My wife and I have just finished up our first year as permanent foster-parents. So, along with raising our three, “natural” children we have been given the task of raising as many children as God sees fit to bring into our home. I am basically a Stay at Home Dad. This has definitely been an interesting year for my wife and I. Other families that do the same thing that we do have told us that the first year is the toughest year. I would say that in one sense this is an accurate statement.
It is accurate in the sense that the climb up to “Base Camp” on Mt. Everest is the toughest part of the climb. Or the first day of working out to P90X is the hardest day. The reason that these are the toughest isn’t because they are the most physically demanding part of your climb or exercise, but they are toughest because your body is getting acclimated to the conditions. This is true for our job. I am sure that the toughest roads are probably ahead of us, but this first year has been tough because our lives were getting acclimated to the conditions.
I say all this, but I have realized over this last year that my wife was more acclimated to the conditions of this job then I had been. The reason was that before we took this job my wife was already hard at work as a stay at home mom while I was at work outside the home. As I have shared my frustrations and hardships over the past year I have noticed a faint smile across my wife’s face. I knew the first time I saw it what it meant. It meant, “Oh yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I’ve walked this road before you. Now you know what I was talking about last year.”
That is why I have set out to write this blog post. This is for all those husbands of Stay At Home Moms. Those husbands that would easily say that their wives have a tough job, but haven’t lived it for themselves. My hope is to lay out some points, analogies, and applications that help all those husbands understand what it might be like for their wives. This is not to downgrade the work that good dads do for their families. They are vital. I don’t think we have to downgrade one role to elevate the other. You might think of me as an interpreter for the two sides. I am putting a mother’s work in a man’s language. Think of me like an embedded war-time reporter who has been encamped with Seal Team Six and I am writing my expose’ to you fellas to help you understand what really goes on. I hope to give a man-version of what your wife is going through so that you may be able to lead, minister, and help her out more.
To the Moms that read this, remember that I am still a man, and have probably forgotten some of the ways that your job is tough. I am sure that no one but another mother can truly understand all that you go through. I also realize that many of you have probably told your husbands many of the same things that I am about to. My hope is that hearing it from another man might cement it in their heads. So here we go…
Your children are alive and emotionally stable
If when you leave from work your children are alive and emotionally stable and when you get home, they are still alive and emotionally stable, realize that this was only possible because your wife kept them in that state. Your children, as wild as they might be, are not Bear Grylls. Left to themselves they could not survive on their own, and still remain emotionally stable. Ever read “Lord of the Flies” in high school. That should give you some idea of what life would be like at home without your wife. Left to themselves, you may come home to find them in a Little Debbie and Capri Sun sugar induced coma for which they might never recover. So if your wife does nothing but keep these amazing gifts from God alive and age appropriately stable, then she has done enough for one day.
Let me give you an analogy: Let’s say you arrive to work early one morning to find your secretary tied down to her desk chair. Now let’s say that her desk chair has been strangely placed on a trap door above a dangerous shark tank. Let’s now say that the only thing keeping the trap door from opening and your secretary from plunging to her demise is a computer that has been set up away from her grasp. Without warning and at random times, a buzzer goes off, and you being the only other person in the office, have to type in a random 20 character code in the computer to keep the trap door from opening (fans of the show Lost should like this one). This is hard enough right? Let’s make it more interesting. Let’s also say that your secretary isn’t the calmest of people in these situations. So on top of being ready at any moment to type in this 20 character code, you have to keep your co-worker calm through out the entire process. For if she moves or sits up, she may inadvertently cause the trap door to open without warning, plunging both of you to your death. Phew. Are you mentally and physically tired yet? But just like those infomercial guys, “Wait there’s more!” Imagine that all of this is going on and you still have a huge report due the next day. Your boss is somewhat aware of your situation, but that doesn’t deter his need for you to get your report in on time and with excellence. So on top of the emotional support you give to your secretary to keep her alive, on top of the emergency breaks you take to type in the code at random times throughout the day to save her life, you are also expected to do your “normal’ work and do it with professionalism and accuracy. Oh yeah, don’t forget that it starts all over tomorrow.
This is a small taste of what your wife went through today.
She lives in her office
Picture for a minute YOUR office at work. YOU probably know where everything is. Even if it’s a mess, its YOUR mess. Someone might come in at night, hired by your company, and vacuum YOUR office and take out the trash for YOU. YOUR pens are neatly placed in your pen cup. YOUR folders are stacked just the way YOU like it, and maybe most important, YOU have a door to separate you from the rest of the office when you need to really get work done. Even if you work from home, or travel, things are most likely set up the way YOU like them or the way they work the best for YOU. Are the capitalized words giving you an idea of who the focus is in your work space?
Now imagine that your office is set up the most efficient way that works best for you. That things, whether messy or clean, are set up to provide you with comfort and the best ability to get your job done. Now imagine that everyday and night you have a local church youth group that had decided that your office is the best place to hold their nightly youth group lock-ins. They are there 24/7. Now imagine that your office is also your home. No, not that your office is a room in your home, but you eat, sleep, get dressed, and go to bed in your office. And remember, not only you, but that friendly youth group, hopped up on Mt. Dew and Twizzlers. Now imagine that your boss has you permanently on Skype. So when you eat, get dressed, go to the bathroom, or get some “Me Time” your boss is always there with you to ask you questions at his discretion. Remember, we aren’t talking about one of those progressive, trendy tech company type offices with no doors, walls, or separated space. Now how would your work be affected by this? How easy would it be to do your job?
That’s a small taste of your wife’s work environment.
She can’t tell you what she has done all day.
If, when you leave from work and things are clean, and you get home and things are clean, you need to realize that this didn’t happen by accident. Your wife has worked hard to put things back in order. She has managed the house, prepared two to three meals, fixed snacks, done laundry (doing laundry= separating clothes, loading and unloading clothes, folding clothes, putting clothes away, only to begin again with another family member’s hamper) changed countless diapers, put up toys, read to your kids, taught your kids valuable life lessons, altered the course of your children’s lives for good, disciplined them, loved them, fed the dog, answered the phones, put out fires (figuratively and possibly literally), all while keeping you out of the loop, so that you can do your job effectively. So realize that your wife has had the almost impossible task of keeping all aspects of your home together and running smoothly. So understand that when you come home and you throw your briefcase on the ground, you leave your gym bag in the hallway, you drop that towel right next to the dirty clothes hamper, and ask her, “What have you done today?”. Take note that even if she could tell you all the things she has done, you’ve just inadvertently undone half her work making her response much like the general answer a teenager might give you, “Not Much, Oh you know the same ol’, same old.” That way she avoids being a nag about the dirty clothes and doesn’t make you feel guilty about coming home.
Let’s go back to your office. Remember the one you live in and that has the secretary that is dangling above the shark tank and the youth group that is playing battle ball in your office? Now let’s say that on top of all that you have an “Inbox” on your desk that is required to be sifted, organized, and completed by the end of the day. Now let’s say that you have another secretary that is supposed to bring you all the things that you are to get done that day and place them in your “Inbox”. Now let’s say that this secretary keeps putting all these items on the floor, on the break table, under your desk, anywhere but in your inbox. Get the picture? So understand that the dirty clothes left next to the dirty clothes bin, the cereal bowl left in the living room instead of in the sink or washing machine mean a little bit more than you thought and make things harder than they should be.
She fights “mommy guilt”
Okay, so she does a lot. She keeps the kids alive, keeps the house in order, and keeps her self somewhat sane. Now let’s bring in all the other moms that are doing the same thing she is doing. Now she has to fight the fear that she isn’t doing enough. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous at this point? But it is a reality. Facebook is a great tool and mommy groups can be great places to interact with other mothers, but understand the negative side of these things on your wife. You see there’s a dark side to these groups.
These groups can become the unintentional “I am the Best Stay at Home Mom” proving grounds. While she will get some support from these places, she might also get a ton of guilt. She will mostly likely find some mom whose kids are doing better in home school and are reading Hamlet at age five for the fourth time. She will find a mom that has amazingly organized every room in her house and still cooks meals that make her children sing her praises and her husband loves to Twitter about them. She will find a mom that saved $4 million dollars last year couponing. She will meet the mom that takes her kids to the zoo, park, and science museum every other day. Finally, she will meet the mom with 2 toddlers and a five month old that looks like she just got done with a photo shoot for the local fitness and fashion magazine. She will walk out of this mommy group or log off of Facebook and immediately begin to piece these women together, like Dr Frankenstein, to make her ideal SAHM. She might wrestle with these ideas and may seek to find comfort in God’s Word. But where does a Christian SAHM go to find out what God expects of her? Proverbs 31 of course. And what does she find there but a Biblically, sanitized version of the mommy monster her mind just created. So now we have worldly mommy guilt and Biblically-based mommy guilt brought together to create the perfect storm. (That’s not the point of Proverbs 31, but that is the danger if read out of context.)
Meanwhile let’s go back to your office. Let’s imagine that once a week you get out of the office to go to a weekly networking/better business awards meeting. So bye, bye youth group. Strangely enough you still have to bring the shark tank/emotional needy secretary along with you and still have to punch in the numbers. At least now there might be some people at your meeting that know the code as well. They all have the same shark tank type contraption too. So they may be able to help you, but there’s a catch. They need your help just the same.
Now imagine at this meeting you get to chat with fellow business men and colleagues from other companies just like yours. What do you think the conversations would naturally drift toward? If it’s like most business conferences with people from the same profession, the likelihood is that all the conversations would become subtle “look at what we’re doing” matches. The same posturing that goes on in the wild with peacocks and other animals marking their territory or showing their strength is on display at these same conferences. Business cards get handed out, names get dropped, and praise awaits those that have done above and beyond. Now this meeting isn’t annually, or monthly, but it is weekly. So, although it gives you a change of pace, it also gives you that anxious feeling that “this week I am not measuring up.” So now you go home feeling a little defeated. You go to the Word and find a hidden chapter in Proverbs towards the end. It is Proverbs 32 and someone has given it the title, “The Ultimate Christian Husband” . You read it and maybe take away wrongly (it’s been a long day and you’re not up for much Biblical study tonight) that to be the Best Husband you have to mirror Jesus Christ perfectly.
That might give you some taste of what your wife goes through.
No tangible payment
Most likely weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly you get a paycheck from someone. This is a real tangible way that the outside world acknowledges what you do.
Now imagine trying to hire somebody by telling them that they are going to sign a contract to work for you 24/7/365 for the rest of their lives. They will even be on call during their vacations. The up side is that you would pay the 4 million dollars over their lifetime for the job that they would do. You can NOT however guarantee when that payment would be given to them. It would be spread out over their lifetime, and at random times. Sometimes they would be given a dollar, sometime it could be several thousand dollars. There was no guarantee when payment would come, how much would come at any given time, and if it would all come by the time the were dead and gone. You also have to tell them that this payment is performance based so that they can never relax and grow lazy, but they are going to be daily evaluated by customers and employees on their performance.
I am willing to bet you would never have an employee take that deal. Except that is the deal your wife took when she came home to raise your children.
Her time is not hers, it has no boundaries, and everything she does cost something
This might be one of the hardest things she might deal with. I know it was for me. The fact is that she has no real time for herself if she has kids at home. From the time she gets up till the time she goes to bed, and even during the night, she is on the clock. Even when she isn’t on the clock physically, her mind never rests. Even as she lays herself down to sleep, there is probably an internal buzzer ready to go off at the faintest whimper or cry from down the hall. So even when she is resting, she isn’t resting. Her job is never really done. If you own your own business, then this is probably an equal feeling that a stay at home mom might feel. That feeling that you can never quite unplug or stop thinking about ways to improve, etc. Except think about this: when you go to work, that is 15 minutes alone that you have, that your wife doesn’t have, even when you go to the bathroom at work, that might be more privacy then your wife might ever get in the powder room. When you drive home, that is another 15 minutes or more of time to yourself. Your customers can always leave voice mails, emails, texts, and faxes. All of those forms of communication have natural boundaries that you can control to some extent. Your wife has none of those. Young children don’t send emails when they want lunch, they don’t fax when they’ve scraped their knees, and they don’t yet text (at least in our house) when they are being treated unfairly by their brothers or sisters. So they do not have the same boundaries that you have.
Imagine this: You are at your office (a very strange place at this point). Your boss comes to you and tells you he has a promotion for you. On top of your duties as Accountant Rep, Marketing VP, Associate Manger in Charge of Sales, you will also be responsible for serving meals in the corporate cafeteria. You might think to yourself, “Wait, that’s not what I went to school for! Can’t they get someone else to do that? My strengths are in accounting, marketing, etc, and if I have to serve lunch when will I get all of my other work done? How do they expect me to do my job on top of all these other things and still get everything done? That is impossib-ooooooohh I get it now. See?
Your wife is probably better at managing time, money, and resources, than some top-level managers. And she has probably become an expert at cost/benefit analysis. It might be fair to say that she is better than anyone you work with. She understands that to take the kids to the park is to risk the house being dirty and the dinner being late. Most days she manages this well. But understand if you come home and dinner isn’t ready or the laundry isn’t done, she probably made the decision that playing with the kids or having that heart-to-heart conversation with your son was probably more important that day then dinner being prompt. She ran the numbers, did the c and b analysis, and made a decision. Oh yeah, she did all this in her head in about a split second. It is second nature to her, so that is probably why she didn’t know how to tell you dinner was going to be late or why. Don’t jump to conclusions that she was just a little lazy that day.
So there are some of the ways I have learned over the last year that being a mom is tough, tough work. Tougher then I could ever imagine. So remember the next time you wonder what it is your wife does all day think of your shark-tank secretary, the youth group playing hide and go seek under you desk, the weekly business meetings you love to go to but that can leave you filling inadequate, the fact that you may never know the next time you are getting paid for your work, anyone who needs you can get a hold of you at their discretion, and the fact that many of the things you are asked to aren’t seen or recognized. That might give you a little taste of what your wife does.
Tomorrow I will give some ways a husband may help encourage his wife in her work as a mother.