How do I let my child explore their gender expression?

Dear Is This Normal,

How do I let my child explore their gender expression? 

Signed, 

Supportive Parent

Dear Supportive,

You know that meme? The one with the horse rubbing their sweet face against the fence post that says, “I love this post”? I wish I could put that meme here, BECAUSE I LOVE THIS POST. I love that you asked, because it shows a willingness to learn and adapt (which is not easy as adults, let’s be honest). It shows that the times, they are a-changin’! It shows that this is a thing we as parents are thinking about now, instead of just going along with the status quo. It’s called growth, baby, and we really love to see it.

Let’s first define the difference between gender and assigned sex, because they are two very different things. When your child is born, they are assigned a biological sex based on their external gentalia. People are also born intersex (this is when they have biological characteristics that are considered male and others that are considered female) and may be assigned a sex through surgery if the external genitalia aren’t obviously male or female. 

Gender and gender identity, on the other hand, refer to a person’s sense of who they are, and can be developed through many factors like biological traits, societal construct, and environmental influences. Gender and biological sex are not mutually exclusive. They are independent of one another and don’t always align.

So let’s talk a bit about those societal influences. We all heard them growing up: boys wear blue, they play in the dirt, they’re rough and tumble, they don’t cry, they love trucks and pretending things are guns. Annnd girls wear pink, are dainty and fragile, play pretend mama with their dolls, and are ruled by emotion.

Everywhere you look, those stereotypes are drilled into us and our kids. In the kids’ clothing and toy sections of stores. In bookstores. On television and movies. Hell, we even see it in products aimed at adults, who should presumably know better! Two different kinds of razors for men and women. Pink tool kits filled with all the same tools that you’d find in a “men’s” tool kit. Nevermind the fact that the pink crap is usually more expensive too (different gripe, different post, AMA).

Our jobs as parents is to push back against those gender stereotypes by  letting our kids be kids while exploring who they are as humans. Gender identity generally develops in stages and by age four most kids have a good idea of which gender they identify with the most. But all kids need to be able to explore different gender roles freely and comfortably and with the support of their parents and loved ones. And that starts at home, with us. 

Now, how do you give your child the freedom to explore their gender expression? Honestly, by just letting them EXPLORE. As parents, we must resist the urge to confine them to mainstream gender roles. Let them play without your influence or interference. Introduce them to different non-conforming gender roles through books and television shows that show, for example, men as nurses or women as construction workers. Provide them with a wide range of toys to play with, and don’t limit them. Offer your sons baby dolls and your daughters dump trucks. 

When your kids are babies, move away from the traditional blue and pink clothes and opt for more gender neutral choices. When they get old enough to start participating in sports or activities, let them choose! Your daughters can play football and your sons can dance, if that’s what they want to do. If your child starts expressing a gender identity that’s different from the sex they were assigned at birth (through their clothing or hair styles or chosen name, for example), then just be supportive. That’s really what it all boils down to: support and love your kids. And be prepared to adopt a zero tolerance policy for bullying, disrespect, deliberate misgendering, and negativity aimed at your child from society, or family, or friends. Your kid needs to know you have their back, no exceptions. 

You got this, Supportive. Just asking the question and demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow in order to best support your kids is HUGE. Keep asking questions, too. So much of parenting is being able to constantly evolve as our kids grow and develop and their needs (and our methods) change. Best to you and yours, now and always.

Here’s to Kids Being Whoever They’re Meant to Be!

Is This Normal

Is it normal to not feel a connection yet with the baby?

Dear Is This Normal,

Is it normal to not yet feel a connection yet with the baby?

Signed,

Not Bonding Yet

Dear Not Bonding,

Oh mama, this is so so so so very normal, I can’t even tell you. We have this very romanticized view of pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood that makes us believe it should all be beautiful and magical and transformative from the very beginning. But you know what? Pregnancy is hard! Lots of moms did not enjoy it (myself included). I mean, just look at childbirth. The most RIDICULOUSLY hard thing, like, pretty much ever? And don’t even get me started on postpartum recovery. 

If we’re being honest, the first weeks and months of motherhood are … sort of underwhelming? At least in terms of beauty and magic. In terms of level of difficulty, it’s off the freaking charts. You’re dealing with this immense upheaval in your life and now you have to keep this other strange little person alive as well? Plus, in the midst of all that, you’re expected to form this immediate and unbreakable bond with a stranger. Bonding happens differently in every family. In fact, studies show that approximately 20% of new parents don’t feel an immediate emotional attachment with their new baby. You are far from alone.

I think it might help to let go of that romanticized (and often unrealistic) version of bonding that you were expecting. It can take weeks or even months to begin to feel a connection to your baby, especially if you had a traumatic birth, a c-section, had trouble breastfeeding, or suffer from postpartum depression. Right now, when you’re in the newborn trenches, don’t get caught up in the fact that your heart doesn’t swell when your baby cries at 2 A.M.,  and don’t feel guilty over the frustration you feel when you have to feed them 20 minutes after you just finished feeding them (because breastfeeding a newborn is bananas). You ARE bonding with your baby. Just think of all of the little ways you tend to them, the ways you soothe them, and the gentle care you take when changing their diaper or giving them a sink bath. 

Those are moments of motherhood and those moments mean something. Every time you touch your baby, you’re bonding. Every feeding, every diaper change, every moment spent rocking her to sleep. Your bond is built, brick by brick, in all the ways you care for your baby.

So, give yourself grace, mama. Don’t rush into this. Give yourself time to heal and adjust to this new season of life.  Give yourself a chance to get to know your baby! It’s OK to not feel a super strong emotional attachment with them just yet. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them, and it doesn’t mean you’re not a good mom. It just means that this process, for you, is going to take some time. 

Hell, I have friends who didn’t feel truly bonded with their baby until the first time the baby smiled at them! And as we know, that can take months. It’s going to look different for everyone. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t put any more pressure on yourself. You two will get there, in your own time.

All in Good Time,

Is This Normal

I wish I had a daughter, not a son

Dear Is This Normal,

I have a gorgeous two-year-old boy, and I wouldn’t change one thing about him. He’s funny, super smart, gentle, kind. But I always pictured myself having daughters.

I recently lost my mom and my relationship with her was everything to me. Sometimes, I feel acute pangs of loss when someone announces they’re having a girl. It makes me feel terribly ungrateful and horribly confused. I don’t even know why I want a daughter—people are so variable, there’s no guarantee she’ll be the person I hope she will. Still, I can’t seem to let it go. Sometimes I think about the little girl I could have in the future, and it distracts me from the present moment with my son. Is this normal? 

Signed,

Missing the Daughter I Don’t Have

Dear Missing,

You know what? Thank you. Thank you for writing in with this question/concern, because I promise you, you are FAR from alone. The feelings you’ve described are so totally normal, and I wish more people would be as open about it as you’ve been here. It’s OK to feel disappointed or sad that your first child was a boy—it doesn’t mean you love him any less or would love your future daughter more. It just means that you were hoping for one thing, got another, and you’re disappointed. Your emotions are valid, and you have nothing to feel bad or ashamed about. We should all be this open and honest about our parenting expectations and disappointments, tbh.

Don’t be so hard on yourself, mama. You are not terribly ungrateful. I’m sure you are having a blast with your little boy (I hear 2-4 years old is prime boy age). You love him and are dedicated to raising him to be the best version of himself that he can be! Honestly, can we ask for anything more from parents? I can totally see how the feelings you have would be confusing, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting a girl. Or wanting a boy! Yes, yes, we’re supposed to love them no matter what, and we do. But hello!, We can have a preference. We’re allowed to have hopes and dreams about our future kids. Wanting one doesn’t mean you DON’T want the other, you know? 

I do want to touch on your relationship with your mom. I am so sorry she’s gone, I know how incredibly hard it is to lose a parent. My dad died when I was pregnant with my oldest. We actually found out she was a girl the day he died. And you know what? A not-so-little part of me was sad she wasn’t a boy. Because I had just lost my dad and it felt like this was my chance to keep him going. I thought, somehow, that I personally failed when I found out I was having a baby girl. 

The grief we feel around parent loss is weird and manifests in so many surprising ways. It sounds like maybe you’re grieving not only the loss of your mom, but the loss of that mother-daughter bond you shared with her. It’s a huge loss, I know. What I want you to do is focus less on the mother-daughter aspect of your bond, and more on what bonded the two of you together. Because it wasn’t the fact that you’re both women. Mothers and daughters don’t automatically have the best relationships by virtue of their gender. 

Parent-child relationships, like any relationship, are born of love and commonality and respect, especially as we get older. And there is no reason, none at all, you can’t have that same kind of relationship with your son. Take the most amazing parts of your relationship with your mom, and begin to foster those in your relationship with your son. Was she your sounding board? Then you’ll be his. Was she your guiding light? It sounds like you’re already doing that for your boy. The one you went to for advice? Listen, NO ONE gives better advice to a son than his mama. No one. You can be all of that, and he will be the joy and purpose that you were to your own mother. I promise. 

Let yourself feel those feelings about the daughter you don’t have (yet). No shame, no guilt. Your emotions are valid, and you are 100% entitled to work through them as best you can. When you’re ready to grow your family, and if that addition happens to be a girl, don’t stress about how your feelings for your son will change (they won’t). Just be thrilled that your little boy is going to have a little sister, and know that (because of his relationship with you) he will be the best big brother ever. 

Just Love Them No Matter What,

Is This Normal

Normal to Feel Upset When My Husband Gropes Me Rather Than Hug Me?

Dear Is This Normal,

Let me start by saying I love my husband. He’s a great partner and father, and even though we have ups and downs just like anyone else, we’re still happy together after all these years. But if there’s one thing about him that bugs me, it’s that he’s not romantic. At all. Not only that, but he doesn’t seem to understand when I need physical comfort that’s not sexual. Every time I go in for a hug or a cuddle, just to have some intimacy and physical closeness, he uses it as an opportunity to grope my breast or grab my butt. It’s really starting to bother me that he doesn’t seem to understand/care about my needs. Is it normal to feel upset or disappointed when my husband gropes my breast instead of just hugging me?

Sincerely,

I just want a hug

Dear Hug,

Ugh, whyyyyyyyyyy can’t they just learn to READ THE ROOM sometimes?! A hug between a husband and wife is not always an invitation to cop a feel, ffs. This  would annoy the crap out of me too! Intimacy in a relationship is super important.

Intimacy is about more than just sex – it’s hugging each other, trusting each other, confiding in each other. Honestly, it sounds like your husband needs a little help in this particular area! I don’t for a second think this makes him a bad guy or a bad husband. But some guys (and gals!) need help understanding that not everything is sexual.  Mama—it’s time to set some boundaries and talk to him about the difference between intimate and sexual touch.

If you haven’t already, the first thing you need to do is tell you husband how you feel. Explicitly tell him that it bothers you that you need companionship and he takes it to a different level. There’s a really good chance he has absolutely no idea. Some men just really don’t. Now, if you HAVE told him all of this and he still continues to do it, well, that’s a horse of a different color and a topic for another (much longer, much sterner) discussion. But I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and operate under the assumption that he literally doesn’t know what he’s doing annoys and bothers you.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to set some boundaries. I love boundaries! We are all entitled to agency over our own bodies and emotions, and not nearly enough of us enforce that. Being married doesn’t mean you give up your agency. Until your husband understands how you feel you need to set AND enforce those boundaries  yourself. 

Now, what that looks like will be dependent on you and your relationship. It can be as simple as telling him he isn’t allowed to grope your breasts or butt without your consent. It can mean that you are in charge of initiating sexual contact for the time being. Or it can mean that you both come up with a certain code word or action that says, “Yep, I’m feeling some kind of way, you’ve got the green light!” This can actually be kinda hot? Imagine giving your husband the look or whispering the code word in his ear when you’re at the grocery store or a birthday party. That kind of anticipation is crazy sexy. But there definitely need to be some boundaries here, for the both of you.

Finally, talk to your man about how important it is for you to have intimacy and romance in your relationship. I get it—you get married, have some kids, and it’s the first thing to go. But it doesn’t have to be! We could all probably use some help on how to be more romantic. And non-sexual touching (a hug, a hand placed on their leg while you’re watching TV, holding hands, a back rub) is a great way to build intimacy and show your partner how to use romance in your relationship.

I really think that by communicating and enforcing your boundaries, you and your husband can nip this behavior in the bud. Either that or he’ll get the hint when you start swatting his hand away like you do when your kids reach for another cookie. Fingers crossed it doesn’t come to that!

Hug It Out,

Is This Normal

Anxiety As A New Parent, Any Advice?

Hi Is This Normal,

My partner and I just had our first baby two months ago, and for the most part everything is going well. But ever since we came home from the hospital, my anxiety has gone through the roof. I had some mild anxiety during pregnancy: mostly worrying about the baby and the impending labor and delivery. But since she was born, it’s gotten a lot worse. I can’t seem to stop worrying about everything, I can’t sleep, and I can’t help but think something bad is going to happen. Is this normal? And will it ever stop?

Sincerely,

Anxious New Mom

Dear Anxious,

Mama, I would love nothing more than to reach out and give you a hug right now. I know exactly how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. I know how scary this can all feel. The early weeks and months of motherhood are. . .hard. They’re just hard! Even under the best circumstances, it can be a daily struggle. But what you’ve described sounds like more than the expected struggles of a new mom. Bing a new mom can be hard, for sure, but it shouldn’t be debilitating.

Anxiety and depression after childbirth are somewhat common—thankfully, the conversation around conditions like postpartum depression has become less stigmatized, which means more women are recognizing their symptoms and reaching out for help. However, there’s another perinatal mood disorder that needs more attention: postpartum anxiety. 

So many of us brush off our anxiety as normal. After all, some level of anxiety after having a baby is to be expected, right? It’s a natural response to protecting your baby. But for approximately 10% of postpartum women, the anxiety goes beyond the usual worrying. It can consume you, and begin to affect every aspect of your life. Postpartum anxiety  can manifest in many physical ways until it becomes nearly impossible to manage. 

You mentioned some of the more common symptoms of postpartum anxiety, like not being able to sleep, a constant fear that something bad is going to happen, and not being able to stop the worrying thoughts from racing through your mind. For some women (myself included), it can manifest in panic attacks and paralyzing fear over everyday situations. I was diagnosed with PPA when my first baby was almost 3 months old. Mama, I was not in a great place. Recognizing that you don’t have to keep trying to live like this is the first and most important step in getting help. 

The next step is connecting with the right therapist—ask your OB or even your pediatrician for a referral to someone who specializes in perinatal mood disorders. There are different types of behavioral therapies that can help you change the thought and behavior patterns that trigger your anxiety. Your therapist can also help teach you techniques like meditation to help you relax. Therapy and support are so very important in managing postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. In some cases, medication may be part of the treatment plan and that’s OK. Your mental health is so, so incredibly important. I cannot stress that enough. And if you need some extra help to manage this, then that’s what you (and your baby!) need. 

You’re not alone, mama, even if it feels like it right now. Motherhood is incredible, but it’s also one of the hardest things someone can do. Sometimes we need help. There’s no shame in that—in fact, it’s one of the best possible things you can do for yourself and your new little girl. Seeking help for my postpartum anxiety was the best decision I ever made. I hope it is for you, too.

You Got This,

Is This Normal

My 6 Month Old Still Wants to Breastfeed Every 2hrs

Dear Is This Normal,

My SIX month old still wants to breastfeed every two hours. . .is this normal?! I was prepared for the non-stop feeding in the beginning, but I guess I figured it would have calmed a bit by now. Don’t get me wrong, I love that I’ve been able to breastfeed for this long. But I would really like to not be chained to my baby by my boobs anymore.

Dear Non-Stop Nurser:

When I was breastfeeding my oldest, I remember feeling like the human equivalent of a twenty-four hour diner. The boobs never closed! That kid wanted to eat all the time and I didn’t really know that there was another option. 

It was a rough and tiring nine-ish months, let me tell you.  But, the good news is that your twenty-four hour chest diner is not NOT normal. Meaning that as long as your baby is hitting growth milestones, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern. 

However, when your baby wants to breastfeed constantly it’s also incredibly draining and exhausting for you, so let’s try to get that babe to give your boobs break.

When babies are brand new and you’re following the newborn feeding chart, feeding on demand is the standard, especially as you establish your milk supply. As your baby grows, their feedings will start to space out, and by 4-6 months old, many babies have started on solids and nursing should space out to ~four to five times a day. You didn’t mention whether or not you’ve started your little one on solids, but it might be time to talk to your pediatrician about coming up with a solid solids plan! Not only is it an important developmental milestone, but it’s also freaking adorable and can be so much fun—just check out some of these Little Spoon babes!

In the meantime, it sounds like it’s time to start turning the patron away at the door when they come a-knockin’ after closing time. That can be so hard when your baby wants to breastfeed constantly! But it’s important to begin to establish a schedule for eating and sleeping. Of course, I hear you, this will probably be difficult (babies are famously known to scoff at schedules). 

I will say this, it won’t be like this forever! Even though I understand that it totally feels that way right now. A few tweaks to how you nurse can get you both on a workable schedule that will keep your growing babe thriving and give you the break you need.

Time to Give Your Boobs a Break,

Is This Normal

No time for myself (yet my husband has plenty)

Hi Is This Normal,

I feel like I have no time for myself. After working full time, and doing most of the work in regards to my eight year old and almost three year old *plus*  making dinners, and getting my eight year old to all her activities I have no time for me. My husband manages to have time to ski, make music with friends, and have a life—why can’t I find time for me ever?
 

Dear Me Time,

Mama, let’s break this down right up front: you have no me time because your husband is taking it all for himself. You have no me time because you’re managing the bulk of the responsibilities when it comes to your home and children, while your husband is out skiing and making music with his friends. You have no me time because you’re a working mom with (what sounds like) very little help and support at home. And you know what? Help isn’t even the right word. Because your partner, with whom you share these kiddos and all the work that comes along with them, is not there to “help.” Help implies that his contributions can be voluntary or minor in comparison to what you do on a daily basis. Your me time is being lost to the politics of gender inequality in the home, and girl, you are not alone.

 

Yes, keep fighting for important things that will impact your experience as a working mama—like flexibility, parental leave, and child care assistance—but at the end of the day, there’s also SO much work to be done on household equality. And unfortunately, us mamas are the ones who are going to have to bring that change into our own households. It’s good you’re mad as hell! Girl, you need that energy. It’s 2019, yet the idea that women are responsible for the bulk of childhood persists. We have the stats to back that up. For the past twenty-freaking-years the Bureau of Labor and Statistics has found that women who work outside of the home still take on about 65% of the parenting and child care responsibilities, while their working male partners coast along managing 35% of the same work. And get this! It gets worse. Study after study highlights this gender gap at home, and each one is more depressing than the next. Take this study, for example, which says that dads who work long hours have wives who do more at home, while women who work long hours have husbands WHO SLEEP MORE AND WATCH MORE TV. Or this study that shows men who have babies spend twice the amount of time doing leisurely activities on weekends than their female partners do. And we wonder why we’re so damn tired all the time.

 

And then,THEN, we’re conditioned to feel GRATEFUL when our partners do the absolute bare minimum, or to celebrate when dads do an ounce of what we’ve been doing every single day for years. You know what I’m talking about, right? In some ways, the bar is so very low that your partner doing the dishes without you asking is cause for celebration. We’re rewarding mediocrity, instead of raising our expectations and demanding more from our partners. Every time we fall over ourselves to thank our partners for doing the bare minimum, we’re reinforcing this idea that parenting duties and responsibilities rest solely on our shoulders, just because we’re women.

 

You are doing so much, mama. As a fellow working mom with two kids around the same ages as yours, I truly understand where you’re coming from. You’re doing it all, and from the looks of it, your husband is reaping the rewards. There’s a major imbalance of labor here, and it needs to change. I’m not begrudging your husband his time, it’s super important for all parents to be able to disconnect once in a while and do something for themselves. But he seems to be doing it way more frequently and that’s going to lead to a lot of anger and resentment (if it hasn’t already). It doesn’t have to be this way, but changing it is going to take you both being on the same page and confronting some uncomfortable truths about the work you put in at home. But for your mental health, and your overall happiness, it’s so important to open up that dialogue, like, now.

 

Reclaiming Our Time,

Is This Normal

I hate that I had to get a C-section.

Hi Is This Normal,

Is it normal still not to be over my C-section? Is it normal to still feel that I failed, that I did less well? Is it normal to feel ashamed to tell my family I did not have the natural birth, that is so important to them (seemingly everyone)? Is it normal that I still feel resentment for my scar and cannot accept that I will always have it?

C-section Shame

 

Dear C-section Shame,

I’ve always hated the term “natural birth”. It seems designed to insinuate that non-vaginal childbirth is somehow unnatural. But there is no right or wrong way to become a mom. Whether you got pregnant the old fashioned way, needed a little help from amazing modern medicine, had a vaginal birth or a c-section, or adopted your children, guess what? You are a mother. A strong, amazing mother who has taken on the enormous task of nurturing and raising a human being. The rest is secondary, in my humble opinion.

But I get it. You had an idea of how this would all go. You assumed (because we all do) that things would just happen the way they’re supposed to happen. You believed your body would just do what it’s “supposed” to do. Here’s the thing: nothing about pregnancy and childbirth is predictable. Not one single aspect of it. You can do all the right things and make all the good choices, and things can and will go sideways. It sounds like you planned on a vaginal birth, and ended up having a c-section for reasons beyond your control. And that is a hard thing to reconcile when you didn’t plan on it happening. But you are here, sending me this question. Your baby is, presumably, healthy and happy. The end result is as good of an end result as you could possibly hope for, all things considered. Mom and baby, alive and well. You did it! YOU DID IT.

Motherhood is full of constant change. Pregnancies get complicated and delivery plans change. Babies don’t latch or your boobs don’t produce milk. Nothing is set in stone, and everything is up in the air. As moms, we just have to learn to roll with the punches, and adapt to all the changes and surprises and twists and turns. Your scar will always be there, yes. It will fade with time, and it will become a part of your body landscape, like freckles and stretch marks and other things we might not love seeing, but learn to accept. It’s normal to resent it right now, and I know you feel like you’ll never accept it. But you will. One day, you will look at that scar and not see a sign of failure. That scar helped make you a mama. Your journey is just beginning, and in the grand scheme of things, your c-section and that scar are such a small part of this story.

The prologue, if you will. It’s important, sure. But it’s not the whole story, not even close.

Do your best in these next few months to be kind to yourself. Be proud of what you did. Because you did the most powerful, amazing thing in the entire world. No failure, no shame. Change the narrative, and screw what everyone else says! They don’t get to dictate how you feel about YOUR birth story. Give yourself time to heal – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t do or have, focus on what you DID. You’re a warrior, and all warriors have scars, mama.

It’s ALL Natural,

Is This Normal

Sleepless and Insane.

Hi Is This Normal,

I am convinced that the lack of sleep is going to kill me, ruin my relationship and take a major toll on my kids happiness. I don’t understand how anyone can survive on 3 hours of sleep every night. Before my kid I successfully got a full 8 hours of sleep almost every night. If I didn’t, I caught up on the weekends. My body is fueled off 8 hours- it’s all I’ve known for 5+ years at least. I’m not even human anymore. I feel like I’m wobbling towards a full breakdown every day. What am I supposed to do here? I need more sleep. I need to sleep.

Sleepless and Insane

 

Dear Sleepless and Insane,

You are absolutely right: you 100% need sleep. Like, your physical and mental health depend on it. Humans cannot function without sleep! It’s one of our downfalls and someone should really consider writing an update to our internal code to fix this annoying bug. If we can figure out how to get our phones to read our thoughts and send us ads for stuff we briefly considered buying, then this should be easy peasy.

You didn’t mention how old your kiddo is, but in my experience, the sleeplessness seems to come in waves. When they’re newborns, we’re up every 2-3 hours to feed them. Then they start to sleep longer, but our sleep is still disrupted by the occasional nighttime feeding, diaper change, or random cry in the middle of the night (or those annoying…yes I said it, annoying grunts babies seem to make that keep you up all freggin’ night long). When your kid becomes a toddler, you think you’ve reached the pot of gold at the end of rainbow, and then BAM! Out goes the crib, here comes the big kid bed, and suddenly you’ve got a night roamer who can apparently function on small spurts of sleep throughout the day (Monster? Alien? I’m still figuring this out with my tween!). You’ll wake up to find the pantry in disarray and start to wonder if you have a night burglar, only to find your darling 3 year old asleep in a pile of cracker crumbs. Never a dull moment, I tell ya.

When you say you don’t understand how anyone can survive on 3 hours of sleep a night, it’s because no one can actually survive on 3 hours of sleep a night. At least, not as a functioning, productive human being. The average adult needs somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to maintain good physical and mental health. Now, we all know that the average parent probably gets nowhere near that amount! However, it is possible to bank some of those lost hours on other nights. It’s not ideal, but we do what we have to do, right?

It sounds like you and your partner need to sit down and come up with a nighttime schedule. One of you gets up with the kiddo on MWF and alternate Saturdays and Sundays, or take alternating shifts every night (so 8p-12a is yours, 12a-4a is theirs, etc), or something along those lines that works for your family and schedule. Not that I want to spread the sleeplessness around, but also … you kind of need to spread the sleeplessness around. If you’re the one getting up every single time your little one needs something during the night, that’s not what I would call a fair balance of responsibility. If, as your kiddo gets older, you find that they’re still not sleeping through the night, you can start researching different methods for sleep training (that phrase gets a bad rap, but there are so many amazing and gentle no-cry sleep training methods out there. And despite your own attitude about it, if this continues for much longer you may need to consider them for your own sanity’s sake).

It does get better, it really does. I know it doesn’t feel like that right now, but take heart, Sleepless – one day, your kid will sleep through the night, and you will too. In the meantime, you have to go at this with a zone defense, and if that means your partner is a little crabbier because they’re not getting a full 8 a night, then so be it. At least you’ll be able to function.

Still Sort of Sleepless But Less Insane,

Is This Normal

Pissed Partner

Hi Is This Normal,

My husband and I had our first child 16 months ago and honestly, we’ve been so lucky. Our son is amazing. He blows my mind every day. He’s healthy, so observant, a pretty decent sleeper and easy with my parents/daycare teachers – I really count my blessings here because I have a lot of friends who are dealing with a lot of crap and so far, we’ve been relatively smooth sailing (knock on wood).

The reason I’m writing is because of my husband. He went back to work a few weeks after our kid was born (we agreed on this) and his life seems basically the same to me. He comes and goes on a normal schedule. He grabs a bite after work when he feels like it. Goes out to lunch with co-workers. Takes a fitness class a few times in the morning. Answers emails for a few hours after our son goes to sleep.

All of this makes perfect sense, and yada yada yada, all  the rational things, but I resent the shit out of it. My life is entirely and utterly different – and actually I’m pretty fine with that most days, I was ready for it –  but I can’t understand how my world could be so completely upended and his is just coasting. A world where I could grab a drink after work feels so incredibly far away from mine, I can’t fathom how it’s just there for him. His ease in texting me that he’s missing bath time because a call ran over makes my blood boil. And I don’t even think I care that much that he’s missing it, I just can’t believe it’s AVAILABLE to him.  

I’m sick of being angry over what can’t be controlled. I’m tired from all the energy I’m putting into talking myself off the ledge of blowing up on him. I can’t seem to wrangle what I’m feeling here  and I don’t know how to let it go. Any ideas?

Thanks,

Pissed Partner

Dear Pissed Partner,

I want to say first that everything you are feeling, from the anger to the resentment, are completely normal. Your feelings? 100% valid. Having a baby changes your life in ways that you can’t even begin to comprehend before you become a mom. It changes for dads, too. But, as you’ve discovered, not quite in the same way. Your life is not the life you had before your son came along. And while you’re trying to figure out what this new life even is, you’re also trying to adjust to living in what basically amounts to an alternate reality – one that your husband seems to be content to just visit from time to time.

I’m going to be perfectly honest – if my partner were coming and going without a care in the world while I was doing all the heavy lifting at home with our baby, I would be pissed too! I think people, particularly men (not all men, I know, I know), take for granted just how freaking hard this parenting thing is. Even when you have an easy baby, which it sounds like you do! It’s not a job that you get to clock in and out from. It’s a constant state of being. And it’s exhausting. It’s emotionally draining. It’s physically demanding. Like you said, your world was completely upended. It can feel pretty damn unfair at times, absolutely. BUT (you knew there was going to be a but), I’m wondering how much of what you’re telling me here your husband is even aware of.

Listen, here’s the thing about men: their brains don’t change the way ours do when they become parents (science backs me up on this, having a baby actually changes the female brain which is wiiiiiiiiild). The other thing about men is that they’re kind of … oblivious. Adorable! But oblivious. Because you and your husband agreed that he would go back to work and you would stay home with your son, there’s a good chance he took that to mean that he would just … go back to his pre-baby life. Drinks after work (while you try to get your toddler to actually eat their food as opposed to throwing it on the ground)? Sure, why not! Long lunches with co-workers (as you hoover some almonds while simultaneously doing eleventy different chores during naptime)? Sounds great. It might not occur to him that these little luxuries are just that now: luxuries. To him, since you guys agreed that he would go back to work, that means his life would go back to what it was like before your son was born.

It sounds like you’ve been internalizing this for a while now, and that’s not healthy for you or your relationship. You and your husband need to have a heart-to-heart, and pronto. If you haven’t expressed how you feel about all of this, now is the time. You mention all the energy you spend trying to talk yourself off the ledge so you don’t blow up at him, which leads me to believe this isn’t a conversation you guys have had yet. Mama, you need to have this conversation. Because you don’t want to blow up at him! A heated confrontation, especially when you’re carrying around all this anger, is not going to be constructive. But he needs to know all this, because it sounds like he may have no idea you feel this way.

I do disagree with you on two things though. One, I don’t think this is out of your (or his) control. These are behaviors that can be changed, and if they’re causing you this much unhappiness, they NEED to change. Which brings me to the next point of disagreement: I don’t think you need to let this go. Your feelings about this are valid, and I don’t want you to ignore them. That is only going to lead to more anger and more resentment, and that stuff festers and destroys. Sit down with your husband, and tell him how you feel. You deserve to be heard, and he deserves the chance to do better.

In Solidarity,

Is This Normal