Staying Sane: Partner with your Partner


I’m sorry for this late post — my goal was to distribute this last night, but the long weekend got away from me.   My apologies…

People often look at me with four kids and a demanding job where I work 5 days a week and ask – “‘how the hell do you do it??”. I really don’t have a strong reply to the is question because I oftentimes feel like I’m not doing it – or at least not to doing it well (refer to Staying Sane: Being a great mom and worker – don’t expect perfection).    I believe there are a lot of factors that go into making our crazy lives work, which I will continue to write about in future posts in “Staying Sane”.   However the subject of this particular post is the partnering that my husband and I do on a daily basis.   I always joke and commend him by saying that we are the only couple that can do what we’ve done for so long.   We are able to do the day-to-day block-and-tackling of managing 2 full-time jobs and 4 kids ages 5 and under almost flawlessly. How is that?

I think it boils down to:

1) communication (a must-have)

2) execution (a must-have); and

3) emotional connection and ability to look out for each other (in an “ideal world” — my husband and I are still actively working on this part, but this does not prevent us from getting through the day-to-day).  I believe this provides a very strong foundation that in turn makes everything else work so much easier.  However, if it is not there (yet) things can definitely be do-able, but it will be more difficult.


1.  Communication – Work Together as a Team

My husband is a very hands-on dad and he shares responsibility of caring for the kids as I do. I think there was a time when I did more, but I’ve pulled back and he’s stepped in without a hitch.   This really needs to be done if both parents are working full-time. 

We have a system together. We communicate on the logistics daily and sometimes throughout the day. We are big on text.   We sometimes call each other during the day.  We leave email and voicemails on various topics.   We communicate future work requirements (e.g., late meetings, out-of-town travel, etc.) and we back each other up.

When we are in the “thick of things” with our children, we typically have our “routine roles” especially in the AM rush hour out of the house and also at dinner time.  We are in constant communication then too.  We check-in with each other to make sure the ball isn’t getting dropped or that we’re not headed for a tantrum.   When I finish one of my tasks (e.g., diapers) I check in on his progress (e.g., lunches) and I pick up wherever he has left off (and vice versa — who has been already diapered?  Twin Crazy or Twin Husky?).   This back and forth communication occurs throughout the morning until all kids are safely packed in our mini-van (did you get the shoes?   Are the lunches in there?   Does everyone have their jacket? etc.).    The same happens at dinnertime and bedtime.  “What else needs to be done?” “I’ll get the Twins started on some food before the rest of the dinner is finished.” “Who still needs to brush teeth?”  “Are the Twins down?”     It sometimes feels like we have an abbreviated language with each other as both of us are rushing around — I laugh when I visualize walky-talkys.  

Through my research in talking with other working mothers, here are some other ideas:  

  • “Create the to – do list and together decide on the things that REALLY need to get done and the things that don’t. Prioritize and focus on the things that MUST get done together.”
  • “‘We’ is important. Have your husband as a full partner (in terms of sharing the load and helping prioritize). Share the load and both choose what to let go together.”
  • My partner and I work very hard to get important things done as a team. Sometimes it involves a lot of negotiation, sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it ends in explosive arguments

However you may feel like your partner is not doing his/her 50% — so how to achieve more balance?

2.  Execution – Divide and Conquer

If you are familiar with the entries on my Daily Journal, you may already see how we try to divide and conquer:

  • Hubby is usually up and getting the kids their breakfast in the morning.   He also starts their lunches.
  • I am usually the one that covers their clothes.  I help to get the older kids dressed in the morning and also do the diaper changes for the younger ones.
  • I usually also have responsibility for the bag — getting the kids clothes organized, diapers, wipes, shoes. Or other bags for the older kids if needed (nap sheets, blankets).
  • We talk about dinner usually the day of (we are terrible about advance planning and both of us are capable of dinner prep – we usually trade-off – while one is cooking the other is getting stuff on the table, unpacking, or handling kid issues).
  • Both of us are actively involved in bedtime routine with the kids. We sometimes divide and conquer with the kids (one take older ones, one takes the younger ones) but if all the kids are quiet and in good moods, we’ll both do the Twins first (with Big Bro and Red participating in that) and then move onto Older kids.
  • In terms of food shopping, he usually does any bulk shopping at Costco; I tend to do the in-between shopping at Trader Joe’s or elsewhere for necessities or other specialty items on our “favorites” list.
  • We outsource laundry (Mother’s Helper) and cleaning (housecleaner, about 1x a month) when we can.   When we cannot, I take over laundry and Hubby takes over cleaning.

Through my research and talking with other working mothers, here are some other ideas:

  • Make a list of all the things you feel that MUST get done. Then give it to your partner and let him/her cross things off. The look at what is crossed off, and take it seriously.
  • Invest the time in doing a better split of the household work to alleviate rebuild up of resentment.  Week on / week off each with responsibility for meals that includes the shopping and planning) Divide laundry responsibility.
  • Training of the husband.  He has very concrete task he is in charge of that I don’t have to remind him to do. He takes out the trash, makes the kids lunches in the morning before school. Puts the kids to bed. He is in charge of all MD visits. We figured out things that he feels competent at that he doesn’t mind doing – so it’s not a big battle.
  • If one person is on, the other better be on too! So while one of us does bath/bedtime, the other is making our dinner or folding laundry, while one is walking the dog, the other is changing a diaper, etc.
  • Create and agreed plan and then stick to it – don’t bail the other our if they don’t engage (e.g., if you come home and there’s no dinner on his night just go out by yourself or wait for him to fix a meal) otherwise it will never stick.
  • Do advanced meal planning and divvy up the shopping. One person shop and plan 3 – 4 meals on the weekends, and the other shop and plan 3 – 4 meals during the week. Since grocery stores are open late, you can go after the kids go to bed. This would enable less time shopping, cooking, and worrying about what’s for dinner. And no more discussion about “who’s turn it is”.
  • You create the shopping list and have your partner go out shopping during the week.

3.  Emotional Connection – Look out for Each Other

This is a topic that should seem so obvious.  Simply said, members of a team actually behave like team-members, back each other up, and care for each other.   When one is faltering, the other steps in (if its OK and welcomed).    You are able to pick up on your partner’s emotional ques and know when the other is having a tough day — and that is not OK for you.   You communicate with your partner and see where you can help.   You remember who was here before the kids came along.  And you fight and invest to preserve that special partnership.  You fight for time alone with each other and make date-night a priority.

This is an area that me and Hubby are still working on; but we are getting better at it.  It seems so foundational to the relationship.  How can people effectively work together as a team when you feel like you are not connected as a team?   The term “co-parenting” is used so frequently (couples that just ‘parent’ together but somehow have lost what brought them together in the first place) and I truly believe there are many couples out there facing similar situations.   Again, we are still working on this.   I can’t pretend that we are doing this well and we have been abysmal at this in the past.   But we are turning a corner – and things are getting better.

It is comforting to know that your partner is at your side, is supporting you, believes in you, and is on your team.   You reinforce each other.  You communicate your desire and need to be together as a team.  It can be simple… a short neck rub in the middle of the chaos, a quick hug to keep each other going, stopping to look into each others eyes and laugh when the kids say/do something funny.   Knowing that you can get through this with your partner at your side.   Knowing that you are a better person and a better parent because he/she is there too.  Positive reinforcement when you see how well your partner handled a tough situation.  It is comforting to know that you can crumble into each other’s arms at the end of a hard day and admit “shit that was a really tough night”.

What others have said:

  • “be kind to each other”
  • “Repeat the mantra “he is capable, he cares and I need to let him do it his way.”

I found a great series of blog entries that concisely provides some pointers on how to better connect with your partner – they essentially talk about approaches and tactics to use to communicate with your partner that brings him/her closer to you, versus distancing them from you.  Much is so intuitive but I can see that putting these tactics into practice can be difficult.   It could require changing how you currently communicate, interact, approach, and adjust your frame of mind in certain situations.  I can see how it could take time to re-learn and make the approach second nature.  And you need both people to want to actively engage in a new  way.   Take a look: 

Just Ask:  http://barefootbarn.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/just-ask/

Choosing Words and Body Language:   http://barefootbarn.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/partner-communication-tip-2/

Speak Their Language:   ( by the way I love this book — The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman — I highly recommend)http://barefootbarn.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/partner-communication-tip-3-speak-their-language/

Its Your Choice:  http://barefootbarn.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/partner-communication-tip-4-its-your-choice/

=====

In closing:

I am fully aware that I would not be able to have the kind of job that I have if it were not for Hubby and the active way that he parents and involves himself in our children’s lives.   I appreciate this from him but at times it still is difficult – we’ve managed to get through it by pro-actively communicating to get through the block-and-tackling that we do each and every day.   We divide and conquer.   And we are getting better at keeping in touch with each other, and remembering why these children entered our lives in the first place.

I would be very interested to hear how others are managing this – what have you found that works well to team with your partner?  What other tactics do you use?  What do you find to be helpful to get through the days/weeks/months with your partner? 

Thank you for listening –

– Mama K

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Comments

  1. Love, love, love this post. While there are a bagillion and one tips out there about how to get and stay organized, I think it is so important, as you so beautifully name it, to LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER. We’ve GOT to be a team — and that means being about each other’s “flourishing”. So often we can get caught up in thinking we are “in this all alone” – i know a lot of moms who feel this way. My husband and I always try to regroup when we start to get on each other and do a “redo” — and remind ourselves that we are OUT for each other. When you’ve got this all the other tips work out! Thanks so much for this reminder.

    • Thanks so much for your vote of encouragement! I’m trying to help other working moms like myself to make their lives easier. I have a series of ideas but this one seemed so fundamental that I needed to get that one out there early. I love what you are doing with your blog and will be following you. All the best – Mama K

Trackbacks

  1. […] help.   I also wrote about how you shouldn’t expect to be able to do everything   and that you need to rely and team with your partner.    Well after these two important points, another way to “stay sane” is to think […]

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