It's also not easy, I'm pretty darn certain, to be the working husband of a stay-at-home mom to a bunch of young children.
Here's a typical day in the life of my man, with only the slightest bit of interpretation on my part:
Wake up at 6:30. Shower and get dressed and eat in a hurry because Child #1 needs to be dropped off at school at 7:30. Go directly into office, which involves an hour-long commute. Spend the day furiously juggling marathon meetings, conference calls, deadlines, incompetent subordinates, vicious office politics, and the like. Try like heck to get out of the office in time to spend a few minutes with the kids before they go to bed, but end up idling in gridlock traffic instead. Wander tiredly through the front door only to find wife intensely typing away on her computer (oh no! she's blogging again!) and try to smile. Smile quickly fades when it is met with a glare. Wife launches pointed interrogation as to the explanation for said bedtime-missing. Retreat into office with a turkey sandwich when it becomes apparent that wife's bad attitude hasn't yet peaked. Spend next three hours working determinedly on a project that could have been better managed back in the office. Await the all-too-predictable appearance of wife in the doorway right before bed, sulking and apologizing and wiping away tears. Accept apology and give weary wife a hug. Drag self up the stairs at midnight, cursing silently for allowing another day to slip by without going to the gym, and fall asleep before wife is done brushing her teeth. Meanwhile, back down in the kitchen, the Blackberry vibrates intermittently all through the night...
So now you're saying, hey lady! how 'bout you be a little nicer to this hardworking man? Would a kiss hello or a home-cooked meal be too much to ask? (For those who know me personally, ha, ha, I know.)
Of course you're right (she says, peacefully reflecting on the situation in the rare calm of the late evening). I mean, it is hardly the case that I'm looking to trade places with my husband: he not only has a high-stress, high-intensity, high-stakes job, but he ALSO has to perpetually worry about putting food on the table for an awful lot of mouths, AND he has the ever-present guilt about whether he is getting in sufficient quality time with his wife and kids. It's as if no matter how many hours he spends with his work *or* with his family, it's never enough for either. Job stress + money stress + family stress = no thank you.
And YET!-- in the thick of the action, when at *least* one child has been crying for the past two hours, and I haven't remembered to eat anything since breakfast, and I'm still wearing the t-shirt I slept in the night before, and toddler bedtime is rapidly approaching, and there's no sign of my husband even though his text from late morning *assured* me he would be home to see the kids... well, at that point it's harder for me to appreciate the long day he's had. In fact, I even get a little (more than a little) angry at him.
Which is terrible! I'm evil! I know!
So WHAT exactly is it that I am angry about? It's not as if I didn't *ask* to be the full-time caregiver to 3 young kids-- I did!
Here are a few possibilities I've been considering, in furtherance of my New Year's resolution to be less of a total NIGHTMARE to my hubby when he comes home at night:
POSSIBILITY ONE: I am jealous that my husband gets to leave the house every day, even if it is just to go to work.
Oh, how I miss putting on nice clothes. And stopping for a coffee on the way out of the house, standing in line with all the other responsible adults of the world. I miss my office, which had a door, that could be closed. I miss my secretary, who answered my calls and made me feel much more important than I was. I miss high heel shoes. I miss lunch breaks. I even miss vending machines.
Also potentially inciting jealousy: the idea that a person's routine can substantively VARY from one day to the next. For the past five years, each of my days has more or less resembled the one that came before. The notion of regularly interacting with different people about different subjects in different venues: crazy!
POSSIBILITY TWO: I resent that, even if he has also had a total CRAP day, at least he just got some cold, hard cash for it.
This one isn't entirely fair, because I am blessed enough to have married a man who actually considers the money HE makes to be OUR money. Which gets me, because I'm not sure, if the roles were reversed, that I could ever be so equitable. ("You bought *another* pair of boxer shorts? What was wrong with the ones you already had? Do you think I am MADE of money??")
But still, even if he sees it that way, it doesn't mean that I can. No, it just feels *wrong* somehow to buy him a birthday present of any significance, like: Hey honey, I just threw away some of YOUR hard-earned money getting you a gift that, if you had actually wanted it, you would just have gone out and purchased yourself! It also makes it hard to treat myself to anything frivolous; I feel like I have no right deducting money from the stack when I'm certainly not presently adding any. The consequence is that I buy sweaters at the same place where I buy eggs, and then fly off the handle when my husband comes home with a new coffee maker.
POSSIBILITY THREE: I assume that he is having-- dare I say it-- fun? at work.
Ok, so my memories of corporate life aren't all happy ones; the mind-numbing work assignments in combination with the unrealistic expectations of superiors are one reason why I hung up my jersey in the first place. But even when the rat race got really brutal, I always had a friend somewhere down the hall who would fake a conference call in order to run down the block with me for an emergency ice cream cone. And what about the ubiquitous office crush? It was such a self-esteem-boosting indulgence to have a harmless flirtation going on with the guy who brought me the photocopies or whatnot. These days, I'm lucky if my barrista makes eye contact with me.
POSSIBILITY FOUR: I'm in way over my head here, and I miss having him around as my backup.
Awww, the sentimental choice. But no less valid: I struggle with my husband's business trips not because the afternoons are materially all that different from when he's just at the office-- they're not-- but rather because I NEED him to put me back together at the end of a kid-saturated day. And when he's gone for even the smallest period of time, it's like I have lost my ability to decompress before heading back into the trenches the next morning. It's also why I look forward to the weekend: it means that I will have a teammate, an ally, a set of familiar hands into which I can place a screaming child and not feel bad, or like I should be offering someone a raise. My husband is my sanity, and when he's stuck at work, or on a three-hour conference call out in the driveway, it's as if no one's got my back.
* * *
Ok, so now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, I'm noticing that none of these reasons actually justifies the grief that I often give my beloved husband when he comes through that door. Especially because there is a perfectly obvious foil to each of my 4 theories:
(1) I could go back to my corporate job whenever I wanted-- it's not as if I married a caveman who's insisting I remain barefoot and pregnant;
(2) My husband has never, ever tried to limit my spending, even when I come home with armfuls of new Barbie shirts for the girls (they were on sale!);
(3) My husband definitely works more than he plays at the office, not to mention the fact that I'm certainly no stranger to sneaking off to a lunch date with some of my mommy friends;
and (4) Even when he's traveling, he will *always* step out of a late dinner meeting to take my phone call in the event that I need to bitch and moan and sob about how vile the children have become in his absence.
So now that all of my proposed explanations have been debunked, where does that leave me? Being a (former) lawyer, I *should* be able formulate a compelling defense!
Well, it's a bit pitiful, but I guess all I'm left with is this:
Being a stay-at-home mom to a whole mess of little kids depletes a person of her most basic human resources, to the point that she's frequently left feeling chewed up in a way that makes rational thought quite difficult. In other words, even on my WORST day in the office, I was never subjected to a prolonged, eardrum-shattering scream right in my face; nor was I openly humiliated in public; and certainly no one ever sh*t on me (literally). No, work stress was of a completely different nature: it was mostly a cerebral experience, a mental exhaustion.
Mothering, by contrast, is a wholly VISCERAL experience. When my baby wails, I feel gripped to my core; when my toddler falls, my body lurches; when my preschooler mouths off to me, I feel profoundly betrayed. Surely my job never affected me on such a deep, personal level: it was only a job, after all, and if things got really bad I could always just quit! and find another one. This is unlike parenting, where the project never ends, you can never walk away from it, and its success or failure has repercussions that extend far beyond a bonus or an annual review.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that my corporate job was challenging, absolutely, but it mostly just took place in my brain. Full-time mommying, on the other hand, penetrates every part of my body: my back and shoulders are sore from carrying around the children, my stomach hurts from enduring yet another supermarket tantrum, and my head is spinning from having again forgotten to eat. When my husband comes home, therefore, it is not a reasonable woman waiting there in the foyer to greet him, no-- it is a feral mama bear, one who has spent the whole day putting every ounce of her energy into protecting and providing for her young. And that bear isn't much for conversation.
So where does that leave you, the overworked, undervalued, overextended and underslept breadwinner-slash-husband?
I guess the only advice I can offer you is this: Don't give up on us. We just need a little more time. This mothering thing is harder than we expected. And we truly don't *mean* to take our frustrations out on you; it's just that the kids are too cute to stay mad at (and-- let's be honest-- their little minds are not sophisticated enough to grasp the full, crippling impact of a 4-hour silent treatment, so what would be the point). In our heart of hearts we DO appreciate you (SO MUCH)... we DO acknowledge that none of this would be possible without you... and we DO realize that you need a nap just as much as we do.
Just don't expect one to be offered anytime soon. xo.