By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T Volunteer
My husband and I had an unexpected guest recently. My daughter gave birth and then developed a serious infection 2 weeks later that required hospitalization. She called me from the parking lot of the emergency room and asked me to please come and take the baby. And so, my husband and I became instant around-the-clock caregivers of our 2-week-old grandson for 2 whole weeks.
It’s been a long time since we cared for a newborn. Nineteen years, in fact. We were a little out of practice to say the least, and way too old to be up with a baby all night. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily and how quickly we fell back into our old, comfortable pattern of caregiving together. We worked smoothly as a team, sharing responsibilities and caring for our grandson– both together, and as a tag team, when one of us needed to be tagged out.
It took me back to the early days of parenthood when we brought our triplet daughters home from the hospital. There was always someone who needed to be fed, changed, held, rocked, etc. My husband and I were both actively engaged in taking care of our babies together. We took shifts sleeping—my husband had the 11 p.m. -3 a.m. shift and I had the 3 a.m.-7 a.m. shift. We were great parenting partners.
On the first night that we brought our grandson home with us, I sent my husband off to bed at 11 p.m. and he came downstairs in the middle of the night to relieve me. Earlier in the evening, he undressed the baby while I got his bath ready, he made the bottle while I was dressing the baby in pajamas, and then he fed the baby so I could clean up after bath time. We didn’t even discuss it, we just naturally fell back into our old patterns and worked comfortably together, without missing a beat.
Taking care of our grandson 24/7 also brought me back to the days of caring for our daughter during the early period of her eating disorder. At that time, my husband and I rediscovered our cooperative partnership and formed an alliance together. We worked in harmony to get our daughter re-fed and in a healthier place. Once again, we were a team.
No one would peg us as “that couple”. We are not the paragon of compatibility. We don’t “fit together.” We aren’t the “finish each other’s sentences” types. My husband isn’t the type who brings home flowers; his idea of a romantic anniversary gift is a pair of slippers, and I don’t even wear slippers. For the most part, we don’t share the same interests. We don’t take long walks on the beach, hand in hand. But when it comes to our kids (and our grandchildren), we are absolutely on the same page. And I have learned that this area of compatibility is one that counts the most.
For some parents, having a child with an eating disorder destroys their relationship and creates conflict and discord. In our case, it brought us closer.
When we first got married, I expected my husband to read my mind and to know when I was struggling and when I needed something from him. As our relationship matured, I have learned to ask my husband for help. If he knows what it is that I need, he can try and give it to me.
I think that we have reached a place of honesty in our relationship that allows us to be open about how we are doing. We don’t put on false pretenses around each other. If I’m not OK, I tell him that. And when he is struggling, he lets me know. This way, we can support each other and pick up the slack when needed.
I have also learned to make my expectations clear. What is obvious to me is not always obvious to my husband, and vice versa.
My husband and I always carved out time for ourselves when we felt like we needed it the most. We would find a way to go away for a weekend, even when it seemed impossible. Or sometimes, we would encourage each other to get away alone. It’s hard to be sensitive to your spouse/partner when you are dealing with your child’s eating disorder and you feel like you have nothing left to give anyone else. Sometimes you have to dig deep. In my experience, strengthening that relationship, especially in the face of hardship and difficulty, will have a huge positive impact all around.