It’s snowing, but not the pretty kind. This is wet, heavy snow—the type that quickly accumulates on your windshield. You have to put your full body weight into clearing it off.
Despite the dismal February weather, I feel light and happy. My husband, Adam, who often works long hours, had called out of the blue saying he’d be home early that day. The winter days moved slowly with just our six-month-old son, Luke, and me at home, so this was a welcome surprise.
Ten minutes later he walks in the door and gives me a kiss. He takes Luke out of my arms and thrusts him into the air in an airplane simulation, and Luke squeals in delight.
He turns back to me. “Now that I’m home, do you have anything you want to do? I’ll hold down the fort here.”
This is like music to my ears. I quickly grab my keys and head to the grocery store. Without a baby in tow, it feels almost like a vacation.
My elation was short-lived.
The familiar ring of my cellphone abruptly interrupts TLC’s “No Scrubs” as it connects to my car’s bluetooth.
“Change of plans,” my husband says. “Do you mind if I go to Kate’s to clear the snow from her driveway?”
My heart sinks.
“I guess,” I say, with a clear shortness in my voice. What I really want to scream is “YES! I mind!”
“Ok,” he says tentatively, immediately picking up on my less-than-pleased tone. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I respond. “You should go. It’s fine.” My words say one thing, but my tone hasn’t changed. We both know what I really mean.
I quickly hang up, as tears spring to my eyes. I turn the car around.
Immediately, I’m ashamed of myself for acting this way. His sister, Kate, just had a baby. In fact, she is still in the hospital. Of course my husband should go clear the snow from her driveway; it’s a kind gesture, and the right thing to do. I, of all people, should know. My recovery after Luke was born was a difficult one, and I will be forever grateful for everyone who helped me in those initial weeks. I know intimately just how humbling having a new baby, while physically recovering yourself, can be. How could I fault him for wanting to help her?
Adam is a hard worker—he’s generous and thoughtful, which is one of the reasons I married him. He provides for us, and I’m grateful. But that doesn’t stop my resentment from building every time he’s away from us. And I love Luke more than words can adequately express, and I’m so grateful for my time with him. But, it’s hard to spend your days with a little person whose every need depends on you alone. It’s hard not to connect with other adults. It’s fulfilling in so many ways, but also lonely.
I long for us to be the type of family who cuddles together in bed for too long on Saturday mornings and who goes out exploring together on Saturday afternoons. Sure, we do those things sometimes. We often spend lazy Sundays as a threesome, laying on the floor, playing with our son. But one day of seven is fleeting.
So this one day that my husband would be home with us for four precious extra hours meant a lot. When those four hours were taken from me, I was angry. He was busy yet again, leaving me to parent without his support. I felt isolated. This wasn’t how I had imagined parenthood.
You see, we haven’t yet sorted out how to maintain some semblance of our old selves, as individuals, while still making our relationship thrive. I can no longer head out for a run anytime I please. He can’t spend every Saturday afternoon helping his father on their family farm, chatting while they work. In theory, we agree that our son and our little family of three is our first priority. But that doesn’t stop life from happening. Dinner still needs to be made, the housework piles up. My husband gets called to work overtime, yet again. The baby is crying. I still only have two hands.
We dance around each other when I get home, neither of us addressing the tension. After all, we’ve had this conversation before. There is nothing new to say. I make dinner while Adam plays with the baby. My resentment grows stronger, threatening to erupt, the longer we stay silent.
After I’ve put Luke to bed and Adam has returned from Kate’s, he breaks the ice first, as usual. I wish I could be more like him in that respect.
“I know there’s always something to be done,” he says frankly. “It’s part of life, isn’t it? But I hope you know I’d rather be home with you. I know it gets hard, but you’re doing a great job.”
I visibly soften. He sees me.
He has recognized that being the primary caregiver is challenging. He listens when I tell him that I don’t always need “time away” from the baby to recharge; having him home, having that extra set of hands and his moral support is enough to make me feel less lonely. Now, it’s my turn to recognize that being the primary breadwinner is difficult too. I try to understand that being at work isn’t really a break. It comes with its own set of challenges. Some days, he doesn’t see our son for more than 30 minutes before bedtime. He misses him, I realize.
Adam declines to accept overtime work the following weekend to be home with us. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way.
We have to communicate if we’re going to stay in love during this crazy, beautiful season of raising young children. It probably won’t be the last time we have this conversation as our family dynamic ebbs and flows. We’ll likely add more children to the mix. Perhaps one or both of us will change jobs along the way. Eventually, our children will be school-aged and somewhat more independent. When that happens, our roles and responsibilities will change yet again. But for now, we recognize each other and the hardships each of us faces. One is not more difficult than the other—they’re just different. For now, it is enough.