On top of the mound of dishes was a bowl that was brimming with pasta, chicken and broccolini bathed in herb-butter sauce just an hour ago. It was now empty—minus the leftover coagulated pasta chunks seared into the ceramic.
I’d just completed my portion of our nightly bedtime routine with our LO, and the hubs was finishing his part (singing and putting him to bed).
Meanwhile, I was aggressively scraping the bowl thinking, “F*Y$*!&*#&!!!! I SPENT THE WHOLE DAY WITH THE BABY AND MADE DINNER AND I’M NOW DOING THE DISHES AND HE COULDN’T EVEN SPRAY HIS F*CKING BOWL WITH WATER?”
This might sound like your run-of-the-mill chore-induced rage, but it’s actually the “points system” in action. And this points system mentality is not at all uncommon between co-parents of babies.
For example, if the husband went to work to make money, played with the baby when he got home then rocked him to bed, he gets three points.
And if I took care of the baby for five hours today (not counting nanny time), wrote an article for work, dusted the TV stand, replaced the hand soap, made dinner, did the laundry, washed the dishes and breastfeed six times today, that’s like 40,582 points.
This means I can be 40,582 minus three times more angry and tired and deserving of a vacation, right?????
Apparently when two people have a child, they tend to play a silent version of hot potato, but with chores. And they also keep points.
My point is there is a lot of resentment that happens when a baby arrives, particularly within the first year.
Here are some relatable statistics that John Medina offers in his book Brain Rules for Baby.
“Marital quality, which peaks in the last trimester of a first pregnancy, decreases anywhere from 40% to 67% in the infant’s first year. More recent studies, asking different questions, put the figure closer to 90%.
“During those 12 months, scores of hostility indices—measures of marital conflict—skyrocket.”
And according to Medina, three of the top reasons for this marital decline are sleep deprivation, social isolation and unequal workload. (Depression is a fourth reason, but that’s a huge topic on its own, so we’ll leave that for another day.)
The good news is you can preserve the harmony and civility in your partnership by proactively recognizing these turmoil-triggering factors and planning for it, according to Medina. (Or if you’re already in the trenches, let go of each other’s throats, breathe then have a convo as productive as you can have.)
I talked to some mom friends and dug into my own experience. Let’s talk about some convos you can have with your spouse to minimize silent-hating on him.
If baby is breastfed, the person with the lactating breasts automatically gets 1,000 points because they have no choice but to wake up and the act of breastfeeding, while appearing to require very little physical work, is damn exhausting (hence, all the calories burned). You get an extra 200 points if your baby hasn’t learned how to properly latch yet. Another 500 points if you’re still healing from birth, especially with stitches.
If you’re the non-breastfeeding spouse but you get up to change diapers and lull baby back to sleep, you get 450 points, and an extra 200 points if baby prefers to coo and play instead of going back to sleep.
If you’re bottle-feeding, it’s easier to split things down the middle. I’ll let you hash this one out yourself.
On a serious note, you should plan a formal, purposeful conversation with your spouse because without communicating, it can get ugly real fast.
Start the conversation on an agreeable note with the points you both can see eye to eye on:
- Sleep deprivation sucks for both of you.
- The sleep deprivation is a very necessary part of parenthood, at least for now.
- You are both prone to saying shitty things when you’re sleep deprived.
- Keep talking to a minimum during peak sleep-deprivation hours (so you’re less likely to say something shitty).
- There is no perfect system that allows each person to feel equally rested at all times.
- You both deserve to sleep.
After you concur on these things, keep in mind you should NOT make a long-term plan. You’ll be setting yourself for more resentment down the road. Circumstances change from day to day. You’ll never know when you desperately need sleep and/or more sleep than your partner.
Start by agreeing that day by day or week by week, each person is entitled to one sleep-in session or nap within a 24-hour period. This will look vastly different from couple to couple.
If that plan isn’t feasible, perhaps you can try a daily check-in. Using the honor system, rate your stress and fatigue levels. From there you figure out a plan to alleviate exhaustion for both or one of you.
The point is you want to start your conversation from a place of empathy and compassion instead of going straight to combat.
My husband goes to work Monday through Friday while I stay at home, working remotely whenever I can.
Although my husband isn’t exactly at work to party, his daily interactions with his co-workers counts as a “break” in my humble mama opinion. He gets to exist among adults who aren’t crying at him for no reason, and he can take a breather or grab a hot lunch whenever he feels like.
I, on the other hand, talk to only my baby all day long, and since he’s much too young to understand what’s happening it feels like I’m talking to myself all day. And until my baby is older and stays awake for more than one or two hours at a time, I’m not about to start making lunch plans with my girlfriends.
In this scenario, I definitely get 500 points and husband gets none.
Fortunately, the social isolation is an easier problem to solve than sleep deprivation. Using my husband and myself as an example, I could either take a few hours each weekend to go out with my girlfriends or when my baby is on a bottle strike, I can invite them over to my place so I can breastfeed while my husband plays with the baby as I catch up with the girls.
The solution might seem easy but often the toughest part is recognizing isolation as an issue in the first place, especially for moms, who are usually so fixated and laser-focused on their baby the first few months they aren’t thinking about what Janet is up to. Even if you don’t feel up for socializing, simply having this conversation with your partner will make you feel better since there are plans in place.
The points system gets out of control with chores and domestic responsibilities. Unlike sleep deprivation, which you can somewhat keep in track of by counting hours of shut-eye (not that I’m recommending this as a healthy practice), chores are totally subjective.
Rebekah and her hubs demonstrate this perfectly:
“I’m a work-at-home mom, so after the baby started sleeping through the night I agreed to handle most of the chores. I was happy to do it because clean house = sane mom.
UNTIL one day my husband came home from work and refused to do laundry because ‘it takes two hours’?! I told him I swept the floors and did the dishes that day ON TOP OF CARING FOR OUR CHILD. He argued laundry would take two hour on top of working all day ‘with conniving lawyers.’ I said laundry is easy; cleaning the floors and dishes is much harder because you’re cleaning literal filth. The washing machine is doing the work for you!”
As you can see, there is no way to agree on the exact parity of household chores.
Here’s what you can do instead to avoid cleaning while loudly slamming the cupboards and cursing your partner under your breath:
Make a list of 1) things you like doing; 2) things you don’t mind doing; and 3) things you detest. Your partner does the same. Compare lists and assign to get the most 1s and 2s on each person’s list.
If you have the same 3s or this method does not work for you, consider starting a “chores fund” to pay for someone else to do it. The chores fund can potentially pay for:
- A housekeeper
- Postmates delivery on days nobody wants to cook
- A sitter, so you can go out on days nobody wants to cook
If your budget doesn’t allow for a chores fund, designate a time period when you’re both home (say, the weekend) and clean the crap out of your house at the same time. Wait until the baby is napping or in a good mood or have a friend come over, then bust out all the mops and scrubs then go crazy for the next hour or so. In that moment, it will feel fair.
This doesn’t remove the sense of unfairness on a day-to-day basis, but it does help things feel fair at least once a week and more importantly, gets shit clean.
At the end of the day, neither partner will ever feel like everything is cut straight down the middle. But having these conversations will make a huge difference and make you both realize that nothing is perfect nor will it be in the future.
You may also realize that with a baby, life is a beautiful mess and sometimes you don’t need to clean it up.