Montclair Local Voices’ Ask Task: Is it Normal to Sleep Separately?

Dear Allison,

My husband and I have a healthy marriage. We go on date nights about three times a month. On the weekends, we are intimate. No matter how tired my husband is after work, he always spends quality time with our son. And before fully winding down for the evening, he makes sure bills are paid and family matters are discussed.

But once it’s 9 p.m., he wants to sit on the couch, have a drink and watch TV. We don’t enjoy the same shows so we prefer being in separate areas of the house. Inevitably my husband falls asleep on the couch and comes to our marital bed around 4 a.m.

When we are in bed together, we rarely touch or snuggle. We each desire being left alone. I do feel there is a societal expectation that married couples go to bed around the same time, lay together and should want be comforted by each other’s presence as they drift to sleep. I worry that our desire to be alone, not snuggle and sleep in different areas of the house might lead to marital issues in the future. What are healthy habits for couples on sharing a marital bed while maintaining a personal desire to unwind in different ways?

Thanks for your help.

Separate Together

Dear Separate,

So much good stuff here! Thank you. Here are the concerns I’m reading: 1) the societal expectation for how married couples interact “in bed”; 2) a general state of contentment with your current weekday bedtime routine; and 3) concern for what this “slippery slope” may lead to. Plus, a general curiosity as to general healthy sleep habits for couples.

Let’s start with healthy sleep habits for couples. As it’s said, “you never know what goes on behind closed doors.” Different cultures and different couples do things differently. In Norway, for example, couples sleep with separate comforters, two twin-sized comforters in a king- or queen-sized bed. This recognizes that each individual has different sleep needs. There are mattresses available that recognize the sleep needs of individuals, from sitting up to lying down to the strength of the coil. Hard to snuggle in those situations, too.

In some situations where there are sleep challenges, like different wake-up times due to work, heavy snoring or sleep apnea, the couples have made a move back to twin beds in the same room. Sometimes, when couples are managing the nighttime waking habits of young children, one member of the couple sleeps in the guest room (or on the couch) while the other sleeps in the marital bed, in hopes that someone may get a good night’s sleep.

There are cultural and situational precedents for sleeping separately. Everyone knows the importance of a good night’s sleep for health. So if sleeping separately offers that, it’s ultimately a good thing for you as individuals and for your partnership. Well-slept, happy partners can continue to foster a healthy marriage, and shag it up on the weekends.

Is the pre-bedtime routine really working for you? You say that your husband has a drink in front of the TV to wind down. How much is he drinking? Why is he falling asleep in front of the TV? That’s generally not a healthy sleep routine, as drinking even one drink per night will impact his sleep, and passing out on the couch instead of going to bed intentionally has an impact as well, especially if he’s coming to bed at 4 a.m. Also, does that 4 a.m. entry disturb your sleep?

Since you enjoy your date nights, I wonder if you could also do a weekly media date night at home where you watch something together. Find something you like in common, a good comedy, or some political satire? Watch it together outside the bedroom, then head to bed together. Sweet dreams.

Dear Allison,

My husband and I are almost too into our 1-year-old daughter. We’re older parents (I’m 40, he’s 45), and she was very much wanted after multiple rounds of assisted reproductive technology. We fight over who gets to hold her, feed her, bathe her. We sometimes do it together but that feels somehow less satisfying than doing it solo. How do learn how to share our baby?

Everyday I come home exhausted. I work all day, cook dinner, and take care of the baby. After I put her to bed, I slump on the sofa, catatonic, processing my crazy day. I know I should be doing yoga instead of surfing the web. Something energizing, not draining. But I can’t stop, even though my thumbs are sore from scrolling, and my eyes glazed over. How can I get the energy to get energized?

Baby Crazy

Dear Crazy,

Well look at that. Your first paragraph is about not wanting to share your delicious baby, and the second is about how exhausted you are. You’ve identified the solution yourself!

Since you say that taking care of the baby together is less satisfying than doing it alone, could you take turns? Monday and Tuesday you take the lead, Wednesday and Thursday he takes the lead? This could give you an opportunity to recharge, and have the “energy to get energized,” as you say. Instead of being at home, you can take that yoga class, or see a friend. Keeping your nondomestic social life active is important for your happiness, and can be energizing.

Perhaps you can split the chores so that on nights where he takes the lead with the baby, you cook dinner and vice versa. Everyone doing everything isn’t the best use of your time or energy. Splitting up responsibilities is more efficient so there is less energy leakage.

This parenting thing … it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Your daughter will be with you in your home for 18 more years, likely more. She’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You need your energy to parent, wife, and be your best self.

As for that phone — your eyes are glazing and yet you can’t look away. So let me ask you: If your daughter was doing what you’re doing, at 13, how would you handle it? I’m guessing the responsibility of the cell phone, which we know is addictive, would come with some ground rules, like … no cell phone in your bed at night, no cell phone after 9 p.m., etc.

So what are some healthy ground rules that you could set for yourself? Maybe use a timer, so that you’re not on Facebook for more than 10 minutes at a time? You’re a parent, decide what you think is appropriate and then follow the rules.

And establish consequences if the rules aren’t followed, like … maybe you lose baby privileges for the night. Mother the mother, mama.

Montclair Local Voices’ Ask Task: “I don’t want to have sex”

Dear Allison,

I just don’t want to have sex with my husband any more. There I’ve said it. I like him, I love him, he’s a great father and partner. I’m just not into sex. I’m still nursing (our fourth child), and I get enough physical stimulation. I know he’s disappointed about it, but I just can’t bring myself to have sex.
— Sexless in the Suburbs

Dear Sexless,
Thanks for going there. I can assure you you’re not alone. And I’m going to guess that your husband would like more sex, and the sex drive gap is what’s bothering you. Let’s start big: have you considered an open marriage? Many have and do (yep, right here in Montclair), while others are completely opposed. Just putting that out there.

Marital sex can be a natural extension of love and connection. Do you have ample opportunity to connect with your husband? Other than the logistics of running a household with four (!) kids, are you able to connect in a couple bubble just the two of you? Are your needs being met? How’s everybody’s grooming, yours included? Do you get dressed and use the bathroom privately or is everything just hanging out a little too much?

Many, many Montclairites swear by the Five Love Languages (5lovelanguages.com). They offer a quick, free test that you and your partner can both take to see which type of love you like to receive.
You’ve been sharing your body with four tenants (and one is still nursing!). Before you can get back to partner intimacy, you may just need some time to reclaim yourself.

Please write again in a couple months and let us know what of this you put to use and how it’s turned out.

Dear Allison,
My neighbor is a nightmare. Loud, rude, curses at her kids all the time, screaming at all hours of the night. She’s a SAHM [stay at home mom], husband is always at work, kids are 5, 7 and 10. They paid more than a million for a crumbling house. Late bonfires, smoke wafts into my house. Loud dogs who bark constantly, and seem to be let out starting at 6 a.m. until midnight. I’ve lived here for five years, she’s lived here for one. I’ve tried talking with her, I even brought her a goddamn casserole when she moved in. Nothing but bad vibes.

What can I do? I’m out of ideas.
— Mad in Montclair

Dear Mad,
Ooof. This is a hard one. You found the house, and all was well until…bad neighbors.

Good fences DO make good neighbors: do you have a fence? Is it thick, high? Does it deaden the barking from the dogs and the mom? That’s a place to start.

It’s hard to be home alone without your partner, as the primary caretaker for the kids. Does she have friends that come by? Does she have any help with the kids? I know … it’s about you, not about her, but I can’t help but think she isn’t happy and is acting out.

A home-cooked meal and a bottle of wine may help. Or you may be way past that point.

Bad neighbors have ruined many a good home. And Montclair ordinances err on the side of expecting neighbors to be neighborly. Poor treatment of pets and yelling at kids isn’t really covered in our local laws.

So to be straight with you, it comes down to how frustrated you are. Can you find a way to block it out, or is it all-consuming? If it’s the latter, it may not be surmountable.

Dear Allison,
I’m getting a bad vibe from my au pair. She doesn’t seem warm, doesn’t like to be affectionate, won’t hug or kiss my kids. Even if they fall and scrape their knees. Zero affection. I’ve spoken with her about it, and she said, “That’s just how I am.” This is not going to change.
I’m going back to work full time in a few months, and she’ll be primarily caring for my infant. I worry about her lack of physical affection. Is it a big deal? Maybe it’s cultural? Should I just get over it?
— Trying to treat her like family.

Dear Trying,
Life coach hat off; mom hat on. I have been through my share of childcare, and change has not been easy. One thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to follow your gut.

It’s also become clear to me that the main job of a caretaker is to take care of the primary parent. Not making you tea and scones, but making sure you’re comfortable with how your kids’ needs are being met. It sounds like physical affection is important for you, especially with your newborn.

Some parents don’t want their caretakers to be physically affectionate; you do. If you want it, and she’s told you that she can’t deliver it, it’s a mismatch. Period.

There are plenty of caretakers that will cuddle and be affectionate with your children. This is important to you, which means it’s important.
There’s someone out there who is a far better fit for your family at this time. Let’s find them.

This article originally appeared in The Montclair Local

How to Help Your Spouse Find A Better Job

If your spouse is looking for a change, follow these 4 steps to recalibrate their career trajectory.

There are few things more heartbreaking than someone hating their job. Work is where most people spend the majority of their waking hours. And if your spouse is the breadwinner, they feel this responsibility—they have to work, they have to make money, or the whole system breaks.

I live in the suburbs, where I see lots of dads and moms dragging themselves to the bus or train stop at 6 a.m., commuting with miserable looks on their faces. The twinkle long ago left their eyes, and they are hating every minute of it.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you are watching the spring go out of your partner’s step…

(originally appeared on HitchedMag.com)

“I’m a Single Mother by Choice—and I Love It”

Are you considering becoming a single parent by choice? Here’s how one single mom did it all on her own—from selecting sperm to becoming pregnant to having two children—and she’s sharing all her top secrets on how you, too, can become a parent.

Have you always wanted to be a mom?

Kate McNeil did. She comes from a very close family, and being a mom was always part of the life she saw for herself. So when she wasn’t finding a worthy partner and she was getting older…she realized not having a partner didn’t need to keep her from having a family. Kate started telling friends about how she could leave Brooklyn, move to New Jersey, and become a mom. She could do this on her own. Kate cautions that once you start building out that vision, it can happen rather quickly. In her case, once she decided to give single parenthood a go, she was pregnant within four months. Read on to find out everything she learned on her own journey to motherhood...

(originally appeared in Reader’s Digest, rd.com)

8 Secrets No One Tells You About Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

These are the little things that every new mom realizes eventually, but no one really talks about.

1. You may pump in some crazy places.

While it’s wonderful that companies are now required by law to provide lactation rooms and breaks to nursing moms, you may not be pumping there all the time. Have you ever had to go to the bathroom on a long road trip and you’re stuck in traffic and, and…you just pull over and pee at the nearest gas station restroom, even if it’s filthy? Sometimes biology takes over and you just need to do your thing. Breast milk let down is like that, too. Your breasts may get full and hard as rocks and need to do your thing, even if you’re in the car on your way to a meeting or commuting on the train. You may want to invest in a car adapter or a battery-operated breast pump so you can pump on when you’re on the road. Though you may cover up, people may catch on to what you’re doing. And expect the cloth to fall so that you’re less surprised when it does. Even if you’re pumping in private, you may forget to lock the door or pull the blinds and co-workers with the very best of intentions may still walk in. Rest assured, they are always, always, way more embarrassed than you are.

2. Working helps you connect with yourself again.

“It’s so nice to have adult conversation!”, “I feel like my pre-baby self again!” and “It’s good to not have to focus on the baby for a few hours,” are some comments I hear in every class. Let’s face it, before you had the baby (and while you were carrying the baby) it was all about you. Since having the baby…

(this piece originally appeared on Reader’s Digest, rd.com)

Get Unstuck (Video)

Want to see some raw honesty from a rough life coach? Here’s me, first thing in the morning (after coffee but before a shower), answering the following question:

Why do you enjoy helping people get unstuck and get more out of life?

My coach asked me this question, and challenged me to speak directly to you, and explain my motivation to coach. After all, if I’m going to help you do what you want to do, what’s the proof that I’ve done it myself? Here you go. Thanks for watching. I look forward to hearing what you think.

 

A Village of Fathers

I have a life coach. As a career & life coach, it behooves me to be coached, to practice what I preach.

My coach was a set up, and as a result, a coach was chosen for me that is probably unlike a coach I would have chosen for myself. He is a Black Christian man living in North Carolina.

And yet, he is a lot like me, a White Jewish woman in New Jersey.

We both have backgrounds in marketing and public speaking. We are both parents and have experience in step-families. He inspires me and digs deep to help me figure out what I’m good at and what I can contribute to my clients’ lives. He loves coaching.

He continues to focus on my work as a mother (even though I tell him it’s not relevant), and as a working mother, and the value of that work. Because he, as a working father of a young black man, the same age as the white men I’m raising, well…he respects mothering. Of all men. And respects the important role of a good mother in a man’s life.

Today, Tru sent me a video (as he likes to do) after our session. I had shared some frustration with him about something that happened recently, how I felt unsupported as a mother.

He shared this video with me, to demonstrates different ways in which communities support parents and children:

Did you cry as much as I did?

Wow. This Black Christian man and White Jewish mother have a lot in common. We want to increase the opportunities for children of all ages to grow strong through their challenges, feel support around them, and help them use their passion and potential to create a purpose.

And to make his point as to how important mothers are, Tru sent me a video on the power of fathers. And fathering. And family and villages. During every session, he tells me that stories from he heart are the most powerful. After watching this, I can only agree.

People Are Like Goldfish

My family and I went to a festival recently, and they had one of those games where participants can win goldfish. Of course this the prize both of my 3-year-olds wanted.

And, after carrying those fish around for 2 hours, carelessly tossed to the side when a kid was eating pizza, swimming away from the claws of a 3-year-old trying to “squish the fish”, they made it home to a place that had no bowl and no food.

These fish were exhausted, traumatized. And no, the pet store was not open after we finally put our children to sleep.

Our two fish were to live in a pitcher and go hungry. After all that. 🙁

At the pet store the next day I was reassured by the pet store staff that there was no point in giving festival fish a nice habitat, as they were bred to live short lives. They were just meant to be prizes, or feed other fish.

life coach

Fish or food?

Slightly more research yielded a different perspective — these festival fish, also called common goldfish or comets could grow up to 18 inches! Instead of keeping them in a pitcher as I had been, these giants-to-be deserved a filtered tank, and due to the intense amount of excrement they produced, no more than 2 fish to a 10 gallon tank at a minimum.

I splurged and went with a long 20 gallon tank for my fish (which cost less than $100), to see if this fish tale could possibly be true.

The fish remind me of my coaching clients. At some point, my clients were put in a tank that was the wrong size. They heard lots of shoulds and cant’s, and stepped away from something they wanted to do.

They come to me to fix a situation, something that is wrong that is nagging at them, whether it’s career, family life, or most frequently a combination of the two.

I believe in people. I believe that everyone has something that they can do to contribute to the world. Their superpower. Maybe it’s revolutionizing school lunches. Maybe it’s helping AIDS orphans in Africa and Thailand. Maybe it’s creating the most beautiful, high end bridal shop in New York City. Maybe it’s publishing a series of cookbooks, and the words and pictures to go with them.goldfish

People have skills and talents. Unique gifts. Last weekend I was at a wedding and met a woman who makes gorgeous jewelry out of flat polished stones that she finds on the beach. Another who makes large installations of wine cork art (some of her pieces have over 4000 corks!). Both are at the beginning of their artistic/entrepreneurial journeys; I can’t wait to see where these passions take them in 3 to 5 years.

These passionate people deserve big tanks so that they can grow to the full extent of their abilities.

I coach because I believe in people. I also believe people have an easier time stepping into their zone when they have an advocate who shares their vision and believes in their ability to accomplish it. The only thing that stands between a constipated superhero and a contribution to the world is partner that believes in them and holds them accountable to their vision

My work as a coach allows me to be the scaffolding as these superheroes are built.

And those goldfish? Well I’m happier to say that the experts were right. Comets grow fast! In just 3 months, my fish are thriving and have doubled in size, from under 1 inch to big, fat two inch goldfish (with incredible appetites).

Don’t be surprised if you come to visit me in my office and find a 50 gallon tank with just a few big fish in the next few years.

I believe in what happens when fish (and people) are put in the right environment.

life coach

Days Between School and Summer

The days between school ending and summer beginning; what are they called again?

It’s not an official holiday…but parents definitely need to find child care. There are wonky half days, field days, fun days, picnics and ceremonies, ah, those early dismissals and auditorium events usually called for some time between 11AM and 2PM.

It’s not working parent friendly, at all.

And we know the majority of parents are working, right? And yet the school systems (private or public) have not acknowledged that reality. Frankly, closing for 3 months every summer is also ignoring reality, but I’ll save that for an author who has already covered this topic.

So here’s a confession. Although you may know me as happy and go with the flow, this mom of three 3-and-under, well, I LOVE ME some structure. School. Camp. Routine. I’m a stressed out little puppy in the face of Memorial Day, god help me on Christmas break, and this time between school and camp, well it just sorta sucks.

I don’t know what to do with my kids, and how to balance work and their needs. I like my systems, I like routine. Boundaries help our family thrive.

This year, I decided to go with it a bit. Take the days off. Be around. Hang out with the kids and do something different. Author and coach Gretchen Rubin had a whole podcast about marking summer as different by behaving differently. Eating differently. Taking note of doing differently and making that it’s own celebration.

Well, weird week, I got you. I got zoo and I got butterflies and I’ve got fishing rods. I’m ready to do things I haven’t done with my kids before, and enjoy this time. I’ve got weird sandy vegetables from my co-op and I’m ready to cook them. After I teach my sous-chefs, I mean kids, how to wash them properly.

Sure, my husband gets to work while I improvise. But if I can’t fight the reality, better to enjoy it and turn it into something fun. As soon as I give up the fight, and frustration with what this week is not (normal), I can yield to what it is and find what works for me. Being present in the break.

What are you doing with the kids in the nether zone this year? Drop me a line or tell me more in the comments below.

Can’ts and Shoulds

I was taking a fast-paced walk the other day, and came to an intersection manned by a crossing guard. The light was red and the crossing guard was across the street. No cars coming in either direction, and so I began to cross.

A sharp whistle came from you know who followed by, “You can’t cross now!”

I looked again. Still no cars. I could cross, of course, there was no danger here. I looked back up at the crossing guard, who shook his head no, as if reading my mind. I returned to the sidewalk and waited the 30 seconds until the light turned.

My not crossing was more important to him than crossing was to me.

Can do coach!

It’s up to you. Really.

Recently, I had my sons in the car with me on a return trip from the grocery store. It was snack time; one wanted pretzels, the other raspberries. I gave them each their snack.

I then asked pretzel boy for a snack, “Nope. You can’t have one.”

I explained why this was not nice. Raspberry boy offered me a snack, “I will give you two raspberries, but only two.”

Okay. I reached my arm back and he put the raspberries in my hand.

I asked his brother if I could have a pretzel. I was told, “No. You can’t have one now. You already ate two raspberries and that’s all you get.”

So I’m raising two dictators. Or, two three-year-olds, who like to play with boundaries.

Young children kids are always hearing boundaries. Not now. One TV show. That’s enough milk. Put on clothes. Don’t pee on your brother.

Their job is to find the boundary, and push until they hit one. That’s what they do. My job as a parent is to establish that boundary without losing my mind.

Contrastingly, my job as a coach is to help break people out of self imposed boundaries, and get rid of the can’ts and should’s they’ve been hearing all their life.

Like the crossing guard. I mean, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to cross the street at a red light, but let’s be real. I could see 4 blocks in every direction; ain’t nothin’ going on in this cross section besides me and your whistle.

There’s no real reason I couldn’t have crossed. But it was his job to tell me I couldn’t; I shouldn’t. And because I’ve developed a sense of maturity, I didn’t question him on this.

And thank god, my job is to help people realize they can. And will. (And they do.)

can do coach

Now that’s more like it!