Around the time my second son was born, my husband started a new job requiring 13-hour work-days and sometimes weekends. To his credit, he handled the stress of his new obligations beautifully. As for me, I was miserable. I tried my very hardest to be rational and appreciative, but sometimes the ANGER just slipped out. Things like my husband asking me how my day was elicited a sort-of, “how dare you,” glare.
My previously-considered-wonderful husband became the enemy, standing there in the kitchen waiting for his “welcome home kiss,” in his obnoxiously-clean shirt, after just having listened to 30 minutes of uninterrupted grown-up music on his scream-free commute home. Not to mention, he just had 13 hours in the day where he was not once required to chisel dried oatmeal off furniture, not once required to unstick a screaming toddler’s head from a submarine display at a museum (true story); not once required to shamefully alert a McDonald’s employee that his kid pooped all down the slide (another true story), not once broken down into tears because the CRYING.WOULD.NOT.STOP. In fact, His boss never cried in his office let alone grabbed a coworker to coordinate a simultaneous barrage on his eardrums. And not even ONCE in 13 hours had his boss happily toddled into the stall to interrupt his bathroom business.
No, this is not going to be one of those “and then I learned to appreciate all of those sweet little moments with my children, and appreciate that my husband made it possible for me to experience them” posts. Seriously, I could have done without the screaming, the crying, and the public poop. And I would have LOVED for my husband to have lived just one day of it. (Of course, as a dad, he had the kids solo sometimes here and there, but never had to grocery shop, make a phone call, or do the laundry, while doing it solo.)
I can laugh (well, at least smirk) about it now, but at the time, I was drowning. My inner world was a roller coaster, with unavoidable bouts of self-righteous, desperate anger frequently crashing down into guilt, envy, and inadequacy. How DARE he sleep. Wait. What kind of a monster am I? How DARE he sleep?
Like many SAHM’s (or less-hours-than-husband-working moms), I didn’t even know how to explain my feelings, let alone what to ask of my husband given his work obligations and his own stress level. I felt restricted in what I could ask of him, since I was a stay-at-home mom, and he worked non-stop, although that self-inflicted feeling of being so unsupported just contributed to unnecessary resentment. In hindsight, there are a few things that I needed to hear that would have helped me manage my marriage a little better, despite the fact that there was nothing we could do to reduce our obligations (No, my husband was not going to quit his job. Much like a unicorn, a leprechaun, or something called a “clean house,” this was just a fantasy.):
1) MEN (Yes, including YOUR husband) WANT to feel SUCCESSFUL and CAPABLE in anything they do. Even in helping you. If he is not helping out, he likely has no idea you need the help or expects/fears your criticism. Making specific, reasonable requests (like, “Could you take over so I can exercise two nights a week” or “Could you take over and let me sleep in on Saturday?” or “Could you be in charge of changing all the bed linens every weekend?”) is so much better than making critical statements such as, “You never help out around here!” or “You just don’t get it!” The criticism will never make a success-seeking man attempt to do better. In fact, he might even give up and stop trying. Bonus, make a big deal about his efforts (even better than telling him directly how much you appreciate his help, let him overhear you bragging about how helpful he is to a friend or relative), and he’ll make sure to keep doing that every chance he gets.
2) Your kids pick up on your attitude toward your husband, and he is their dad, their hero. If for no other reason other than that, suck it up, stop what you are doing, and greet your husband with a hug and a kiss when he gets home.
3) It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and stressed, but try to sprinkle some appreciation in there as often as possible. Thinking about your husband as a hard-working provider and loving father will leave little room for resentment. Instead of thinking of your husband as the “lucky one,” consider all of the reasons why you are the lucky one.
3) “Fake it until you make it” works. What would a madly-in-love newly wed wife do? She’d probably be prioritizing shaving her legs (even if it now means the baby cries for five minutes), giving her husband a lingering kiss when he got home (even if now it means setting down the baby’s spoon for a moment), and even sending him text messages (about something a little more flirty than, “pick up milk.”) She’d assume her husband’s “how was your day” was actually out of sweetness and not sarcasm, and she would probably smile when he made “cute and endearing” mistakes or faux-pas. Even if you are both too tired for anything newly weds would do at night, intentionally keep the spirit of your relationship alive in small ways, and you will really help alleviate the resentment.
4) There’s no shame in asking for validation and appreciation. Even if it is not possible for your husband to be physically present to lend a hand, he can help by providing understanding and encouragement. There is nothing wrong with telling your husband that you are officially emotionally and physically taxed in ways you have never been in your life, and you would like him to tell you that he notices and thinks you are doing a great job 🙂
5) You ARE doing a WONDERFUL job! Just getting that wiggly 35-lb child and his brother into their snack-crusted car seats every morning is a feat in itself.
6) This too shall pass 🙂 Pretty soon all that constant screaming will morph into nothing more than a PTSD-like startle response every time you hear anything that remotely resembles a baby’s cry. Then you’ll breathe a sigh of relief, take another sip of coffee, and think, “Whew. My kid doesn’t do that anymore.”
Just something to think about. And, as always, excuse the errors and typos, as I’m just a mom trying to squeeze in 20 uninterrupted minutes to make this happen…..
As always, hope this gives you something to think about and reminds you that you are not alone. (Said the majorly overthinkinking COUPLES PSYCHOLOGIST, whose own obsessive sense of awareness, and husband’s sincerely helpful attitude, could not stave-off the seething resentment.
P.S. Oh, and of course, don’t forget the old cliche, “GET A BABYSITTER once in a while” You deserve a break, and your child is not going to be damaged for life because he got a few hours away form his mommy with a babysitter who didn’t EXACTLY know the “Groovy Buttons” song or didn’t exactly know that he likes the green sippy cup with the yellow top…. 🙂
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