Thursday, July 16, 2009

Burned Out Mom, Only Leftovers for Dad

Here is a theme in modern marriages. Husband wishes for wife to set aside a little more time and care for romance; to look forward to date nights rather than worrying so much about leaving the children; to linger together in the evening instead of darting off to chores or projects; to insist that the children go to bed on time and stay in their own bedrooms; to try to present herself nicely when he arrives home. Meanwhile, wife resents husband's requests, certain that he has no idea how exhausted and overworked she is, how mind-bogglingly many are the demands of her day, and how worried she about the children’s well-being and development.

There is a wildly unhealthy culture of pressure on mothers, Christian mothers included. We work ourselves ragged and worry ourselves sick, managing every minute, giving ourselves and our children no breathing room, as if their well-being was entirely in our hands and letting up for one minute would ensure our failure as mothers and their failure as human beings. We’re determined to do better for our children (enrichment activities, superman nutrition, careful education, spiritual formation, structured play) with less support than mothers have ever had.

Meanwhile, our society views the institution of marriage and individual marriages as less important than ever. The upshot is that we receive none of what would be good community pressure to be faithful, caring wives. All around us, wives slander and dishonor their husbands, and they eventually pick up and leave to explore the greener grass on the other side.

These two pillars of modern life tempt us to neglect our marriages while wringing every drop of energy out of our bodies and spirits to raise “perfect” children.

Correctly prioritizing within our hearts is necessary for our own mental and emotional health and for the well-being of our families. As Christians, we understand that our loves are correctly ordered when they are God first, then husband, then children. I need to continually re-examine whether I’m living this.

What a relief!

Our Lord asks that we put Him first, that we let him be the breath of our lives, that we do the best we can with what we’re given, and entrust Him with the rest (or as my favorite parenting author puts it, “All I ask is that you do the best you can. Struggle to surpass yourself in loving service, and leave the rest to my almighty power….”).

Second in importance, we cleave to our husbands, cultivating our love and unity so that it refreshes and inspires us as women and overflows naturally into our lively mothering. I don’t think this is a nice string of sentiments; I think this happens, with grace, if I let it. I’m also pretty sure that living this way is much easier and happier than going it alone as anxious, burdened, resentful Supermom.

Our vocation and our call to holiness is to learn to fall more in love with the person who we fell in love with, chose, and love more than anyone else on earth. That’s amazing. I can’t believe I get so sidetracked sometimes.

Time, effort, and even money spent figuring out how to make our marriages thrive is unquestionably worthwhile. I think it’s not a matter of finding more time or energy in a day but rather reprioritizing, giving ourselves space from our other cares and responsibilities in order to make adequate room in our hearts for our husbands. We are asked to tithe to support the Church; there’s a good argument to be made for similarly trusting God by setting aside money even on a tight budget as a necessary expense to support our marriages, for date nights or for whatever else we enjoy doing together. Babysitting. Planning ahead for date nights at home. 90 seconds for makeup and perfume. Listening more than talking (I always blow this one). More babysitting!!

I find after only five years of marriage that investing in marriage pays dividends in many forms. Mom is happier, more lighthearted and more detached from the cares and ups and downs of daily life with the children. Dad loves being in love, coming home to delight in his bride, laughing together as they acknowledge and enjoy the many blessings of faithful Catholic family life. Children are secure in their proper place in the family, as the fruits and the beneficiaries of a living, life-giving love.


Right Said Red said...

Amen! This puts beautifully into words much of our conversation last week.

Often times our stress level is the result of having our entire world revolve around our children. Take the time to be super wife, not super mom, and often things will fall into place. When I order my relationships properly, I find I have much more "time" to do the really important things.

Kristen said...

Excellent points well made, Juris Mater!

B-Mama said...

I'll second that "Amen" from Red! Beautifully reminded, Juris Mater. I am pumped to head out on my next date night... All I need now is my hubby! Where is he? Working, working, working!!

We are going to have to learn to really take advantage of the down times at the office. Even our monthly investment in Netflix is a wonderful way to work in an at-home date with popcorn and a movie. We both get to relax, snuggle, and later discuss something other than raising our cherubs!

Lisa said...

This is a great reminder.

One suggestion that has worked well for me -- if you don't already, consider doing a similar (but individual) blog about your relationship with your husband. I have one with blogspot, but have it marked private, so it's an online diary instead of a true blog.

Taking the same care and diligence to record the great moments you share with your spouse, instead of just recording moments raising your kids, gives so many opportunities for great reflections. It is so easy to focus on all of the "must-do's" in life, and take for granted and/or miss opportunities to cherish the one to whom you said "I do." Writing in my journal/blog, which is exclusively about my relationship with my (now) husband brings me such joy and focus. Given your propensity to write about the Cathedrals you're building, this may be a great vehicle for you too!

Heather - Doodle Acres said...

Even after 20 years of marriage, I really appreciate these wise words. It so easy to get off track in this regard. Thanks for taking the time to post.

Kathleen said...

Now I am all excited for our date night, next February! My husband is in the military and we are currently in the midst of a long separation. Those phone calls home can come at inconvenient times--in the middle of the morning rush or during the nap routine--but I have to do what it takes to make sure that I am able to give him my full attention. Sometimes I fail, but I am learning the quieting power of yogurt covered pretzels and Elmo.
Anyway, great thought!

Mary Alice said...

It may be a matter of personality, you rise to a challenge and a crisis, just the place for a super-hero, so perhaps trying to be "super" inspires you to be a better wife, but I am learning that for me it really brings me down, so in case there are others who feel the same I thought I would share that.

Next, while I am usually a strong voice for personal responsibility, I also want to add that when it comes to keeping the marriage strong, THE HUSBAND HAS A LARGE ROLE TO PLAY HERE. Yes, we must be ready to respond to his invitations for date nights or romantic moments, but he can help in many small ways -- take over bedtime routine on Saturday night so that your wife can freshen up before you have a date at home, randomly bring home flowers or announce that you are taking the family out for pizza, take enough of an interest in what is going on with the kids that she does not feel that she has to be "super mom" because she is the only parent they have on a day to day basis. Don't turn on the baseball game as soon as you walk in the door (unless you are Mr. Red, in that case DO turn on the baseball game as soon as you walk in the door!). Send her out for a walk on a Saturday morning while you and the kids make the beds and some breakfast. These are just a few ideas.

I think that it has been said that Mom sets the tone for the household, but Dad sets the tone for mom. I assume that everyone wants their marriage and family to be successful, so if a man is coming home every night to a weary wife who does not seem happy to see him, he might think long and hard about what he can do to lift her up a little bit. If things are distant enough that he is at a loss, he might ask her friends or even her mother. If all you are getting is "leftovers" or there is nothing left at all, your wife may need a little help to "get her groove back," and the right formula for this can really vary -- a dressy grown up dinner in the city might be just the ticket for some, but a total stresser for others, so this takes some consideration.

Lastly, I think that JM makes a point which Red also made in her laundry post, and I want to make sure that this point is not lost:

In order to do small things with great love we really need to open up the font of grace. We can do this in a few simple ways,beginning with a small time of mental prayer each day and regular reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and communion.

When we ask ourselves how we can live our best as a spouse, homemaker, mother, educator, catechist, friend, we must know that all of these things will benefit from our finding some peace in our own soul through our relationship with, and dependence on, the Blessed Trinity. Therein we find our Creator, our Savior and our Source of Joy and Wisdom.

Mary Alice said...

Sorry, the beginning paragraph of the comment above got chopped off when I posted it. The first part was in response to Red's comment -- I think you are right that it is a mistake to have our world revolve around our children, but I would argue here that what is needed is moderation in all things -- being a good mother is part of being a good wife when you have children, but it is not all of it, and we do have to remember that. Being a provider is part of being a husband and father, but also not the only part.

For me, I need to remember that my husband and my children do not need me to be super or perfect, they need me to be (mostly) kind, loving, and happy. When I try to be super, and inevitably fail, I wind up bitter and unkind.

My husband loves the imperfect me, but it is harder to do that when I am nasty because I am failing to meet unrealistic expectations which I put on myself and then project onto him!

I need to remember that I can do a lot with small efforts -- combing my hair and putting on a little makeup, reading a few articles in the newspaper to keep myself engaged in matters outside the home, etc.

Anonymous said...

What has helped us so much is figuring out what is really important to each of us. That way I'm not killing myself making the house spotless when all my hubby really wanted was dinner on the table. He knows that I really appreciate when he takes the time to give me a hug and play with the kids on the floor. We both agree that babies go to bed and stay in bed at a specific time, etc. etc.
Communication is so important!That way you don't have as many false expectations of each other.

MargaretJDMom said...

Great thoughts!!

We really need to do our part for our husbands!! I am amazed at how many wives feel free to trash their men or harass them to no end in front of others. People treat their husbands worse than their friends. Husbands do have a role to play, as MA noted, but then again we women can't control our husband but we can control ourselves!!

I think it is important to know what is important to our husbands. I think all guys are different in that regard. I had to laugh at the beginning of JM's post, b/c my husband would be upset if I kicked a kid out of my room who appeared in the middle of the night...different strokes for different folks!

As I have recommended before, everyone should read Covenanted Happiness by Cormac Burke. GREAT marriage book! Also, on a totally secular level I recommend The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I am no fan of her radio program, but this book makes a lot of sense. There are some things wrong with it (i.e. she doesn't have an issue with porn) but her general advice is BE NICE to your husbands!

Mary Alice said...

Margaret, I think that "BE NICE TO YOUR HUSBAND" is terrific advice! I also love how you civilly and with good humor shared how you and JM have totally different family philosophies with regard to bed. It is a rare to have such a model blog commenter!

Juris Mater said...

MaryAlice, I'm giving myself 100 lashes for unintentionally violating the cardinal rule of our blog: not to incite feelings of guilt, inadequacy, competitiveness or pressure in moms. Thank you and Red for highlighting in your comments what I meant to emphasize: that when we order our loves properly, all areas of our lives are lighter and more joyful. I get really wrapped up in my kids, digging myself deeper and deeper and not letting up on myself or them, and I am just starting to learn these lessons that I posted on.

Margaret, I am enjoying so much that your husband is the one who wants your kids in bed with you. Thanks for the very generous and good-natured reminder that not all husbands mind cosleeping kids. I was considering doing this post with a slightly different slant, with the title (from the old Natalie Merchant song) "Because The Night Belongs to Lovers". Maybe it's time for another attachment parenting discussion one of these days : )

Lisa, the suggestion of a marriage journal is a GREAT one! Thank you!!

Right Said Red said...


You are right that the term super is not the best word choice. I should have simply said to focus on being a wife first, then a mother. The term "super" may cause undue stress for some mothers with a different disposition from mine.

On a different note, I think you missed the point of JM's post a bit. Of course I agree that the husband has an important role to play in the marriage but I think the point of JM's post was to talk about how moms tend to focus on their children, to the exclusion of their husband. And when we do focus on our husband, it is only to think about the various jobs he could be doing to help with the children.

Shifting the responsibility back on Dad is exactly the trap most of us fall into. When I am stressed, it is usually not because Dad isn't doing enough, but because I haven't set my relationships in the right order, and I'm not communicating what I truly need. I'm stressed because I'm trying to be a mom first, then a wife with what little I have left.

The suggestions you give for Dad are great ideas, but when Dad is working long hours it may take a heroic effort on his part to do some of these things (good for him if he can do it, but our energy for him shouldn't be relying on this). I often think one of the best things I can do for my marriage is to really think about the things that are bothering me, and tell Mr. Red how stressed certain tasks are making me, and then ask for help. In our marriage that sometimes means hiring outside help (b/c of Mr. Red's hours). He is always amazed at how much more pleasant I am when I have help!

I think it is a mistake to assume that a marriage will be better if Dad just took a few more tasks off of mom's shoulders. While there are certainly cases where Dad is lazy and comes home expecting to just relax, in most of the Catholic marriages I know, the problem seems to be that Dad comes home to a frazzled and over-tired wife, who has been focusing on the children all day. Since she can just barely "survive" the day with the kids, she expects her husband to do the work to make the marriage work. I think this pattern can be changed a bit if we look at how important it is to serve Dad as well as serve the kids, and make our schedule so that we have time to do both, even if that means doing less activities with the kids. I find I am much more pleasant when I think this way! (Obviously Dad has a responsibility as well, but I'm focusing on mom here since that's the primary BC audience).

I realize that when a family is in survival mode my suggestions will be quite difficult to implement.

Joanne said...

I am in survival mode, at least I hope I can still be in survival mode, as my newborn is 9 weeks old. It still bugs me, though, when we talk about 'putting on some makeup' for our husbands. In ten minutes of reading this blog, I have seen how great it is that a child has no urge to rub chemicals on her skin, and also how we should rub chemicals on our skin to show our husbands that we love them.

I have no problem with makeup, and wear makeup about half the time but I just do not understand why putting on some lipstick shows ourh husbands that we love them.

I appreciate this post and don't mean to get hung up on one thing about it, but it just rings so false with me I wanted to mention it.

Mary Alice said...

Joanne, be in survival mode as long as you need it!

I think it is becoming clear that the details of doing so may be different for each couple, but that we can all agree that couples need to take some time for one another, and that this does need to be a priority.

Maybe the lipstick is a symbol:

two minutes taken alone in a bathroom to prepare yourself mentally for being ready to greet your husband when he walks in the door. For me, this is the "10-second tidy" that I do of the living room, for another mom it might be lipstick, for another set his place for dinner and for still another (especially in survival mode!) just taking a deep breath and saying a quick centering prayer so that you can greet him rather than dumping all your burdens on him the second he walks in the door.

I also think that what we have not mentioned, but may be helpful even to those in survival mode, is that family activities need not be child-centered (just fun for the kids). We have spent some great summer days recently where we have all had fun together, and marriages can also be renewed and relationships strengthened with kids in tow. Good attitude helps, being generous, flexible, open to having fun. Sometimes we can get so bogged down in the details that we can't have fun!

Right Said Red said...


Love your thoughts in the last comment. I particularly like the lipstick comment ;-) Like you, my lipstick is the last minute tidy with a warm plate of food for Dad.

Joanne--you are definitely still in survival mode! Congratulations again on the arrival of your little one!