It had been several weeks after the birth of our first child, a daughter. I hadn’t been outside our home beyond getting groceries in weeks. Every day my wife and I spent the entirety of the day with each other and our little one. I was also privileged to enjoy nearly two months of paternity leave making this new-parent bunkering even easier.
It wasn’t a vacation though. Any parent will tell you that, I’m sure. I certainly had less time to myself in my time off than before, even without work.
This meant I had less free time to do what I wanted. Less Netflix. Less Youtube. Less casual reading. Our daughter Suji dictated what I did.
The less time we had of our own in trading shifts of infant watch, the more we both started to take extra notice what the other did, too. A handoff to go to the bathroom would lead to reading on the sofa without returning to relieve the other of duty.
I imagined being a terrible parent and my daughter hating me for arguing in front of her.
That’s when we started to complain more about each other than before leading to one day when it all came to a boil.
In a brief moment we were yelling at each other. Then our daughter started crying, adding to the tension.
Amid all of this stress I started to regret becoming a father, thinking everything right then was unmanageable. I imagined being a terrible parent and my daughter hating me for arguing in front of her.
We somehow paused for a few minutes to calm our daughter down and committed to discuss whatever breakdown in our communication was happening.
Almost immediately we transitioned back to complaining about each other.
That’s when my wife suggested we stop all complaints for an entire month.
I thought that would be impossible. But I desperately wanted to fix this. Thinking of how I personally could achieve this I brought up the ever common trend of a gratitude journal and all the people who swear by it.
I previously tried this gratitude journaling to help me deal with some difficult people at work. But I failed at continuing it. And I still dislike those people.
I hoped this time would be different since I obviously loved my wife enough to have a child with her.
My wife immediately agreed it would be good for us and found a journal. She wrote a few lines in it right away and handed to me.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Now you write why you’re thankful for me.” she explained.
I was confused.
I was about to explain how others do the gratitude journal ritual, explain how you write in separate journals, not sharing it with the other.
But as I was thinking that, I read what she wrote. I saw her commitment and enthusiasm to fix our relationship in what she wrote and her beaming smile across the table. Reading what she wrote made me feel even more hope for improving things. I thought about our daughter too.
So I threw out convention and started writing my share. She took it from me when I was done and read it out loud. It was obvious how touched she was by what I wrote too.
We don’t always write amazing passages to move the other. Some days it’s as simple as a single sentence, “Thanks for picking up fresh croissants.” On the other hand, it’s those days I tend to think more on that single item, wondering if I could have done more to help out than just buy bread.
We’ve been doing this for a little over a month now. Whether it’s in the brief moments over morning coffee before I leave for work or the half hour or so during dinner, that very open and direct exchange of gratitude has certainly helped me focus more on the positives and just how amazing my wife truly is.
Especially for her creativity in remixing a trend into something much more meaningful for the both of us.