Enlivening Ourselves

(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this week. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)

Dear Dr. Norquist:

In my marriage my wife and I seem to have reversed the stereotypical styles. She tends to be more bold and more concerned with how much has been accomplished in a day, while I tend to be more laid-back and sensitive and strive to keep life a positive and joyful experience, especially for our children.

As a stay-at-home mother of 8, 4 and 1 year-olds, she seems frustrated nearly all the time, ending up speaking in a “scolding” tone to the kids most of the time. I see this reflected in a whining response from the kids, compounded by her making threats without carrying through on warnings. Of course, this leads to some discipline challenges, which further irritate my wife, to the point where she’s “had it” by the time I come home from work most days.

Whenever I try to talk about discipline, or trying to use a more-cheerful tone with the children, she becomes defensive, with the remark, “Easy for you to say; you don’t have to put up with it all day long”. I’ve tried to get her to do things with women in our church but she was raised not to take time for herself.

Can you provide any information about how I can help my wife relieve some stress? She’s very resistant to change, unplanned events, or being told what to do.

Dr. Norquist responds:

Being with children all day requires quite a different mindset then that required for the typical job. At work, a mindset of efficiency, focused concentration, productivity, and achievement is best suited for doing well. Applying this mindset, this “doing” mode to caring for kids, however, only ends up in frustration for all. Potential treasured moments in nurturing and enjoying a child’s development are lost or go unrecognized. Children are experts at being in the moment. This present-focused, “being” mode brings such joy and contentment to those who know how to participate in life in this manner. As adults, we generally have to practice re-learning this skill. Parenting is a perfect venue for practicing this (see Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book on parenting, “Everyday Blessings”). Kids have so much to teach us, if only we’d listen and observe.

Your wife appears to be most comfortable in the “doing” mode, and frustrated and drained from her doing mode approach to parenting. Perhaps understanding the difference between these two mindsets can be useful to her, and she can focus her accomplishment needs on becoming an expert in learning to switch into the “being” mode when it is most appropriate. If this does not interest her, a part-time job where she could have an outlet for her need to accomplish might be helpful. Mothers are much happier, and have more to give to their kids when their needs are met. Perhaps you could help by offering your wife support in finding alternative ways of meeting her accomplishment needs.

Check out Dr. Norquist’s new blog  GrowingThroughParenting.com

 (Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ  07030 or www.chaitanyacounseling.com or by e-mail at drnorquist@chaitanyacounseling.com. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. Ó 2019 Chaitanya Counseling Services