It had been a doozy of a day, or was it more of the same everyday challenges? Sibling squabbles, loud screaming, the general chaotic scene. And I as sat lamenting the long list of frustrating moments, you blurted out, “You’re miserable at home.”
It sounded so blunt, so ugly. And I suppose you’re right, I do feel a general sense of dissatisfaction. But I also felt a pang of defensiveness. Because I am trying so hard, I really am. I love our kids fiercely, and I’m trying my darndest to keep everything running smoothly.
I’m not looking for your solution-minded analysis . . . I’m looking for your empathy.
I know you understand where I’m coming from. I see your robust, business-minded enthusiasm fall flat when you reach for the basket of clothes to be folded. I see your shoulders droop as you reach to empty the dishwasher and reload it. I see you pull out your phone and allow yourself to be distracted from the mundane chores. I know you feel the dull mindlessness of every small detail to keep our home running, just as I do, every single day.
The knee-jerk reaction is to smirk with satisfaction, in a snarky, welcome-to-my-world kind of way. But I don’t, because to see your body language gives me a sense of solidarity, a reminder that indeed, I’m not selfish or lazy or someone with a bad attitude. That the inescapable day in, day out, endless list of chores that refuse to be ignored lest our home falls into utter chaos is far from exciting. It can be the most boring version of Groundhog Day.
And while I know there is a sacredness in the everyday duties of parenting, it can also feel like plain old drudgery.
I know you see me suffering from the weariness of the ordinary, I see you trying to encourage me with Herculean efforts: introducing me to a life coach, helping me network to advance my writing goals, cooking dinner from time to time. Let’s sit down and see if we can come up with a more intentional plan, you say, perhaps pick a couple of days in the week when I cook, when I come home from work to give you a break and you can head to the coffee shop to write. We need a better system, you say. I will help you.
And I hear you. I appreciate your efforts. I know you want me to perk up, stand tall again, laugh more often. But the thing is, for over 10 years I have been in some phase of survival mode. Some months have been harder than others, but I’ve been in a chronic state of trying to keep my head above water. I’ve been either pregnant, nursing, changing diapers, potty training, helping with homework, chauffeuring—so much chauffeuring—breaking up sibling squabbles, folding laundry, sweeping the floor, unloading and reloading the dishwasher for the umpteenth time, and falling into my own bed in an exhausted collapse for more than a decade.
Oh, I’ve been trying.
I’ve read the books, I’ve mapped out self-care on the calendar, I even dropped 20 pounds, only to put my fitness goals on hold when I got pregnant again. I’ve outsourced and delegated, I’ve signed up for grocery pickup, I’ve sought help, and still, I’m just so tired and struggling through a muddy path that lacks inspiration.
I know you want to charge in with the positive business mindset that has made you a success. I know you want to punch through the offensive line like you did in college and make the sack. Rescue your queen. I know you desperately want to save the day because that’s the courageous man you are.
You have so many victory stories of “saving” your clients or making the impossible deal an actual possibility. And I know how much it frustrates you that no matter what strategy you muster up, your wife remains tired and overwhelmed.
I don’t want a strategy right now. I want a friend. I want to feel less alone.
I want someone to give me a big hug, let the tears fall, and give me a broad chest to bury my face into. I need to hear someone say, “This is really hard. It’s OK to be tired.” Or even better, “You’re doing an amazing job, and I see you.”
Because you and I both see the constant imperfections. The unfinished jobs. The messiness of life. I feel defeated at the end of each day, and implying that we need a new strategy or I should try a new method, only feeds my mind with the detrimental message that my efforts are not good enough. I should just try harder. And those thoughts make me feel like even more of a failure.
So bring home my favorite bottle of red and let me pick a show on Netflix even if it’s something your find utterly cheesy and melodramatic. You don’t need to say anything. Just shove the laundry basket of unfolded clothes over and ignore it. Tell me I’m incredible, and with your head on my shoulder, just be my quiet companion.