“Help, I’m jealous of my husband’s job”

I'm Jealous of my husband's job. Now what?

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m struggling with resentment about my husband’s frequent work trips. They’re often a week or more long, with mixed genders, and I struggle to keep my imagination under control. He is a loving husband and doesn’t seek out female colleagues as friends. He has told me this – and I trust him. Yet, when he is away, and I am left to normal life with young children, I can’t help but think he is off having a jolly time, making memories with everyone but me, and confiding in other people – I struggle with the idea of him having a “separate life” – a life where I, unless otherwise told, have no part of.

My husband does work hard to include me in his work life: I know more than many wives about what he does, who he works with, and he includes me where he can. It’s just when he goes away I become jaded and go into some kind of survival mode: I push away, resent, and think the worst. My husband is doing everything he can think of to help. My question is this: what can I do to combat these feelings?

Sincerely,

FOMO-Mama

Dear FOMama,
It sounds like there are a number of issues potentially at play here: wanting assurance about your husband’s affections, as well as some struggle with contentment and jealousy.
First: it sounds like you and your husband have a healthy marriage – you’re able to talk and are working hard to stay supportive and engaged in the other ones’ flourishing. That’s fantastic.
Having said that – travel for any extended period does put strains on a marriage. There are horrifying statistics about “the things that people get up to” on business trips, and so fears about sexual temptation and other excesses are not unwarranted. We have friends where the husband travels frequently and he requests that there be no TV in his hotel room wherever he travels (I’m sure the hotel staff *really* love this)… but it’s something he does for the sake of making sure there is no temptation there for him. If travel is a regular part of your husband’s job, I’m sure he has to think about ways to proactively protect your marriage while he’s away. That you can talk openly about this is important.
But I think this is really a deeper issue than a “can I trust my husband?” thing, since it seems you are more struggling with feeling left out/jealous of his opportunities, than really struggling with worry about his fidelity. I think that speaks more to a frustration about your current phase in life than specific jealousy about your husband. It’s his “freedom to go”, to stay out late if he wants to, to be ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HOME, to make friends etc, that shines a very bright light on some of the hardest things about motherhood… that being that life is just so. darn. continuous.
Remember when Fridays meant the end of the week? Ha, not so with moms.
Remember when weekends meant sleeping in? Not so with little ones.
Remember when eating out meant a meal free of issues? Not so with moms: either you’re wrangling people to just-sit-still at the table, or you’re bleeding from the nose with how much it costs to pay a babysitter. Tick tock. How long do we have?
Remember when someone asked you if you wanted to catch a movie, and you could say YES? Not anymore.
Remember when you had hobbies you liked to do after work? Not anymore: now there’s the carnage of cheerios and drool that comes after the kids are finally, finally asleep.
Remember when you used to do something and feel a sense of accomplishment that it was actually DONE? And sometimes people PAID you for it? Ha.
The life of a mom of small people is exhausting in physical and profoundly personal ways: for you work ALL DAY and it just gets undone by small people. What you tidy gets dumped out. What you clean gets smeared. What you fold gets worn. What you cook gets consumed, or worse yet – complained about and dumped on the floor.
Before I went on maternity leave, I supervised two interns. They came to visit me a few weeks after my eldest was born, and I was stunned to find I was insanely jealous of them describing the hum drum of making thousands of copies. I used to hate making copies, but all of a sudden I was crazy jealous of the fact that they had something to do which, at the end of their effort, would yield a VISIBLE PILE OF SOMETHING THAT HADN’T BEEN THERE BEFORE. Like real, genuine evidence of productivity. I was beside myself with jealousy. About stacks of colored paper.
And I felt SO pathetic realizing it. Because while my head told me *of course* it was worthwhile to be a Mom, I was still really grieving the loss of choices and efficiencies of my kid-free life, and when my husband worked late or went to a conference or my former intern made copies… I felt really crappy about my choice-less-ness and income-less-ness by comparison.
So how to get over that? Well, knowing what you’re dealing with helps… because maybe it means that what you need is not for your husband to travel less or have less fun when he does… but for you two to talk about what you might need to make space for you to have friends, or to take up a project that is not related to your kids. Would joining a book club help? Or an exercise class? When he’s home, would it help to have some “me time” scheduled in when you can take a couple of hours and go and enjoy brunch with a friend? I know these seem like small things, but I realized that adding few little things like that made the world of difference to me over time. I had become resentful that I could never take a nap. That I never got to eat hot food. That I wanted to talk to a friend somewhere other than in my house and holding a baby.
I hope I am not projecting my own experiences too much into your question here, but it does sound like you have two things going on:
1) wanting to be assured that you are your husband’s priority (and he’s working hard to show you that you are more important than his career), and
2) needing to be affirmed that you are still a PERSON, not just a domestic placeholder, and you need a work/rest/recreation balance, too. With the healthy sounding conversation that it sounds like you and your husband are able to have – maybe you could talk with him not so much about “how can I quash the feelings of jealousy?”, but “what is my jealousy telling me here?” Listen to what your jealousy is telling you about what you are needing to change in your own life, and maybe that will help you both to figure out some next steps.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Image Credit: Mish Sukharev – Revtank (Flickr Creative Commons), edited using Canva by moi.

The Thing I’d Rather Be Doing

When I joined Google + last year, it asked me about my occupation. I paused for a moment, and with tongue-in-cheek I wrote Domestic Opposer of Entropy.

For that is what I do: I hold back the chaos. As a stay-at-home mom, I pick up the strewn, I wash the dirty, I tidy the messed, I soothe the hurt and I untangle the knotted. All day. I expend all my effort into resisting the chaos that comes with three short people running about the house expressing their creativity. Domestic Opposer of Entropy put it nicely, I thought. Accurate, with a touch of comedy.

When I joined LinkedIn a few weeks ago, it asked the same question. I paused for a moment, and wrote Writer.

And then I paused some more.

Why would I jump to claim the title of “writer” rather than the snappy, happy title of “domestic opposer of entropy”? It is true that LinkedIn was meant to serve a more professional purpose than G+ and Facebook, which for me remain social media. But I think there’s more to it than that. The truth is, that day after day, while I go about the work of momming,  opposing entropy, resisting chaos and restoring order and all that goes along with the stay-at-home raising of my kids – often, I’d rather be writing.

I’ve been asking myself why. Why would I rather be writing than parenting? For you it may not be writing, but the question is still there: what would you rather be doing? And why would you rather be (sewing/surfing the internet/playing games/fill in the blank) than (whatever you ought to be doing)?

To show myself a little grace here, I need to concede that:

* for me, writing is fun. I like it. It feels like talking to adults after a full day of reasoning with preschoolers, and my brain feels like it is indulging in a leisurely stretch after being confined into a red, plastic toy bin all day. Fun is good. Fun is healthy. It is good to set aside time for fun hobbies.

* for me, writing is ministry. I do have a sense of calling to it. I spent years mentoring and teaching the bible and talking about life to women and college students, and I loved it. I loved sharing life with people, being able to compare notes against the Bible as we walked the road together, being able to laugh and cry and process it all in community. I grieved being able to do that so much less after my children were born, and treasured the opportunities I still had to mentor and teach when they arose – even if those were far fewer. But then, quite unexpectedly last year, a little anecdote I wrote about on my personal blog got a lot of traction, and Tim asked if he could publish it on his, and then I decided to create a different blog (this one) for my “public” thoughts… and then within weeks hundreds of people were reading it – and I recognized the feeling. The feeling of being useful in service in ministry. Being able to say something helpful, to be available, and all without having to get out of my pajamas? It was as if God opened the door wide open and shouted at me: “Walk through it!” I walked. I’m walking. I’m not sure where I’m walking to, but I’m walking.

But there’s a niggle in this for me, because sometimes I would rather let my children watch an extra hour of Netflix so I can write, rather than read to them and wait until they are in bed. Sometimes I ignore their requests for help because I’m checking comments on a post I’ve written, or posting links on Twitter. Throughout the day, I want to write, and I have to parent – and the tension bothers me.

ipad dishwasherDigging a little deeper, I need to confess:

* for me, writing is affirming in a way that parenting is not. My children show me my limitations and weakness by the hour. The list of things I don’t know, don’t understand, can’t fix and can’t control the outcomes of is huge and overwhelming. The to-do list seems to multiply overnight, and almost never add the “-ne” at the end to make them “done”. Stay-at-home momming requires all of my energy, and it often feels like even if I do a brilliant job, the best possible result I can hope for is that things won’t be worse or messier than they were yesterday. I work hard to prepare meals, and still the children complain. I do laundry multiple times a week, and still there are no socks to wear. I just finished unpacking the last load of groceries, and I immediately find something we are out of and have to start a new one.

Writing, on the other hand, does not get undone. When I hit “publish” on a post, it goes up onto the shiny surface of the internet, and no-one smears jam on it. If people have complaints, they keep them to themselves; but for the most part I get positive feedback on my writing – and after a day of hearing whining from my kids it feels good to have someone say “that helped me” or “thank you” or “you are good at this”. When people ‘like’ or ‘share’ something I wrote, it feels like being awarded gold stars. After hearing a lot about Enneagram profiles, I got curious and took a quick online quiz yesterday. Turns out, I am a 3: the one who likes to achieve and be well thought of by others. I thought motherhood had changed, or at least tamed, that in me – but online quizzes don’t lie (ha!). Deep down, I still want gold stars.

We all have a thing we’d rather be doing, and if we’re honest, the reason we say we’re doing it is not always the full reason. Often, there’s a deeper thing going on, and from time to time it’s worth pausing to take a good, hard look at the deeper motives and see how much they’re driving our behavior. A little soul-mirror is needed, a little truth-telling to the inner me. Where there is misplaced identity, I need to address it. I am acceptable not because I achieve, but because I am accepted by God and that is enough. Where there is misplaced ambition, I need to address it. I write wanting to honor God, not myself. Where there are misspent hours, I need to confess those. Where there are misaligned priorities, I need to re-calibrate my calendar and my character in obedience to Christ.

I enjoy writing. For me, it is fun and it is ministry. But I am also on my guard that it is a dangerous affection and idolatrous threat if I let my identity wrap around the words “writer”, or indeed the words “mom” or “opposer of entropy” too tightly. I am, first and foremost, a child of God, and he has called me to live with eternity in my heart and relationships as my priority. The perplexing parable of the unrighteous steward comes to mind: he knew he was going to lose his job for being dishonest, and so in his last hours on the job he called in his masters’ debtors and offered to write off some of their debt. By doing so, he hoped to muster up some new friends to mooch off when he became unemployed. Astonishingly, Jesus commended the man in the story, because he had “acted shrewdly” by using unrighteous money to make friends for himself in the future. Say what, Jesus?

This is what I understand Jesus to be saying in this mind-bending parable: the man was shrewd because he knew how to use the means he had in the present to cultivate relationships which would last in the future. He invested in people, and given that people are eternal – that was a wise investment. The parable helps me in two ways. Firstly, as a writer, it reminds me to keep praying that the writing is about investing in people, in you, and not about finding affirmation. Secondly, as a Mom, is puts my daily time-spending into perspective. For as much as writing may be a calling and a help to others, the truth is that blog posts have a fleeting impact. Even if this post goes viral and attracts tens of thousands of viewers, it will be forgotten in a month. Distant history in a year. That kind of post would no doubt feel deeply significant and admirable at the time, but it would be what the author of Ecclesiastes says all such accomplishments are: fleeting, a mere breath, a chasing after the wind. On the other hand, the choice I make to be with my children, hour after hour – that’s an investment in eternal people which will remembered next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, and after that, and after that. . .

A little soul-searching reminds me to keep things in perspective. To keep on writing, but not to wrap my worth up in it. And to keep parenting, but to change my focus: off the laundry, and onto the precious bodies that fill those clothes, off the dishes and on to the children we are nourishing, off the to-do list and on to the souls of the ones we are raising. For I am doing more than opposing chaos in my home, I am shaping character in their hearts.

When the next big social media platform arises, and it asks me my occupation, I’m not sure what I’ll write yet. Maybe “relationship investor”. Maybe “ice cream connoisseur”. Maybe “beloved disciple”, or “amateur juggler”. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

On C.S. Lewis and being a ‘homemaker’

On CS Lewis, homemakers and the Ultimate Career

I recently stumbled upon a quote that made this stay-at-home-mama’s heart leap:

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.”

-C.S. Lewis

I read it, and read it, and read it again. Then I let my eyes savor who had penned those words. I mean really, if C.S. Lewis said it – it HAS to be true! I posted the quote on Facebook and the it garnered ‘likes’ by-the-minute. Clearly I am not the only one needed to hear exactly this today.

domestic bliss

Modern Homemakers of 2013?

Why did it strike such a chord? I think the reason it leaped out at me was that, at first, I read it to mean this: “a stay at home Mom has the most valuable and important career.”

Now as a stay-at-home Mom, I am in SORE NEED OF ENCOURAGEMENT. Every single day is one spent being busy, busy, busy. The hours are long. The work is never done. There are hours and hours of laundry and refereeing and fort-building and sandwiches being made and then rejected. Each day involves about thirty forays under the dining table to retrieve Something Sticky. Every day involves multiple trips to the bathroom to rinse Something Sticky (sadly, often underpants). And yet at the end of each day I look at the fruit of my labor, and most days this is what I come up with:

Nothing.

At the end of the day, judging by the physical evidence around me, I see zero dollars earned, zero surface areas cleaned, and judging by the whining and sass, zero character development in my children either.

Yet, in my heart, I know that this is worthwhile. I know that I need to take the long-view. I just need to be encouraged and reminded that This Is Worth It, and My Time At Home Makes A Difference. Because the physical evidence to refute that piles up daily in my sink. Amidst the daily grind of parenting there is also the colossal mental battle of discouragement and fear that needs to be fought.

So when C.S. Lewis, that great author of things wise and pithy, writes something which seems to say that this, THIS, my underpaid, undervalued, underwhelming and very-sticky existence – is the Ultimate Career – I feel validated and worthy again, even if just for a moment.

A little internet sleuthing revealed the original source for the quote, which appears to have been someone’s precis of something he wrote in a “letter to Mrs Ashton” in 1955:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)

What a wonderful man to have corresponded with. Mrs Ashton’s heart was, no doubt, warmed as mine was to read his words.

However, as I’ve been mulling over this quote today, a thought has occurred to me, and now that I have read the original quote I think I need to tweak my initial understanding of Lewis’ words.

By “ultimate” career, he did not solely mean ultimate as in “highest, greatest and unsurpassed.” He was not saying that homemaking is the most fabulous career, the best one, the one-that-can’t-be-beat. Lovely as it sounds, it would be hard to accept his encouragement as truly true if that was what he meant. There is a pile of dishes in my sink to refute that claim, after all.

Rather, by “ultimate”, I think he means “the last, the furthest, ending a process or series. The final or total. The fundamental.” I think he means by “ultimate” what in Greek is meant by the word ‘telos’ – it’s the final goal. It’s the career to which all other careers point.

Reading it like that, I think, means that Lewis’ words of encouragement stretch their warmth and wisdom beyond the realm of the stay-at-home mama, and in fact speak to us all, for:

.. You, working mama, work not to selfishly advance your career, but to provide for your home. To make a place which is warm and safe and in which your family that you love can thrive. Your career is also in service of the ultimate goal: you are using your skills as best you can to make your house a HOME.

.. and You, working daddy, work ultimately not for prestige or money or selfish advancement, but to provide for your FAMILY. You too, are working towards the ultimate career – to provide for your home. You work at “work”, but ultimately, you are working for your home.

… and yes You too, stay at home mama or stay at home daddy, are working in the ultimate career: using your strengths, gifts, time, service to make your house a HOME. And that Sisyphean task is valuable.

CS Lewis’ words are encouraging to me as I face my sticky-floor, but not in the sense that my career as a stay-at-home is “different from other careers and most highly esteemed”. Rather, today his words are encouraging to me because they remind me that my career as a SAHM is, in fact, the same as other careers, in that we are all ultimately seeking to make a HOME.

And that goal of creating happy homes, which “prepares for being happy in our own real home hereafter”,

(whether done directly by floor-and-butt-wipers like me,)

(or indirectly by engineers-like my husband,)

(or indirectly by my brave and wonderful working-mama friends,)

…..is a goal worthy of encouragement.
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