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Dear Counselor Chomp — As a Mom, I’m a Hot Mess!

April 4, 2011

Dear Counselor Chomp,

Help!

I am the mother of a 21-month old girl. We moved to our current city when she was 13 months old. We didn’t know very many people and we have no family here. Other mothers that we’ve met have been very helpful — watching our little girl when we went looking for houses, watching her again so we didn’t have to take her to the inspection, having us over as a family for dinner, etc.

We’ve been very lucky to meet great people, but I have a hard time reciprocating, because I don’t really like kids!  Both of the moms who have helped us out offered to do so, and seemed genuinely not to mind having our little girl over for a playdate. However, they both have two kids of their own (with their younger kids both being under 1-year), and I don’t feel up to returning their favor by watching BOTH of their kids. I’m not sure I could even handle one of them!

Should I just stop accepting their offers to help?  Is there any other way I can reciprocate? In theory, I’d love to have their families over for dinner, but I feel like my husband and I are both just barely hanging on to our sanity as it is.

— Hot mess in pennsylvania

Dear Hot Mess,

Well, at least you are a self-aware hot mess.

The learning curve for parenting is steep, isn’t it? It’s the kind of steep where in your dream you are driving a dunebuggy up a dune which is getting steeper and steeper and suddenly the laws of physics kick in and the buggy falls on its head.

In this scenario, you may or may not be crushed. And that is the learning curve of parenting.

The crazy dunebuggy ride probably drains at least as much energy out of you as sleep deprivation does.

I think that having the learning curve conquered is why some parents have second children —aside, of course, from the fact that they are too tired and desperate to remember to use effective methods of birth control. But a second child is the chance to apply that hard-won wisdom to a new baby, one who they have a better chance of not ruining, because it won’t need to absorb all of their ambient freaked-out thoughts like “I am a terrible mother, because I don’t read to my two-week old enough.” With a second child, parents understand that babies are sturdy entities: they don’t have hollow bones, like chinchillas do. Also, they know that they don’t care about reading that much.

Second-time parents know that hard things will change — quickly. If the child isn’t sleeping, the child will start to sleep. If nursing is hard, nursing will get easier. If the child has colic, the child will probably un-have colic at some point.

These helpful second-time mothers who you cite are different that you are. For better or for worse, they have embraced the zombie march of motherhood, while you’re probably still expending some energy fighting it. These women have abandoned all dreams of privacy. Chaos affects them differently than it does you, because it is the main feature of the only habitat they can probably remember living in.

And they are probably lording over you their superior abilities at having multiple children around. Don’t be angry: that may be the only fun they have. But also, they know a secret you don’t know yet, which is that having an extra kid around for the existing kids that it actually makes a morning or an afternoon a bit easier.

You should be genuinely grateful for the actions of these mothers, and it sounds like you are. People rarely decide to help you so that you will have to do something you’d consider excruciating in return. Mostly, they probably help you because it will make them feel good to do so, and maybe, because someone helped them at some point, and it meant a lot to them, and they didn’t manage to reciprocate.

But, I would suggest that you stop accepting their offers. You need a babysitter in your life. It will let you do what you need to do without feeling guilty, and it will let you leave the house with your husband but without your child, on occasion. If you and your husband feel like you are just hanging onto your sanity by a thread, it’s very important to get out an reconnect with one another. A good friend of mine was urged by a therapist to do this, and when she mentioned that they don’t have a lot of money, the therapist said, “fine, go and sit on a park bench with your husband, but be sure to get out and do something by yourselves.” I think that’s true.

And now, let’s address the real problem. How can you reciprocate for what these women have already done for you?

You could do something simple, like invite one over for pizza. That will give her somewhere to go, but you will not have to watch her kids while they are over. And while they are over at your place, you can say something authentic, like “I just want you to know that you’ve really helped me out. You’re so competent: taking care of two kids, and offering to watch a third. I wish I could reciprocate with the kids but right now I feel like I can barely watch my own!”

Try, perhaps, to avoid being so authentic that you confess that you don’t like kids.

Or, if you can stand it, offer to spend time in her house so she can have a date-night. Suggest that she and her husband go to a late movie or dinner after they’ve put the kids to bed. And then you can just watch TV in their house until they get home. How cozy!

If that isn’t going to happen, make them a banana bread: banana bread is universally loved and appreciated by everyone.

If that’s not going to happen, or even if it is, just be on the lookout for small ways you can help others in the future: ways that won’t ruin your life, but that will make the world slightly nicer for someone, even if it isn’t those women in particular.

To get your question answered by Counselor Chomp, email it to churchchomp at gmail dot com.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Julia permalink
    April 4, 2011 6:34 pm

    This is lovely advice.

  2. Michelle permalink
    April 5, 2011 5:59 am

    Perfect advice. So true about parenting a second child. And beautifully put, too.

  3. Amy permalink
    April 5, 2011 9:48 pm

    Ha, this is funny and well said. Yes, having multiple children does help occupy them! Definitely. (Although not if one is a baby. That just helps occupy you.) And yes, going out with your husband is essential (and just by yourself, too–my husband and I both have a weekly night off). I do think, too, that some times in life are about giving, and others are about receiving. And that’s OK. Once my old college called me to ask for a donation, and I said, at this point in my life, I’m on the receiving end of charity, not the giving!

  4. April 9, 2011 4:32 pm

    great advice!

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