Chomping at the Butt

I’m a big believer in letting people learn their own lessons. At least I used to be, before I got married. Now my family’s lessons are biting my ass.

A few weeks ago, Rose’s swim class session ended. Matt takes her to swimming. They used to swim on Saturday mornings but when this session ended, Matt did not sign her up for another session. This was the second time he’d dropped the beach ball. Because signups are so competitive, the pool doesn’t announce registration. Matt used that as his excuse. Rather than run over there to bail him out, I let him take care of the registration process. Well, by the time he called, Rose was shut out of weekend sessions, but hallelujah, weekday registration would start next week. He promised to sign her up.

Well, I thought, This will make him remember to register on time next time. Matt hates to miss work, and now he’d be leaving early twice a week to get to swim class. He’ll learn his lesson.

But what I didn’t realize was how this exercise in restraint would affect me. Matt had been driving to work on Mondays, which got him home earlier than usual. So that’s when he’d watch the kids so I could go to the gym. They have childcare for Rose but Christian’s too young, so I can’t go without a sitter. And I love the gym. I get to read grownup books and work out, and that kind of multitasking always makes me happy. Plus the workouts give me energy – something I haven’t had in nine months.

Well, now Matt and Rose have swimming Mondays, which meant I could not go to the gym. Further, they swim Wednesdays too, so Matt has to drive in twice a week. There was no way I could ask Matt to drive another day. Parking is outrageously expensive and he wouldn’t want to waste the money. I couldn’t go to the gym on weekends, either, because that’s when Matt takes Rose to the gym so I can write the blog.

So now, Matt may or may not have learned his lesson with swimming registration – we’ll see when this session ends. But I’m screwed because in “teaching” him, I lost my gym days.

Come to think of it, letting my family suffer the consequences of their own actions seems to chomp my butt all the time. I do the same thing with Matt’s chores. Matt has two jobs around the house: Dishes and garbage. As a matter of principle, I do not wash dishes or take out garbage. But I’m the one who works at home, so who sees the pile of garbage on top of the trash can? And who sees the counters cluttered with dirty dishes? And who gets more and more resentful each time she enters the kitchen? You guessed it, me.

And if I nag about it, Matt gets defensive and angry. Again, who suffers from that? Say it with me, “Me.”

I try to let Rose learn her own lessons too. She’s three, though, so it doesn’t always work out that way. If she resists wearing her jacket and I insist, it’s a battle of wills that leaves me stressed and angry. If I let her freeze her butt off, I have to listen to, “Mooooommmy…I’m cold.” All day. And then, if it lowers her resistance and she catches cold, I have to take care of her. So because she’s three I make allowances. I’ll carry the jacket and leave it in the car so that the minute she whines, I can say “I told you so” and she’ll put her jacket on.

I learned to allow people to learn on their own in a 12-Step program. But I didn’t need to put it into practice until I got married, long after I’d quit 12-Stepping. So I never learned what to do when it backfires. Strangely, no one in those meetings ever talked about that.

But what’s the alternative? Do I run around picking up Matt’s slack and stage power struggles with Rose every time we leave the house? Let’s say I did. Let’s say I rushed to the swim center and begged the clerk to let Rose into the weekend class. If I got her in, I’d be happy to preserve my gym day but resentful that I had to do it at all, and I’d enable Matt to slack off on registration next time. After all, if he can count on me to do it, why would he ever do it himself? If I forced Rose into her jacket on cold days, I’d come out of it angry and frustrated, and then Mean Mommy would show her ugly face.

I guess it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. I can be angry and resentful when I pick up their slack or I can be angry and resentful when I don’t pick up their slack. The truth is, futile as it seems, I still harbor a shred of hope that my actions, or lack thereof, will teach them valuable lessons. And that hope tips the scales for me. Maybe it’s too late for Matt, but I’ve got two kids now, and painful as it may be, all of this practice letting my family learn for themselves will help when the kids get older and I really need to let go.