It Takes Two to Tango

I read a really great blog post the other day titled, “With Love, the SAHM,” and ever since I read it I can’t stop thinking about it. That’s because I’m a stay at home mom, and I’ve recently come to the point of deep admiration and respect for what my husband does on a daily basis. I’ve also recently come to the point of deep admiration and respect for what I do on a daily basis, and how we are in this whole raising a family thing together, even if we are winging it.

I’ve been a stay at home mom for a little over 18 months. Used to working full time since before I moved out of my parents’ house, not working felt scary to me. At the same time, I knew that I wanted to be with my two boys and provide them with the very special experience of being with their mom while they grow. Still, quitting working and transitioning into the stay at home mom life has been a long and ever changing challenge.

It started out with guilt: “I’ll take care of everything else there is to take care of.” I felt so guilty for the pay cut we took and for the sole responsibility falling on my husband that I didn’t want him to have to worry about anything outside of work. Every phone call, appointment, bill, grocery shopping trip, everything, was on my plate and I was like, “Heck yes! I can do this!”

Then the guilt kind of turned into resentment, as I felt the burden of everything on my shoulders at all times. I realized after several months that I was burnt out, and jealous that my husband got to leave and only worry about bringing home the paycheck. It lead me to be sort of hateful with him, or nonchalant about his struggles and his experience of being a husband and father. I was constantly comparing my day to his, and I never felt that I was compensated for all the things I did. I felt heavy, used, and at the same time worthless–because I had nothing to show for any of it. In fact, I’ll clean my house tonight and by 10 o’clock tomorrow morning, you’d wonder if I’ve cleaned in a couple of days.

The revolving door of housework, childcare, and daily life can weigh on a mom’s shoulders like a diaper bag that is wayyyy too full. It starts to leave marks everywhere in your life. What’s worse, is that all the things that we do start to feel less and less important, and more and more like a dreadful chore that we have to finish or else. I felt all of this, even though my husband has never once belittled me, pushed me to do more, or made me feel bad or like I have to be perfect. I put all of that on myself…because I wanted to be counted as an equal in our partnership.

My husband came home once and I was upset and feeling like I hated my life. He told me, “I just don’t make enough money to pay you what you deserve, and I hate that.” Wow. What a perspective. That what I do does matter, but that our society isn’t built to reward me monetarily with it. And that my husband recognizes that and feels guilty on a daily basis that he can’t pay me what I’m worth. Because I’m worth a lot.

The resentment I’ve felt in the past has been dissolved as I’ve recognized that I actually can’t do it all. I’ve had to ask for help. I’ve had to give myself breaks when I need them. And I’ve come to learn, as I prepare for my third birth (I’m 32 weeks…eeek!) is that getting comfortable in my role as a stay at home mom has been the greatest equalizer of my marriage. I’ve learned that what I do is just as important as what he does. I’ve learned that I don’t have to “do it all” (and neither does he). I’ve learned that our jobs are different and that’s okay. And most importantly, I’ve learned that I can have a genuine sense of respect and compassion for myself and for my husband, even though we lead drastically different existences 50 hours a week.

Sure, I endure endless tantrums and have to physically and emotionally care for tiny humans. Sometimes my head hurts before noon from the tantrums. Sometimes I struggle to stay positive. Sometimes I have a hard time keeping the household above water, and I struggle with balancing who I am with what I do and feeling like I’m good enough.

But so does my husband. That’s because he sees the work I put in here. He feels my tense shoulders when he gets home. Sure, he gets to leave everyday without toting around a diaper bag and two kids that weigh 30 pounds. But he also has to stay on his feet all day, doing some jobs he loves to do and some jobs he doesn’t. He has to navigate the inner workings of a business, dealing with his own coworkers (who don’t unconditionally love him, like our tiny humans do, mind you).

When I get sick, I stay home and have the hard work of keeping the kids afloat. I don’t get time off. When he gets sick, he often has to endure staying on his feet all day too (barring fevers or bodily fluids exiting his body at the wrong times). Or, he has to miss being paid and the extra stress and financial burden that comes along with that.

On the weekends, neither of us “get time off.” Sure, he doesn’t get to be at work, but he sure as heck isn’t taking a day off. We’ve got two little boys that are ruthless playmates, in need of constant attention and interaction and help and food. We’ve got projects that need to be completed, errands to run, and routines to stick to. Both of us change diapers, quell tantrums, and endure screams and protests about the food being too hot, too cold, or too weird.

Our lives take a toll on both of us, in different ways. I used to get annoyed when my husband seemed to get annoyed with the boys or short with them after what I knew were rather small and normal tantrums (after all, I can literally lose count of all the tantrums that are thrown in one day, almost every day). But then I realized: it’s taken me over 18 months for this to be my normal. This isn’t his. His normal is the hustle and bustle of work. Numbers, customers. I’m sure I would feel overwhelmed if I were to switch places with him sometimes. Making that realization, I also realized that just because I’m used to being a stay at home mom doesn’t mean that what I do isn’t hard, and it that also means that what I’m used to is not what my husband is used to.

I see him struggle with the same questions I do: Am I good enough? Am I doing the best I can? Am I failing somewhere? How can I make this easier for both of us? I see him struggle with balancing what he wants to do with what he has to do. I see him struggle to get out of our warm, cozy bed in the morning when he’d rather cuddle and drink coffee together, even through the chaos. And he sees me, at the end of the day, completely exhausted and bent out of shape as I pack up leftovers and get the baby down for sleep. We both have our strengths, our weaknesses, our fears, and our dreams.

We both have the weight of the world on our shoulders for now. That’s the rigaramoo of being a young family, I think. Trying to grow into the world, be successful, fulfilled, and raise decent kids? This is not for the fainthearted! But it’s important to stick together through this. It’s important to listen to each other’s ideas, struggles, thoughts, worries, and frustrations. It’s important to ask, “How was your day?” with your full attention.

It’s important to be patient with your husband, as he doesn’t understand what you do in one day. It’s important to be patient with yourself, as you learn to ask for help without feeling guilty. It’s important to recognize that it takes two to tango, and remember that your partner depends on you just as much as you depend on them to make it through these hard, incredible years. And by the end of it all, I bet we will effortlessly dance together, as if we’ve always known how to. But for now, we may awkwardly stumble. And that is also okay. As long as we keep moving, and we don’t leave each other behind, I think we’ll be okay.

We are in this together.

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