Couldn’t I be a stay-at-home mom without driving my husband (and myself?) crazy?
When my husband and I were first married, I dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom. I envisioned myself hanging laundry on the line, chasing babies through the yard, spending nap times sewing Halloween costumes and making fresh, crumbly apple pie.
Those dreams came true when we moved out to the country with my two step-children and started talking about having more babies. Trips to the library, picnics under our two oak trees and playing hide-and-seek with the kids were all huge parts of my day; I was living the dream.
I was also, however, killing my marriage.
When we decided that having me stay home would be a good option for us, I took over all of the household duties. Cooking, cleaning and laundry were all my responsibilities and I relished in it. I realize that doesn’t always work for other families - and I get that - but in our home, I counted my husband’s 14-hour work days as responsibility enough. He took care of the finances and provided for us; at the least, I felt, I could handle the laundry.
Life was good. He told me he loved coming home to a clean house every night, to happy kids who were eager to see him pull in the driveway. I always made sure some sort of dessert was ready (His version of a martini each night) and followed my cleaning schedule exactly as it was written. Mondays meant fresh sheets on the bed, Thursdays meant deep cleaning the kitchen and Fridays were saved for groceries. Everything went smoothly for about a year.
But then problems started. I started letting my self-imposed duties pile up in order to chase my stay-at-home mom dreams. If I decided 6:00 pm was an excellent time to make Halloween crafts with the kids, that meant dishes piled up in the sink, dinner leftovers had to be tossed instead of saved and my husband came home to a disaster. The kids were usually amped up from our fun and I was trying to mash potatoes while there was still tissue paper and pipe cleaners scattered all over the floor.
And like giving a mouse a cookie, when you give a daydreaming mama a big overwhelming mess? She decides to ignore the kitchen and start a movie night. And her husband wonders what in the world happened to that wife who promised to keep the house in order for him.
I know some of you may be rolling their eyes right now.
But hear me out: My husband never asked for an impeccable home with calm, obedient children sitting down to dinner while he savored a Scotch on the rocks. He was grateful the kids and I were having so much fun, happy to be bombarded by screaming children yelling “DADDY, LOOK AT WHAT WE MADE!”.
It was when I decided to ignore the mess - and my own responsibilities - that he felt unappreciated. Why were his responsibilities so important that he never missed a single day of work yet I was allowed to treat mine like they weren't that big of a deal?
It also didn’t help that as more and more “to-dos” were added to my list (like finish dinner, clean bathrooms and sweep the hallway piled up), I became more and more frustrated. The tasks started to feel insurmountable. Playing Candyland seemed like a much easier thing to do than scrubbing day-old pots and pans, but that made me crabby, too.
I hated trying to bake cookies while knocking over items from that morning’s craft project. I hated giving the kids a shower and having to scramble to find towels because they still hadn’t been folded from yesterday (and were probably still sitting in the dryer). I hated trying to leave the house to actually do a fun, family activity and losing my cool because no one’s jackets, shoes or car keys were where they were supposed to be.
I was living my dream of being a stay-at-home mom, but was doing a pretty terrible job of creating the happy home environment I wanted.
Grumpy pretty much 24/7, I felt like an awful wife every time my husband walked in to another half-completed project. I chalked it up to my “creative” side. I saved memes from Facebook that said things like “Marrying a creative type means one day the house will be impeccable, but most days it will be a disaster.” I decided I was just a messy person, one who valued picnics and romps in the woods over clean counters and freshly washed couch cushions.
But I also knew that was an excuse. When I was home, I constantly put things on the back burner because "there was always tomorrow" or "after the kids are in bed." I used those excuses like crutches to continue being my “free and creative self”. What I was really being was a selfish, lazy jerk.
Couldn’t I be a stay-at-home mom without driving my husband crazy? He didn’t ask for a lot, truly. He didn’t require the house to be absolutely spotless or his clothes to be color-coordinated. He just wanted clean underwear for work in the morning and for me to finish one project before starting another.
Things had to change.
So I went all or nothing. Instead of keeping the kitchen clean for a whole week, I tried to deep-clean the whole house in twelve hours. I'd scrub the baseboards, but forget we didn't have any clean towels. I'd prep food for the week, but forget to fold all our clothes.
It became so tiresome that even the things I did do didn’t mean much to my husband anymore. He was just waiting for me to spectacularly drop the ball again. So I tried a different approach.
I began looking for work - just three or four days a week - to get out of the house and see if it made a difference.
Getting myself in the “work momentum” did a number on my household responsibilities. After a day of work, I suprisingly still had motivation to clean up the kitchen *right* after dinner was done and finish a load of laundry. I no longer had the “I’ll do it tomorrow” crutch. It was do it now or it wasn’t going to get done. And, of course, when things slid (like they often do), my husband knew it wasn’t from lack of trying or because I opted to watch a Teen Mom marathon on TV. His resentment started to chip away and my self-confidence grew as I realized all that I could and would accomplish by buckling down and just doing it.
Now I appreciate the days when I have the freedom to be a stay-at-home mom a million times more. Five days in a row of Candyland amidst wrinkled clothes wasn’t my favorite, but one game in the middle of the day while the house is clean and dinner’s on the stove? THAT, I can get behind.
Plus, a happy wife waiting for him to come home? My husband can get behind that, too.