A couple of weeks ago, Husband called while out of town on business to see how the kids and I were doing. Because the wee ones were in bed, I spoke freely about Tod-lar's especially challenging behavior. As I spoke, I could feel my heart begin to race because a small voice in my head started saying things like, "Husband doesn't have to deal with this. Noooo. He gets to stay in some swanky hotel for a few days, eat at fine restaurants, and have cocktails with colleagues while I'm left dealing with challenging Tod-lar behavior." The more I talked about what was going on at home, the louder that voice got, causing steam to shoot from both my ears.
When I finally finished telling the Tod-lar tales, Husband said, "God, Honey. That's sounds really difficult. I'm so sorry you have to deal with that by yourself. I'll be home to tomorrow to give you a break. But I have to say, it sounds like you're handling it all really well."
My heart rate slowed. The steam dissipated. Within moments I felt relaxed. "Yeah!" I thought to myself. "This is difficult. But I am handling it well. And tomorrow I'll have some help!"
I felt so much better, I happily moved onto another topic.
When I got off the phone, I realized that two years ago the conversation would have gone much differently. After relaying my Tod-lar woes, Husband would have said something like, "Well, I think all kids are just hardwired this way," or, "Is he sick or something?" or "Have you tried X solution?" All of those responses would have made me want to reach through the phone and knock him upside the head with the receiver.
So what caused the change?
It's probably the conversation we had after several incidents where I vented some frustration about the kids, and Husband spent 20 minutes trying to either solve the problem or find some cause for it. Every time such an incident occurred, I'd be pissed off for days but unable to express why. Finally, after the fourth incident, the Charlie Brown scribble above my head untangled, and it dawned on me that his responses seemed to negate my feelings and question my parenting skills. So, fearing I might give his head a good whop with my favorite frying pan during the next incident, I decided to tell him how I felt.
"Honey, every time I tell you I'm frustrated with the kids, you either try to find a cause for the problem or solve it. I know you're trying to be helpful. My problem I have is that I feel like you're negating my feelings and questioning my parenting skills."
He, of course, was completely surprised.
"Really? That's not my intention at all."
"I know. I really do know that. But it's how I feel. What would really help me is if you would just listen and offer supportive words. When I want you to help me solve a problem or find a possible cause, I promise to ask you directly."
The next time we had an incident, Husband listened, but he was a little unclear how to be supportive, so I had to give him a little help.
"Do you think I'm doing a good job?" I asked him.
"Then that's what I would like you to tell me."
With practice, Husband has gotten really good at being there for me when the kids get challenging. His support is genuine and always manages to make that little voice in my head, which can sometimes get out of hand, shut the hell up. I just had to figure out what I needed from him and tell him without verbally attacking him or hitting him over the head with the frying pan. For me, that's a big deal. See, in the old days (meaning my past relationships), I would have expected him to figure out what I needed on his own. And when he couldn't (because who can read minds?), I would have used the frying pan for something other than cooking.