Toby Green publishes articles in the Body and Soul segment of major National Metropolitan Newspapers each Sunday. Read her latest articles here.
Family Plannning — May 11 2008
THE "whose life is worse" competition always brings up a winner. Barry and Lois weren't going to let anything happen by accident. They each had divorced parents and friends whose marriages hadn't even made it to the five-year mark.
Barry and Lois weren’t going to let anything happen by accident. They each had divorced parents and friends whose marriages hadn’t even made it to the five-year mark. They read self-help books and even went for premarital counselling.
They compared their value systems and agreed on finances, the importance of family, priority of friends and the desire for two children. They shared a love of skiing, bushwalking and Mozart.
Lois would continue her interior design business until they had children, then be an at-home mother, which they both agreed was insurance against spoiled children. Barry would remain in his construction business and be the provider. It all sounded very sensible.
But Lois was overwhelmed by the responsibility of their first son, Brad. He was breastfed on demand. He was not fed any jarred solids; everything was bought fresh, steamed and mashed. There were no plastic nappies; Lois used cotton ones. It was good mothering as well as ecological enlightenment.
Lois’s life had become humdrum. She was doing what they had both agreed was the right thing for everyone. Nevertheless, she felt resentful.
When Brad walked in the door, she pounced. She wanted to hear every word and every minute of his day. What she failed to notice was that Brad looked as though he had been through a cycle on tumble dry. He said he had already lived his nightmare once today and didn’t want to have to repeat it.
Lois retorted that if he thought his day was tough, he should try thinking about what her day was like. What he said next was a big mistake: “I’d do anything to sit around all day and not have to do anything.”
Lois was incensed: “Oh, right. You see what it’s like to wipe up pooey bottoms five times a day, clean pooey nappies along with the rest of the laundry, prepare three lots of meals, wipe crayon off the bedroom wall, clean up cups of spilled juice on the living room carpet and have two small people hanging off your skirt crying, ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy’ all day long.”
Brad then reminded Lois that business wasn’t like it used to be. He no longer had an office, but worked in an open-plan area with no privacy. He had 50 emails every 10 minutes that needed answers in five minutes. Then there was the client, whose presentation he had spent the last month working on, who had decided that he’d go with the other company because of the cute girl on their creative team.
Then there was his boss telling him he had to find a replacement client if he wanted his bonus. He said he would gladly swap his job for a few crappy nappies.
Jumping the fence
If she’s never worked, it can be even worse. She envisions her husband getting dressed up in fancy suits and going off to fancy buildings with fancy furniture and fancy secretaries, carousing at office functions with smart adults who engage in interesting banter.
He envisions her watching Oprah, eating chocolates, talking to girlfriends, while the children nap or sit, enthralled with their toys, while she paints her nails. The tedium and pressure of both circumstances are real.
Lois and Brad need to stop the victim competition, jump the fence and be on each other’s side. Each should be allowed to offload what they need to an empathic partner, who will be on their side, even if they think the other’s job would be easier. Chances are it wouldn’t be.
Q My mother always makes me feel guilty. She complains that I never call. I do every week but I dread it. All she does is tell me how terrible her life is, with the implication that somehow I’m supposed to fix it.
A Treat it like a tennis game. She lobs a complaint into your court. You lob back her same complaint. Deflect her shots of, “My life is terrible”, with return shots like “That must be terrible for you”. Her shot: “I have no friends.” Return shot: “I don’t blame you for being depressed.” Her shot: “No-one ever comes around to visit.” Yours: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” She may accuse you of not understanding, but at least you’ve saved your breath.
Q How do I address a power imbalance in my relationship? My boyfriend isn’t violent towards me, but I often feel that he’s out of control.
A Bullies aren’t well. If they felt good about themselves, they wouldn’t feel the need to make others feel subservient. If you can’t make it clear that you won’t tolerate dominating behaviour, get help to gain the confidence you need. Either learn to put a stop to it or get out.