Taking Turns

by Abby on July 11, 2011

Toy cars at a stop signThere’s an intersection in my neighborhood with a 3-way stop. What that means – as any person who’s ever passed driver’s ed should know, IMO – is that whoever gets to the stop sign first, goes, after coming to a full and complete stop. Then the next car, then the next.

I get IRATE when people don’t follow this simple rule. And it happens a lot. The person going straight, for instance, will try to breeze through on the bumper of the previous car, before I can turn left. “What is WRONG with you?!” I scream inside my car. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to TAKE TURNS?”

Maybe it’s because I spend so much time enforcing sharing with my children. (“I’m going to count to 10; then it’s your brother’s turn with the guitar.”) Or maybe it’s because my whole life is based on taking turns.

Weekends are the hardest. My husband and I hammer out the schedule every Friday: Saturday is my turn to sleep in, Sunday is his. This works fine unless one of us (or both of us) has a late night. This throws a wrench into the agreement. Also, C. not-so-subtly noted that I turn into a raging bitch when I don’t get enough sleep, so he martyred himself into getting up BOTH mornings rather than have the weekend ruined by his sleep-deprived shrew of a wife.

But that isn’t exactly a fair solution, either, which leads to mornings like this one when my youngest child woke up at 5:55am. Reluctantly, C. got up. But after listening to him and the boys shriek and scuffle for an hour, I forced myself to get up and let him go back to bed. I couldn’t take the guilt. Or the noise. And that’s just the beginning.

Then it’s whose turn is it to go to the gym and when, whose turn to change a diaper, whose turn to do the grocery shopping, and whose turn is it to take the kids to the pool. A better mom would go WITH her family to the pool, but having spent every single morning there during the week, I would rather chew off my own arm than step foot in that chlorine-scented hell on a Saturday.

The most depressing thing in the world to me is to spend my weekends exactly the same way I spend my weeks. I love my kids more than anything and they make my heart sing with joy every single day, but I am still disappointed when the weekend rolls around and I realize that it makes no difference whatsoever.

Laundry and dishes still have to be done, people still have to be fed, and the kids will still get up at their regular God-forsaken pre-dawn hour and expect 14 hours of nonstop amusement and activity. As I write this, it is finally bedtime for my older son. This has felt like the longest day in the history of time. Entire species could have become extinct since my day started.

And as supportive a husband and as involved a dad as C. is – and make no mistake, he is — he would also like a break on the weekends. Who wouldn’t? And so, we resort to taking turns. Your turn to watch the baseball game on TV for an hour. My turn to disappear into the bedroom with a book. Your turn to take them to the gym, my turn to take them to the playground. Your turn to make dinner, my turn to do baths. And so on and so on.

And yet, it still doesn’t seem fair, or fun. What are we doing wrong? And how have you learned to negotiate time off with your spouse?

READ O’ THE WEEK: In this post for Hybrid Mom, writer/mom Angie Mizzell grapples with these questions much more eloquently and less resentfully than I.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen@so much to say July 11, 2011 at 7:48 am

I think it’s easy to get focused on the “hard” and forget, or comparmentalize, the beautiful in parenting small children. It’s easy for me to be preachy right now b/c I’ve escaped my rut, but it’s only been about two weeks, and if you need proof, you can go find the week’s worth of whiny, gripy blog posts on my site. 🙂

For me, half an hour doesn’t cut it. Christian likes golf, so he’ll go out for four hours. Friday night, I went scrapbooking for four hours. And sometimes we need a break together. But none of those things happen even as often as once a week. We’re parents of small kids right now, and this is life. I have to constantly work to keep my attitude pointed in a positive direction, and remind myself that “this too shall pass.” That I won’t still be changing dirty diapers even five years from now. (At least, I HOPE not!)

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Abby July 11, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks, Kate. I needed that. My 2yo is in a particularly challenging phase right now & sometimes it’s hard to remember that it’s just that – a phase.

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Kim July 11, 2011 at 9:34 am

I know some couples who do everything 50/50. I mean everything, from refusing to change to a diaper b/c they did it last to making the bed each morning to doing dishes to playing with the kids. I guess it works for them, but when I hear arguments happen frequently about who did what last and whose turn it is, it seems like it takes a lot of effort to keep track of everything. My husband and I never approached parenting this way, and we kind of take turns unconsciously. But on the weekends (when he isn’t deployed) he gets up with our girls so I can sleep a bit more. I think he does it because during the week he always leaves the house before they’re up, so on Sat. and Sun. he gets to be with them in the a.m. I’m grateful when he cooks or cleans or does dishes, because I am not the best at keeping the house in good shape. Motherhood definitely involves learning how to be patient with taking turns! From lines at Disneyland to leaving the preschool parking lot to teaching taking turns to our children, my patient I hope is stronger now than it was four years ago!

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Lou Mello July 11, 2011 at 12:37 pm

We have a 3 way stop in our local Shopping Center and it is the absolute busiest intersection there. The folks coming in off the main road have the right of way with no stop sign and the other three stops are in front of a CVS Pharmacy, a Starbucks and a busy sandwich place. OH MY HEAVENS !! It is always an accident waiting to happen and you are so right about following the simple “take turns” rule, if one or two don’t know what to do, it turns into a Laurel and Hardy movie with the Keystone Cops.
First, the ones that don’t have to stop, do stop and just sit and wait…YIKES!! Then, it just becomes too goofy to describe. I have started going out of my way to other entrances or exits just to avoid the mayhem.

Now, as to the parenting fun of taking turns, it has been a long time since my daughter was young and therefore I can claim memory loss to some degree, but, I don’t recall there being a lot of strictly enforced turn taking. When she was very young, we just sort of took turns depending on what the other was doing. I was always a very light sleeper and usually got up during the night for taking care of all the necessities. I taught school and coached back then so my evenings home usually didn’t start until after 7 pm or later so I always wanted to spend time with her and often did that and then put her to bed. I should mention that my practice marriage wife at the time was a stay at home Mom so she was more than willing to let me do evenings and night times and a lot of the weekends. I should also mention that I farmed about 250 acres as well at this time (that is correct, I had no life), so that took a lot of the weekend days.
The best thing that could be said has already been said, this too shall pass in time and when you look back, you will both be happy that you shared as much as you did.

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Loukia July 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm

It’s true, when you’re a parent, weekends are just like every other day. I work outside of the home so sometimes my Monday feels like my weekend because I get to enjoy my coffee in peace in my office!

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Sarah July 11, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I can’t begin to tell you how much this post resonated with where we are right now too! I have two girls (3.5 and 8 months) and at the end of the day it’s all I can do to get up the energy to clean the dinner dishes before collapsing on the couch. The minutes until the girls are in bed take FOREVER! I think you’ve got the right idea with the taking turns, but sometimes it seems my husband and I are forever trying to escape the madness alone and forget to spend time with each other too. And, my husband is in grad school right now, so his “I’ve got to study” always trumps my “I’ve got to get some alone time or I may slowly go insane”. Anyway, hang in there! One day at a time. Oh, and by the way, your blog has always been my very favorite one to check. 🙂

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jetts31 July 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm

That is so funny because my wife and I take turns sleeping in too. She works on Saturdays so we split Sundays, unless one of us is feeling generous and lets the other sleep on “our” morning.
Actually, we take turns for everything or we recognize when one has put in “more time” doing something.
Its as fair as we can make it which works for us. It definitely makes for a happier home.

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Jennifer Larson July 11, 2011 at 10:11 pm

My husband is a physician, and he sometimes comes home from work and claims that he’s been taking care of crying children all day and just needs a break. And I want to retort, “But I’ve been taking care of YOUR crying children all day, and I need a break too!” (Plus working from home, I might add.)

So, I don’t have any great words of advice. I’m so helpful. 🙂 But I’m commiserating. Misery loves company, etc. etc.

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Malia Jacobson July 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Timely post. My husband and I are dealing with this very issue right now, because he’s a teacher who is currently home for the summer. So we’re currently swapping off child care and home duties in an attempt to wrangle some productivity out of the summer. Some days are better than others.

But–and I suppose this makes the me odd one out here–“fairness” is not a big consideration of mine. In fact I rarely think about fairness or making things fair, not with my kids and not with my husband. (Maybe it’s because I was raised by two attorneys. Even as a child, I never had an illusions that the world was a fair place.) When I try to make things perfectly fair, I always fail. So we go by needs and forget about fairness. E.g. today I am working at a coffeeshop and I will work again after dinner, because I need more work time today, and he needs less. Today, he will do more laundry, simply because it needs doing, he’s at home, and I’m not. When the kids are hungry, whomever is present feeds them and cleans up. Some days, one child needs me more than the other one does. I don’t have the mental energy to keep score or try to keep things fair. In fact I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking and expecting the world to be fair. It most certainly is not. 🙂 (However, when their time comes, I will patiently teach them to take turns at 3-way and 4-way stops.)

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Abby July 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I think that’s a good point, Malia, and it reminds of a saying that always gives me pause: “In your marriage, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” I am perhaps overly concerned w/ being right & making things fair. But it’s often because I feel that if I don’t, all too often I end up being the “default parent.”

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Kristin July 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Oh, how I love your response here Abby! My husband and I used to do the taking turns thing (not perfectly, but you know… sorta’), then I got sick of it. I felt like I was forcing everything. However, I AM the default parent and right now I’m struggling with feelings of resentment toward my husband. I swear he’s an inconsiderate moron! Though, I know better (I think). Ugh! 🙂 If only there was an answer out there that worked perfectly for everyone, huh!?!

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Abby July 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Thanks, Kristin. It’s so hard not to have those feelings & so normal for every mom I know. And thanks for your comment on Diary of a New Mom. 🙂

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Angie Mizzell July 13, 2011 at 8:46 am

This post has me obsessing about how people behave at three-way stops. I’m trying to remember the exact rule (Drivers Ed was a long time ago), but I thought that whoever gets to the stop sign first gets to go first. But if you get there at the same time, then the person going straight goes first. Then you take turns. Is that right? Anyway, breezing through on the bumper of the previous car is not only illegal, it’s just plain rude. I think that’s my mantra when it comes to taking turns… don’t be rude. Thank you for linking to my HM post. It’s special to me because it’s the post that led to our friendship. 🙂

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