As he headed out to do some errands sans baby this morning, I announced to my husband, “By the time you get back, we will both be dressed, fed, and packed for our trip tomorrow, plus, the baby will have napped and I will have done at the laundry.” When my husband returned, about an hour later, the second load of laundry was in the dryer and our son had just woken up from his morning nap. “How’s the packing coming?” my husband asked, in the lovingly teasing way only a full-time dad could. I felt I deserved a medal, or at least some kudos, for what I had accomplished, but instead, I felt guilty and defensive about what I had not. (And not because of anything my husband said, but just because I had not met my own expectations.)
As I mentioned in my last post, I had big ideas for how to make the most of the “borrowed time” I’ve gained due to the federal government shutdown. As I said to my husband this morning, every day seems like Sunday, except without Church, birthday parties, grocery shopping, and playdates. But having nothing on the calendar provides a false sense of freedom when you have a baby in the house. The possibilities for how to spend the day seem endless, but in fact, “keep baby happy and safe” is a full day’s work in itself.
It’s not that I did not appreciate the challenges of being a full-time parent before this week; I value my husband’s efforts more than words can express. I can only imagine how difficult it is to deal with a diaper explosion, slip-and-fall, food fight, and general teething fussiness – all in an hour. The worst part must be not having anyone to complain to. I couldn’t wait for my husband to get home this morning so I could tell him how much trouble I had getting our son down for a nap, and to share the new trick I learned (I read him the same book over and over again, getting slower and quieter each time, until he was so bored he closed his eyes and was out).
I have also come to realize that I need to be more understanding about the things my husband does not get done during the day. The 10 Things Moms Should Not Feel Guilty About, which includes both showering and not showering, should be extended to dads and should be at least three times as long. I would add “forgetting a friend’s birthday,” “indulging in some reality TV,” “drinking coffee/eating junk food for lunch,” “wearing the same clothes three days in a row,” and “accusing your spouse of not understanding why XYZ did not get done.”
I don’t think the 10 Things Mom Should Not Feel Guilty About is sexist; I honestly believe that men do not suffer this guilt to the extent that women do. My husband was just joking when he teased me about not doing the packing this morning, but I truly felt like I’d failed. And on those days when I get home from work and the dishes are still in the dishwasher, the laundry is still in the washer, and both husband and baby are still in their PJs, my husband is not at all apologetic. Nor should he be. He begins the day with the goal of making our son laugh, learn, eat, and nap, and anything else he accomplishes is gravy. It is my expectations – of him and of myself – that lead to frustration and disappointment.
Therefore, it is my Fiscal Year 2014 resolution to lower my expectations. I will not reduce my standards; I still want my family to spend quality time together, eat nutritious food, enjoy meaningful social and cultural outings, live in a clean and fun home, and have whatever we need. But I will try not to feel guilty when I let my son play by himself for a few minutes so I can write an email, or when I eat a frozen meal for supper because I don’t have time or energy to cook, or when I continue to deal with a messy Tupperware cupboard rather than spend an hour cleaning it out. I will try hard not to try so hard ….