Adapted from a recent online discussion.
New parents working against, not with, each other
Maryland: My husband and I have a 7-month-old son, whom we are crazy about. But seething resentment may ruin our marriage.
I work a conventional schedule, and my husband's job takes him away from home about three days a week, sometimes weekends, sometimes during the week. My husband does his share with our son and (somewhat less so) around the house.
I also pull my weight, but it feels like we are both keeping score ALL the time. We've discussed this ad nauseam and tried to stop, but the conversations devolve into "I do as much or more than you" arguments. We're both exhausted, resentful and feeling alone.
To give you an example, my husband may be home with our son all day. When I come in from work, my husband retreats to the computer, or puttering around, or possibly doing some housework, while I take care of our son for the rest of the night. There's almost an "I did this all day; you're on your own" vibe. I know I do the same to him sometimes.
I feel like a terrible mother for not being enthused all the time to take care of our baby, especially since I'm at work all day and not with him.
And I'm also irritated watching my husband surf the Web while I'm feeding our son, there's a pile of dishes in the sink, loads of laundry to be done, mail to be sorted, etc., but my husband deserves a break too.
How do we stop this cycle?
Carolyn: Religiously, put yourselves in each other's shoes.
Every time you start the resentment going, ask yourself, what would I be doing if I were in his place right now? What would I want from him, and ask of him?
The truth is, you're both going to be completely wiped out, all the time, and you're both going to feel as if the demands on you are unfair. "Why do I have to become chief caregiver after a full day of work?!" "Why do I have to do dishes and laundry after a full day as chief caregiver, without so much as a coffee break?!"
So if both of you set a standard of "I'm tired, I need YOU to take care of ME now," and build your expectations on that, then you'll both resent each other intensely.
Instead, change your standard to this: "We're both wiped out. But am I tired enough to justify dumping my share on him/her?"
Overwhelmingly, the answer will be no, it's not justified.
By looking at it that way, you will be saving your surrenders — your conscious decisions to shift the burden to the other parent — for when you really really need them. And you will need them sometimes, so it's important not to cry wolf.
One caveat: If only one of you adopts this standard, that one will rapidly achieve resentful martyr status. So approach him with your bestest "we" attitude, and talk openly.
Please also find some way to get breaks that aren't at each other's expense. A housekeeper, babysitter, a co-op with trustworthy fellow parents, a generous friend or relative — each saves marriages just by giving parents time for a date.