Divide and Conquer – why having a family means splitting up.

  • ‘Do you mind if I go to the loo for a sec?’
  • ‘Can I just have two mins to shower?’
  • ‘Do you mind if I go Kick Boxing next week?’
  • ‘It’s my mum and sister’s birthday, do you mind if I go out for lunch?

These are questions I never imagined Down-to-Earth Dad or I feeling the need to ask. At what point did the basics of hygiene start requiring clearance? Since when did we feel the need to ask permission for every social outing?

Since we had kids.

It’s absurd. I cringe when Down to Earth Dad comes home from work and asks if he can run to the loo before joining me bath-side. Basic bodily functions should not require my go-ahead, yet still he asks, bless him. Not because I am a control freak. But because it’s quite likely I haven’t had the chance to go to the loo in hours either, and have been crossing my pelvic floor, waiting for him to get home. It cuts both ways, I found myself asking if I could brush my teeth the other day. For all our sakes, this should not be up for negotiation.

Divide and Conquer

The problem is, family life is a world where having an uninterrupted poo counts as time-out. We’re both so desperate for a break that every moment away from the hands-on business of child rearing must be cleared, clocked and repaid in kind. You’d think such tight controls would mean we spend hardly any time apart, but actually we’ve never spent less time together. Surviving kids with a shred of sanity depends on the wartime principle of ¬†‘Divide and Conquer.’

Take socialising. With two kids asleep upstairs, only special occasions warrant a babysitter so a quick spontaneous drink as a couple is out. Catching last orders is only possible with a friend, while the other parent mans the monitor.

It’s the same with sleep. We used to fall asleep spooning. These days something usually comes between us… something starfish-shaped and childlike. Waving goodnight to Down-to-Earth Dad over the shoulder of a sleeping child just isn’t the same. And there’s no more lazy Saturday mornings under the duvet together. These days we alternate lie-ins while the other person referees the dawn shift.

Weekends, we work split shifts. Down to Earth Dad gets to go kick boxing. I get a couple of hours in a coffee shop later to blog away the pain of being the Only Mum in The Park on Saturday Morning – surely the hardest shift of the week with all those dads about? Yes we squeeze in family outings in between solo escape attempts, but don’t be fooled into thinking this equals time together. Down-to-Earth Dad will likely be chasing Bouncing Boy on the scooter while I play dodge-the-swings-roulette with Baby Girl. If we risk a cuppa somewhere, we’re both too preoccupied with manning our designated child to exchange more than two words. Ever tried counting how many times two children can make you get up from a table in ten minutes? Sod sitting down together, lets run relays round the cafe instead.

Even family events have the potential to drive us apart. A child-free family wedding means only one of us can attend, as all family members are going, leaving us with no babysitter. A leisurely birthday lunch out is unthinkable – might as well make it a girls thing while the Dads do daycare.

I can’t see an alternative – we both need time out and don’t have a full time nanny. Go figure. But I do miss my husband. I married him because I liked spending time with him. Duh! We’ve always been team players – we share friends and have always socialised together. We’ve never been big on Boys Nights or Girl’s Nights. It was the same at home, we bumbled along doing most things together, from loading the dishwasher to walking the dogs. But these days it’s all ‘I’ll do tea. You do bed time’ ‘You go out Tuesday. I’ll go out Thursday.’ Sigh.

We could make like Prince William and Kate, and leg it to the Maldives for a week sans baby, but I’m not sure my maternal guilt could take it. Recently we dared to leave Bouncing Boy at a friends’ house for a sleepover. It was the first time he’d spent a night apart from me, except when I had to stay in hospital after having Baby Girl. Ekkkk! Of course it was great, but there’s no way he could last a week, thousands of miles from us. And – cue controversy – I don’t think it’s right or fair to expect him to. I can’t help wondering what were the royals thinking? It’s not as if they’re struggling at the cot-face night in, night out without help. I can’t see them asking permission to go the loo between bouts of housework, Lego and nappy changing…

I suppose I should count myself lucky Down-to-Earth Dad is so supportive and hands-on with the kids. I’ve just had an amazing afternoon soaking up the sun and a few glasses of Processco with my mum and sister while he ploughed through a particularly shouty afternoon as sole carer. Best brace myself for payback next weekend…

How do you stay close to your partner in the midst of  family-life?

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