“I promised to take you for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”
That’s the end of a joke my father always told, about the wife of a recently retired man, who expressed her frustration with her husband’s new presence in her day to day routine by saying her vows said she would take him “for better or for worse, but not for lunch.” I always felt kind of bad for the husband. It wasn’t his fault that he had retired and had nothing else to do but spend his days at home. I always thought it was kind of, if not mean, then not exactly kind either. Let me just say, I now know how she feels. And the feeling is most assuredly mutual.
My husband has been out of work since last April. Since that time, he’s been home. A lot. Like everyday a lot. Like some days I think up errands for him to run just to get him out of my hair the house a lot. He goes to Costco once every other week and takes care of filling up the car with gas and going to bank when the occasion arises, but aside from that, there isn’t much to fill up his days. There’s only so long one can spend applying for jobs and researching our options. I look forward to taking the boys to dance twice a week because it is an hour away from the constant togetherness each time. The drudgery that was once laundromat day is lightened by the knowledge that the husband will not be accompanying me. At the risk of sounding touchy-feely, I need some me time, or at least some husband free time.
For the husband, it’s the same. He still hasn’t gotten used to the idea of being an at home dad. The constant replaying of Go, Diego, Go! and Tangled on Netflix are not his idea of stimulating entertainment. Wanting to help but not knowing exactly how things get done all day doesn’t help either. He feels a little like he’s adrift and bumping in to the routine the children and I had before his “break” from the workforce, rather than a contributing member of the team. He jumps at almost any chance to run those errands I think up as fast as I can think of them. Don’t get me wrong, we love each other. What’s more, we even like each other, and really enjoy spending time together (we’re even planning an outing together this week); just not every waking second of every day. This is just not how life is supposed to be; not for us, at least.
For us, Daddy goes to work during the day, and Mommy runs the house. Daddy has his office, Mommy has her kitchen and schoolroom. Daddy supports the worldly needs of the family by earning a paycheck, and Mommy doles out sippy cups, kisses skinned knees, reads the same two books ad nauseam but always with a cheerful voice, and mends broken teddy bears and friendships. We each fulfill specific needs in our family’s life, and when one of us doesn’t have his part to fulfill, the temptation to step in and take over the cares that are still very pressing and present is great. But then, what is Mommy to do? My life was full and fulfilling before I had the added “help” of my husband being home all day and night. I like what I do. I don’t want to give up jobs that have always been mine and mine alone, such as the homeschooling, just because he wants an occupation and mine looks like fun. Am I being selfish? Most assuredly yes, but not only for my self. Yes, I love homeschooling, but that’s not all that’s involved here. You see, I know that, one day, I hope not too far off, my husband will be back at work, and our lives will return to one where he’s out/I’m in all day. I don’t want the kids (or I) to become too accustomed to Daddy being the teacher so that it is a hindrance when he returns to work. I don’t want what should and will be a good thing to feel bad because of all the new changes it will mean.
And so, we are left with a dilemma that we haven’t quite sorted out even though it’s been 10 months. We’ve gotten better than we were and are still not quite as good as we could be. For instance, in the morning, I work on the schoolwork (one of my “things) while he entertains the younger kids. They used to all cram in at the kitchen table and color during school time. This, I must say is a huge help, and I’m glad to have it, and will be sad to see it go. He has taken over the bathing routine (another of my “things”) while I am able to catch up on the dishes that have filled our sink so that we can both actually relax (together) after the children are asleep. We are working together to develop a plan for studying science with the kids, something that will be all on him, even when he gets a job. Most importantly, we have managed to carve out a sturdier family prayer life by insisting on saying the Rosary every night at bed time. Our life has changed, but we are managing to have the changes be fore the better.
As for those errands, I have a feeling we’ll both be looking forward to them for the foreseeable future. Everyone needs a few minutes to breath and be apart from his or her spouse from time to time, even if it’s only for just long enough to realize you miss him or her. What matters is that each of us feels that we are both participating in family life, working together, and not simply bumping along side, hoping for a chance to jump in and help out. Giving over some of my “things” has helped my husband feel that he has a purpose again. It’s a small price to pay for such a reward.
So now I want to know: do you feel that you and your spouse have met your “limit” of together time? How do you deal with it?