The other day, I was chatting on the phone with my wife, Mel, while at work. I was mostly speaking in, yeahs and okays, but not giving her my full attention. Then I said something to the tune of, “Sounds good… I better go” and she cut me off with, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to get off the phone.”
We’ve been married for almost 14 years, and she’d never said that to me. It had been a long week for both of us. I work at a university, and it was the start of the term. The first week is always the worst. I’d been working 9 to 9 for four days. Mel works part time at our kid’s school, so when she wasn’t working, she had acting as the only at-home parent.
She had some things to tell me. She only calls me at work when it’s important. Obviously, she hadn’t been able to discuss anything with me at home because I hadn’t been there. And the thing is, I knew all of this, and yet, I was pretty eager to get off the phone.
Thinking back, I don’t have a good excuse for it. In fact, earlier that day a co-worker came in to tell me about their weekend plans, and I gave them my undivided attention, the two of us chewing the fat for 20 whole minutes. But for some reason, when my wife calls, I can’t seem to press pause for a minute to give her my attention.
I know there are some working parents out there who literally cannot take a phone call at work, but that isn’t the case here. I have an office. I can shut the door. I can take a break from work for a few minutes to listen to my life partner. Sure, I had work to do, but we were never on the phone for more than 10 min, tops. Never.
But for some reason, whenever she calls me at work, I am always in a hurry to get off the phone — and it’s silly. Wait, it’s not silly. It’s rude. It probably makes her think that I don’t have time for her, particularly during those stretches when calling me at work might be the only chance she has to discuss the needs of our family.
If you are like me, and you have the luxury of shutting your office door to give your spouse — husband or wife — the full attention they deserve, why not do it? It’s honestly not that hard.
When Mel said, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to get off the phone,” I didn’t get mad. I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t feel that pinch that working parents often feel when they are stuck in the tug-of-war between work and home. In fact, when I think back, so much of this moment came down to respect.
I know my wife well enough to know that she wouldn’t say something like that unless she was frustrated, needed something from me, and I was being ridiculous. And she wouldn’t call unless it was important, so I let her talk — because that’s the respectful thing to do when the love of your life and mother of your children calls, right?
I got off my butt and shut my door. I sat down at my desk, put my work to the side, and gave her my full attention. We talked about a few things concerning our kids. She asked if I was free later in the week so she could schedule an appointment with our daughter’s teacher. We discussed something odd that was going on with our bank account that needed to be resolved ASAP.
And once it was all said and done, we were on the phone for 10 minutes, like we always are. Then Mel said, “Sorry for getting mad. I just hate when you do that.”
I let out a breath. I thought about how little she was actually asking of me.
“Don’t apologize. I’m the one who should be sorry,” I said. “I’ll stop. I promise.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Then we hung up, and we both got back to work.