– Gah, I’m so tired.
– YOU’RE tired? I’m the one who had to get up twice for the kids last night.
– I’ve had a horrible day at work.
– Well at least you got out of the house today.
– I’m feeling really stressed.
– You should try being me for a day.
Don’t you just love a bit of passive/aggressive banter with your other half?
All they really want is a little empathy. But you just can’t help letting them know that you’ve got it much, much worse.
Look at it in the cold light of day and, clearly, it’s crazy. How we go from being partners in crime, best friends, comrades in the paternal mission, to being rivals – competing over who’s the most hard done by?
As an only child with two young children of my own, I think a lot about sibling rivalry. The extent to which my kids compete over affection, attention, resources amazes me. They seem driven by an overpowering urge to compete on every. single. little. thing. They fight over who’s the quickest up the stairs, who can get out of the bath first, who has more custard, or raspberries, or ice cream.
But recently I’ve started thinking about parental rivalry too.
Not rivalry over the love of our children, but competition over who has it the worst. Who is the most knackered. Who’s had the worst day. Who deserves the most sympathy. Whose turn it is to get out of bed in the middle of the night.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that this kind of competition between parents might not be rational, but it’s 100% natural.
Because parenthood can be a confining, restrictive, claustrophobic state.
So, really, it’s all about competition for resources.
We might not be competing over food, or water, or a place to live. But we are competing over undisturbed sleep, time to do our own thing, space from the all-consuming job of being a parent.
ithin the tight confines of the family home, your fellow parent is competitor #1.
It’s a natural human reaction.
But that doesn’t make it useful or beneficial.
We’re supposed to be on the same side. We are on the same side. And bickering won’t make it better, or solve the underlying problem. It just makes life even more difficult.
When our kids are fighting over a toy, what do we do? We encourage them to share. To take it in turns. To play fair.
So that’s probably the best way to play it as parents, isn’t it?
To work out those times when one of you can do the job single handed (lazy Saturday mornings, bathtime, storytime, for example) so that the other parent gets some space to breathe. To carve up those occasions 50/50. To play fair.
But it’s more complicated than that.
Because we like doing things together as a family. And we probably feel that we should be doing everything together as a family. Coming from a home where my parents did NOTHING just for themselves (I’m not including work here, as that was done to feed the family), I feel their disapproving glances on the rare occasions when one of us has opted out of a family trip.
And then there are those (frequent) days when you’re tired and grouchy and the kids are playing up at bedtime. On those occasions it’s hard to let your other half get away with any alone time. Even if it’s their turn, you can’t help resenting them with your entire soul because – well why can’t they just bloody well come upstairs and help you deal with the carnage?
We don’t have the answers.
We periodically talk about all of this. Resolve to do something about it. And then slip back into both of us getting arsey. Then there’ll be the drip-drip-drip of one upmanship, culminating in a huge row. Followed by us talking about all of this. Resolving to do something about it…
You get the picture.
It’s going to take some more thought.
And a rota.
Something written down and enforceable.
And probably something that gets each of us out of the family home for a little while. So that the one who’s temporarily escaping can’t hear the lovely, crazy/horrible, stressy bit of family life that they’re supposed to be taking a break from.
And the one who’s holding the fort can’t blame the other for not selflessly abandoning their pre-agreed – but now bloody inconvenient – five-minutes’-peace to help.
Something like that.