The key to parenting without complete burnout

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Yesterday, Jessica Martin-Weber of the Leaky Boob and Beyond Moi shared a post on co-parenting that really hit home for me. I realized she was describing almost exactly my own experience. She really drives home what the key to parenting (and libido!) is for parents of young kids. She included a photo of her daughter sleeping next to her husband. I share my own photo, but these are her words:

This was my view when I woke up this morning. I opened my eyes and saw this scene and my heart swelled with love and gratitude. Gosh, I love this man deeply, passionately, and with so much gratitude.

Then, because I'm over half way through pregnancy, I had to pee. When I came back from the bathroom, I snapped this pic and slipped back under the sheets and scootched in close to them breathing in the love and safety of such a moment.

Confession: though the moment itself isn't sexy, seeing him like this is. Him gently and lovingly caring for our children is incredibly attractive. He has been like this with her for hours. For a moment I consider how I wish we could be alone together but I know he needs sleep (it was a late night) and I love this moment too much to wake him and draw him away for myself. But I promise myself to make sure we find time and space for that later. Frankly, over 20 years and 6 kids, a good part of why we have such an active sex life still is because of this. Him being so actively involved is not only attractive (and it is darn hot), it means I have the energy and interest because I'm not burned out/touched out/resentful.

As I write this, these two are still asleep cuddled up together. The house is quiet and I have a moment to enjoy having my own thoughts. How I love these two, this man and our child in his arms and our 5 other children. How much their love for each other means to me. How this man I've been with for over twenty years loves and cares for our children makes me fall ever deeper in love with him.

(It is worth noting, our other 5 offspring are asleep in their own beds because even if you cosleep as we have done with our babies and toddlers and preschoolers- they do eventually move on to their own sleep space. Contrary to what some say, they do learn to sleep on their own.)

She had a late night. Fireworks being set off around us until several hours past her bedtime, a busy day of swimming and playing and roasting marshmallows and eating BBQ chicken, excitement at holding showers of sparks in her hand (you could see her adrenaline rush), and distress over the hot red welts she develops when mosquitoes discover how sweet she really is, all led to an overtired and over-stimulated little girl at the end of the day. When she finally got to bed, sleep came easily.

But it didn't last. She woke scared, needing to pee, and seeking comforting cuddles in mommy and daddy's bed. We welcome this, our children deserve our attention and comfort during distress in the middle of the night just as much as in the middle of the day. Parenting never promised convenient hours. He must have heard her come in before I did because I woke up to him tenderly calling her to him and asking her to let me sleep as he tended her need for comfort. He does this often, even when I'm not growing a baby, more so when I am and my need for rest is doubled. We both do this, though we don't keep track, we take turns being the parent responding to our children's night time needs. In that moment he looked out for her and for me.

How I love him.

His capacity for love and how he demonstrates that for our children and for me wins my heart anew every time.

This was not the picture of fatherhood I once had. In fact, I didn't know men were even capable of such nurturing. These acts of responsive care were what I thought only mothers did, little did I know that not only are other parents just as capable, they can excel in it and there is much joy in such a partnership. Little did I know that seeing my partner be so engaged in actively parenting our children would have such an impact on me. Our coparenting has shifted and adjusted over the years, through different circumstances and our varied realities. But he has always been an active, equal coparent, whatever that looks like in a given moment, and has always been more involved than financial provider even when that was his primary role. He's always been more present than a paycheck.

Parenting is hard and beautiful and overwhelming all at once in even the best times. It is draining and exhausting and pushing our limits while being full of joy and connection and love.

Yet I'm often surprised at how often the hard parts of parenting aren't what stand out to me. That I'm not more tired. That I have as much interest and time and energy for my partner and yes, even for sex, that I do. But I know at least part of the reason why:

This right here.

Much of the reason that parenting hasn't left me burned out and overwhelmed and isolated is because of my partner. His equal involvement as an active co-parent has allowed me to be in a healthier place and, I know for a fact, has allowed our family to be in a healthier place. I am aware of how privileged I am in this. I am in awe of those parents that navigate parenting alone. As well as those who navigate parenting with a partner yet feel alone in parenting.

He would tell you it isn't extraordinary, that he doesn't deserve praise, and he's right about that. At the same time I know that this isn't something either of us saw, it isn't what society told us to expect and he is going off script and ad libbing this fatherhood gig.

And he's totally nailing it.

When people ask me how I handle so many kids, this is how. I saw my mom struggle with burn out constantly, partnered yet most often alone in the responsibility of caring for and nurturing my brother and sister and I. That burn out was real. I know I would be just as burned out if I didn't have an equal coparent. Equal in housework, home responsibilities, the invisible burdens of thinking through as planning for our home and family, in night time parenting, in infant and toddler care, in school work and life skills education, in supporting our teens... you name it.

I share this because moments of beauty are inspiring and I found this beautiful. I share this too to help normalize fathers as active, involved coparents. I share this to help destroy the stigma of daddies cuddling their children in bed in the middle of the night. To say to the parents doing it alone that they are amazing and have my respect and I'm cheering them on. To acknowledge that night time parenting is a thing. To express my gratitude that my partner values protecting my sleep and taking turns responding to the needs of our children. And yeah, to let some in on one of the libido secrets we've found.

I love this view. I love waking up to moments like this.

You can read her full post here.

Parenting is 24/7. Yes, they need our love all day and sometimes, many times, all night. And when you are lucky enough to have a partner that shoulders all of the burdens (and joys!) of parenting with you, you have the energy and capacity to have a full life. It's real life so it's not perfect but we love it so much. We have room for improvements of course but I just think that doing this so much together has made all the difference. I've always known marriage to be important but living it the past 6.5 years has repeatedly shown me that we have to be a team to create an enjoyable and rewarding family life. I know that I am lucky to have this partnership. For any mama that doesn't have this yet, I see you. And I know our Heavenly Parents see you too. Your rest is coming.

Where her's and my story is different is having a model for shared co-parenting and involved fatherhood. My parents were such a great example to us of sharing the load of family, parenting, outside work and housework. Both of my parents worked for most of my life. My dad made breakfast every.single.morning during the school year. He did dishes, he did laundry. I could go to him for questions, just like I could with mom. Perhaps they will argue with me, but from my point of view, everything seemed pretty egalitarian. Of course, this is real life so I'm sure it was never 50/50 all the time. That's impossible. But what they modeled in our home was what I came to expect. I expect Nate and me to shoulder the responsibilities of home and parenting TOGETHER because of what my parents modeled. So thanks, mom and dad. Every day I learn more about you and from you and I can't express my gratitude enough.


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