Staying Home Instead
Communication and Compromise
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19, No. 4 July - August 1999 pp. 139-141
"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.
My husband and I decided that it would be best for our family if I could stay home with our baby (and any future children) while he worked. I am so happy that I have the opportunity to raise our children, but I am frustrated by the fact that my husband, who always worked a lot, is now almost never home. He feels a lot of pressure about being the sole breadwinner in the family and he tries to prove how invaluable he is by working early, late, weekends, holidays, and whenever his boss calls him. I feel like a single parent even though I am married! When my husband is home, he tries to help but he is generally tired from working so much. He also doesn't spend much time with the baby and I fear that he will miss her entire childhood! How have other mothers coped with long hours alone while dad works and encouraged a good relationship between children and father?
I have been struggling with my husband's long working hours since our oldest daughter was born 10 years ago. At first, I was really angry that he wasn't as involved in parenting as I was and that his life hadn't changed as dramatically as mine had since the birth of our baby. I was jealous of other women whose husbands came home at 5 pm, watched the children to give their wives a break, and helped with housework. I couldn't stand going to the park on Saturdays or holidays because I knew that most families would have their daddies with them while I would be acting as a married, single parent.
Finally I realized that I couldn't really change my husband. He had a deeply ingrained conviction that being the sole provider for a growing family meant that he had to succeed at his work, and for him success meant long hours away from home. I also realized that I was hoping for an ideal that would never happen-my husband's type of work made it impossible for him to be home at 5 pm every weekday and off from work all weekend long, so I stopped hoping for that to happen.
There were a few things I could do. First I clarified what I wanted and I tried to communicate these needs to my husband. If I needed more time from him than he could give, instead of getting angry and bitter I tried to make other arrangements. I let him know about family activities far in advance and he would let me know if he could arrange his schedule to be there. I found that knowing in advance if he would be there or not helped me to prepare mentally if I would be parenting solo that day. I called on friends and family to help out when I knew he would be working for long stretches or we went visiting or on field trips so we weren't just sitting around waiting for Daddy to get home. I figured out ways to simplify meals and daily routines so that I could concentrate on meeting the children's needs instead of being overwhelmed with housework. I tried not to nag and complain when my husband was at home; instead, I focused on having us all re-connect as a family whenever we were all together.
Over the past few years my husband and I have matured to the point where we can understand that both of us are working very hard all day, although we work in different environments. He cares beautifully for the children whenever I am away, so I know that he has an idea of how much work is involved in being a stay-at-home parent. I, also, have a gained an appreciation for how hard it is to be away and then come home exhausted, but still needing to expend energy on caring for children and doing household chores. We have started looking for solutions that make us feel that we are working as a team for our common goals instead of competing against each other for the "hardest working parent award." Compromise and communication have been the keys for us to be partners in parenting and in life.
I know just how you feel! I am also a stay-at-home mother who has a hard-working husband. Not only did my husband work long hours, but for many years he also worked the night shift. So we could literally go for several days without seeing much of each other. Gradually, we both came to the realization that we were trying to earn more money than we really "needed." Some lifestyle changes made it possible for my husband to work less, earn less, and be home more. We had to look seriously at our family budget, and decide which items were really necessary. For instance, we canceled our subscriptions to cable television, the daily newspaper, and several magazines. And we learned to live with just one car instead of two, just to name a few of our budget reductions. We cut back on any expense or activity that wasn't truly necessary, and found inexpensive-or even free-alternatives! The book The Complete Tightwad Gazette was especially useful to us during our "budget downsizing," and it is available for loan in many local LLL Group Libraries. Have a heartfelt talk with your husband, and let him know how valuable his time is to you and your daughter. Show him specific ways you can spend less money so he can spend more time at home.
I understand the frustration you are feeling. My husband has worked long hours while I have been the stay-at-home parent. Something that helped us to figure out how much time he really needed to spend at work was to figure out our monthly expenses. This way we knew how much money we needed to accommodate our lifestyle. When we both realized the number of hours he needed to put in at work to keep me at home with our children, we both felt more comfortable with the amount of time he was away. Another thing that helped us make the most of family time was for me to develop more structured routines for completing housework, laundry, and meal-planning. When I knew what housework needed to be done today and tomorrow, I could better plan my day. I stopped feeling as if I needed to finish everything at once because I knew that everything would get done in time. With housework under control, I felt that I had more family time. I've kept some flexibility to my routines because life with children of any age necessitates flexibility. Now, when my husband is home, we are better able to enjoy our time together as a family.
I understand your situation. My husband is an airline pilot and is home only 11 or 12 days per month. When my first son was a baby I simply encouraged a lot of one-on-one time between the two of them. Now that my first son is older and we have a younger second son, I have several more ideas to keep Dad an important part of both my sons' lives.
The first is the "Daddy Book." This is a kind of scrapbook where we write what we've done and include pictures of the things we have been doing while Daddy is away. That keeps Dad up to date on what his family is up to during his absence. We call Dad together every day that he is away and let everyone talk to him. We take video and still pictures very often for Dad to see when he comes home. Finally, the old standby, Dad has lots of one-on-two time when he comes home. We stay at home together a lot playing games, roughhousing, or just relaxing and spending time together.
So that the boys don't feel sad missing Daddy, I try to keep them busy during those times by going to the library, having afternoon play dates with friends, and spending lots of time with their extended family. I have found that letting them play alone together helps to foster a very strong connection between my children.
I am sure you can help your husband find a balance. It may be helpful to create a budget so he can determine if all this overtime is really necessary. After budgeting and prioritizing, he may find that he does not need to work so much after all.
As is the case with most marriage stressors, it is essential to keep the lines of communication open between you and your husband. I find it helpful to look at things from my husband's point-of-view. He feels tremendous pressure to be the perfect employee. He feels that if he makes himself indispensable, he will have better job security. Do your best to tell your husband how you feel about his long hours without accusing him. "When I don't see you for days at a time, I feel like I'm not a priority in your life" is much better than "You are neglecting your family." When you talk with him about your concerns, make a point of complimenting him on his work ethic.
We treated the "long hours at work" conundrum much like a negotiation. We listed our respective needs and looked at the hours in the day. We decided that my husband could get in a 10-hour day every weekday. If he needed more time, he could go to work as early as he wanted, but unless the situation was exceptional, the weekends and evenings (starting with a 6 pm dinner) were reserved for family. For my part, I agreed to complete as much of the household maintenance as I could once the children's needs were met. This way, we wouldn't need to spend our family time running errands, cleaning, or paying bills. I also agreed to an earlier bedtime for the family so that he would have enough sleep for his long workday. We put this plan in writing and considered it a contract.
Since we struck upon this solution, there have been times when my husband needed to work later or that we needed to do chores together. However, we have come to protect our evenings and weekends as family time. When my husband explains that he has a major project due, wants to meet us for lunch, and then work late it is quite clear to me that we are his priority.
Another thing that helped me was to make sure my days were both full and fulfilling. I have cultivated friendships, pursued new interests, and thoroughly enjoyed showing my kids their world. Basically, I stopped putting my life on hold until my husband got home from work. This not only made my life more interesting, but it took a lot of pressure off my husband.
I am so thankful that my husband enjoys his job, works hard at it, and provides well for his family. But most of all I'm thankful when we all meet at home at the end of a full day and enjoy spending time with each other.
Jodie G. L.