“Maybe you’d be happier if you went back to work?”
I brushed a loose piece of hair back into my disheveled ponytail as a single tear rolled down my cheek. The words were a dagger to my fragile heart, as my husband of seven years continued with caution, “It just seems like you’re not……happy.”
He was treading on thin ice, attempting to solve a problem I hadn’t asked him to solve. I was knee-deep in my new life as a mom of two, and I was folding under the pressure. My days revolved around two things: breastfeeding a baby and potty training a toddler. One was hungry, the other was constipated – all day, every day. I’m talking 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 3:38 in the afternoon, you’d find me in the bathroom coaxing one kid on the potty with the other one attached to my boob. Add a few mountains of dishes and laundry to the sound of two kids crying and, well, I was starting to feel claustrophobic in my own life.
Each evening my husband came home to the exact same scene: our two-and-a-half-year-old lying on the floor with a tummy ache, our 4-month-old crying, and me on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
It became a daily routine in our house – my husband walked through the door at 6:02 p.m. and I promptly dumped two children into his arms, along with three dozen complaints, before locking myself in the bathroom to be alone for 10 minutes.
Every night my knight in shining armor took over kid duty as I unloaded every rotten detail of our exhausting day. I needed him to know how hard this was, how worn out I had become, how depleted and hopeless I felt by 5 p.m. The complaints flew out of my mouth without hesitation, tales of spit-up and failed naps and tantrums in the grocery store and crushed cheerios under the kitchen table.
I had turned into the world’s biggest tattletale, with our kids at the forefront of my daily rant. I became the type of person that I didn’t even like to be around – the victim, the girl who whines more than she laughs. I didn’t even recognize myself on some days. Who was this negative person complaining 24/7? I wanted to stop myself, but I couldn’t; the rants came flying out of my mouth like word vomit.
It probably comes as no surprise that at some point my husband wondered if I would be happier going back to a full-time job outside the home. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t occasionally wondered that myself.
His question was revealing, though, and made me realize that the real problem in our house wasn’t the kids; the real problem was my attitude. It wasn’t them, it was me. It was my unbalanced daily report, which had somehow become 90% negative, 10% positive.
The problem was the ratio of the story I was telling.
Once upon a time, in another lifetime it seems, my husband and I both worked full-time outside the home. We were living two versions of the exact same life: we both understood the stress of meeting deadlines, how to make the most of a 30-minute commute, the annoying nature of conference calls. We both earned a paycheck and received promotions for a job well done. Each night, we swapped similar work tales over dinner – which, at that point, was an actual meal eaten leisurely at the kitchen table (can you imagine?!). To put it simply, our lives looked somewhat identical throughout the week. We were perfectly in sync.
Now? My husband is still working full-time for the same company, while I have transitioned to working part-time from home with two small children under my care.
For some reason, ever since becoming a work-at-home mom, I have become obsessed with the need to make my husband truly understand what it is like to take care of children all day. I have become overly engrossed with painting a vivid picture of our daily life, as if I need him to fully grasp the physical and emotional toll motherhood has taken on me. As if I need him to understand it to fully appreciate it.
There was so much he simply couldn’t comprehend about caring for these two children, and it started at the very beginning: every wave of nausea, every kick on my bladder, every labor pain, the tearing, the burning c-section scar, the sore boobs, the insane hormones. We were in this together, of course, but I was bearing most of the burden. I needed to remind him every chance I got. I needed him to feel my pain.
I still remember one of the first times I left my husband at home with both kids for a morning. I came home to a hurricane: toys strewn about, spilled yogurt on the floor, is that Elmo hanging from the ceiling fan? My husband’s face said it all, but he took it one step further with nine simple, magical words:
“I don’t know how you do this every day.”
The second the words left his lips, I swear I heard angels singing in the background. Sunbeams shone through the windows as I promptly kissed him on the mouth.
“That is the best thing you could ever say to me,” I replied sympathetically with a smile.
I became addicted to the validation, the affirmation that caring for two tiny kids wasn’t only hard for me, it was hard for him too. I don’t know how you do this every day – I wanted that phrase tattooed on his forehead, spray painted on our garage door, printed on a canvas in all caps and hung over our bed for me to read every night before I went to sleep. He could say those words three times a day and I would never get tired of hearing them.
Everything came to a head that night in the kitchen, when my husband asked, quite innocently, if I would be happier returning to a full-time job outside the home. Of course he asked that question. He is a problem-solver by nature, and judging by my daily report, he heard a distinct problem loud and clear: my wife is not happy.
But was that even true? Was I really … unhappy?
I have unhappy moments, sure, but generally as a whole, this is my dream come true. When other people ask me about my life, I am quick to tell them that. Not in a my-life-is-sunshine-and-rainbows sort of way, but in a I-am-so-lucky-to-be-able-to-do-this sort of way. I get to stay at home and watch my kids grow up while pursuing a number of endeavors that fill me up creatively and contribute to our family financially. Sure, finding a “balance” is difficult, often impossible, and sometimes our days are downright awful, but when I really stop and think about it: there is no place I’d rather be than right here, crushed cheerios and all.
It seems that in my sheer desperation to be understood and my overwhelming desire to feel appreciated, I have done more than simply paint an ugly picture of how hard our days can be – I have also left out half of the story.
After all, my husband only knows what I communicate each day. The daily report I share at 6:02 p.m. is his entire perception of our life at home during the work week. I’m always quick to share the horror stories, the hard things, the mishaps – but what about the good stuff?
We all know that for every miserable moment, there is a wonderful one trailing right behind it, especially if we pay attention. For every meltdown at the post office, there is a dance party in the kitchen. For every screaming car ride, there is a fit of giggles on the changing table. What if I started shifting the ratio of the daily report to be more positive than negative? How would that affect our evenings? How would that affect my marriage, my relationship with my kids, my outlook, my perspective, my own pride in this holy work, my everything?
What if I stopped defaulting to giving my kids an F on their daily report card, and started giving them an A+ instead? (OK, let’s be real: an A- or B+ is probably more realistic.) What if I looked for the good instead of dwelling on the bad? What if, every day when my husband walked through the door at 6:02 p.m., I flooded him with reports of praise instead of complaints?
Look. I’m three years into this motherhood gig, and I can tell you with confidence that I have done a lot of things wrong. I have done a lot of things right, too, but I can admit when I need to work on something. And the daily report? That’s something I need to work on.
So I’m making a mid-year resolution to trade my red pen for gold stars. Every day I want to find three good things to include in my daily report, like the way our boys play peek-a-boo under the living room curtain or how adorable they look with matching shampoo mohawks in the bath. I want to share the things that made us smile and stop dwelling on the things that made us cry.
I want to save the white-flag surrender days for the days that truly call for it (see: explosive diarrhea in the carseat). And on those days, I want to refrain from unloading three dozen complaints on my husband the minute he walks through the door, and simply use our new code phrase for this-day-has-been-a-nightmare-from-start-to-finish.
“Wanna pick up Chipotle for dinner?”
He knows exactly what that means. I don’t have to spell it out for him, I don’t have to rant, I don’t have to tattle, I don’t have to bombard him with every awful detail of the past ten hours. It means that at 6:02 p.m. he will walk through the door with burrito bowls in hand, take one look at Elmo hanging from the ceiling fan, and say with a smile, “I don’t know how you do this every day.”