An idea my wife and I picked up some time ago is about “logistics mode.” From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, the idea is simply, for mothers, it’s easy to get caught in a whirlwind of Things That Need Doing, to the point where your brain fixates on these things.
I thought, until recently, that I understood this fairly well. I consider myself an equal partner in the life my wife and I have made together. We’ve always been a bit non-traditional, so getting planning for meals, getting groceries and cooking were always mostly my jobs, while my wife took care of our money management and more irregular household things. Also, acts of service is one of my main love languages, so if I spot something (the dishes are a good example) that are technically my wife’s job, I’ll often do it, because I want her to have free time. Surely it was normal to have a head buzzing full of Things That Needed Doing.
What I’ve learned since I started parental leave, though, is that it isn’t just having an ongoing list in your brain. It’s more like a set of handcuffs. And I think I finally understand what my wife went through for the first 8 months of KRH’s life.
Over the last few years, I tried as much as I could to take things off my wife’s plate. Even before she got pregnant, she was under a lot of stress, so in my way I took on things to try and help with that. I acquired a lot of small chores, like feeding the cats, cutting the lawn, cleaning litterboxes. None of these were large chores, but I wanted to try and take them off my wife’s to-do list. Then along came KRH, and I certainly wasn’t handing any of those back.
Since I went on parental leave, I’ve been trying to do just about everything I can. Indeed, I’ve felt like I have to, like these things are the prerequisites to being a good Dad. So I’ve been doing errands, laundry, all the cleaning I can, and so on. Plus, I take care of KRH from the moment my wife leaves, until after she’s home and fed and ready to take him on for a while. And since KRH still doesn’t take a bottle and my wife is working, I listen for him on the baby monitor at night, and I jump up to get him and bring him to my wife, and then take him back to his crib after. Finally, we’ve had a few weeks where we’ve been away on weekends or otherwise busy, so even our joint-cooking sessions have fallen on me. And my time to do more or less everything is during naps and after my wife gets home.
I don’t want anyone to think my wife isn’t pulling her weight. She works hard during the day, and as I’ve started to get overwhelmed with these things she’s been pushing me to communicate and tell he what I need to take off my to-do list. But I feel a bit paralyzed by the sheer number of things it takes to keep this household running to whatever my apparent standard is. And even when I do have down time (which my wife makes sure I get), I can’t seem to use it how I want, which is mostly for writing. As such, I’m not making much of any progress.
I knew, of course, that my writing would suffer when I went on parental leave. But I didn’t expect the level to which it has. This week marks the halfway point of that leave, and I’m feeling more than a touch down on myself, because I have a high expectation for myself when it comes to myself. Apparently, that expectation does not adjust to include children.
So what am I doing to try and get past this? Well, I’m trying to free up mental space and loosen those handcuffs. Here’s how.
Meditation always makes me feel calmer, more focused, and generally happier. And for some reason, as soon as I get stressed, it’s always the first thing to fall to the wayside. That doesn’t make sense, but I think a lot of our culture encourages us to sacrifice self-care when the going gets tough. So, I’m trying to carve out at least a little bit of time for meditation every day.
Cutting out social media
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Social media distracts focus. I find it easy to get distracted by whatever god-awful daily nightmare is going on south of the border. Twitter, in particular, is my poison. There’s real value and importance in keeping aware of what’s going on in the news, and I think dis-engaging from politics is itself an act that only the very privileged can take. But I do need to stop focusing on things that interrupt my train of thought and steal my time. So, I’m blocking Twitter on my phone during the day.
Get permission for self-care
Nobody needs permission for self care. But in a situation where my not doing things means someone else has to, self-care is one of those things that can fall by the wayside. My wife, aware that I’m struggling, gave me permission to leave some things like dishes or tidying for her when she gets home. This helps me feel better about using time like naps for self-care.