It takes two
Life gets thrown out of balance when one parent doesn't help with raising kids
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 10/16/2013
Jeff and I have been married 18 years and have two sons, Connor (17) and Aiden (6). We didn't plan on having our children so far apart in age, but long after giving up on having a second child Aiden's conception was the surprise of a lifetime. While he's a complete joy, I sometimes feel too old and don't have the stamina to do a proper job. Jeff is constantly working and I feel abandoned parenting alone.
We recently enrolled Aiden in a top Pasadena private school. I know it's new, but he isn't happy and is afraid he'll miss me. He also says he feels bad that he can't play piano as well as his friend Chase and that he feels like a loser at school because he's not as good at soccer as the other boys. The school's director is wonderful, very supportive and is arranging for me to meet with her and Aiden's teacher. Jeff, however, says he's not only too busy to come to the meeting but that I'm making too big a thing out of Aiden's anxieties. When Connor chimes in, it's as a disrespectful know-it-all who says Aiden's a baby and needs to get over it.
It's difficult raising two sons with completely different needs - one pushing me away because he desperately wants to grow up and the other clinging to me in fear. I feel abandoned and misunderstood by my husband who is trivializing what I think are good reasons to worry. I'm completely burned out, always on edge and frustrated, and don't feel I have any time to take care of myself.
You could probably handle any one of these problems by itself, but piled on all at once can be overwhelming. The issues you've described are definitely taking a toll on your energy and can sometimes make normal obligations feel like you're climbing Mt. Everest. I respect your devotion to your family but would like to see you give some of that same attention to your own needs. It's essential that you take care of yourself and recharge your batteries by taking incremental breaks from everything you're concerned about so that you'll have strength to give back.
A common reaction when suffering from burnout is to focus even more on your worries rather than reading it as a signal to take time to stop, relax and revitalize. Do things that make you smile, laugh, relax and feel good. Visit good friends that give you affection, attention and support. Taking care of yourself can be especially healing when it seems like loved ones are letting you down.
Communicate clearly with Jeff that while you appreciate him working long hours and maintaining a lifestyle for the family, you need more help with parental duties. Explain that you need him to respect your knowledge and value your concerns for your children. If needed, go to a few sessions of couple counseling to reinforce better communication.
I'm glad that you're working with the school to help Aiden. It's probably normal adjusting to a new environment that expects more of him. Other children may be more advanced in certain skill sets and Aiden may need extra support in those areas. Explain to him that he's just fine but hasn't had a chance to learn them yet. Ask him what he'd like to learn. Part of Aiden's low self-esteem derives from his perception of his self-worth and self-competency. What we don't want, though, is for Aiden to believe that his self-worth is directly related to his ability to achieve.
It's important you use your parental power to convince him he's worth a great deal just because he's him and that he deserves to be happy no matter what his accomplishments are at any given time. Carefully watch to see if this problem escalates. If needed, enlist the school in seeking appropriate support. Play therapy can be helpful with new transitions, like starting school, and provide him with a developmentally appropriate way of accessing his feelings as well a chance to explore age-appropriate behavioral strategies and learn how to communicate more effectively.
Keep focusing on your family's needs while, at the same time, striving to keep your life in a healthy balance.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.