Hear Me Whine
It's 9:30 p.m. and after two time-outs, five tuck-ins, and a lengthy search for my youngest's blankie, I need to vent. With Isabelle, 5, and Jessica, 2, finally asleep, I present a laundry list of complaints to my husband.
The battle over toothbrushing, I tell him, is getting old. The book thrown at my head started storytime on a sour note. Plus, having our daughters share a bedroom is starting to look like one of our stupider ideas.
"Well, I guess we could send them back," Bill says, and turns to his work.
What is it with men? All I'm really looking for is a simple comment from him like, "Yes! bedtime's a drag!" and he ignores everything I've just said with a joke that makes it sound like I want to change my whole life. That's not what I meant, as any mom would certainly know. It's the old Mars-Venus problem, made worse by the demands of parenting. Because although my complaining seems useless to Bill, it's a crucial survival technique to me.
I first realized the value of venting when I joined a playgroup soon after Isabelle was born. Kvetching, in fact, was the unstated purpose of our get-togethers. Little Kieran wouldn't sleep? How horrible! Zoe was sick? Not again! Playgroup provided helpful advice -- but it was commiserating with other moms that really got me through that difficult first year.
My friends in that first playgroup instinctively understood that the only answer to some problems is to gripe about them. The hard truth is that many parenting challenges don't have solutions. Babies wake through the night, kids get sick a lot, and toddler diarrhea can last for weeks.
But sharing the pain with someone who gets it makes it all easier. Listening to Sara, Jen, and Barbara groan, I thought: Maybe it isn't just me! Though I left playgroup as sleep-deprived as when I arrived, I always felt better.
Bill understands the immutable nature of many parenting challenges. But once a situation proves unfixable, he prefers to move on. It's a rational approach, of course. He's heard it all before, so why dwell on it? To him, persistent complaining just leaves a person stuck.
I feel my complaints wouldn't persist, though, if he'd just acknowledge them the first time around. Marriage is supposed to be for better or worse, and I figure that includes talking about the better and the worse. Especially the worse.
Not long after the night of the five tuck-ins, I'm complaining about another bedtime when Bill says, "Is this making you feel better?"
I simmer through the rest of the week, my little gripes now dwarfed by a big one: My husband doesn't listen to me. To be fair, Bill is not a Neanderthal; he'd probably have been a therapist if he hadn't become a law professor. He's usually an excellent listener, but he seems deaf to my complaining.
Jennifer Bingham Hull is a mom of two and the author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life.