She’s not as playful as before the kids’ arrival. Perhaps she’s more curt and distracted and it seems harder to engage in the same conversations that you had when it was just the two of you. You look at her and wonder, what’s going on inside her head? If you want to understand, think of her brain as the dependable family PC. The game processing speed is diminishing as more practical work packages are added to the hard drive to handle the increasing family demands.
Dads today are doing more with kids than previous generations. A 2008 study found that today’s fathers are managing twice the housework and triple the childcare as our grandfathers. But that doubling still only takes it to 30% of the housework. Working and managing family obligations are filling the maternal hard drive.
You can separate these obligations into two categories – relationships and operations management. Running these two areas means that she’s had to further develop multi-tasking subroutines.
It’s the women who usually take care of the relationship aspects of the family. What’s happening with the kids? Who are their friends and how are they developing socially? The mothers arrange the playdates and are more sensitive to the kids’ issues. There’s also maintaining extended family relationships as well, arranging gatherings, passing important news and remembering important dates. We are also sandwiched between two generations who are on opposing ends of the self-care Bell Curve. Kids absolutely require time and attention. Grandparents can still be very competent but the physical and mental cracks begin to appear as they age. Unlike the Chinese, who prize their sons for eldercare, the care of aging American parents normally falls to the daughters; your wife is probably more aware of her father’s prostate than you are of your own.
Managing the household operations occupy a significant portion of the drive. Kids prosper when they have a routine and general schedule in their daily lives. But the reality is that kids leave confusion in their wake; they sicken, forget things, get cranky and demanding. So the mothers, as primary caregivers, are trying to reconcile flexibility with maintaining some kind of daily routine.
It can be maddening and even infuriating when others who aren’t aware of the competing demands question why more wasn’t accomplished in the course of a day. The kids’ chronic interruptions also mean that she’s being constantly diverted from the original task and getting back on track requires additional time and mental effort.
There’s a cycle to maintaining even a relatively clean house – cleaning, cooking and laundry – and these require additional subroutines that add more multi-tasking layers. Toss a load of laundry in the washer and return to the kitchen to load the dishwasher.
While these run, cut up food for the crockpot and then help Junior find the prized possession that he’s mislaid for the twelfth time. Then it’s back to shift laundry to the dryer and onwards to something else that needs to be done. Weave that into the mix of work and childcare and you have a woman who’s maintaining a high level of efficiency at the expense of game speed.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that distance automatically equals a lack of love. It’s likely that she still loves you and wants those moments to play the games. But the games are best enjoyed when more of the computing processes and subroutines are removed from her hard drive. Just remember that the family family needs these subroutines to survive, so they have to move to a different hard drive.