The XX Factor

From One Mom to Another

At the New York Times ’ Motherlode Blog, Lisa Belkin shares an e-mail from a reader named Amy, a stay-at-home mom of two kids who’s unhappy and wondering what to do.

My husband and I are 36. We have a 4-year-old and an 8-month old. We both put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be good at what we do. I’m a stay-at-home mom and he owns a production company. Lately, we feel like we are drowning under the rigors of raising a family in the New York area. Are we trying to get rich? Is that what we want? No, not really. But we do want to be able to afford private school, save for kids’ college education and for our retirement. So is that why we succumb to this life where we, as husband and wife, hardly have any time to spend together? Where we constantly feel like we are just trying to get through the day, through the week?

Amy’s story resonated with me. We’re about the same age. Our kids are about the same age. (I’ve got three; she’s got two.) My husband and I have gone through stretches where we saw each other for only an hour or so in the evenings before crashing on the couch. I’m not trying to raise my family in the expensive New York area, but you can live anywhere and feel the stress of trying to save for school and retirement. Amy said she was looking for advice from a “grown-up.” I don’t feel any more grown-up than she does, but I’ll try my best.

My first tip for Amy: It gets easier. It’s hard to believe when you’re in the thick of it, when you’re living what you describe as an “unwanted life” but soon your 4-year-old won’t be the needy creature who counts on you to do everything : tie his shoes, wipe his bottom, and put the straw in his juice box. When we went to our oldest son’s year-end soccer party, some parents (all of whom had older kids) chuckled as we struggled to find a place to plop the baby and make the 3-year-old eat his dinner and constantly jumped up and down while they relaxed. And that’s what they all said: It gets easier.

Should you move to a less expensive city? That’s a tough one. My husband and I moved from Seattle to Cincinnati after our first child was born, but the fact that it was cheaper was just a bonus. We really wanted to be closer to family. (When you go a year without going to a restaurant that doesn’t offer crayons with the menu, it’s time to move to closer to Grandma.) Do you have a support system where you are-parents and siblings? If so, it might be worth the expense to stay put. But if you’re moving closer to friends or family who could help out with the kids, that could help you get more quality time with your husband.

At least you and your husband are talking and are open about your unhappiness. It would be so much worse to stew in resentment. Since you have the dialogue going, you’ve opened the door to the conversations you need to have and the decisions you need to make. There’s an important truth in Dahlia Lithwick’s novel that’s running on Slate : You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Do you need private elementary school? Or will a good private high school be enough? Can you carve out times for “date nights,” even if that sounds contrived and forced and not quite the same as lazy Saturday mornings going to brunch?

A few years ago, Emily Yoffe wrote a touching article about her journey from being happily childless to having a child. Here’s one passage that’s always stuck with me: “[Nonparents] seem stuck on the notion that being a parent means forever climbing a Mt. Everest of diapers. Diapers pass in a snap. It all goes so fast. When our daughter turned 6, my husband and I realized with a pang that we were already one-third of the way through the time she would live with us.” My oldest is now 6, and he seems to age years with every passing month. So even when I’m tired and cranky and wishing that I could have a whole morning to drink coffee and read the paper, I try to remember that those days will be here again all too soon, when the kids are off at college.