Yesterday was one of those days.
It didn’t start out that way. In fact, it had been a good day. I had been patient with the kids. I had some focused school time with Levi that was calm and peaceful. We all enjoyed watching the snow fall, then ventured out into it to shovel and play for an hour, and only a few tears were shed. Sure, I had four loads of unfolded laundry that hovered over me, threateningly, but for the most part, the day went well.
But Lucy had taken an early nap, and Levi didn’t at all, which meant that I had been full-time parenting without a break for ten hours straight. And when my husband came home from work and, over the cups of warm hot chocolate I had mixed for everyone, declared his intent to begin working out a few hours a week, something in me cracked.
His ability to leave the home and go and work out; his freedom to go and do something good for himself without a second thought infuriated me, if I’m honest. His is a freedom that I look at with longing sometimes, especially after hours and hours of sacrificing my time, my energy, and my desires to care for our children.
Then, later, I asked him — quite grumpily, might I add — to fold our diapers. And he said, yes, he would, but he wanted to snuggle as a family and finish the much-anticipated episode of the Great British Baking Championship we had been watching. While Paul Hollywood celebrated good-textured bread, I ground my teeth and began stuffed liners into shells myself, frustrated that my husband would even consider choosing a pleasurable activity over helping me out when I was drowning in laundry. Didn’t he understand that I can’t relax until the tasks are done? Does he even know me at all?
Afterword, we began having this month’s flavor of the conflict we have been having for the past three-and-a-half years: the “I am tired, I do so much around this house, I feel like you don’t understand all that I do and how it affects me, I never get a break, I don’t feel appreciated, I always feel behind, I don’t get time to myself, I need help, please notice that I need help, please help me.”
Now, let me make this clear: Kevin did not do anything wrong in any of these situations. We have entirely different personalities (which is a hallmark of making us better people, but also instigates conflict). Kevin is the visionary, the one to enjoy the moment, the one who is fun and makes our home an enjoyable place to be because of his spirit. In fact, while I was busy sulking and making dinner, he was playing with the kids, and their glorious laughter filled the house with sunshine. But I was too hurt to join in.
I may even be as so bold as to say that I didn’t really do anything wrong, either. I was feeling what I was feeling, which was overwhelmed and a bit jealous of my husband. As the primary care-giver, I am constantly on-call, and while my husband is an amazing father, the kids will always come to me first. It’s just the way it is. I don’t get the luxury of going to the gym or the coffee shop without feeling a pinch of guilt that I’m putting my responsibility onto someone else. And I was operating in accordance to my personality: I am a person who takes my responsibilities very seriously, and a person who truly struggles to relax when I feel I have not fulfilled my responsibilities. Which is a difficult thing when you’re a SAHM, because the responsibilities are never truly done, whether it’s cleaning dishes or caring for the emotional well being of our children.
Could I have chosen to be enthusiastic about Kevin’s desire to work out, could I have chosen to fold the diapers with a smile, saying, “Honey, it’s ok, I will do it, because I want it done now, and I respect that you want to rest after a long day of work!” I certainly could have tried, but it would not have been sincere.
Could I have put the laundry to the side and simply enjoyed the time with my family, then try to go to sleep at night despite knowing that I’d have to start the day in a house-keeping deficit than with a clean slate? Yes, but then, I fear, resentment would have found a way to bubble under the surface and cause a greater explosion later.
SHOULD I have been encouraging of my husband, joyful despite being disappointed, a Mary instead of a Martha? Yes. Of course! I should have. But it was not within my capacity to do so.
Had it been a different day — had I an hour to myself while both kids napped, had I not been PMSing, had I read an encouraging note my husband and written previously that reminded me of how he appreciates me, had I not felt caught in an inner conflict between doing what I have to do and wanting to do what I want to do, had I gotten more sunlight, had I communed more with God that day, had I reminded myself of the joy and privilege it is to be home with my children and that I owe that to my husband, had I been easier on myself — then I likely could have done what I should have done.
But, instead, the weariness of motherhood, the all-consuming nature of it, the empty tank that drove me to self-preserving behavior got the best of me.
Then, we had an argument. And I cried. And Kevin offered me some insight, and I didn’t receive it well. And I offered him some insight, and he didn’t receive it well. And we worked through the mess of it, and eventually the storm came to temporary resolution, and we both realized and admitted we should have done things differently, and we were able to enter peacefully into the rest of the night.
Marriage is hard. Marriage is hard before you have children, when your personalities rub up against each other and sparks can fly; you could have conflict over finances, chores, sex, your in-laws, you name it. Or, perhaps worse, you can have no conflict at all, and stuff things deep below the surface where they fester and cause a hidden chasm between you. Marriage requires selflessness and sacrifice, courage and communication, and, above all, teamwork. And it’s hard.
But when you are not only responsible to each other, but to your children, it seems there are many more opportunities for conflict to arise. Now, there’s that added weight of needing to care for these other people you have created together and are fully dependent on you. Each parent takes different roles to try to help the family function, but the divide-and-conquer strategies can cause distance between you and your spouse. Then the children have needs of their own. Parenting together require an added measure of selflessness and sacrifice, requires more courage and communication, but parents often find themselves with less time, more distractions, and more pressure. Teamwork is essential, but is so difficult to cultivate.
Parenting is freaking hard. And it can be hard on marriage, too.
Thankfully, parenting can also the basis for a lot of joy in marriage.
When functioning as a team, there is an incredible amount of growth that has fortified our relationship. We have shared so many sweet moments watching our children, watching each other parent. We care for each other in a newer, deeper way since we’ve become parents to these little manifestations of our love. It has enriched us, challenged us, and made us realize how much we need each other.
Along the way, though, we need a ton of grace: for each other, for ourselves, and our kids. Parenting is really difficult, and understanding that is a crucial step for making it through the tough days.
We need honest communication and constructive conflict (which is, don’t forget, a natural part of healthy relationships).
We need to apologize when (not if) we hurt each other or take each other for granted.
We need to remember to value each other’s differences and see how each person’s unique personalities and interests enhance our family.
We need to work diligently to practice thoughtfulness, to express appreciation and gratitude, to encourage one another.
And we need to practice loving each other, even when it doesn’t come easy. And there certainly days when it doesn’t come easy.
I’m so grateful for a husband that sticks by me, even when I’m the worst version of myself. I’m thankful that he’s willing to call me on occasion, and will allow me to call him out, too. I’m thankful for a husband who will do the hard work to work with me toward reconciliation and not let things stay in a state of disharmony.
I’m especially thankful for this man who is an incredible father to our children. I truly wouldn’t want to parent with anyone else.
If you are struggling in your marriage, please, do not be ashamed of seeking and getting professional help, either as an individual or a couple! Kevin (who has his M.S. in Christian Counseling) and I have both been to counselors over the course of our adult lives for different reasons, and we are huge advocates for professional counseling. We often say, “Everyone needs counseling.” Please don’t hesitate to follow up with me with questions.