This past summer, my wife entered the workforce for the first time in 11 years. Other than working on projects with me or on the nonprofit we started, she was a stay-at-home mom.
We made the decision for her to focus on raising the daughter she brought into our marriage and the future kids we were planning to have shortly after we got married. Because of that, we’ve often had less money than our peers, and, in the early years, tofu was a cheap and frequent substitute for actual meat (until our daughter stated she was no longer eating “toe food”, to which I stood up and slow clapped her like she was the Norma Rae of our dinner table).
My wife going to work has been the biggest change of our marriage since…we got married. Given that we were an “insta-family”, even the first birth we experienced together wasn’t this big of a day-to-day change.
For the most part it has been great. My wife, Megan, manages a start-up incubator, and I’m so proud of the work she does, and that more people get to see her intellect, sense of humor, and skill. I’m also very thankful for the income. When you’re starting a new business, as I am, some people seem to think it’s okay to not pay you. Megan’s paycheck has really helped.
Still, it hasn’t been easy, and here are some things I’ve had to learn:
1. How to be the bad guy.
I used to come home to kids that were happy to see me. They were well behaved and funny. Quite likeable, all around.
Then things changed. Even though I’m busy, my schedule is far more flexible than my wife’s, so I’ve been picking up kids lately. I’ve been seeing them more. What has that taught me? A couple of things.
The first is that like Walter White on Breaking Bad, I had to learn to be the bad guy. I am now “the one who knocks…on your door for the fourth time to tell you to come out and scrape your plate, and while you’re at it clean up the candy wrappers before Mom comes home and all of our nights get a lot worse.”
The second thing is…
2. My kids may not really be my kids.
At first I thought my kids must be at least partially hard of hearing, and blind in at least one of their eyes, because they just didn’t see the mess they left behind, or hear my requests to clean up said mess. I felt bad for them. I have an immense amount of sympathy for people who have to overcome physical challenges.
Especially when they are my own children.
Then I started to notice little things, like:
- How they can see change lying on the floor from across the house;
- How they can hear the jingling of the ice cream truck a full 5 minutes before I do.
Then I realized they weren’t physically handicapped. In fact, they may not even be children. I’m pretty sure they are small beings sent to my household to clog the toilets, eat all the food (then clog the toilets again), and overall slowly pull at the strings of my sanity.
To them I say this:
You didn’t break mom…
But you might break me. We’ll see.
3. You can’t keep score.
Short of pulling a Schwarzenegger and impregnating the nanny, I think one of the worst things you can do in a marriage is keep score. The running tally of “You did/didn’t do this” so “I did/didn’t do that” is poison.
But, that gets a little complicated when you’re talking about income and household responsibilities. I make more money than my wife, but I have far, far more flexibility. Still, I won’t lie: there are moments when I have thought, “But I make more, so I shouldn’t have to do X.”
Luckily, the hamster has jumped back on the wheel before those words have ever actually come out of my mouth. The reality is that there isn’t as much correlation between how hard we work and how much money we make as we would like to think.
You both need to do you part, and you don’t compare points scored with someone on the same team.
4. I learned to see things I hadn’t seen before.
I’m learning to see the mess I leave behind, and how to clean it up. I’m learning to see how hard and thankless the work my wife did for years was. I thought I saw it before, but in the last few months I’ve driven three kids around town by myself more than I had in the entire history of our marriage. That act alone, of trying to sustain a conversation with a sullen teenager who responds by faking sleep, will test your “I will not lose my mind and drive this car into oncoming traffic” skills in a way that they’ve never been tested.
So whether you’re a dad or a mom or an aunt or a Grandma or whoever, if you’re doing your best to put food on the table while the mouth that eats that food is pretending to sleep to get out of actually having to talk to you, I tip my hat to you.
You’ve scored some points, even if you can’t tell someone else that.
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