We’ve all laughed at the story of the overworked mother who has three kids under twelve and one over forty and the oldest is her hardest to raise.
[quote]Mommy Syndrome is a condition in a relationship where a woman finds herself being a mother figure to her spouse instead of the partner and lover she expected to be.[/quote]
Do you sometimes joke that your husband has become one of your kids? Are you tired of picking up his socks, cooking his dinner, and doing all the parenting on your own even though you both work? Are you so resentful of having to be the grown up that it has affected your relationship as a couple?
You are not alone in these feelings. Mother Syndrome is a lot more prevalent than you might think. Knowing this doesn’t help your situation. But, it might make you feel better to know you’re not alone.
You don’t even have to be married to your mate to be caught in the Mother Syndrome. Authors Sara Dimerman and JM Kearns, in their new book How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother? The authors point out: Any adult who co-habits with another adult runs the risk of becoming caught in the Mummy Syndrome. The adult in your life could be a partner, a sibling, a roommate or even a parent.
What does Mommy Syndrome involve?
Do you find yourself picking up dirty laundry that isn’t yours? Are you doing errands for someone else while no one picks things up for you? Are you the grocery shopper, the cook, the house cleaner and the chief parent? Do you find yourself cleaning toilets on a Saturday morning while your partner plays golf? If the two of you are hosting a party do you find yourself doing the planning, preparing the food and cleaning up afterward while your partner’s sole contribution seems to be to pour a few drinks and mingle?
Women who hold down full-time jobs, do the major share of the housework, are the main child-raiser and balance the household finances are bitter and resentful. They have every right to be. After all, it isn’t fair!
[quote]Mommy Syndrome is the most common complaint of women in marriage counseling. Many women admit they could live with a philandering husband who would at least shoulder a share of the household and parenting responsibilities.[/quote]
Naturally, social and sexual relationships suffer when one member of the pair is angry and resentful about being the major worker in the relationship. One woman, Grace, admitted to me,
“Even if I was still sexually attracted to Greg, I’m too darned tired at the end of the day to find Brad Pitt sexually arousing.”
[quote]Mommy Syndrome is the root of many couples’ dissatisfaction with their life together. Several of them—men and women—are shaking their heads and asking themselves, “Where did it all go wrong? How did our happy, loving relationship unravel?”[/quote]
In their early dating days, couples dressed up to look nice for each other. They were kind and considerate and paid attention to the feelings of their partner. If guys weren’t great housekeepers, they spruced up their apartment when their girlfriend was coming over. They even cooked.
Once they got married, guys tended to do less and less at home and spend more time at work, out with their friends, and engaging in sports. They are quick to point out that they encouraged their wives to do the same. That’s all well and good. But the grocery shopping, the laundry, the cooking, and the cleaning were still waiting for the woman when she returned from work, golf, or a night out with the girls!
Ralph, a wise man who has been happily married for fifty-one years once advised me: “Ask the hard questions before you get married.” When I asked him what he considered the hard questions he listed such things as kids, religion, parenting philosophy. But he also added: division of house and yard jobs, and family finances.
Ralph also told me he and Doris wrote these things down and posted them where they both would see them often. From time to time, they reviewed their answers to “the hard questions” and talked about how they were doing.
Guys are not totally to blame for The Mommy Syndrome. Many women become impatient with the way men are doing things. They start taking over duties that were originally agreed upon as those of their spouse because they don’t like the way they were being done or the speed at which they were completed. Like some parents, they adopt what relationships keynote speaker and author Barbara Coloroso calls parenting bad habits. They lecture or they helicopter. Lecturers point out that household or parenting tasks weren’t done and nag for things to be completed. Helicopters hover and fuss and swoop in to rescue, proving they have no confidence in their partner’s ability to remember and complete a task. For example: Where the two of you decided he would take care of the kids, now you hardly trust him to take them on an outing. If you think he behaves too much like one of the kids, he will start to act like one of them.
Women can’t keep all the balls in the air at once. They get exhausted and bitter trying to be cleaning lady, cook, finance manager, social director, and child rearer. With the woman’s exhaustion and bitterness, the couple’s intimacy disappears.
He feels as if he has been relegated to child status. This is not the way either of them visualized their relationship.
What’s to be done? Is there any way to repair the damage caused to a relationship by Mother Syndrome?
Relationship counselors assure couples that it’s not too late to correct relationships that have gone off the rails. They advise: First, couples need to agree that there is a problem. Next, they need to sit down together or with a counselor and talk amicably and honestly about what’s wrong and how they are feeling about it.
Women need to realize that they have to stop being angry and resentful. They have to give up control of everything. They have to understand and be prepared for the fact that things won’t necessarily happen when and how they want them done. They need to learn to ask for something to be done and express appreciation for support.
Mates have to acknowledge that they haven’t been doing their fair share and the inequity has made their spouse an exhausted, bitter, nagging, controlling individual. They need to take over some important responsibilities, do them well, and see them not as a favor to their partner but rather as their fair share.
A great reference for couples dividing up household and parenting responsibilities fairly is a questionnaire in the book: How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother? by Sara Dimerman and JM Kearns. It’s called: “Questionnaire That Will Set You Free”
When couples complete this detailed checklist they are surprised by what they discover. When eight of us who are all busy career people completed the task for this article, we noted:
There were so many things on the list it was mind boggling.
The males of each of the four couples were shocked by how much their spouse had been doing without their even being aware of it.
Wives were surprised by how many responsibilities their husbands were already doing.
The two couples with kids immediately realized their kids could be sharing household responsibilities they weren’t being trusted to do.
One husband, Brett, commented, “The check list was a wakeup call for me regarding what is fair. I am an accountant. I need to see things in black and white. Now that we’ve got a list, things are going to be a lot different. I don’t want a mommy. I don’t need a mommy. What I want is a partner and a lover. I want to get back the woman I married.”
All of the couples who completed the questionnaire agreed that it was a liberating experience. Mary commented, “Both Hal and I felt relieved that we had gotten things out in the open before our relationship went astray. We’ve watched our friends’ love life deteriorate because of a skew in household and parenting responsibilities. We don’t want to go there.”
Checklist in How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother? by Sara Dimerman and JM Kearns