Our family life is much better. I want to tell you all the things I’ve done to make it that way. And let you know what a hero I am for rescuing my family.
But I can’t. It’s my husband. He got on board and has taken flight. He literally does everything at our house. He works full time. I don’t get paid for anything I do. He does most of the grocery shopping, most of the cooking, most of the laundry. He pays most of our bills and budgets our money. He does lots of random projects too - he fixed the Wii, got our locks replaced after the scary stuff this summer, mows the grass at the Lake House, waters our plants, changes lightbulbs. And more.
I could tell you what I do (and I just might before this post is over) but thats not the point. The point is that he has not traveled in several weeks and has really stepped up at home. In the past, even and especially the most recent past (six months or so), he has done many of these things. But he did them begrudgingly and with venom.
“Of course he did. Why in the hell aren’t you doing these things?” you might ask. And if I were honest, I am struggling a bit now. Because now he does all this, and he has changed. He is joyful, happier, and has lost all judgment of me. Honestly, I feel as if I am in a movie and I have a fatal disease, and now they are ready to make it on their own without me. Or the other movie about the man who is having an affair and is suddenly happier and doing more to assuage his guilt.
One of the more subtle changes in our Take Back Our Family is accepting each other for who we are. I am in the beginning stages of it. So that means that I am trying to accept myself for who I am, instead of trying to be someone else. If this concept were linear, I would first accept myself, then my husband, then my children. But since nothing in life is linear, I will probably start and finish with myself, if there is even a finish. I am working, we are working on loving who we are, not changing it.
Sometimes these theoretical musings become so vague that they are not productive without a trite detail to bring it into focus. Without doing a complete genealogy report, let’s just say that my husband is a typical hard working mid westerner coupled with the fact that he is a dyslexic first born of four, charting him at Type A times ten. I was raised in the Deep South, where naps and reading and thoughts and rocking and talking formed the core of my very being. He is at his happiest mowing and caring for the lawn, whereas I would be happiest reading in the hammock for the day. He doesn’t know how to “work” a hammock.
So, it is not surprising that we have different approaches to housework. That’s fine and good. But my husband is a perfectionist, and not only unrealistically expects himself to be perfect, but he also projects that on me. It has taken me over 16 years of being with him to figure this out, though. That fact is staggering. Note to self: Fill children in on this detail early in their relationships so they can spend the first 16 years on something else.
Honestly, I would work and work to get things right for him. Doing laundry his way, doing the checkbook, cooking dinners. And it was never quite right. I didn’t realize this and he didn’t either. We were both just being ourselves. I gave up on the checkbook early on. Perhaps my way wouldn’t have worked long term, but it worked for a single 20 something. Say I had $500 in my checking account, and I charged $50 on a credit card for dinner. I would just deduct that from my check register, so that when it came time to pay the bill, the funds would be there. He thought that was ridiculous, refuting the accuracy of my checking account. So, who cares? He made more money and wanted to handle the money and I didn’t want to fight it. Fine.
Without going into every detail of our laundry and cooking life, just understand that I finally gave those up too. Over the course of the past six months or so, I realized that I was spinning my wheels all day on shit like this, and never being enough to anyone. I did laundry. I just didn’t put matching up all the socks at the same importance as the national debt crises. Sure, mornings are easier when the socks are matched up. Evenings are easier with a cocktail. It doesn’t always happen. Move on.
Ever since my kids were little, it has always overwhelmed me that these little beings HAVE TO EAT AT LEAST THREE MEALS A DAY, EVERY SINGLE DAY. Yes, I cook. I actually like to cook. I would spend so much time planning, and cooking only to be met with complaint after complaint after complaint. Kids eat a bite and say they are full or thats disgusting. And complain of hunger before the dishes are even cleaned. Steve would say my meals were too complicated. Just make it simple. Fine. Or just coordinate the finishing times of each item. Or just add a little garlic. (He IS a chef by trade.) Or he would come in and make something else. Or complain that they kids needed something else besides cereal and fruit and milk for breakfast. Look, I ate Fruit Loops for breakfast for the first 18 years of my life, and I am fine.
I spent years trying to please them, and it was never enough. I spent years trying to show him what all I was doing. I spent some angry years telling him if he didn’t like it, he could do it himself (or go to hell or some other negative non- Buddhist gentle approach). But I kept trying to please.
And then I laid down my sword. Peacefully and without fanfare. I told them I was no longer giving my all so that they could have full lives, especially when they all treated me like it was their God-given right and not experiencing gratitude. I quit doing anything for them that I didn’t want to do or deem absolutely necessary. I told them to expect cereal for breakfast and a ham and cheese sandwich for dinner every single day. Anything more than that, consider it a bonus. Period. I started reading and writing again. I take quiet times. I am happier.
I am not sure what happened with Steve. He continued to do the laundry, but he seems to enjoy it. He cooks and cleans. He doesn’t seem mad about it anymore. I think he quit fighting me. He quit expecting me to be who he wants me to be or who he is or who he thought I was. I think he is happier because his clothes are folded and put away just the way he likes them. He is happier with his meals and what the kids are eating.
We are all learning a new way of being. The kids are saying thank you when I cook dinner or breakfast. They are thanking me for rides to friends or activities. They are asking about my day.
It’s not perfect. Picture day is today and several days ago my oldest daughter said I needed to make her a hair appointment for her pictures. I said that even if you would have asked nicely, I wouldn’t do that. We are not spending that money for school pictures. She said get Ann (a favorite babysitter). I said no, we are not spending that money - I will help you straighten your hair. She went off on a spiel about how horrible I was at hair and that definitely wasn’t going to happen. Yesterday, she realized I was serious about not paying for the stylist or sitter, and said OK, you can do it. And do you know what I said? NO. I am not doing that for you. You were disrespectful to me and I didn’t deserve that. Figure it out yourself. (I never would have done this in the past. NE-VER.)
So, last night I showered and read while my husband learned to use the straightener and enjoyed a half hour with our oldest daughter. She was thrilled with her hair and I think he was secretly proud too.
The times, they are a changing.