Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m writing this on behalf of my wife who has fallen asleep in the rocking chair, nursing the two-week-old addition to our family.
Our other children are three and six-years-old. The issue is setting realistic goals. My wife tries to take on too many tasks then gets frustrated when not everything gets accomplished or isn’t done to her satisfaction. For example, we hosted my parents for a dinner the other night and my wife was under the impression that my mother would be expecting a homemade cake for dessert. She finally relented to a store bought version since I was running out to the store anyway (with the two older children). In my estimation, the grandparents were too busy interacting with their grandchildren to pay much attention to the food.
Good Enough is Good Enough
You have the right idea. Given her circumstances – two weeks post-partum and two older siblings afoot – hosting a dinner for the in-laws is setting a high bar. Good thing you were in on the plan and obviously pulling your weight.
Adjustment is in order for the realities of life with three children – one, a newborn at that. Your wife may have expectations of carrying on as she did a few weeks ago when her “nesting” instinct had her cleaning every corner of the house. Now that the baby has arrived there is extra laundry, less sleep, and lots of emotional ups and downs to deal with. Everyone in your household is experiencing adjustment right now, however your wife is also undergoing a continued physical transformation. The birth process is accompanied by a dramatic shift in hormone levels, specifically a drop in progesterone, leaving an excess of estrogen. This hormone can bring on weepiness, anxiety, fatigue and or depression. Breastfeeding extends the high level of estrogen. Add a dose of sleep deprivation to the mix and delirium can be another expected symptom. Of course a home-baked dessert would be fantastic. But let’s just enjoy the fantasy in our imaginations and let the bakery take care of what’s realistic.
Help your wife focus on absolutely necessary tasks. Outline what you can do to keep the household running while her main job is feeding the baby and taking care of herself. The older children can wear clothes that are “clean enough” and eat food that covers their most basic nutrition needs. If you can get them, hired help and helpful friends are always appreciated, although no one will do things exactly as you and Mom would. Family and friends are especially needed to continue to meet the social needs of the older children since they are likely to feel upstaged by the little one. Enjoying their normal routines of school and playtime with friends will reassure the older children that while things may feel topsy turvy at home, other aspects of their lives remain pretty much the same.
The next few weeks and months will go by in a blur. Exhaustion is a normal state of affairs for parents of a newborn, particularly for a nursing mother. This is not the proper time to show off one’s baking skills.
Talk with your wife about reasonable achievements at this time in your lives. Suggest she choose one goal to attain each day. Base the expectation on the reality of what was achievable yesterday, not last year or even last month. Maybe the day’s dishes made it into the dishwasher before the day was over. Maybe one of you was able to snuggle up and read a book with a child or two. Then spend a moment before you doze off to reflect with her about what was satisfying about the day. For the day you described, despite her fanciful but unattainable ambitions, everyone had food. That’s good enough.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.