Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #69: "Beginning Your Love Revolution" by Matt Kahn

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Dear kids,

Matt Kahn. Ah, I love him. This is the guy that got the phrase “love what is” into my frightened, ego-controlled mind. This is the guy that showed me it’s okay to feel like crap, and to admit it–and actually, that you have to first do so in order to start getting of that feeling.

This guy is my really good friend–even though he doesn’t know it.

Beginning Your Love Revolution is a free excerpt of Kahn’s popular, amazing and apparently (partly?) channelled book, Whatever Arises, Love That: A Love Revolution That Begins With You. If you feel it’s time to start accepting what is, rather than always wishing it away, then you’d do well to download either of these books. If not, you’ll probably hate them both.

Need more convincing? Watch any one of Kahn’s awesome YouTube lectures.

To learn more or to get the free ebook, see:

Beginning Your Love Revolution on Amazon

Whatever Arises, Love That: A Love Revolution That Begins With You on Amazon

Matt Kahn’s Official Website

Matt Kahn on YouTube

Matt Kahn on Facebook

Love,
Mom

Don’t Defend Yourself (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Nine)

My Relationship Journal: December

Lesson: Don’t Defend Yourself

Book Notes and Quotes:

Byron Katie:

  • “Defense is the first act of war.” It’s not the first mean comment or hurtful behavior. That’s just something that happened. War involves a response. (—Your Inner Awakening)
  • “Who started the war? I did. She just told the truth. And I start to punish her for being more enlightened than I am. If there is a war in my life, I started it. There’s no exception. If the war ends in my life, I end it. I end it, or it doesn’t end. No exception.” (—Who Would You Be Without Your Story? Dialogues with Byron Katie)

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle:

  • “Nonresistance, nonjudgment, and nonattachment are the three aspects of true freedom and enlightened living.”

The Wisdom of the Desert, Father Thomas Merton:

  • “And if anyone speak to you about any matter do not argue with him. But if he speaks rightly, say: Yes. If he speaks wrongly say to him: You know what you are saying. But do not argue with him about the things he has said. Thus your mind will be at peace.”

My Relationship Resolutions:

  • When confronted, I won’t immediately jump to my own defense. Instead, I will say either “interesting thought” or “okay.” After listening fully, I might say “I don’t agree,” or “I agree.” Usually, no elaboration will be required.
  • When I do find it necessary to explain my actions and behaviors, I will wait till a time when the other person is willing to listen. Before doing so, I will ask and receive their permission. No exceptions.
  • When someone uses an annoyed or angry tone of voice when speaking to me, rather than defend myself, I will ask him if he is feeling okay.
  • If someone is hurtful, I will politely ask him to apologize. Doing so doesn’t count as defensiveness, just self-respect.
  • I will give people–even my partner–the freedom to dislike me at times, and to disagree with me often.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to listen first.”
  • “I promise to ask permission before telling my side of the story.”

Stay tuned for Part Thirty of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Novel.

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Is It Giving Up or Is It Letting Go? (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Eight)

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When I woke up the day after the Bad Wife Blowout, I was still emotional, but not as much as before. I apologized to Matthew, even though I didn’t want to.

It was the right thing to do.

That morning after our errands, Poppy and I walked to the park. It was cold, but the sun was shining. As I followed her from slide to swing, watching her play, I remembered the advice I’d gotten two years back from Marianne. “Ask yourself what to do. Use your intuition,” she’d said. It had worked before. Maybe it would work again.

I started with a review: the fight, my interpretation. My assertion that Matt was blaming me for all of our struggles. My fear that he didn’t feel close to me because he didn’t love me anymore. Then I said, “What now?” and got quiet.

The answer came swiftly: “What if none of this matters?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Doesn’t matter? Of course it does. Matt practically told me he’s disappointed with me as a wife. If that doesn’t matter, none of it does.”

“But did he, Rachel? Is that the real story? And even if it is, what can you do about it?”

“Well, I could talk to him. I could explain to him–calmly, I hope–how hurt and sad the comment made me feel. I could remind him of all the things I’ve done for him and for our family, how much I do every day. I could ask him to apologize.”

“Yes, you could. And it might help. But the way you’re feeling, Rachel–this isn’t about him, I don’t think. Remember the therapist you met at that party who told you that in general, your feelings about a fight are twenty percent about the fight and eighty percent about you? Well, you’re in the eighty zone, trying to deal with that part. The twenty is there, but it’s just twenty.”

“Okay. Say I believe you. What do you want me to do? Nothing? Just let the comment go?”

“Not exactly, Rachel. But what do you think would happen if, just this time, you didn’t defend yourself? What if when he got home from work and was annoyed at you already, expecting an argument, you just didn’t give it to him?”

“That’s crazy. Not defend myself?”

“Think about it.”

Then I did. And . . . it made sense. It was brilliant. It was brave. Not defend myself? I wondered as Poppy and I made our way home. Is it giving up? Or is it letting go?

***

That evening, when Matthew arrived home, I greeted him cheerfully. I gave him the baby, then started dinner. Over bacon and pancakes, I looked him in the eye, a smile crinkling a corner of mine. “I love you, Honey. I really do. And I’m trying really hard to be a good wife.”

“I know that, Rachel. And you are. Of course you are.”

I laughed. Of course I am. Of course I am? Okay. “Well, that’s not how I pictured the end of this fight. No asking for an explanation for my behavior? No hashing it out, figuring it out, dealing with it?”

“Dealing with it? I thought that’s what we just did.”

“You don’t want to know why I got so mad at you?”

“I know why. It was a rough night. You were tired.”

I nodded, my smile fading. I was tired. So it’s not that you were insensitive or said mean things. I was tired. That was the problem. I took a bite of pancake.

So, he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know why I was upset. But wait–what’s this? Is it . . . peace? Am I actually enjoying the feeling of not giving in to my ego, of not proving my point? Maybe. Yes, definitely. I am.

“We should’ve made vegetables,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Matthew. “This is . . . a lot.”

“Tomorrow night, vegetables.”

“Vegetables and rice.”

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Nine of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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The Bad Wife Blowout (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Seven)

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Chapter Ten: Don’t Defend Yourself

I was learning. Matthew was learning. And yet, we had a long way to go; that much was clear to both of us. As we rounded the Year Three corner, another obstacle greeted us, though looking back, I’m not sure why it did, exactly. Was it because after two years of on-and-off tension we’d forgotten how to be comfortably in love? Was it because having solved several seemingly insurmountable problems, we were now expecting—even looking for—another?

Had we made annoyance a habit?

Whatever the origin of our latest issue, its nature was readily apparent: little mistakes or missteps were blown out of proportion, like tiny relationship land mines. When I repeatedly left the front door open while carting stuff to and from the car, Matthew furiously pointed out all the insects. When Matthew slipped his shoes off near the door, leaving them directly in my path, I picked them up and threw them across the room. When I scratched the car, Matthew was sarcastic and rude, and when Matt didn’t answer his cell phone, I sent him an angry text. In short: One of us would be annoying, and the other would get annoyed. Nothing too dramatic, but we needed a different coping mechanism.

Of course, there were the bigger fights, too, fights that were rarer than before but still awful. By that time, we’d learned not to yell most of the time, but it wasn’t a total solution.

Even when we were just talking, it felt terrible.

Fortunately, we had more to celebrate than fear. In a mere twenty-four months since becoming parents, we’d learned a lot about relationships. We’d learned how to laugh at ourselves. How to expect the best of each other. How to be nice. How to apologize. We’d learned how to bargain, how to nag the right way. How to talk without yelling. How to talk at all. The question now on my mind: How good was good enough?

How much patience, kindness, maturity, equanimity, selflessness and, well, logic could one reasonably expect from their partner?

Before parenthood took me by the collar and shook me up, I never thought to ask the question. “We treat each other well all the time,” I would’ve told anyone who did. “We don’t agree on everything, but we’re always nice about it.” But, to quote Genevieve, if you graduate parenthood with only one A, you probably got it in Humility. No longer did I assume my marriage was bullet-proof; weaknesses were now frequently recalled. And so, while Year One taught me how to love better, and Year Two, how to communicate my needs, Year Three taught me how to allow better—to accept Matthew as he was, and be at peace.

The argument that best represented our Year Three struggle began, as so many do, with a comment—one that at first seemed innocent enough. After three full months had passed without a mom-and-dad date, we had accepted a party invitation. We dressed up, then got the kids ready, too hurried to admire each other’s improved appearance. When we finally arrived at the daycare, we were late and stressed out, and not at all enjoying the experience thus far.

The woman at the front desk didn’t seem to notice. She smiled, welcomed Poppy and Harper and introduced them to the other kids. There was a cheerful goodbye, and when we got back in the car, relief came over us.

“It’s quiet,” I said.

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” Matthew replied. “They don’t cry all that much. But they’re really . . . loud.”

“They’re loud in our heads, even when they’re not talking or crying.”

Matthew laughed. “So true. Hon, I’m glad we’re doing this. Thanks for planning it.”

“You’re welcome. Why don’t we do it more often?”

And that’s when it happened: Matthew said something I wasn’t expecting, something that hurt me more than he could’ve predicted.

“I don’t know. Maybe because we haven’t been all that happy lately. We haven’t wanted to spend as much time together as we used to.”

My first thought: He doesn’t want to spend time with me? Has it really been that bad? Just when I thought things were getting so much better. I really wish he hadn’t said that.

Though I was hurt, I chose not to show it. I changed the subject, not wanting to ruin the night. And once we got to the party, I was glad I’d done so. In the presence of others, we came back to ourselves. We joked and talked, and were on each other’s side.

That night, before we went to sleep, I mentioned the comment again, but not in anger, exactly—more like in self-defense. I wanted to tell Matthew why I didn’t agree with what he’d said. I wanted to explain to him that after all the ups and downs he may have lost his perspective.

“Honey, what did you mean earlier today when you said we haven’t been happy lately?” I asked. “You said you haven’t been wanting to spend time with me. Did you mean it?”

“You mean what I said in the car?” Matthew said. “Hon, don’t be so sensitive. I didn’t mean I don’t ever want to hang out. I just meant that things have been rough.”

“But it’s not all bad, Matthew. We have mostly good days, you know. Don’t you appreciate all we’ve been through and how far we’ve come?”

“Yes,” Matthew said. “But for me, something’s still missing. I want to actually feel close to you.”

Here, I pulled away from him and sat up in the bed.

“Are you saying that you don’t? I feel like you’re looking only at what’s wrong between us, and ignoring everything else, all the good.”

“I know we’re not fighting all the time anymore, and I am glad about that. But we’re still struggling, you know.”

And that was when I started to cry. It was a quiet cry, the kind not easily detected in the dark. To hide it, I merely had to turn my face.

“We had fun tonight,” I said after a long, slow breath.

“Yes, we did.”

“So that’s at least a good sign.”

“Yeah. But we need to do better.”

“Wow. I had no idea, Hon. I really didn’t know you felt this way. You make it sound like I’m a bad wife.”

“You’re a really good mother, Rachel. And you’re a good wife, most of the time. But sometimes, you sort of forget about me.”

Matthew put his hand on my back, but I moved away, then let out a loud sob. I left the bedroom, and when Matthew followed, I went to the guest bedroom and shut and locked the door behind me. Then I stayed there the rest of the night with my thoughts.

So he thinks it’s all my fault that things aren’t perfect between us. Wow. How utterly predictable. I’m the one who planned our date tonight. What has he done lately to reach out? All he does is criticize and assign blame.

Can’t he at least see how hard I’m trying? Every day, I’m trying so damn hard. All I want for him is to be happy, and for us to be a happy family. I’m doing the work, and he’s just commenting on it.

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Eight of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Brush Up on Your Endocrinology (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Six)

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My Relationship Journal: August

Lesson: Brush Up on Your Endocrinology

Book Notes and Quotes:

Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance–The Key to Life, Love and Energy, John Gray:

  • Many of the differences between men and women are due to differences in hormones—both in their levels and in the ways they behave in their bodies.
  • When feeling stressed, men seek testosterone-raising and testosterone-releasing activities, such as problem-solving and quiet, talk-free rest. When feeling stressed, women seek oxytocin-raising and oxytocin-releasing activities, such as talking, bonding and care-giving.
  • Testosterone increases cortisol (the stress hormone) in women and oxytocin increases it in men.
  • Women aren’t cranky—their serotonin is depleted due to stress and fluctuating blood sugar levels.
  • Men aren’t lazy—they are chemically built to need more time off.
  • Women don’t prioritize chores over self-care—they choose to release oxytocin by taking care of the home environment.
  • Men aren’t insensitive—they don’t crave the bonding women do.
  • Women don’t overreact—they experience a larger response in the brain when under stress than men do.
  • Women don’t complain endlessly—they talk about their feelings at length in order to rebuild their relaxing oxytocin.
  • Men don’t procrastinate—they choose to rebuild their testosterone levels through rest. They put off doing chores until an emergency, at which point their testosterone kicks in and tells them to act.
  • Women don’t worry an unreasonable amount—they simply enjoy nurturing others and thinking about their needs.

Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstanding, Aaron T. Beck M.D.

  • Male and female communication styles are instinctively different.
  • Men don’t ask as many personal questions, feeling that doing so is intrusive. Women ask lots of questions to show they care.
  • Men are less responsive and “. . . more likely to challenge or dispute statements made by their partners, which explains why a husband may seem to be eternally argumentative.”

My Relationship Resolutions:

  • I will make Matthew’s alone time a priority.
  • I will give myself time-outs when I need them, too.
  • I will communicate clearly. I won’t wait for Matthew to offer breaks, compliments, words of appreciation or anything else; instead, I will ask him for them.
  • I will focus on solutions, not emotions. This is an easier kind of conversation for men to have.
  • I will talk about my feelings with my female friends more often than I do with my husband.
  • I will avoid the temptation to compare lives. Sure, the number of hours I work is higher than the number Matthew works. But I get to play with Poppy and spend time with friends. He has to go to an office. With a boss.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to focus on solutions, not emotions.”
  • “I promise to understand that your needs are real.”

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Seven of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Suddenly, I Have a Modern Husband (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Five)

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Chapter Nine: Brush Up on Your Endocrinology

In August, I gave birth to our second child, a boy. He had fair hair and a placid demeanor. We called him Harper. Same hospital as Poppy. Same midwife, too. I even recognized one of the nurses. But if we were looking for similarities in the experiences, we wouldn’t’ve found many. Harper’s birth was, well . . . it was better.

Part of the improvement might’ve been due to my lessened fear; I’d done this once, and I knew I could do it again. I made better decisions, too: I got the epidural sooner. I walked more, which sped things up. But the biggest change was in Matthew’s involvement. He waited on me, bringing me ice and towels. He timed my contractions and pressed “play” on my audiobook. He took care of Poppy, explaining everything to her, and, significantly, he was just around more.

I wondered about the change. Was it because this time, Matt was already a dad and the parenting thing just felt more natural? Was it because I talked to him beforehand, describing my expectations in a loving way? Or was it simply because he couldn’t relax at home like last time since this time, he had to take care of Poppy?

Whatever the cause of the difference, I appreciated our time together. With Harper in my arms and Matt and Poppy at my side, my memory of the experience became one of unmixed joy. And there was another reason to be grateful, too. A week after arriving home, I noticed I felt differently than I had the first time. I wasn’t crying at night–or during the day, for that matter. I was elated by the sight and physical closeness of the baby. When three weeks later my postpartum depression still hadn’t returned, I mentioned the improvement to Matthew. He said, “Maybe it wasn’t postpartum depression. Maybe it was just me.”

“Probably.” I smiled.”I’m kidding.”

I was kidding. However, it was also true that ever since making our decision to work together every evening, balancing tasks between us, my stress levels were significantly lower. Rare, now, were the times Matthew crept away to the TV room after dinner, leaving Poppy to focus her requests on me; instead, he waited till we went to bed to be alone. Our time together became more frequent, more lengthy and more satisfying, largely because every afternoon, either Matthew or I said the magic words. “What would you like to do tonight, Hon?” It was a question that was more like an answer. With it, we acknowledged that I was no longer the default parent–that now, Matt was on the hook, too. Many evenings, I only requested that Matt play with the kids while I cooked dinner and did the dishes. He took to the role easily, even eagerly, and often found time to help with chores as well.

“Wow,” I said one night after watching Matthew start a load of laundry without being asked. “Suddenly, I have a modern husband.”

“I suppose that is what I am now,” Matthew replied. “Not that it was really my choice.”

“Would you rather have our schedule back? ‘Cause, you know, we could do that.”

“Nah,” Matthew said. “We’re beyond that. We have transcended the schedule, mostly.”

“Not entirely.”

“True. I still need a few guarantees in life.”

Then, in our second month with Harper, something came along that helped me appreciate my husband even more. That something was a wonderful book. Recommended by Genevieve and devoured by me in a single day, Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice: Hormonal Balance—The Key to Life, Love and Energy by John Gray was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. It outlined some of the main differences between men and women and (significantly) the hormonal reasons for them. And by the time I’d turned the last page, something inside me had shifted.

Though prior to Harper’s birth, my resentment had dwindled considerably, the feeling never disappeared completely. Then Harper was born, and in snatches, it made a comeback. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but still. Partly, I felt angry that Matthew couldn’t do some of the things that most needed doing. I had to breastfeed again–often, and sometimes painfully. I had to wake up with the baby at night. And, lest we forget, I had to push the kid out of my body. While reading Mars on Fire, though, there was a change that went deeper than information transfer. There was the start of a healing. My expectations had shifted. My chronic resentment had lifted.

For the first time, I felt like I not only understood my husband, but actually appreciated our differences.

Men really are men, I realized as I read. They really are their own thing. They need all that alone time that sometimes feels so selfish. They don’t need to talk as much as women do. They don’t get an oxytocin surge every time they help someone; on the contrary, testosterone makes them a bit cranky.

And that’s okay.

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Six of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Change Your Partner the Right Way (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Four)

My Relationship Journal: April

Lesson: Change Your Partner the Right Way

Book Notes and Quotes:

Kira Asatryan:

  • Model the changes you want to see in your partner. This works because: “it’s positive, not negative” and because “it’s rooted in our physiology. We all have mirror neurons in our brains that make us naturally inclined to mimic the people we like. If your partner is fond of you, she’ll feel naturally inclined to adopt the behaviors she sees in you.”
  • “There’s nothing that makes another person more willing to change than seeing you embrace change yourself. If you know you have a habit that your partner truly dislikes, make an effort to work on it. The effort she sees you putting into improving yourself will be an inspiration and will soften her heart towards changing herself.” (—PsychologyToday.com)

Dan Savage:

  • “You sand off the imperfections you can sand off so you fit together more comfortably, but then you have to identify those things that, no matter how much you bitch and complain about, will never change. And you have to ask yourself, Is this person worth paying the price of admission to put up with that? And not put up with it and complain about it and guilt them about it all the time, put up with it and shut up about it.” (—StarTalkRadio.net)

My Relationship Resolutions:

  • I will figure out exactly what I want to change about my partner and our relationship. This can be harder than it seems.
  • I will determine whether or not I can help my partner make the change. Sweeping character alterations aren’t my territory. Changes of habit, schedules and circumstances might be.
  • I will only seek one big change at a time. This helps me clarify my needs, limit nagging and manage my expectations.
  • I will learn the art of the “slow nag.” Once I have a clear, main objective, rather than using the classic nagging technique—whine and repeat—I will use compliments, detached observations and jokes to good-naturedly encourage the change I want to see. Occasionally, a polite direct request will also do. An example of a detached observation: “That guy just bashed his wife to his friends. What a loser.” A joke: “You little stinker! Get your stinky butt out of bed!” And a direct request: “I really prefer it when you use a polite tone of voice when asking me to do something.”
  • Occasionally, after the slow approach hasn’t worked, I’ll use the confrontation method. During the confrontation I’ll use “I feel” and “lately it seems” statements, rather than “you are” and “you always” statements. I will focus on problems and solutions rather than perceived character flaws.
  • I will change, too. And talk about it with my partner.
  • I will be patient. People do change. People do grow. If I continue to expect the best of my husband, he will continue to move in that general direction (albeit rather slowly sometimes).
  • I’ll accept the things I cannot change about Matthew, even after four thousand super polite hints and conversations.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise not to nag you to change, but to gently encourage it instead.”
  • “I promise to mirror back to you the change I want to see.”

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Six of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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I’m Sorry I Nagged. Can You Do the Dishes? (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Three)

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The day after the Dish Debacle I got up earlier than usual. I cleaned, cooked and played with Poppy, pretending everything was fine.

But that did not make it fine.

In the afternoon, I took Poppy to the park to meet Gen and Max. Knowing that between snacks, diaper changes and “Mom, come push me on the swing!” we wouldn’t have long to chat, as soon as we found a bench and the kids scampered off, I jumped right in.

“Matt and I had a fight. Another bad one. I’m not even sure what it was about. Housework?”

“Oh, one of those. Housework. Such a catalyst.”

“Yeah. I apologized, but it’s like, ‘I’m sorry I nagged you. Can you do the dishes?'”

Gen laughed.

“And then it was about our schedule, and me feeling like he doesn’t care enough about the family, and all the rest of it, yada yada.”

“Awww, I’m sorry, Rachel. That sucks.”

“I know. It does.”

“So do you really think he doesn’t care enough about you? Or . . . what’s the real problem here?”

“I don’t, but I do. I don’t know. Gen, you almost never complain about your marriage. Why is that? Have I ever asked you? If I haven’t, let me correct that error now.”

“I don’t think you have, Rachel. And I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s all about having clear expectations. Who does what and when, and all that.”

“Yeah, that’s good, and that’s what Matthew and I have been doing, too. Ever since making our schedule. Still, I’m starting to wonder if its really the right thing for us. I can’t quite explain it, but it feels like something’s missing.”

“Well, has he been doing his part every day? And how does he do it? Is he dragging his feet?”

“Yes, he’s sticking to it, and so am I, pretty carefully—and it’s been several months now, so I feel good about that. But to your other question, yes, he does drag his feet. And then I end up nagging.

“And I really, really hate nagging. Not only because it’s thin-ice territory for him, and tends to make him grumpy, but because it makes me feel unloved. I start wondering why he won’t just do his part without my asking first as a way to show me he cares. Then we’re both in a bad mood.

“Sometimes I think we’re just planning everything too much. Why can’t he just look out for me, and me for him? Why does it have to be so complicated?”

“Well, it’s complicated because everything is complicated. He wants to look out for you, but he has to look out for himself, too. I mean theoretically, if you both put the other person first all the time, both of you would get your needs met. But relationships just don’t work that way. So get that idea out of your mind right now. Lose that expectation. His main job in life is to take care of himself. And so is yours.”

“Yikes,” I said. “That’s hard to hear.”

“Is it? Would you really want the job of making him happy? If he left you in charge of taking care of him, how would you make that happen? Would you just do everything he asked you to do? What about when what you wanted didn’t line up with what he wanted? Who wins? Do you each fight for what the other wants? Anyway, how would you even know what he wanted in the first place?”

“Okay. I see that. Okay.”

“Your husband is not going to put you first all of the time. Some of the time, but not all. Won’t happen,” Gen said.

“I get it.”

“But yeah, it’s complicated. And it’s going to stay that way. It’s hard enough when there are just two people’s needs to consider, but now there are three of you. That said, you could probably simplify things a bit.”

“How?”

“When I was pregnant with Max, Richard and I made an agreement. Since he was our third I knew that my alone time was basically over, at least until the kids were in school. So instead of trying to figure out an exact schedule to make it work, I told him that all I really wanted was for him to be present with us after he got home from work, pitching in and doing what he could until all the kids were in bed.”

“Wow. And what was that like?”

“Honestly?” Genevieve said. “It was the best thing ever. Before that, we were doing what you guys are doing—planning our evenings and weekends in advance as much as possible. But, well, it never quite felt fair. I was always the default parent, the one on duty when nothing else was negotiated. After that one discussion, our marriage really changed. It became more of a partnership.

“We still go by that guideline most days of the week, and a lot of the weekend, too. When Richard comes home, he plays with the kids while I get dinner, and we take turns with chores and bedtime stuff. It’s good for all of us, really. Even Richard can’t imagine it any other way. He’s gotten used to being together as a family every evening.”

“That sounds awesome,” I said. “But do you think Matt would go for something like that? It would be such a big change.”

“But he’s already doing a lot. Maybe he’d rather not be on quite as strict of a schedule. Maybe he misses your laid-back, unscheduled time, too.”

“Maybe. Or maybe our expectations would get fuzzy again, and I’d be nagging even more than before.”

“You never know. You might be surprised.”

“If it worked, I would be. It would feel like a coup. Like something fundamental changed in Matthew’s personality. And you know what people say about trying to change your partner.”

“What? That it’s not possible? They’re wrong.”

“What?”

“Oh, Rachel. We all change our partners, all of the time.”

“How? What do you mean?”

“People change, in small ways, to reflect your expectations of them. And even more so in marriage. A lot of the time, what you think you’ll get is what you get. They can sense it and they find themselves acting how you think they’ll act.”

“So have I changed Matthew?”

“What do you think?”

“Hmmm . . . yeah, I think I have. One of the first things I learned after having Poppy was to change my stories about him–to see the best in him. After that, I noticed a big change: he was less moody. Then we both learned how to talk instead of getting emotional about everything right away. I think he followed my lead on that one, too. He still doesn’t always apologize, and he still does hurtful things, but whenever I’m in a good mood, he’s much more likely to be pleasant, too. The other day I was feeling really positive and he picked up on that. He sent me a text that said, ‘I love you.'”

“That’s cute.”

“I know. And he doesn’t do that stuff just to make me feel good. He only does it when he’s really feeling that way.”

“Richard, too. So it sounds like what you’re saying is that Matt has changed for the better, but not from nagging. Mostly from just improving your attitude.”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe nagging helps a bit, too. There are times when I think it has.”

“But nagging nicely. Nagging gently, and not all the time.”

“Yeah. It’s a different kind of nag. More lighthearted.”

With that, an interruption. First one, then a cascade. Max needed to use the bathroom, then both kids needed food and water. When the dominoes stopped falling, I picked up where we left off.

“So basically, Gen, what you’re telling me is that at times I can change Matt by expecting the best of him, and other times I can either learn how to nag in a nice way or have a well-planned, respectful conversation?”

“I might have said all that, yeah. Worth a try anyway. Can’t hurt to try. Won’t work with everything, but you might be surprised. Package it well. Show him the benefits. Most of the time, what you want is what will make him happy, too.”

***

That night, after Matthew came home, I popped some popcorn–his favorite snack–and we sat in the family room and discussed our relationship yet again.

“I know things have been rough for the past couple of months,” I told him. “And I’m sorry for not holding it together a bit better. I’ve been picking fights and hurting you, and I really don’t want to do that anymore.”

Matthew looked at me gratefully. He’s easy to soften, I realized. It takes such a small gesture. An apology. A loving touch. Even a smile will often do the trick. Why don’t I do this more?

“I talked to Gen today and told her a little about this, and she made a really good suggestion. She said that she thinks our schedule has been great, but that we might need a bit more flexibility. How would you feel about both of us working together in the evenings, instead of taking turns like we have been? I don’t want to be co-workers, watching the clock all the time, taking things in shifts. I want us to be more like partners.”

“Interesting,” Matthew replied. “That actually makes sense. We discuss each night what we need to get done, or just spend the evening hanging out together.”

“Exactly.”

“Hmmm . . . Yeah. We could try it.”

In the years to follow, I would know the true significance of this conversation. That evening, though, I only suspected it. I took another bite of popcorn and when Poppy held out her hand, put a few kernels in it. As I looked at her face, then at Matthew’s, a deep love for them came over me—as well as a great feeling of relief.

It’s true, I thought, I don’t need Matthew to always take care of me or put me first. I can do that. But I do need him to be there.

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Four of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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It Happened Because of the Dishes (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-Two)

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Chapter Eight: Change Your Partner the Right Way

After the First Trimester Tussle, I promised I’d forgive myself. And I did—but that didn’t solve everything. Though in my second three months of pregnancy my nausea and discomfort decreased significantly, the unease I felt about my marriage lingered.

Matthew and I were still treading water.

In the months following the argument, we stuck to our child care schedule. Yet no matter how fair things seemed on the surface, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. Matthew was doing his part. He was taking Poppy out, helping with the cleaning. I could do my work without interruption. But he was withdrawn. He was distant. He watched the clock, checked the boxes.

He was just doing his duty.

Which is part of the reason that in late March, just two months after our worst fight ever, we had another that was nearly as bad.

It happened because of the dishes. Well—not just the dishes, maybe, but the dishes as well as my repeated requests for Matthew to take care of them. One evening, before doing what I thought of as a favor to him–taking Poppy to an art class for two hours during his scheduled Poppy time–I repeated my request yet again.

“The dishes, Hon, the dishes. They’re really getting bad. Can you do at least some of them while we’re gone?”

Matthew gave me a grim look and did not respond, so I sighed, packed a diaper bag and left with Poppy. I enjoyed our outing, but when I returned later that night, the dishes were still in the sink . . . and Matthew was on the couch watching TV.

Seeing this, anger. Waves, like before. I’m getting tired of this. I need a boat already. Where is it?

I didn’t find a boat that night. But I did find a log to grab onto–one just big enough to give me a short rest. Rather than mentioning my disappointment to Matthew, starting an argument I couldn’t win, I asked him to take Poppy out the following evening.

He agreed. I was relieved. But the following night, just before he walked out the door, he called something over his shoulder.

“Can you do the dishes while we’re gone?”

I didn’t reply, but he didn’t wait for me to, anyway. I heard footsteps, then a purposeful bang. Matthew had closed the door and left without saying goodbye, something that he knew I hated.

My first response: Gut check. Wow. That was rude. Why would he shut the door on me like that? Is he mad at me for asking him to do the dishes last night? How petty. Now we’re in a fight, and for what?

That evening at the restaurant, Matthew and Poppy dined on thick fries and a thicker steak, but home alone, I didn’t eat much. The meal I’d planned and the book I’d selected were postponed for another day and I lay in bed and wallowed instead. When Matthew returned, I decided once again to break my own rule.

I started an argument at night.

And it was bad. It was bad for all the reasons sudden nighttime fights are usually bad—uncontrollable emotion due to exhaustion and the freshness of the wound. Added to that, though, was the built-up resentment that I’d been unable to let go of for so long.

Simply put: I was out of control.

The scene went something like this: Matthew and Poppy got home. When they found me in bed, Matthew gave me the baby. With glazed-over eyes, I took Poppy and started to nurse. Then I started in on Matthew.

“It was my first night off in a week, and you left in a huff. How could you be so rude to me, Matt?”

“All I did was what you did, just the night before. You asked me to do the dishes on my night off.”

“Your night off? That was my night. I gave that one to you. And the dishes would’nt’ve taken the whole time.”

“But the dishes are your chore. They’ve always been your chore. It’s like now that I’m doing more with Poppy, your standards have just gotten even higher. You want me to start taking on more of the housework and you’re nagging me about it every day. I’m sticking to the schedule. How much more will you want from me?”

“The dishes are my chore? I don’t think so.” I got out of bed and set the baby on the floor. I was shaking.

Here, we rehashed our chore breakdown in detail, as well as our evening schedule. Twenty minutes of shouting later, we still differed in our perspectives. While Matthew felt I should take on the responsibility alone, I thought we should each wash what we used.

“Anyway,” I concluded, “This isn’t just about the dishes. It’s about how rude you were to me. You walked out on me, angry. You ruined my night. You really need to apologize for that.”

“Apologize? Not a chance. You should apologize. You’re the one who’s nagging me all the time.”

“And why wouldn’t I? If I don’t, you conveniently ‘forget’ what we’re doing that night. I have to practically beg you to keep your agreements.”

“Hey, that’s not fair. I would do it without being reminded. You just never give me a chance to.”

“Fine, Matthew, I’m sorry. I know I’ve been nagging. I just don’t know what else to do.”

“How about not being such a control freak? You barely talk to me except to ask me to help you with something. I get less grief from my boss.”

“When do I even see you? When do we have time for a conversation? You’re working all the time. You won’t even take all your vacation.”

“And you continue to make things harder on yourself, Rachel. You still don’t take naps. You still won’t get a babysitter so we can go out together.”

“You know how much work it is to find a babysitter? Oh, no, you don’t–you’ve never done it.”

“Well, it’s not as if I’m not doing other things. Ever since making our schedule, we’ve stuck to it. What more do you want from me?”

“I don’t know.”

I sat. I took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Matt. I don’t know. I want you to be nice, even when you’re in a bad mood. I want you to want to clean the house and be with Poppy, even when you don’t absolutely have to.”

“You want to change me.”

“Yes, I guess I do.”

“Thanks, Rachel. Thanks a whole lot.”

“No, Matt, that’s not what I meant. I meant . . . I don’t know what I meant. I really just want to be a loving, happy family.”

“Well, then, we have to spend family time together. But when? With you working and me taking Poppy out all the time? Is there even time?”

I picked up Poppy and held her to my breast again. She nuzzled into my chest.

“I don’t know.”

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Three of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #72: "At Zero" by Joe Vitale

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Dear kids,

Don’t you just love it when you find out that a book you really enjoyed has a sequel? Zero Limits by Joe Vitale isn’t exactly a heady, intellectual read, but it is a nicely written, highly entertaining personal story that teaches a simple, beautiful spiritual practice. So I was surprised to learn that there was a follow-up; I thought we had this information covered.

And that surprise wasn’t totally off-base. At Zero: The Final Secrets to Zero Limits,  the Quest for Miracles Through Ho’oponopono is a great piggyback read, but its promise to take you deeper into the practice it describes isn’t fully delivered. Read the book if you loved the message of the first and would like some inspiration to continue using this practice.

Highlights:

Here are a few of the book’s highlights (all direct quotes):

  • Data is a word used for this unconscious programming, the garbage that prevents you from hearing the voice of your Divinity. At a Zero Limits event, someone once asked Dr. Hew Len about the difference between ego and Divinity. Dr. Hew Len replied: First of all, there is no such thing as an ego. Did you know that? No such thing.
  • When people lash out against me, you, or anyone else, it’s rarely about you, me, or anyone else. It’s about the program they have. Here’s the rub: if you can see it in another, then you have it, too. Dr. Hew Len is famous for saying, “Have you ever noticed that when you have a problem, you are there?”This is how Dr. Hew Len helped heal an entire ward of mentally ill criminals. He didn’t work on them; he worked on himself. He saw them as projections of a program within himself.
  • There are 100 billion neurons in your 3-pound brain. Every second 11 million sensory impressions fire along your brain’s highways, but only 40 actually reach your awareness. Forty! What happened to the 10,999,960 other bits of information? Your brain filtered it and filed it as not useful to your survival. How did it know what to filter out?
  • But why do the phrases work? That’s even harder to say. It could simply be belief. The placebo is powerful. Coupled with the famous story of Dr. Hew Len and the hospital ward he helped close, the phrases become easy to believe as having magical powers.
  • In short, here are the four steps from Schwartz to help you get a handle on this: Step 1: Relabel: Identify deceptive brain messages and the uncomfortable sensations; call them what they really are. Step 2: Reframe: Change your perception of the importance of the deceptive brain messages; say why these thoughts, urges, and impulses keep bothering you. (“It’s not me; it’s just my brain!”) Step 3: Refocus: Direct your attention toward an activity or mental process that is wholesome and productive—even while the false and deceptive urges, thoughts, impulses, and sensations are still present and bothering you. Step 4: Revalue: Clearly see the thoughts, urges, and impulses for what they are—sensations caused by deceptive brain messages.
  • Simple, right? Yes, it’s a balancing act. You want to focus on what you want—but without attachment, addiction, need, or desperation. If there is any of that baggage, you clean on it to release it. The ideal is to be in a “Wouldn’t it be cool?” spirit.
  • A clear intention—stated without desperation or need, with a childlike spirit of trust, faith, and fun—led to an opportunity nobody could have predicted or orchestrated. Our job was to take inspired action when it appeared, and we did.
  • Dr. Hew Len often says that you don’t need an intention at all. “Just clean so Divinity can come through you,” he reminds. That still sounds like an intention to me. I once asked him, “If you keep cleaning, can an action step come to you that you should take?” “Absolutely!” he quickly answered. “As you clean, you get everything out of the way, so Zero can tell you what to do.” Again, practicing Ho’oponopono is clearing the mental weeds and inherited memories so that you hear inspiration when it calls you.

Links to More Info:

Love,
Mom

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #71: "Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d" by Candace Pert

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Dear kids,

Candace Pert is a rock star. Read everything she writes. Then, become a scientist like her.

Notes and highlights:

Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d is an in-depth discussion of the mind-body connection. Written by a well-known neuroscientist, it gives evidence that the mind and body are one.

The science, briefly: Every cell in the body is studded with receptors that receive signals that direct cell division, metabolism and every other cell activity. “Signal[s] come from other cells and [are] carried by juices . . . providing an infra for the ‘conversation’ going on throughout the bodymind. You know these juices as how neurotransmitters and together called peptides.” 98 percent of data transfer occurs through these, while only 2 percent occurs between cells.

Receptors and signals together are the “molecules of emotion”. There is a ligand for each individual emotion, each individual perception, each different kind of awareness, including bliss, hunger, satiety, anger, etc.

The ligand isn’t only active part of equation. Receptors wiggle and send vibrations to attract the proper ligand, like a lock and key coming together. These vibrations and constant responses form a continuous electrical current throughout your body.

Your body, then, is your subconscious mind. The molecules in the brain aren’t the cause of your emotions; they are your emotions.

Other notable quotes:

  • Good and God are different words for the same thing.
  • “Music can bypass the liquid and directly resonate those receptors, interacting like a peptide—or an emotion.” Drugs do the same thing.
  • Words also powerful “thought pattern can be identified as networks of brain networks, but these networks only either goes a closed at any given moment, in order to open, must have networks w/ sensitive receptors and that fire together frequently.
  • “Emotions are the flow of information perceived to be essential for the survival of any particular state of consciousness being observed.”
  • We all have multiple personalities. Therefore, we do well to “train yourself to come from the highest possible ‘observer’—the subpersonality that’s most closely associated with the divine, or the higher self.” Practice this “you” through meditation or prayer.
  • On dreams: during REM sleep, the peptide VIP is released. VIP ensures cell survival in the frontal cortex. “Is VIP nourishing neurons that are active during a dream, thus stabilizing the neural networks being formed at the time of dreams? If so, this could explain how dreams can literally become reality.” 50 percent of infant sleep is REM, as compared with 25 percent of adult sleep, because neural nets are forming at such a high rate. In one study, REM-deprived sleep study subjects began hallucinating and became psychotic.
  • Also cites studies showing people can suggest to themselves what to dream about and what eye-movement patterns to make during REM sleep.

To get the book, see:

Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d on Amazon

Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d on Goodreads

Candace Pert on Wikipedia

Official Website of Candace Pert

Love,
Mom

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #70: “Learning to Eat Along the Way" by Margaret Bendet

Dear kids,

Learning to Eat Along the Way by Margaret Bendet is a spiritual memoir, a genre I’m personally quite fond of. It’s about a young woman who leaves her career to follow an Indian guru. And who among us hasn’t wanted to do that?

I mean, really–this is your chance to live vicariously through someone who really did quit her day job and throw it all away, just for the chance to experience something amazing. Take it.

To get the book, see:

Love,
Mom

Apologize Every Chance You Get (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty-One)

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My Relationship Journal: February

Lesson: Apologize Every Chance You Get

Book Notes and Quotes:

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle:

  • Due to our ego, we’re constantly seeking approval from others. This seeking leads to resentment when any kind of disagreement—often even a minor one—occurs. So, get rid of ego. It’s just not helping. All that anger, defensiveness, arguing, making wrong, being right . . . all of that can safely go away. The death of your ego is not the death of you. Instead, it’s the start of your real life.
  • Don’t just get rid of your own ego, though: stop reacting to the ego in others. This is the most effective way to not only avoid arguments, but to actually dissolve the other person’s anger and bring back their sanity. Then real communication can begin.

My Relationship Resolutions:

  • I will take every opportunity to apologize. I will humbly ask for forgiveness, and generously forgive myself.
  • I will remember that my ego isn’t my friend. It causes me to interpret every confrontation as a potential threat, and makes me defensive.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to take every opportunity to say I’m sorry.”

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-Two of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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The Unmistakable Sound of Breaking Glass (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Twenty)

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Stay tuned for Part Twenty of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

The first time Matthew and I had a real fight—not a disagreement, but a fight—was a full six months into our relationship. We were cleaning his house to make room for my things for my planned move-in, date TBD.

It had been a long day, and both of us were tired. Not tired–exhausted. Spent. Then, it happened. Matthew handed me a heavy box from a high shelf, and as I set it down, an unmistakable sound: breaking glass.

“What was it?” I asked, already using the past tense.

Matthew didn’t answer. He grabbed the box. When he opened it, we assessed the damage. A rook from his chess set was chipped and a bishop was missing a knob.

That could’ve been worse, I thought.

Matthew saw it differently.

“Where was the bubble wrap?” he asked. “You were the one who packed this, right?”

“I guess . . . I guess I ran out.”

“You ran out? Well, when we run out, we get more. We don’t just pack stuff like this without bubble wrap.”

I didn’t respond.

Matthew closed the box and set it on his desk. Then he returned to the shelf. When I took my spot next to him, though, he shook his head at me.

“You are not allowed touch my stuff anymore,” he said.

“Hey, Matt,” I said, my defensiveness turning to anger. “Wait a second. Think about this. I’ve spent the last two days cleaning this place–packing stuff, donating stuff, cleaning your kitchens and your bathrooms. I did way more than you did, so don’t you dare get an attitude with me about this. It was an accident, okay?”

It was the first time I ever raised my voice to Matthew. And it was certainly the first time I walked away in anger. I left the room, slamming the door, then left the house, slamming that door, too. Then I went for a walk.

Five minutes passed—a very long five minutes. It was the first fight of newly-in-loves, after all. We were still convinced everything was perfect between us . . . and at the same time, afraid it wasn’t.

Soon, I heard footsteps. Someone was running up behind me. I turned around, and there he was.

It was Matthew.

And in the time that it took me to recognize him, and the look of apology on his face, my anger disappeared completely.

I stopped walking, and Matthew caught up to me, then gave me a long, loving hug.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right. I should’ve helped you more.”

“I’m sorry, too. I should’ve been more careful with your stuff.” The apology wasn’t sincere–not completely, anyway. But it felt like the right thing to say.

We hugged some more, then kissed, then walked back to the house together. And that was it.

It was over.

Apologies are awesome, I realized after talking to Matthew about our biggest-yet fight. They’re, like, the fastest relationship cure ever. They get you out of a bad spiral, help you reset. And sometimes, that’s all you need–just a reset button.

You don’t even have to mean it all the time.

Stay tuned for Part Twenty-One of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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I Put My Head Down, and Got Through It (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Nineteen)

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Chapter Seven: Apologize Every Chance You Get

Taken separately, most of the first-year fights Matthew and I had weren’t terribly significant; it was their accumulation that was the problem. As year two of parenthood began, though, the intensity increased and our recovery times did, too.

The First Trimester Tussle was one of our worst arguments of all time, and it was largely my fault. In addition to the apparent cause was the underlying one, namely: I was pregnant.

And I was miserable. I was miserable in a way I hadn’t been in years, before the baby, before ever meeting Matthew. Exhaustion, nausea, lower back spasms: my pregnancy pain cocktail tasted terrible. I even felt pregnant in my sleep.

My sixth week in, I gave up exercise. My seventh, I gave up healthy eating. By my ninth week, depression had fully set in, and everything was difficult, even conversation. Other than the requisite life management stuff and bare civilities, most of the words that exited my mouth were complaints.

Towards the end of that three-month period, myself, Matthew and Poppy went to my hometown to visit my family. Under normal circumstances, it would’ve been a happy occasion full of old favorites: favorite hotel, favorite restaurants, favorite scenic drives. This time, though, I dragged through the routines, and for some reason Matthew was nearly as sullen. And so, on the second night, as he and I lay in the hotel bed, I attempted some perfunctory compassion.

I asked Matthew what was wrong.

“Do you really want to know?” Matthew asked, placing his hand on my foot.

“Yes,” I said. “I really do.”

“Okay. Well, Hon, I’m sick of your complaining.”

Deep breath. In, then slowly out. In, then out again. Anger, sadness. Anger, guilt. Anger. Sadness. Deep breath.

“Okay,” I said. “So you don’t want me to talk about anything I’m feeling, what I’m going through? Is that it?”

“It’s just too much,” Matthew said, rubbing my foot. “I feel like I can’t take it anymore.” The only thing that saved us from the inevitable full-scale fight that night was that he said it nicely.

“But I’m trying,” I said. “I really, really am. You have no idea what this is like.”

“I know. But the complaining—does it help? Does it actually make you feel better? I don’t think it does. I think it makes it worse.”

I didn’t answer; instead, I turned my body away, loosening my foot from his hand. After several minutes, Matthew turned on the TV and found an old movie to watch. When it ended, he turned off the TV, then adjusted his pillow.

In the dark, I turned back towards him, then put his hand on my stomach. I held it there and rubbed it a bit.

“I’ll try harder,” I said in just-above-whisper volume. “I won’t complain so much anymore.”

It was a promise I didn’t keep for long.

The following day, Matthew returned home and went back to work, while Poppy and I stayed on. I hoped that the last two days would be better than the first, but it was not to be: they were worse. By the time the trip was over and I met Matthew at the airport, I wasn’t at my breaking point; I’d already slightly cracked.

“How did it go?” Matthew asked, greeting me with a kiss. Anger filled me. As if he cares. He doesn’t want to hear about it, and I told him I wouldn’t complain. There’s nothing I can do but lie or say nothing.

I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

He gave me a grim look and took one of my bags, then led me down the long hallway to the door. One moment down, a million more to go, I thought. And it wasn’t long before there was another.

“You’re quiet,” Matthew said as we left the terminal. “Did something happen after I left?”

Hmmm . . . ., I thought. He knows I’m mad, but he asked anyway. Points for that. I’ll try to calm down.

“Well, I’m not allowed to talk about it, am I?” I replied. Okay, that didn’t sound as nice as I’d hoped it would.

“I don’t know, Hon,” Matthew said. “Maybe not. I don’t know.”

It was not the right answer.

As soon as we got in the car I turned my face to the window, trying to hold myself together. By the time we exited the parking garage, though, I couldn’t stand it any longer; I spoke.

“After you left, my dad yelled at me, which pretty much ruined the rest of the trip. On the way to the airport, I got a speeding ticket. And the rental car company was closed when I got there so I couldn’t figure out how to return the car and we almost missed our plane. It was horrible.”

Matthew could’ve let it go. He could’ve given me some leeway. Instead, he sighed. “Hon. You didn’t even make it one hour.”

Second crack. Tears. Third crack. Shaking and sobs. Several minutes of this, and I felt shattered. The screaming that followed came not from my throat, but from somewhere much deeper inside.

***

The First Trimester Tussle wasn’t a single-day affair—not by a very long shot. The yelling lasted hours. The sarcasm, days. And the anger lasted nearly a month.

During this time, my terrible night thoughts visited regularly. And their themes were familiar. I can’t believe he actually said that, the narrative began. Can’t he even pretend to feel compassion? I’m pregnant, sick and hormonal, but I still have to be the strong one; he’s not picking up the slack.

Well, I’m stuck, now. Especially after having kids. That’s great. My life is ruined.

One night, feeling helpless against my inner rage, I made a healthy decision.

I called Gen.

“I’ve been mad at Matthew for a solid month,” I said.

“Yeah?” she said. “Tell me about it.”

“He’s been doing his stuff–his stuff with Poppy–the schedule stuff I told you about. But there’s this . . . undercurrent. I can’t forget the fight. At least, not for very long. I don’t know what to do. Do we go to counseling? Or do I just assume this is pregnancy hormones and it’ll pass?”

“Well, the fight was bad,” Gen said. “It might take a while to get over and you can’t expect to feel great mentally right now. I don’t know, Rachel. Marriage is so hard. It’s just hard to deal with another person all the time, even when you’re trying your absolute best. The good news is, most of this stuff you’ll forget soon enough. Probably much sooner, and much more thoroughly, than you think.”

As I considered this, she went on. “Do you even remember what your last few fights were about? The small ones, not the big ones.”

“No.”

“What about a big fight that happened several years ago?”

“I guess not. Not right now, no.”

“I know you already apologized, Rachel. And I know you want Matthew to do the same. But he might not. And that’s okay. Sometimes, you just have to be the apologizer. Play that role. You’d be surprised how much it will help and how much will be forgotten. As for the emotions, they’re going to be there sometimes. My advice? Just put your head down and get through it.”

And so, that is what I did. I apologized to Matthew again for my moodiness and anger, even though I felt doing so was unnecessary, even unfair. I reminded myself how much my hormones were affecting me lately.

I put my head down, and got through it.

Stay tuned for Part Twenty of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Shamelessly Bargain (And Always Have a Bottom Line) (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Eighteen)

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My Relationship Journal: September

Lesson: Shamelessly Bargain (And Always Have a Bottom Line)

Book Notes and Quotes:

His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Willard F. Harley, Jr.:

  • Marriage is transactional. “The more you give to your partner, the more they give to you.”
  • Couples have an “inner scoring device you probably never realized you had” that the author calls a Love Bank. Somewhere deep inside our (mathematically skilled) subconscious, we’re keeping track of each others’ balances, and we understand when we’re due payment, and when we owe. When the giving is roughly equal and both partners get their needs met, the relationship is satisfactory to both. When there’s unequal giving, though, the marriage runs into trouble—if not right away, then eventually. The goal, then, is to ensure your transactions even out as much as possible so that neither partner ever feels cheated.

Neale Donald Walsch on Relationships, Neale Donald Walsch:

  • Relationships don’t have to be a friendly (or not-so-friendly) game of tug of war. When disagreements arise and neither partner is willing to compromise, offering clear consequences takes care of the problem. An example: If one day your partner suddenly decides to take up smoking, and you aren’t okay with that, you don’t have to yell or nag. The solution is simple: You tell your partner that you love and respect them, but if they keep smoking in your home you’ll have to move out.

Parenting With Love and Logic, Foster Cline and Jim Fay:

  • Many parenting skills apply to other relationships, too, including friendship and marriage.
  • Effective parents don’t use anger, nagging and threats; instead, they offer choices. When kids try to argue, they don’t engage; instead, they say “I understand,” then repeat the choice.
  • Some examples of choices effective parents give: “Are you planning to be unkind for a while? If so, I’m going to spend some time away from you.” “If you hit, you lose.” “If you spend your allowance on something else, I won’t be able to pay your phone bill for you.”

My Relationship Resolutions:

  • I won’t over-romanticize marriage. My husband isn’t going to do whatever I want him to do just because he loves me; there has to be something in it for him, too. By the same token, I won’t be embarrassed to admit when I’m doing something for him in order to get something in return. Doing so is just part of my self-care.
  • When something isn’t working for me, I won’t nag. I’ll negotiate. I’ll communicate my needs clearly and allow him to do the same.
  • During negotiations, I’ll focus on solutions, not emotions. No anger. No accusations. No spinning off into fear. Instead, I will simply describe what I want, then discuss the matter till it’s resolved.
  • I will have clear and reasonable expectations. I will know what I really need from Matthew and what I’m willing to compromise on or give up.
  • I will have clear consequences. If Matthew doesn’t follow through on an agreement, I will look for a way he can make it up to me.
  • I will always have a bottom line. If Matthew doesn’t agree to giving me a certain amount of money or a certain amount of alone time, I will take it anyway and let him choose to either remain angry or accept it.
  • I will keep my end of the bargain.
  • I will demand a fair transaction. I won’t stay in an unhealthy relationship. I am not a martyr.
  • Most of all, I will remember to keep it simple. Relationships are hard—some of the time. But with clear communication, clear expectations and clear consequences, most of the time, they should feel pretty easy the rest of the time.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to negotiate, not nag.”
  • “I promise to focus mainly on solutions, not emotions.”

Stay tuned for Part Nineteen of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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The Great Birth Control Debate (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Seventeen)

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Chapter Six: Shamelessly Bargain (And Always Have a Bottom Line)

Over the following few months as I continued to moderate my tone of voice and underreact, Matthew instinctively followed my lead. Slowly, a beautiful shift in our relationship began: the big fights still happened, but the little ones largely subsided. This gave us an important relationship advantage: in between our fights, things were mostly back to normal. We had time to step back, to remind ourselves and each other that we’d be okay. It wasn’t until the end of our first year we let that ability slip away—and when it did, it was hard to get it back.

As our ninth month of parenthood approached, not only were our relationship issues easier to handle—Poppy was a bit easier, too. No longer was the baby tethered to me every waking moment; now, she played on her own for minutes at a time, and as the year progressed the difference became even more pronounced. In addition, in September Matthew agreed to take her out at least twice a week, for at least two hours a session, giving my schedule some much-needed padding. He and Poppy came up with their own private mommy-free idea of fun, and for the first time since having the baby, Matthew experienced what I had appreciated about parenting all along: the addition of a brand new best friend. They went to the forest, to the zoo, to the play area at the mall—and Matthew enjoyed every minute. Then something happened that threw us off-balance once again, just as we had started to regain our footing.

That something was that I got a job.

The job was an excellent one—one that I enjoyed and that paid well. The timing was good, too; Poppy seemed ready for the occasional daycare adventure. Most important, the hours were perfect—about ten a week, and all from home. Matthew and I were confident we could transition smoothly.

We were wrong.

We were almost there, I thought as my work hours edged out much-needed rest and alone time. We were almost back to normal. Or were we? Maybe the improvement I’ve been feeling lately was imagined—an illusion brought on by desperation and positive thinking.

It was not a pleasant hypothesis to consider.

Soon after I started my job, the battles over our baby care schedule reasserted themselves. At first, they were mild ones, with most of the tension just beneath the surface. But as they became more frequent, their intensity increased as well, so that by fall they were bad.

If my first nine months of marriage with a child was about learning how to adjust my attitude toward Matthew—learning how to see him through eyes of love, not get angry at him and just be nice—the following year and a quarter was primarily a complement to that. It was about learning how to communicate better, to ask for what I wanted and to get it.

It was about actually solving our problems.

***

If you had asked Matthew which of us was the source of the Great Birth Control Debate, he would almost certainly have said me. For weeks, even months on end, I chose to put off self-care, working long hours and multi-tasking instead. Looking back, I don’t know why I allowed my workaholic side free rein for so long. Then again, most workaholics probably don’t. At the time, however, Matthew was in a rare lull in his schedule. Why can’t he just pick up the slack? I wondered.

Which is why, if you would have asked me which of us was the source of the Debate, I would almost certainly have said Matthew.

That October, Matthew’s love of basketball had him either playing or watching television at least three evenings per week. He still took Poppy out on Sundays and Wednesdays, but Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays were booked up. On those days my long mornings and afternoons were followed by long, lonely evenings as well, which, of course, made me cranky. And not just because I wanted Matthew to take on more responsibilities, but because I wanted to just be with him. I wanted to take walks together, have dinner with friends, go to the zoo.

I wanted to feel like a family.

And so, one day in the midst of this predicament, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I made an announcement—an ultimatum, really, and one I intended to keep: “If you don’t stop prioritizing your fun stuff over the family, I am going back on birth control.”

The news did not go over well.

It was around midnight, after Poppy had gone to bed, and though I was tired I told Matthew I’d hang out. We were sitting on the living room couch, evaluating lackluster movie options, my head resting comfortably on his shoulder. The month prior, after a year and a half of menstruation-free breastfeeding, my period had finally returned, necessitating a reproduction-related decision. First, I made an appointment with my doctor. Then I told Matthew the plan.

“Hon, there’s something I’ve been thinking about that I need to tell you, and you’re probably not going to like it very much,” I said.

And then I delivered the blow.

Matthew’s first response was to freeze, TV remote in midair. Then he just shook his head. “No, you’re not,” he told me.

“I already made the appointment.” I moved my body away from him, backing into the couch’s arm rest. Then I curled my legs against my chest with my arms.

“Without even telling me?” Matthew threw down the remote. “Why would you do such a thing?”

“Matthew, you know why. I’m so stressed. I’m so exhausted. I just can’t do this the way I have been lately.”

“Rachel, we had a plan. The same plan we’ve had all along.”

“I know, Hon, I know. I’m sorry. But what’s happening right now with your sleep schedule—it’s not fair. It’s not right. I’m just feeling so cheated.”

“So that’s why you’re doing this. To get back at me. I see.”

“No, that’s not the reason—really. It’s not just what’s going on right now. It’s how things have been all along. It’s been hard. Harder than you know.”

I continued. “We have Poppy, and I’m so glad we do. Having her has only made me want our second even more. But it doesn’t have to happen right now. We have time. It’s only been a year, after all. Our kids can be spaced a bit more.”

“So you’re just making a threat rather than discussing it? Typical. That’s always what you do.”

“No. I’ve been trying to discuss it. I’ve been trying for a long time. There are little changes, but it’s not enough. One kid is already so difficult for us; I’m not going to do this with two. That’s just not the choice I’m going to make.”

“You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?”

“That I’m making things harder than they have to be? That I work to much? Well, why don’t you work more so I don’t have to?”

“I do work. I work a lot. It’s like you don’t even see it. But when I need time, I take it.”

“We’re going in circles now, like we always do. Maybe we’ll figure this out. But until we do, I don’t want to get pregnant.”

With that, the arguing ended; Matthew and I went our separate ways. But the fight definitely wasn’t over. For the next few days, a sort of suburban cease-fire was silently declared: we avoided each other most of the time, and avoided serious discussion entirely. This gave us time to think about what to do next, to weigh our advantages and to strategize. In international relations and in married life, however, eventually someone has to make a move.

This time, that someone was Matthew.

A few days after the argument, he offered to take Poppy out for the evening. He said they were going to dinner, but by the time they got back three hours had passed.

When they returned home, Matthew greeted me with a smile. “When is your doctor appointment?” he asked.

“Not till next week,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”

The following day, Matthew took Poppy to the park, and soon after that, he started taping his games to watch after I went to bed. For my part, I hired a babysitter to cover one evening per week. I called my doctor and cancelled my birth control appointment, and three months later, I was pregnant.

The pregnancy was, of course, the most significant result of the Great Birth Control Debate. However, there was another worth mentioning, too. One evening a week or so after the fight, we sent Poppy to a friend’s house and sat down at the dining room table, pen and paper at hand.

Then we began negotiations.

We went through each day of the week, section by section, and decided who’d be responsible for what. Who would make dinner, who would clean the car? When would we both exercise? Who’d get to sleep in, and on which days, and what about weekends when I was working? For the first time since becoming parents, we decided to be deliberate about our schedule, taking all of our needs—not just work and sleep—seriously.

Finally, we decided to stop winging it.

Here is a list of all of the chunks of time we thought through together, plus a list of all of the important activities we included in our new family schedule.

Baby Care Scheduling Considerations:

  • Weekday mornings
  • Weekday work times
  • Weekday dinnertimes
  • Weekday evenings after dinner
  • Weekday bedtimes
  • Weekday overnights
  • Saturday early mornings
  • Saturday late mornings
  • Saturday afternoons
  • Saturday dinnertimes
  • Saturday evenings after dinner
  • Saturday overnights
  • Sunday early mornings
  • Sunday late mornings
  • Sunday afternoons
  • Sunday dinnertimes
  • Sunday evenings after dinner
  • Sunday overnights

Activities to Include in the Family Schedule:

  • Paid work time for Dad
  • Paid work time for Mom
  • Transportation time for parents
  • Transportation time for children
  • Cooking time
  • Cleaning time
  • Meal times
  • Recreational time for children
  • Educational time for children
  • Exercise time for Mom
  • Exercise time for Dad
  • Alone time for Dad
  • Alone time for Mom
  • Date nights for parents
  • Mom’s time with friends
  • Dad’s time with friends
  • Family time at home
  • Family outings
  • Mom’s one-on-one time with each child
  • Dad’s one-on-one time with each child
  • Mom’s household management time
  • Dad’s household management time
  • Time for home maintenance and repairs
  • Time for special activities and projects
  • Adequate sleep time for each family member

It was quite a conversation we had that evening—and the schedule we agreed upon, no small feat. In creating it, I wanted a guarantee of some kind—a way to ensure Matthew would give me the breaks I needed. For his part, Matthew hoped for more predictability, a way to ensure he wouldn’t be endlessly nagged to do more.

Our hopes were ridiculously high. However, more important than the schedule itself was the fact that we created it at all. In doing so I expanded my relationship skill set considerably.

I learned how to negotiate–and shamelessly.

Marriage is transactional, I realized as we made our plan. It’s not always romantic, and that’s okay. If he doesn’t want to do something I want him to do, it’s not because he’s a jerk or doesn’t love me. It’s because he has needs, too.

Stay tuned for Part Eighteen of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Be Uncomfortably Nice (Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby, Part Sixteen)

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My Relationship Journal: August

Lesson: Be Uncomfortably Nice

Book Notes and Quotes:

For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed, Tara Parker-Pope:

  • “Scientists have even applied mathematical models to marriage, calculating, for instance, that strong marriages have at least a five-to-one daily ratio of positive to negative interactions. Simply translated, that means it’s not enough to apologize for mistreating your spouse. For every mistake you make, you need to offer five more good moments, kind words, and loving gestures to keep your marriage in balance.”

My Relationship Resolutions:

  • I will remember that my partner’s best motivation to help me with the kids and treat me well is my being kind, grateful and pleasant. Love begets love.
  • I will compliment Matthew more often.
  • I will say thank you more often, particularly when I want Matthew to change a habit. (“Thanks for taking your shoes off at the door, Hon!”)
  • I will say “I love you” more often, and in a greater variety of ways.
  • I will be consistently cheerful and respectful—even when Matthew is not.
  • I will choose my words very, very carefully.
  • I will use a kind tone of voice. Always.

For the Fridge:

  • “I promise to use a kind, respectful tone of voice, even when upset.”

Stay tuned for Part Seventeen of Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby: A Self-Help Novel.

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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #68: "Lucid Dreaming" by Stephen LaBerge

new thought book - angel 4

Dear kids,

Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life by Stephen LaBerge PhD. is a lucid dreaming classic, and an enjoyable read, too. Get it, skim it, try it out.

Lucid dreaming isn’t a far-fetched, “woo-woo” goal. It’s for everybody. It’s also a philosophically interesting subject that makes for top-notch party conversation.

Notable Quotes:

Here are a few quotes I like:

  • “In my view, dreams are much more accurately described as experiences—that is, conscious events one has personally encountered. It may seem odd to speak of dreams as conscious experiences, but the essential criterion for consciousness is reportability, and the fact that we can sometimes remember our dreams shows them to be conscious rather than unconscious mental processes. We live through our dreams as much as our waking lives. In these terms, dreaming is a particular organization of consciousness.”
  • “Of course, that begs a question: what is consciousness? For me, it is the dream of what happens. Whether awake or asleep, your consciousness functions as a simplified model of yourself and your world constructed by your brain from the best available sources of information. during waking, the model is derived from external sensory input, which provides the most current information about present circumstances, in combination with internal contextual, historical, and motivational information. during sleep, little external input is available, and given a sufficiently functional brain, the model is constructed from internal biases.”

Links to More Info:

Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life on Amazon

Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life on Goodreads

Stephen LaBerge PhD. on Wikipedia

Love,

Mom

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #67: "A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming"

new-thought-6

Dear kids,

Believe it or not, I used the techniques in A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics by Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel to successfully have a lucid dream. Two, in fact. In the first, I knew I was dreaming but just kept on waitressing; as I remember thinking, “Well, I’d better get back to work; these people are waiting for me.” In the second, I decided to stop what I was doing and fly. I got about nine feet before I woke up. If I wanted to devote a bit more time to it, I’m confident it could be a regular occurrence.

The Main Idea:

Lucid dreaming is the ability to know you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. This book teaches you how to reconnect with your dreams; how to have a lucid dream; and what to do once you’re lucid.

Links to More Info:

A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics on Amazon

A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics on Goodreads

Love,

Mom