Mom taking stress out on child

Dear Carolyn:

My first marriage ended, a spectacular shock to me, when I was 34. I would have done anything to make things work but was deprived of that option.

Today I’m with a solid guy I love; we have a 4-year-old. It’s not perfect, but it’s my family and I would do anything to protect it. But I see it happening again. The connection is fraying, the conversations are fraught. We both seem to have more anger and resentment with one another than love.

And we are SO. DAMN. TIRED. There is no fun or joy. I don’t even know if I am an actual person anymore, just a collection of things that I haven’t managed to do or do well to keep life moving forward. I am ANGRY all the time. Even at my little guy. I find myself being more physically rough than I intend to and I hate myself for it.

We’re not going anywhere. Both of us are too loyal and scarred from our first divorces and love our little guy too much. But I now see that it’s possible for a marriage to end/die even when you are still in it. Help.

— Marriage Falling Apart (V2.0)

Please get some help immediately, before you harm your child, physically or emotionally. Talk to your son’s pediatrician about resources for managing your stress and improving your parenting and communication. Like, call right now. Part of any good pediatric practice is supporting stressed-out parents. The hotline for Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, is another resource. It’s a nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of child abuse.

Because the health of the child is inextricable from the health of the family, seeking crisis support through child-centric resources is the most direct route to addressing the most areas of concern at once. Take the steps, please. There’s no shame in asking for help, and it is not even remotely unusual for parents to feel overwhelmed and angry.

Once you have an immediate source support in place, talk to your own doctor about getting screened for depression. The inability to feel joy and the anger both could be symptoms.

As for your marriage and the sense it’s slipping away: I recommend trusting that you can be frayed, fraught, frazzled, all of it, and still ultimately be fine. As long as the sources of stress are being addressed, it’s OK to trust in the short term that your marriage will improve as your individual circumstances improve.

With that trust as your foundation, and when you’re ready, look for ways to make room in your family life for all of you to get some air. Find a babysitter your 4-year-old enjoys, or a good family you trust to swap child care with — each of you takes in the other’s child for a few hours on a regular basis. Use that time for dates with your husband. Weekly. Don’t skip it. Also make room for each parent to be alone for a few hours, just to feel human again, to remember the “before” version of yourselves.

Again — do these as you also pursue more formal counsel and support, both in the near and long term. Be safe with your child, be kind to each other, forgive yourselves.

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         (c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Syndicated Advice Columnist
Advice Columnist Carolyn Hax takes your questions and tackles your problems.

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