Yesterday I noted that young moms need support, and that our kids can be part of the solution, not just the cause of our stress.
For most mothers, there is one other built-in supporter: our husband (I’ll talk about supporting single moms and military wives later). This is a blog for women, but we can’t talk about a young mother’s need for support without pointing out that a young father needs to make some sacrifices for the family, too. For our family, that meant my husband’s earning potential peaked at 27, when he quit his prestigious law firm job to pursue a career path that would allow for more time with the family. For another family, that might mean that Dad doesn’t take the promotion that would require him to travel 4 months out of the year. It might mean not running for public office. It might mean working a ho-hum job that pays the bills rather than up and moving your family to LA to pursue your dream of making it big in Hollywood (I know way too many of those guys out here!). It might mean turning down an opportunity to attend a conference so that you can be home on Saturday to coach your son’s soccer team.
Just as motherhood is often not glamorous, fatherhood can seem less exciting than the workforce. Men can’t have it all, either, and a dad who stays late at work because he doesn’t want to come home and give the kids baths is being selfish and disrespectful to his wife, who has been working just as long as he has by 7 pm. As a stay-at-home mom, I am ON every waking moment. My four year old crawls into my bed at dawn to get me up, I’m homeschooling all morning and trying to do chores all afternoon, and on the nights when my husband goes back in to the office to work until midnight, I’m the one sending overtired kids back to bed until 10 pm (I hate you, daylight savings time!!!). My husband gets up earlier than I do and works a full day, too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s exempt from bedtime duty on the evenings when he’s home. It’s poisonous to try for a perfect 50/50 division of parenting duties, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw all the responsibility for child-rearing on mom. Kids are a lot of work, and when you choose to become a father, you should expect to participate in that work.
Moms sometimes shoot themselves in the foot here. They complain that they have to do everything, but then they criticize how their husbands do things: Dad takes the kids out on Saturday morning to give Mom a quiet couple of hours at home, and they come home, announcing that they had a yummy breakfast at McDonalds!!!! Mom blows up at Dad for feeding her precious snowflakes junk food, and Dad decides that next weekend, he’ll sleep in. Mom complains to her girlfriends that Dad just doesn’t care about the kids, and resentment grows. Or Dad gets the kids dressed, and the girls are wearing church dresses to go watch a soccer game. Mom lights into Dad (who can’t tell the difference between church dresses and play dresses–they all just look like dresses to him), and next week, he sits in the minivan, waiting, while Mom searches for shin guards and dresses children and mumbles about how unhelpful Dad is. Know what I mean? In nine years of parenting together, my husband and I have figured out that yes, I do have certain ways we do things because my routines work for our family, but if he does something differently, it’s okay. I can’t remember which one of us first let the kids put mini chocolate chips in their oatmeal, but you know what, my kids eat oatmeal every single day, and there’s still less sugar in it than in a bowl of cold cereal, at a fraction of the cost! It’s okay! There is not one right way to feed kids breakfast!
And then there are my friends whose husbands seem to feel that if Mom is staying home, they don’t have to worry about parenting. Or the husbands who are really in a crazy time at work (pre-tenure, or leading up to a big case/presentation/conference) and really don’t have the brain cells left at the end of a long day to do much more than kiss the kids and tuck them into bed. That is tough. Most of the burned-out moms I know are the ones who have been doing all the parenting and figure if they go back to work, their husbands will have to pitch in more. One mom I know announced to her husband that she was chucking her home daycare business and going back to an office job because she couldn’t handle their four children plus two extras, all on her own. Her husband was totally caught off guard and promised to help more, but at that point, it was too late. She said if he’d spent the last three years helping, she wouldn’t be quitting now. This is where I think regular dates with our spouses, talking through work stress and family needs, would really be helpful. (If you’re like me, thousands of miles away from family, the idea of a regular date night probably has you rolling your eyes. Maybe you can substitute with a 15 minute conversation after the kids go to bed and before pulling up Netflix?) It’s hard for me to address this issue with my own husband in a way that respects the hard work that he does for our family by bringing home the paycheck but also communicates my need for specific assistance on evenings and weekends. I totally mucked up a discussion on this very issue recently and had to ask my husband’s forgiveness for my sinful words and attitude. I get it, girlfriends, it’s hard.
Perhaps the most important way Dad can be part of Mom’s support network is with his words. Even though I blog about the importance of full-time motherhood, I can get pretty discouraged on the days (weeks!) when I see no fruit from my work. When my husband comes alongside me and and praises me for the invisible things I do each day, I feel so built up and encouraged. In our excellent pre-marriage counseling, our mentors specifically told my husband he would need to do this–a lot–when I was home with a houseful of kids. Of course, this not-taking-your-spouse-for-granted thing goes both ways: how often do I praise my husband for getting up and going to the office day in and day out, year after year? Not enough. If any husbands are reading this, I encourage them to praise their wives today. And for the discouraged moms reading this, I encourage you to tell your husband that he can help you by praising you for your efforts with the home and the kids.
How does your husband support your work in the home? Do you believe that men can’t “have it all” either?