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How to Parent and Still Be Nice to Each Other

The other day, I lost the plot.

Over a sweatshirt.

It was age 6, maroon, clean. I was about to pop it on a hanger when I felt compelled to yell out, “Why do I spend my life hanging up clothes?” It was no shock to the system that I received zero reply from this outburst. The kids were zoned out watching The Snail and the Whale in-between finishing dinner and getting into the bath. My husband was sitting with them, partly scrolling on his phone and partly invested in the tale of the whale and snail. My children were snuggled into him. What a cosy picture. The right amount of twee and reality. I should have felt something warm and fuzzy inside, but alas, I did not. Instead, I stomped into the living room and repeated myself.

Again, I was met with silence. My husband, to his credit, did look at me. A subtle, horrified side-eye. The kind I’m met with at regular intervals, whenever I reach boiling point. I didn’t expect anything other than the subtle horrified side-eye. If he’d jumped up, swept me into his arms and started singing my praises for juggling the working-parenting thing, I’d have been seriously worried. But being (almost) ignored just fuelled my fire even more…

I continued my task of hanging up the sweatshirt, banging wardrobe doors and stomping around. I emptied the drier and hung even more tiny items of clothes up, picking up stray Lego and Roblox along the way. I unzipped school bags to find even more clothes, rolled up, unworn, that - guess what - needed hanging up. During this time, my husband got the kids into the bath as they did their evening ritual of simultaneously playing together like BFFs and sworn enemies. I went to turn the TV off to be met with another pile of clothes. Most of these were dirty, but I still had to sort through, shake them, hang them, oh, YAWN. In the bathroom, however, it had all started to kick off. As I hung anothermaroon school sweatshirt onto a mini hanger, my head throbbed hearing the blood-curdling squeals of children blaming each other for everything and nothing and refusing to a) get out of the bath, and b) brush their teeth.

With all clothes hung up - unless a surprise dress was lurking beneath the beanbag - I took one soaking wet, overtired tantrum of a child, using tactical moves to get pyjamas on it. My husband dealt with the other. Whoever I was with wanted Daddy. Whoever Daddy was with wanted Mummy. Without discussion, we swapped.

An hour later, when all was calm, my husband and I exchanged some words. I can’t remember what, but they were few. Practical. Like robots. Two strangers devoid of personality forced into a kitchen together. I asked him if he’d emailed the karate teacher about our son’s belt. He said, no, not yet. I asked if he’d ordered the bath mat. He sighed. No. After a beat, it snowballed. The I-do-this and but-I-do-that argument. He reeled off how crazy his day had been. I reminded him of everything I had done, and all the extras on top. A competition with no winner, no trophy. Just an icky feeling of having gone through this petty fight, again.

“We’re not being very nice to each other at the moment, are we?” I said.

He didn’t respond. Which winds me up. But it’s what he does.

Because a little while later, I get a hug. A squeeze of my hand.

Luckily, we know how this ends. We’re okay. We’ve been here before many times. This fight, somehow, has become easier. It still happens because the little annoyances build and build to a crescendo, but as the years roll by, we learn how to cope, how to see it coming and call quits on the squabbling before it gets out of hand. However, we can only kiss and makeup if we make the effort to recognise the cycle, otherwise our relationship will be on a slippery slope. We have to understand why we’re snappy, or even worse, why we’re ignoring one another. We have to crawl out of our personal fogs. We have to release the grudges. We must know that we really are both in the same boat, just handling our sea sickness differently.

The rocky transition from being a couple to being parents is hard. Your relationship is suddenly forever changed. When you scrape together moments of alone time, it’s rare, and you spend most of your “date” talking about the kids anyway. You want to! You love them! Talking about the hilarious things your kids do is only ever going to be truly appreciated by your other half, and they don’t just get it. They really get it! But the spontaneity that you once had - and likely fell in love with each other during - is gone, replaced with strict time management. You have other humans to consider 24/7 who rely on you for absolutely everything. No wonder being witty/cute/sexy/interesting/funny/considerate for your partner has taken a back seat.

So, how can you parent and still manage to be nice to each other?

Defining your roles is a good start. This will eliminate the competition argument about who does the most childcare, house work, life admin… If one always does breakfast and the other always does the school run, then your mornings might be less hectic. Perhaps laundry is one person’s responsibility, but cleaning the bathroom is the other’s. Also, back each other up. Too often, we blame one another when we’re stressed with the children, but by setting a more positive example, it can relieve the pressure on your relationship. If your partner gets the kids dressed and they’re ready to go out, give them a high-five, rather than moan about why they haven’t got the correct jacket on. Nobody’s perfect! And after any bad situation, once the kids are finally asleep, debrief. Talk through why things might have escalated.

Ann Houck, a licensed clinical social worker, says, "we are the tools.” We wouldn’t build a house without sufficient tools to get the job done, so we need sufficient tools to take care of our children. We are their ultimate care and safety, and our role is to meet their every need. She reminds us that “we must keep this basic tool, us, in good shape,” and uses a term called HALT, which stands for Hunger, Anger, Lonely and Tired.

Am I hungry?

Your kids are well fed. You ensure they’ve had nutritious meals, snacks and water. But what about you? Did you skip lunch? Rush dinner? Grabbing whatever you can to keep going? Hunger brings out the worst in us and who gets the brunt? Yep. Your partner. So before you decide to call them out for that thing they forgot to do, eat. It won’t eliminate their forgetfulness. But it might improve how you broach the subject, making room for a more positive outcome.

Am I angry?

Often, it won’t be your partner that has created your anger. They have likely just contributed by being in your space when you needed space. So if you’re tense, ready to unleash, you will ask questions or respond to them negatively. Work, life admin, chores, neighbours, parking fines, irritable family members, the news, all of this creates pressure. It can drive you mad. No wonder you’re angry. But try not to put your partner on the receiving end of it. Instead, ask if they will listen while you talk about it.

Am I lonely?

Even when you’re surrounded by your noisy little family, you can feel alone. Your needs are pushed aside to make space for theirs, again and again. Your voice is heard, only when addressing them, but never for what you want to discuss. You have friends, but can’t find the energy to call them, or even send a WhatsApp, and they don’t contact you for whatever reason, perhaps something very similar. Loneliness can take you down a very dark hole. So reach out to your partner. Be honest with them, because let’s face it, you’re spending all day bringing up your children to be honest, right?

Am I tired?

Ha. Is this even a question? As a parent, sleep time is no longer a choice or a luxury. It’s something you grab when you can, and usually only four to five hours within the eight-hour allocated bedtime slot. But even as your children get older, unhealthy sleep patterns might continue due to bad habits; pushing yourself too hard, forgetting to drink enough water, skipping meals and over-snacking, avoiding exercise. Look back on some of the squabbles you’ve had with your partner. You might just realise that, yep, we were both just knackered.


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