Jennifer Jeanne Patterson explores whether your home can make your marriage better.
I knew it was only a matter of time before we moved out of our first home. My husband, Matt, was happy there but I wasn't. On paper, it was perfect: four bedrooms, three baths. Yet I felt lonely in it. Which was silly, really. Because it was a beautiful home: the black slate staircase in the entry gave it a sense of permanence, of stability, while its wood floors emanated warmth. But it was in the suburbs of Minneapolis where there are no sidewalks. I'd grown up in a neighborhood connected by sidewalks, and so felt unrooted there.
I was delighted to be at home with our children, stacking blocks for our toddler to knock down, rocking our newborn until his eyes fluttered and his body softened. But I missed knowing who I was—and where we lived, it seemed, was making me feel like a stranger. In The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin writes that research shows "having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness." And yet that is the first thing you lose when you stay home: your connections. I longed for play dates, book clubs, outings to the pool and park, and Bunco after we tucked our children into bed. Only a few people in our neighborhood stayed home during the work week. As soon as four o'clock rolled around, I had my face plastered to our neighbor Joe's patio door. Soon, I worried, he'd invest in curtains.
As I held our toddler in my arms, reading him a book while our newborn snoozed, I told myself I didn't care. I was fortunate I could be at home, where I felt I needed to be. As an attorney, Matt worked long hours, leaving much of our childcare and household management up to me. But, over time, I began to itch for a part of myself back. Only I didn't know how to get it. As much as it's hard to know what is best for your children, sometimes it is even harder to know what is best for yourself. Happiness Happens: 20 Tips To Increase Your Happiness
With our growing family came a growing mess. First, it was our dog, her muddy paws marking our white stone kitchen floor on her way to her water bowl. Then it was our son, flinging blueberries from his high chair, tipping his cup to watch his milk spill. What we thought we wanted in a home shifted as he grew older.
"White doesn't work when you have kids," Matt noted, as he picked strawberries up off the floor. Soon Matt, characteristically efficient, came up with a plan. We'd rip up our flooring and in its place lay a darker stone.
"But then our cabinets will need a face lift," I said, wondering if we should reface or replace, and go a shade lighter or darker than our flooring. And while we were at it, Matt said, what if we opened our kitchen to our living room? Or added a screened-in porch? I thought of the breeze that would sweep over our faces as we ate. The bid expanded along with our ideas. We had a decision to make: how much did we want to invest in this home?
I knew the answer before Matt did. He liked the idea of remodeling, the challenge of it. But with a toddler and newborn, showering challenged me; forget choosing cabinetry and countertops and flooring. How To Buy A House With A Family In Mind
"I'm home all day," I said, now desperate to move. "I want sidewalks and a park I can walk to... I want friends."
That spring, we closed on a new home, one that felt more like me, one we couldn't afford when we'd first married but five years later found manageable. Upon touring it, I fell in love with it. It was a home that gave me hope. The view from the upstairs windows reminded me of the one from my parents' home in Ithaca, NY: long and narrow lots, backyards that touched, detached garages and sidewalks to connect neighbors. Driving through this neighborhood, I saw moms pushing babies with toddlers ambling behind them.
While I flew our boys cross country to visit my family, Matt moved us. It always surprised me how much the division of labor split along gender lines after our children were born. It seemed the only way we could get work done. Gender Roles Reversed: Stay-At-Home Husband
I'd learned a home could make you unhappy. But could our new home make me happy, and therefore us?
Blogger Buzz: Molly from The Snyder 5 offers her thoughts on whether a home can make you happy.