a new part of myself - a piece I had been missing for a long time. I made friendships with people who didn't even have kids and ate lunch with people who respected me.

Nobody ever respected me as a stay-at-home mom. I was just the person who didn't work or was "too lazy to work." At my job, people looked at me differently and treated me differently. I would come home from work late because I did anything I could to work later. When I would get home I would be slapped in the face with reality! My house would be trashed, the kids would be hungry, and nobody would have clean clothes for the next day. Every one of my "at-home-mom" duties were just waiting for me. I would do what I could, but I had to be up at 4 am for work the next day. My husband offered no help whatsoever, but was more than happy to take my pay check to pay bills with.

So due to a medical emergency with my daughter, I had to leave work. My boss decided to temporarily lay me off for 2 months so I could handle things with my daughter and still keep my job. During my time off a few things happened:  report cards came home and my absence showed up in their fallen grades; my oldest child was getting into trouble every day and nobody knew it and I got the "are you sure you care" talk from his teachers; I found out that because of the extra income I would lose the state's help with health insurance for my kids. You have to work for a year to eligible for insurance with the company I work for, and my husband's job had very expensive insurance.

So here is my problem: it is time to return to work and I don't know what to do. A very selfish part of me wants to go back so bad, but the mother in me says "You can't do that to your kids again and your kids can't be without health insurance." My husband is only thinking of the extra money and thinks that I just don't want to work. I do, trust me, I do, but I can't come home every day to my life a mess and my kids being without health insurance and my kids failing in school because nobody is helping them. Do you have any advice?

Dear 'Not Selfish':

I think it is safe to say your issue is understood and experienced by me and millions of other stay-at-home moms and dads - past, current, and future. Stay-at-home parents have one of the most difficult jobs, which pigeonhole us for life; in addition, the job itself has little to no respect, even though what we do as stay-at-home parents has a direct correlation to the success and flow of our family units.

I was recently advised that someone in our family said I was a stay-at-home dad because I am a "jobless, lazy, deadbeat." This was reported to me through the mouth and in the eyes of an 11-year-old child, who advised me of such because she watched firsthand what I do when she was visiting us, and saw who I am as a father and what my role is in my family. 

My niece reported those words lovingly and with respect because her innocence allowed her to be open to see the truth about what I actually do for a living, rather what was implied by an ignorant statement from someone who will never "get it." I understand that whomever stated those words intended to hurt me, or criticize me - but ended up validating me and giving me a "proud moment" in my life. I also understand I need to hold onto the truth from my niece - whether I continue working from home, or return to an outside-the-home career.  My niece's experience and "aha moment" is truth. I turn this "aha moment" to you, 'Not Selfish,' and hope you experience the acknowledgment because I know everything you do and sacrifice and endure for the sake of your children and your family every waking and non waking moment of your life.

Ten years of your life have been devoted to your children - including your husband/man-child who chooses to not lift a finger and has nothing but expectation in your partnership. You made a choice for yourself that I am sure you felt was selfish - and I assure you it was not selfish. Every single man and woman deserves to have something that is his/her own. When each woman or man decides to be a stay-at-home parent, we each sacrifice career potential that non-stay-at-home parents ever have to make. We put ourselves at a long term disadvantage in a job market that is frightening enough when one has a proven and consistent track record, and then have to figure out how to explain the "gap" in our resumes if we choose to return to work. "Gap": because what we do as stay-at-home parents is not "work." I hope this misconception is changed in our society and within my lifetime.

You could take this 'trial run' of your return to work and come to more than once conclusion: you can consider yourself a failure for having had the nerve to find something that doesn't feel like work, that is yours, that has respect and eventual benefits, at the cost of your entire family falling apart - and with the "second shift" of responsibilities waiting for you upon your return home at night; or, you can realize that it was not YOU who failed or dropped the ball - rather, it was your man-child husband and your old-enough-to-do-better children who contributed to the 'mess' you returned to when your child became ill and you returned home.

My advice, 'Not Selfish', is to proceed with getting back to your career as soon as possible, and make it clear to your family that you learned a thing or two from the "trial run." Man-child/husband will now put in 50% of the domestic responsibilities and start making sure homework is done, half the meals for the week are cooked, half the shopping is done, half the laundry is done, the house is cleaned half the time, and so on. If he says to you that you "make less than him" or that those menial tasks are "a woman's responsibility," tell him to hire a cook, a maid, a chauffeur, a laundry service, a babysitting service, a personal shopper, a C.N.A., a tutor, and a household manager. Let him know you will contribute your half to all these responsibilities, so he can take money from his salary to hire this help to cover his share. I would then open a bank account, and start depositing all paychecks there, with yourself as the sole authorized user. When he comes back at you with "I'm not doing that - it is your job (as I'm sure he will)," advise him that is fine, but since you are continuing the role of a stay-at-home parent, you will no longer be contributing to your household from your salary. The money in your account is now yours.

I am hopeful that if you try these tactics, he may see that he is being unreasonable and start to pitch in equally. You are both entitled to the same rights/privileges so long as you are contributing equally to the same roles and responsibilities. It is my very firm belief that whether you contribute to your family as a stay-at-home parent, or as a salaried professional - all the money earned is owned equally by both contributing spouses. I hope you can come to a middle ground where everything gets shared equally - both the benefits and the responsibilities. You need to stick to your guns on this, 'Not Selfish', because you are NOT selfish for wanting something that is yours.

I would also advise your children that "fun time" is over, and that you are running a tight ship in which there will be very direct consequences to their actions, whether you are home working, or outside the home working. I hope that the trouble maker has had some type of consequence for his behavior (and if he is old enough to get in that much trouble, he is old enough to be on permanent bathroom duty - including rubber-gloved-scrub-by-hand toilet duty). 

You have given a great gift to your children. Even if they are under ten, they are old enough now to contribute to making your household run efficiently. It takes a village, and in this regard, it takes your village to ensure you can have the career you so desperately crave and deserve, and the family can run like a well-oiled machine. The responsibility falls to every single member of your family.

I also suggest you work a set number of hours and not be the go-to for picking up needed shifts. You have to sacrifice as well, 'Not Selfish', and I think you have admitted to taking on that extra time as more of avoidance than in a career-needed, or financially-driven decision. You and your family need to have a conversation, stat!

I wish you luck and hope you decide to return to work and take the advice I have given. I do not believe this is going to be a smooth or easy transition, but it is worth you standing up for yourself and having the inevitable conflicts to come to a mutually beneficial place for all of you. Some may argue this is advising you to play a 'game' - and this is true. I am advising you to play a game that goes against a game that has been played for generations before us so we can do better for ourselves and to make the tomorrows to come for our sons and daughters more equal, prosperous, and fulfilling for EVERYONE. Good thoughts and energy to you and your family, and please keep us updated.

I understand that traditionally men have had the freedom to completely shirk their responsibilities at home, as parents, as spouses. I believe this "trend" of the 'traditional marriage enterprise' is changing and morphing - and many are idealizing the concept of the 'egalitarian marriage enterprise'. I understand, certainly as a stay-at-home parent, that domestic and provisional responsibility falls to both parents (and while historically I have been more in the supportive role of my wife's professional successes, I always contributed provisionally as well). What is the complexity (aside from hundreds of years of tradition) in realizing that if one gives more, one gets more and that marriage, parenting, and family should be a 50/50 partnership?