Until recently, bedtime in my house was a relative breeze. While neither of my boys slept through the night until they were a year, as soon as they started, we sailed breezily through our evening routine with few bumps or battles. It was my one parental triumph, and you can be sure I let everyone know about it.

“What? Bedtime troubles. No not in our house. We are soooo fortunate, our boys go to bed without so much as a peep and most nights by 7. Oh yes, it’s soooo great.”

But I’ve had my comeuppance.

Over the last few weeks the tide has changed, and what was once an enjoyable part of our day filled with cuddles and chit chat, has become a rocky ride and an epic battle of wills. I freely admit it’s wearing us out. Because we are both up early, my husband at 4:30 and me by 5:15, we’re early to bed. The longer it takes to get our children to settle, the shorter our already compressed evening. I’m in bed at 9. There have been nights when my 5 year-old has literally tucked me in. I am not kidding.

A few nights again ago, while my husband went into our youngest who was calling “Daddy, tuck me in” for the umpteenth time, I had an epiphany. An important one.

I’ve always felt responsible for my husband’s happiness as a parent. It started from the moment my oldest was born, an instinctive obligation to gloss it over, make it easier for him, more fun. I believed I needed to protect him from the hard parts, so he wouldn’t get spooked, or overwhelmed and leave us. It’s irrational because my husband is the most supportive, willing and able father, but I can’t describe it any other way than to say that the feeling was primal.

As I sat in our living room, capitulating to the fact that I would probably lose it if I had to tuck in our 2 year old one more time, my anxiety was mounting.  I rubbed my temples, worrying that he would blow a gasket, that I should make it easier for him by carrying the weight of our family, and guard him from the stress.

Perhaps because I was so tired and raw from a busy day, and the exhaustion of coming home to a frenetic household, but a light suddenly dawned bright. As it did I realized:  This is his responsibility too. He’s my partner, their father, it’s our job together. He’s supposed to help me carry the load, and I can just let him, free of worry. I don’t need to protect him from them, he loves them and knows this is hard work. It’s okay.

With it came relief. In a moment I exhaled the weight of responsibility that I had been carrying for years.


20 thoughts on “Capitulate

  1. Chantal says:

    I love this. While I came to this realization a while ago with my DH, I only recently have realized it about our other responsibilities. Mostly finance ones. I am the money person in our marriage. And if money is tight or hard to manage, or a bad decision was made, I take it as my personal responsibility and would pretend nothing was wrong to hide if from my DH for fear he would get upset if he knew how bad thing were. Such a stupid way to run my life. I am all stressed out and keeping it all in. Recently I started sharing with him and the burden is so much easier to carry when it is spread over two people.

  2. harrietglynn says:

    I have the uber husband / dad, but it took me until this summer to realize it. He’s a teacher and therefore off all summer, and has to keep telling me that he can handle parenting. Reality is he’s a much better parent than me in many ways. Loves playing WITH Theo (not cleaning the kitchen while Theo plays around him), is very into potty training and prefers to nap with him! He’s very patient and laid back and for some reason seems to think it’s his responsibility to make dinner! Ok I’m sounding like a braggart now..

    • Christine says:

      My husband too, all of these things (less dinner, I could use some of that!). He does so much better with them, particularly when on his own. This is more about me owning something that really wasn’t mine to own I think.

  3. Stacia says:

    Oh, bedtime. I feel your exhaustion, let me tell you. And believe it or not, I have a shorter temper than my husband does with our kids. Maybe because I’m with them more? Maybe because I’m an only child who has absolutely no idea what to do about the seemingly constant whining and fighting?? Or maybe just because I’m impatient. Yeah, that’s probably it.

    I’m happy you finally found the strength to let your husband handle it. It’s so freeing, even if it still feels the teeniest bit selfish somewhere in the teeniest, tiniest corner of your mind. Primal indeed.

  4. I commend you on your epiphany! I struggle with a similar issue with my wife. Since I’m the stay-at-home parent, I sometimes take on too much to make things easier for her. It’s an ongoing process, learning how to balance the load.

  5. Diane Duff says:

    Hi Christine.

    This is such an important post for women to read. Somehow many of us have felt that “having it all” wasn’t something we were entitled to, but something we had to pay for – by doing more than our share at home – whether practically or emotionally. I have been guilty of this, and even now, with an empty nest, I can easily back slide. A work in progress….

    Hope the you and the little ones get the sleeping thing back on track. Also a work in progress, as memory serves. 🙂

    • Christine says:

      Diane, thank you! I never thought of it that way, but you are absolutely right, I do feel like it’s something I have to compensate for. I appreciate this perspective, it actually helps for me to look at it this way.

  6. Louise says:

    I had a similar epiphany lately, only my realization included the knowledge that I was enabling my husband to be selfish by taking the full burden on myself – that he, I, and our children were starting to all believe that our family life needed to revolve around him.

    We’ve been making changes post-haste ever since that realization, since that’s not what he wants, either. And all our relationships – husband and wife, mom and dad, parents to the children – are getting stronger for it. It’s been a huge relief to me, not having to feel guilty over asking him to help. We are, after all, in this together.

    • Christine says:

      I do my fair share of enabling, particularly when it comes to household tasks. It’s a pattern we fall into as mothers, just doing things to get them done. I need to rely more on him and to be more willing to just let things settle on his shoulders.

  7. Kameron says:

    I think it is a mother thing to do to have that feeling. It is just instinctual to take care of the kids. Sometimes, when I find myself doing everything, and feeling resentful I have to stop ad realize that I am doing it to myself! I’m glad you reached that point. It is so freeing!

  8. Justine says:

    I call it the witching hour in our house – bedtime’s always the hardest part of our day with a stubborn and active toddler. It didn’t always used to be this way, so like you I used to think it was a breeze. Boy did they set us straight huh?

    In the summer, with no school to wear her out, it has been a struggle to get her to sleep her usual hour and we’re also protective of our evening hours because that’s when we get some time to be together as partners and also work on our separate hobbies/freelance projects. My Guy has always done bath and bedtime stories and the tucking in because I’m usually with my daughter doing everything else prior to that. So it is freeing for me to know he’s capable and is willing to take over where I leave off.

    But I know what you mean about making sure our partners enjoy their part of the work – I do that too, afraid that he’d shy away from responsibilities otherwise. However, you’re right in that they signed up for this gig too and they should be able to handle each situation, good or bad, the way we do. And if they handle it differently, so be it. We can’t all have the same relationship with our kids. This is something I’ve recently learned to come to terms with.

  9. You are so right. I didn’t even realize I did this too until your post today. I feel that same obligation to make sure fatherhood is all it’s cracked up to be, despite the fact that I have a completely competent partner to deal with things. Why do we do this? So interesting.

  10. Wow, Christine, this is a very powerful realization. I love how you describe your protective behavior as “primal.” While I don’t share this particular tendency, I have definitely recognized elements in my own parenting that seem to come from a place of instinct rather than thought.

    As for bedtimes, our 3yo has always been a great sleeper, but the last few nights, he’s said that he’s scared of the dark. I suspect it’s developmental, but it really does change the dynamic of a household when a child who’s always slept well suddenly doesn’t.

  11. Kelly says:

    I share this unconscious behavior pattern, but I think it stems, too, from the “superwoman” ideal. We don’t want our partners to know that we can’t do it all. If they knew that we needed help (especially when so many other women/mothers purport to have it all together), what would they think of us? Would they consider us failures? I’m slowly learning to accept that my husband loves me as I am — and I am no superwoman.

  12. I’ve felt this burden before, too Christine. Especially on vacation…with my extended family. I was always so worried about whether my husband was happy, or whether he was feeling overwhelmed or stressed (my overbearing family can be a bit much for his Nordic ways). Finally I came to the conclusion that as an adult, he could probably figure out some self-preservation strategies, too. So I don’t worry as much…but I still sometimes take just the kids to visit my family while my husband stays at home!

  13. Jane says:

    And as I was about to comment here that after three kids, we still have virtually no problems at bedtime…..? My youngest came out of his room for the umpteenth time tonight, reminding me that we’ve had our share of struggles lately, too. Maybe it’s the alignment of the stars? Good luck at your house!

    • Christine says:

      Jane! How are you? Would you believe I was just thinking of you earlier this week, and then here you are. How fun is that!

      I’m hoping it’s just summer, and that when predictable routines return in the fall, so will sleep.

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