Adjusting Expectations with Your Spouse
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 16, No. 4 July - August 1999 pp. 138-140
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
When my husband and I first decided that I would stay at home full time, he was very supportive. Now that I've been home for a couple of years he's begun to resent the financial compromises we've had to make. He's also much less supportive around the house. He works long hours, and since I'm home all day he expects me to do all the cleaning, cooking, and of course child care. With an active toddler and a newborn to care for, I find that I just can't keep up with everything. We love each other, but his expectations and my inability to meet them are starting to hurt our relationship. I feel like he doesn't value the work that I do. But I worry about our financial situation, too. What can we do to resolve this conflict?
I think you get to the crux of the matter when you say, "I feel like he doesn't value the work that I do." What you are really talking about is appreciating each other and this is something that all couples struggle with at some point in their relationship. You want your husband to identify and appreciate your work as a stay-at-home mother, and I'm willing to bet that he wants you to appreciate the contribution he makes to your family through his work.
A therapist once shared with me the concept of the "we." He pointed out that we get accustomed to thinking about ourselves as individuals in a relationship and lose the fact that there is a third entity, that of the "we." When we value the needs of the "we" along with the needs of "me," there is a subtle, but powerful shift in how we perceive things and in how we behave. To nurture the "we," give some energy time to the relationship.
One way to do that is by "love offerings"; little things that show you have been thinking about the other person that might make the other person smile. For example, I might pick up a book with my husband in mind when the kids and I go to the library. If he looks stressed, I can give him a little back rub. He might send me an email from his office with a story or joke, or take the kids to the playground on Saturday morning so I can sleep in.
The other thing, of course, is actually making time for each other. This can be a challenge while your children are young. My husband and I do this by going to sleep with the children and waking ourselves up a couple of hours later. We generally go back to bed within an hour or two (so we get a fall eight hours sleep), but we've had a little midnight rendezvous to talk about the day or cuddle, without interruption. Sometimes long car rides serve the same purpose. If we plan them around sleep or nap time, we can spend the ride catching up on each other's news and talking.
Many books have ideas for nurturing relationships. One that comes to mind is The Couple's Comfort Book, by Jennifer Louden. Good luck to you. Remember that your work is valuable and so is his. More importantly, you are valuable and so is your marriage.
My husband and I are also living on a modest income and making financial compromises. Our children are five and two. I read your situation to my husband and we came up with these ideas.
Ask your husband if it is still important to him for you to stay home. Make sure to tell him how important you feel it is for you to stay at home. If your husband says it is still important to him for you to stay home, then reevaluate both of your expectations. Each of you make a list of household chores which are most important. Prioritize the items and then compare your lists with each other. Maybe the whole bathroom doesn't have to be cleaned every week; maybe only the sink or tub is important to him or to you. Pare chores down to the essentials, knowing that as the children grow they can help, and you will be able to do more.
Then, reevaluate where your money is spent, and how efficiently. Start a basic budget in a notebook, allowing flexibility in each of your categories. A budget does not keep you from spending money, but it allows you to keep track of where you want your money to go, rather than dribbling it away on inconsequential things. Hope we've given you some helpful ideas!
Several years ago, some mothers I know created a mothering co-op. Once a week, they arrived at a hostess' house ready to attack a job the hostess didn't want to do, such as rake leaves, fold laundry, or clean a bathroom. The mothers took turns watching the children and some days more work got done than others. Sometimes the hostess provided lunch for everyone and other times they had a potluck lunch. By the end of the day, some tasks had been completed and everyone had fun.
Simple meals are a must. The LLL cookbook, WHOLE FOODS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY, has many great soup and casserole recipes that freeze well. Perhaps on the weekend you could prepare some meals in advance to help take the pressure off later in the week. If you are making something, it's not much more work to prepare two batches of the same dish. Serve one and freeze the other. I hope that you and your husband can have a frank talk about expectations you have for each other. Maybe you will be able to discover some areas of compromise. For example, you could try keeping one room in your house fairly clean, keeping a certain table or floor space clean. In time your husband may come to understand how difficult it is to finish any task with small children at home.
This sounds like my husband and me six or eight years ago. He spent long hours on the job and had both his work load and office politics to worry about. I did everything at home, with little or no help from him, and often felt unappreciated. One thing that helped me was to acknowledge that these years when I had an older child plus a toddler and a baby were indeed tough years, and to believe that things would get easier as the kids grew up. Now, with school-age children, life is hectic but more predictable, chores are (sometimes) a family project, and I have been able to devote more time to earning money working from home.
Another thing that helped me was the bits of well-worn wisdom that friends have shared with me. One such nugget was that if you have a husband who is very devoted to his career and who spends long hours working, there's not much you can do about it. Another older friend told me how important it was for women to have lives of their own when they're married to men who spend long hours on the job. If a realistic appraisal of your situation suggests that your husband (like mine) is just not going to be much help around the house in the next few years, it's time to stop getting all stressed out about it. Set your priorities (people first!), do what you can in the cooking and cleaning department, and work very hard at taking care of yourself as well as your family.
It can be very frustrating when all that we do seems to go unnoticed. It is hard to measure baskets-full of washed laundry or rooms of cleaned floors. "Hand-holding" doesn't have a market. My husband and I calculated the actual costs of my working full or part-time: child care expenses, fuel to get to work and to get the kids to the child care facility, my lunches and snacks, a more professional wardrobe, the extra taxes, and having someone help occasionally with the housekeeping. The net profit my working outside the home would bring to our family was very small. It didn't seem worth it to spend 10 or more hours away from our children for that small gain. Staying home seemed like a bigger investment in our family's growing needs. It will help your relationship with your husband to actively decide and agree upon which things absolutely must be accomplished and by whom, which things can wait, and even which things someone else can do. Make a list, put it in writing on display, and both of you can sign it if necessary. Plan to reevaluate the list together weekly until you are both satisfied with your mutual expectations and limits.
Someone put it in perspective for me when she held up a string that represented an 80-year life span and pointed to the tiny section when our children needed us most. Housework never goes away, but childhood passes quickly.
Maybe there is something else bothering your husband and the money worries are just a symptom of other concerns. When I look around at the people I work with, I feel alone in being the sole provider for my family. It can be very scary being the only one that provides cash and health insurance. No job feels really safe today. Rumors of layoffs or buy-outs are common and can make a person work harder and longer just to keep what he has in order to provide for his family. I put up with a lot of annoyances, major and minor, because I feel I can't just jump from job to job. Companies seem to know this and take advantage of single-income households, whether there are two parents or one.
Are your goals for staying at home being met now, and do you think your husband agrees with you? It will help to talk about it and revisit all your priorities for yourselves, your family, and each other. Even if your priorities don't exactly agree, you will both feel better once you've talked about it. Understanding where he's coming from doesn't mean you have to change your mind.
It might help to lay out a timetable of how your week goes. Chances are that you are working a lot more than eight hours a day and seeing it written out may make it clearer for him. Make sure to add things like the extra time it takes to cook when you have to stop several times to care for your children. They are your first priority and that's the way it should be.
Tell him how his spending time with the kids frees you to take care of little things, and to just get a break for yourself. In an office you can usually find a way to get a break but not at home. We all need a break sometimes. One time when my daughter asked why mommy didn't have a job I told her that I only had three jobs (daddy, husband, and work) and mommy had 5 jobs (mommy, wife, cook, housekeeper, and accountant). It's just that she isn't paid for hers.