It is almost the last day of January and I have had an amazing 2018 so far…except for about two weeks ago. In the midst of basking in the glow of all the goals we conquered in 2017 and all the amazing things that lay ahead of us in 2018, I took some time to notice how tired, spent, and over-worked I felt and to pinpoint the cause of all my negative feelings.
For the past almost five years that we have been married, my husband has been the primary bread-winner of our family and I have been the primary caretaker of our children. I manage our home, household finances, appointments, meals, chores, you name it. Hubby’s schedule has gone through several changes in our years together but one thing has remained the same – he works 12-15 hour shifts daily, his weekends are unpredictable and his days start/ends hours before/after mine. I took on the challenge of being the wife and mother our home needed to function while giving my husband the opportunity to earn the income that was necessary for us to thrive. It worked. The system was not perfect but we re-calibrate and re-adjusted as often as life demands. The understanding remained the same – we are one team. Whatever we do as individuals was for our collective good. I do not make decisions that benefit me but causes harm to my husband or children and the same goes for them.
When I realized that for the past two years of my life, I have spent essentially 20 hours per day caring for our children while attempting to keep my career afloat – all without the presence or input of my husband (he was either at work or asleep before work), I bristled. Surely, this could not be a fair division of labor. I did not address my concerns with my husband but I noted how exhausted I am; I remembered the fact that our children still wake up in the middle of night crying for me; I thought about how many times I sacrificed sleep just so I could stay ahead of all the house work that had piled up. Going to bed at 2am only to be woken up between three and five in the morning by a crying toddler dealing with the pain of eczema or a wet diaper or just having a restless night. I thought about the fact that I was the default parent in 99.9% of our daily life and I got angry. Not annoyed. Not concerned. I was spitting mad.
As I was online bristling from the unfairness of it all, I ran into some women who were sharing their own thoughts about how much of a crappy hand married women are dealt because nine times ten, we are the default parent; we never get to vacation on our own and we cannot plan anything outside our families; meanwhile husbands get to go through life blissfully oblivious to how much they are not carrying their weight around the house. Husbands can travel for work for weeks at a time and they will have an actual vacation. Wives with children cannot. These women either cannot go at all or they must develop a fail-safe system of check-ins, check-ups, house-help, babysitters and grandparents who can fully support their household in their absence. It was absolutely out of the question to expect their husbands to be able to handle the children as seamlessly as their wives do. If you as a wife and mom must travel for work, you have to keep it short and get back as soon as possible. More often than not, you spend every non-work hour calling home and checking to ensure all is well or worrying yourself about the thousands of little things your husband does not know when it comes to keeping the household running.
I believe the word for it these days is “mental load.” And without a doubt, wives carry more of it.
Surprisingly enough, finding other women who co-signed on my frustrations and the reality of my workload at home did not make me feel better. I did not feel understood or justified. In fact, it only made me more angry. So this was not just my husband; it was a collective of men worldwide who had bought into this system of patriarchy that would send us, the women they claimed to love and cherish, to an an early grave because of stress, worry and anxiety.
Why would they not help us?!
I realized that what I needed was not to feel understood by others. After all, they were not going to ease my load. The only person that needed to understand me was my husband; but what I wanted was an actual solution.
I have not always felt this way. So what changed? I went back to the things I wrote in the very early days of our marriage and compared. A few months into marriage, I was still blissfully sharing about the joys of living life with my husband. Even the mundane things were an adventure because I was doing them with (and for) my best friend who loved me best in all the world. After pregnancy and parenthood, I still considered my husband the best friend and the best provider I could have asked for. So what changed?
Me. I changed. Although there is nothing wrong with accepting my limitations and realizing that I am overworked and in desperate need of help, my mindset about how to get what I needed had changed, and not for the better.
For the entirety of my marriage, I have been convinced that my husband is my partner and he absolutely has my best interests at heart. Overall, his demeanor towards me has not changed. His efforts at home are on par with what they have always been and he still demonstrates his affection and love for me and our family on an on-going basis. But over the past almost five years of pregnancy, life with a new born, life with a toddler, pregnancy, life with a newborn and toddler and now life with two toddlers, my needs have changed. I need more support at home than I have ever needed before. Not just physical support but emotional assurance that I am not messing this whole thing up.
Not having the physical support I need because of my husband’s unforgiving work schedule started making me question whether or not he had my best interest at heart.
(He gets up for work at 3 A.M. and he gets back around 6 P.M., eats dinner and goes to bed around 9pm to start the day all over again)
“If he loved me, he would help me.” The lie was so subtle I almost believed it.
That lie was what was feeding the growing resentment in my heart about the state of our household. When we were first married, I absolutely knew my husband would do anything for me even as much as I realized that he did not have the ability to fulfill all of my needs.
He is human, not God.
Five years of being constantly tired had me believing that my husband was purposefully withholding his help from me.
Why would he do that?
“Because he does not love or value you!” The lie had an answer for each question.
Going online and finding a plethora of other women who felt my frustrations did not help me because it actually fed the trolls (negative emotions) inside my head. My concerns were genuine but letting resentment poison my love for my husband was not the solution. By God’s grace, I found the help I needed. What I needed was to remember why I chose this man in the first place. My husband is the best choice for me because he is selfless; he is sacrificial in his love for others; he is hard-working, creative and ambitious; he is a leader and natural-born provider.
He is not a neat-freak; he rather sleep than socialize and he has an easy-going approach to life that complements my somewhat excitable personality. I did not marry him because I wanted someone who cleaned like me or cooked like me or parents in the exact same way I would. I married him because he is a man of integrity; he has demonstrated his trustworthiness even while we were friends and he is a man committed to living by the standards of Christ. I married him because I wanted him as my partner and everything he has shown me from all the years before our wedding proved that he would be a great man for me.
“My husband loves me unconditionally. If he is not helping me in the way that I need help, it is not because he does not want to. He may not be able to because he is exhausted as well or he may not know how best to help because I have not told him.”
That is the truth that has replaced the lie. The minute I stopped feeding the trolls (engaging in conversations or indulging in content that encouraged me to blame my husband rather than seek a mutual solution), the weight of resentment started falling off. The burdens started shifting off my shoulders.
A final note before I close this post. I have had at least three friends and sisters that I cherish who have walked through the heartbreak of divorce. Each time, it has been because their husbands left them feeling unloved, devalued and alone. Even if the men did not walk away physically, they checked out of their marriages emotionally, financially, and materially. Watching the women I love attempt to pick up the broken pieces of their lives from men who were suppose to love them has given me a new understanding of what it takes to make a marriage work. You can be the best spouse in the world but when you do not have a partner who is willing to work with you, you are headed for disaster.
I realized that I am blessed to be married to someone who is willing to work with me. He accepts my flaws and even when he does not allow me to get away with low-living (living below what I am capable of achieving), I know it is because he wants to see me walking in excellence. I am equally willing to work with him. In every way that matters, my husband is the man I need and want. He is present with me and our children. He demonstrates his love for us daily. He has never done anything to make me question his character. He provides very well for our family and he is just a really great man!
The next time I am frustrated about something in my home or marriage, I am committed to remembering who I married instead of letting my emotions lie to me. I will no longer be feeding the trolls.
You can hold me to it!