Things came to a head between me and my best friend Callie*. I am deep in baby land and it’s not fun for her. She calls and I rarely pick up. We almost never see each other without the baby being there, or being interrupted by something baby related. It’s hard to go into deep conversation.
It’s no fun being in a lopsided friendship, in which only one person is being super supportive all the time. Callie has been my rock since my son was born, and I’ve been leaning hard on her. “It was fine for the first three or four months when he was an infant,” Callie explained, “but it’s not fine any more. He’s eight months old!”
I’ve been on both sides of an uneven relationship.
My conflict with Callie unearths things that surprise me. I come up against the extremely mixed feelings I have about adding a new baby to our family. What’s fresh today is an unexpected sense of peace about these mixed up feelings. There’s nothing wrong with feeling mixed! It is the most natural thing in the world to be living this incredibly difficult and beautiful year ambivalently.
I have mixed feelings about everything since he arrived!
A month after Baby O was born I wrote “High contrast life with a newborn: the timeless fugue state of gazing into my baby’s eyes, interspersed with frantic wolfing down of food as I hear the baby start to stir from a nap.”
My life continues to hum with high contrast. Pure enchantment back to back with pure boredom. Spending time with my baby is endlessly fascinating, as he discovers the fresh, new world, and mind numbingly boring – menial chores, repetition, aching for adult conversation. I am sometimes exhausted and overwhelmed, and the very next hour I can feel deep peace, or connect with my powerful resilience.
Sleep is critical to mental health with a new baby and a six year old who was used to having my full attention. I usually nap when our baby naps and I go to bed soon after our six year old. I’m well rested and that helps enormously, but sometimes the cost is feeling cut off from Callie and my other friends. Having adult time is also crucial to my mental health. I’m learning to spend many of our waking hours at parks and children’s activity centers, where I find kids whose caregivers also crave kind and intelligent conversation. They’re great, but none of them knows me inside out like Callie does.
If I wanted to guarantee myself baby free time in the evening, or longer chunks of daytime, I would need to find someone other than me who could put him to sleep. It’s kind of a no-brainer, but it hasn’t happened. Life with two kids is a very delicate balance. My husband and I can only handle so much. He’s great at many things and fully steps up to give to our family in the ways that are natural to him. Soothing a crying baby is not one of those things. I can get that baby to sleep pretty much every time with no crying, and so we carry on doing what’s working. But it has in impact on my friendship. I’m sad for that and I’m sitting here feeling how I treasure these precious hours cradling my baby to sleep and how I don’t want to do sleep training and I don’t want to make my husband do something that’s so painful for him. I’m choosing, there are consequences, I have mixed feelings.
I’m very attachment oriented. I’m really drawn to the practice of physical closeness and emotional warmth and responsiveness. However, I can’t help but notice that many attachment style parents end up choosing to have just one kid, or a few kids spaced widely apart, and many face marital challenges. It’s demanding work, requiring extraordinary openness and attention, and very child focused. It can put a strain on parents’ personal life and partner bond… although I think we can be honest with each other and agree that becoming parents of any style can put strain on the marriage. I feel at once more disconnected from my guy in terms of having time to talk and simply be together, and infinitely more connected: we are now related by the blood running through the veins of the little boys who come from both of us.
I’m so glad our baby is here, so glad our big boy has a little brother, and I sometimes long for those simpler days when we only had one kid and I had a personal life. I want my previous life back, I long for my future life, when I’ll get myself back again. My mom friends say: The days are long, but the years are short. Nothing could be more true of this life with two.
When Callie told me she only wants to spend protected baby-free time with me for a while, she shocked me. I felt scared for our friendship, and sad because I knew I’d see less of her and get less support from her. By the time I called her back an hour later I was shaking with anger. “I can’t believe how selfish and unreasonable you’re being!” I accused her. Yet, as I weathered the waves of feeling over the next few days, I was surprised to find a quiet trust. Callie was offering me a hard truth, but I could sense that she was staying in connection with me while she did it. I also discovered a new sense of freedom as I became aware that I’m choosing a way of being this baby’s mother that wouldn’t be right for some people, including Callie. It’s my way, and I’m ready to stand by it, mixed feelings and all.
I will also be carving out previous baby free hours to spend with Callie. I want that, and she’s worth it.
This is my last baby. I’m feeling the sweetness of that. I want to go slow, and savor these fleeting moments. The surprise unveiled by my conflict with my best friend is that the choices I’m making have become more conscious, and I feel less resentment about the demands my kids are putting on me.
Hello mixed feelings. Welcome in, you real, messy, beautiful life.