I could see her in my mind as I read her email:
"I'm typing this with one hand and one thumb, wondering if you could help me - I'm struggling as a mom and wife. To give a little context... Right this minute I'm holding in my arms my sweet 16 month boy. He's my only child. This is not how I'd prefer to do his daily 2 hour nap time, but here I am. I'm kind of struggling with parenting. This 2 hour naptime is one of many reasons I find myself desperately craving a break. I don't have family that supports us as we fumble through parenthood. We feel rather alone. But what's become hardest for me right now is the inequality of free time (personal time, me time) that my husband and I each get. He is able to take off for a whole day to do things like bike ride thru the countryside or go on a day long relay run with friends and out for dinner. While all that I can get is an hour or two to go to the store alone or clean house because I'm so very behind on taking care of things. I feel like God would probably want me to just let this issue of inequality of free time go - aren't we called as mothers to sacrifice more than our husbands? He has a job he loves and coworkers he enjoys. I guess I don't see how he could have a greater need for more free time than I do. Can you help me? How do I ask my husband for help?
This woman could have been me six years ago - only my 16 month old baby had two preschool aged brothers running around in their Thomas the Train underwear, dripping popsicles on the carpet and leaving facets running in every bathroom in the house. All the while I tried to get the baby back to sleep.
By the end of the day, with dinner finally on the stove, my husband walked in with a broad smile and a fresh haircut. All three boys yelled "daddy," then ran to him with enthusiasm, but all I saw was the haircut. He'd said he would be home early that afternoon, but obviously early meant he now had the time to stop for a haircut. I hadn't had a haircut in 16 months. I was out of moisturizing cream. I haven't been to the dentist in two years. But he stopped for a haircut.
All the scripture I'd hidden in my heart came rising up and rang in my ears, "Greater love hath no (woman) than this, that (she) lay down their life for (her family.)" It was my own translation of God's Word, as I resolved to serve selflessly at home. So I smiled back at my guy, pulled my tangled hair back in a bun, and pushed my needs down further still.
Except eventually, without fail, I'd break down crying - and it would ultimately all bubble up and out with hot tears in just the wrong way, at just the wrong time. And he'd feel attacked.
This was our cycle for many years. He worked hard all day and tried his best to be present when he got home. I worked hard at home, trying to not resent him for the casual way he still seemed to get all his needs met. As I did dishes and bathed kids and folded laundry, he'd tell me about which friend he was able to meet up with for lunch that day, or I'd find a movie ticket in his pants pocket as I started the eleventh load of wash.
We didn't learn to communicate well in those early parenting years. And it never felt like I could share my struggle with other women because their advice never settled right in my spirit.
"You need to tell him what you need! You should have more help. He needs to do this... You tell him that you want him to..."
So I retreated further into what I imagined Christian submission looked like, all the while pushing through resentment, muscling my way through bitterness, until the next time it all bubbled up and out again.
And then one Sunday, sitting on the patio at church while the children enjoyed a second hour of Sunday school, we decided to ditch our adult fellowship class and simply sit and talk. And I mean, we really talked. I wasn't crying and he didn't feel attacked. Truth be told, it sort of felt like a miracle, even the memory makes me tear up.
That Sunday was the beginning of something extraordinary. And every Sunday thereafter, for the next few months, we sat together on the patio hearing and healing.
Here are four practical things I learned as we sat together on the patio at church week after week:
1) GOD CARES ABOUT MY NEEDS - While God designed moms to sacrifice and "lay down their lives" for this intense season at home, He never intended for us to actually DIE! He is absolutely enamoured with moms. He loves us to the moon and back. We are the apple of His eye.
We are as much His children as our children are His children, and His love for us has no end. He came that we might have life, abundant and free. But He knows full well that mothering is hard, and wants us to have His help in the weary years with our young.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11)
There is nothing harsh nor demanding about God's love for mothers. He wants to gently lead us through our days and our trials. Sitting on the porch, my guy with a coffee and me with a sweet cup of chamomile tea, I began to learn this.
2) BELIEVE THAT YOUR HUSBAND WANTS TO HELP YOU - Early on in our marriage we coined the phrase "EXPECT THE BEST." I'll be honest with you - we both forgot a time or two in the busy years with babies, but we've always come back to this basic creed. EXPECT THE BEST.
Can I tell you something about your husband and mine? They never set out to take advantage of us. Your man didn't marry you with this hidden agenda of using you like a maid and a cook, a wet-nurse and a sex-toy. He took those vows seriously, and he still does. It's possible he simply doesn't know what to do right now. But he wants to. You know he'd take a bullet for you right? That's not elusive. But you and your needs... somehow that can be.
His vow was to love and support you, cherish and hold you, in good times and bad, during those precious honeymoon years, and these pressing ones with little people waking us multiple times through the night for months on end. He's tired. You're tired. But commit to believing that he has good intentions where you and the kids are concerned - even if you can't see them today, believe they are there.
3) CREATE A WEEKLY SAFE ZONE - Finding a safe block of time each week to address your challenges can be life altering! Knowing that I had that Sunday hour coming up gave me hope daily, because I knew that he would listen with ears purposed to hear my heart. I didn't explode because "Sunday was coming." That gave me great comfort.
Now I know that many of you don't have the finances or family nearby to make a date night feasible, but figuring out some way to create this time together each week is crucial. Maybe it's a Thursday night date night on the couch, or on the back porch under the stars. Something, anything, as long we it's safe and consistent time together.
4) ASK HIM FOR HELP - Sure, you knew this was coming, but there's a twist in my advice. Don't outright tell him how you want him to help you (Unless he's the kind of man who asks you to tell him exactly what you need.) Instead, try to remember that at the core of most men is a heart that wants to rescue and serve. Share with him what needs you have that are going unmet, then ask him to work with you to make a schedule that will allow you to get those core needs met. Engage him by asking for his opinion, not just his help.
I said something in this price-range:
"Sweetheart, my only time alone these days is when I run to the grocery store, and I always feel anxious when I'm gone, like I need to hurry back and start making dinner. I know that you don't want me to feel stressed, but I do. I cold really use your help to come up with a consistent schedule that wouldn't just give me more time for errands, but would allow me to fit more of the things I need and enjoy (without baby) back into our lives again. Work outs, friendship, my interests. I feel like I'm losing myself right now, and I need you to rescue me. Would you help me?
What do you say we look at your weekly calendar and figure out two times a week for me to get out to get things done. And maybe one Saturday a month when I can go to the hair salon or shopping with friends or just take a walk on the beach or whatever. Maybe I should choose a weekday every few months so I can get to the dentist and the doctor and that stuff. Do you think I should hire a babysitter for those days since you have work? What do you think? Do you have any other ideas?
As the weeks go by, my guess is that your husband will see how basic yet crucial your needs really are - and as your joy begins to wax and your resentment begins to wane he will likely suggest more ways to communicate his love to you. "You know, we really do need to have some date nights that aren't at home. Would you set up a babysitter so I can take you out."
It might not go as smoothly as I'm painting the picture here, but it's a start - a good, safe, healthy place to begin. So take a deep breath and remember that you are loved by God, that He never intended you to actually lay down your life to the point of death during these mothering years. Remember also that you are loved by your husband too, and that communication is possible. So find a safe time and place, ask him for his help, and expect the best.
With much love and respect for all you do,