Thursday, August 10, 2006

Marriage Sabbatical Part Two

For those who come here often, you might want to check out the growing comments on the Marriage Sabbatical post below. Thanks for all the contributions.

One of the issues I've been thinking about is how much pressure there is to earn money for most husbands. I may have mentioned it before, but I have never really felt that my earning was key to making it in our finances. That is now the case and it is one of the strangest adjustments for me mentally (and logistically). I have always put a high priority on being a great mom with high involvement in our kids' lives. I also like to make good dinners, keep a relatively reasonable level of order to our stuff in the house (which multiplies at night when I'm not looking), and still have time for reality TV.

By working so much this year (especially these last several months), I'm suddenly struck with how little time there is for "me." I had more "me" time when I was homeschooling and mothering and nursing and carrying a baby than now when my kids are essentially big enough to get their own lunches or old enough to drive to their own jobs! I never would have guessed that possible.

Yet the burden of earning takes a very different toll. I can see why I am grouchy at times when I wouldn't have been in the past, I feel myself get depressed or stressed or distracted.... typical complaints many non-working women have toward their husbands. It is hitting me with force that one of the challenges in marriages where one works and the other does not is that the one not working may not be able to imagine the psychic energy that goes into carrying the responsibility for keeping the whole operation running.

If both work, it might be that the two are both suffering from that same burden which makes them both overwhelmed, tired and wishing someone could pick up the slack, yet there is no one to do it.

Marriage is supposed to be a support to the demands of living, of raising a family, or rocketing through the galaxy on this tiny planet called earth. If a sabbatical is not meant to help a hurting marriage, then I have to wonder how a break from marriage would be the real rest, real break. For me, a sabbatical would have to include a break from the burden of wage-earning.

If a marriage is hurting to the degree that being apart is a relief, then I am less sure that a sabbatical is the best idea. Women who don't work have the luxury of imagining a time away without also having to provide for the rest of the family... or perhaps even themselves.

All that to say... I am much more likely to suggest therapy to a hurting marriage than a sabbatical. I would be concerned that too much responsibility would be transferred to one party while the other sorted things out with more time and financial freedom to do so.

If what is being called a sabbatical is actually a separation, then it should be called such. Separation usually means that both parties are required to participate in provision as well as care for the children. Separation ought to occur when a marriage is dangerous or when two people are test-driving living apart longterm.

I didn't expect to feel strongly about this topic without even reading the book, but I'm very much aware today, this week, of how difficult it is to be a good spouse, parent and self-nurtured person when you feel responsible for the whole operation. Suddenly my work really matters and I can't just not want to do it.

As a result, I'm a less enjoyable wife. :( And now I'm thinking about how to do that differently so that I can balance these increasing demands. (I'd much rather go enter a Ph.D. program by myself on the east coast and study all day... That would be my dream of a sabbatical and totally unrealistic to the demands of the family I helped create.)

What sayest you all?


Matt said...

The earning has never been the big issue for me or my wife. The biggest problem I have is keeping up with the demands at home -- cleaning up a house that seems to mysteriously be in a state of chaos all the time, and this when there is no one home to even make the messes. Being the more neat-freakish of the two of us, I always feel like I work all day and, when I get home and see the laundry is still piled in the floor and the dishes are still piled in the sink, have to dive into all of that.

It just never seems to bother my wife as much as me, and after ten years of marriage I should know that it's a frustrating battle that I'm not going to ever win. Maybe if we DID earn more, I could have a crew of cleaning folks move in with us on a full-time basis!

Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

I appreciate your willingness to bring up this topic which is of great interest to me. My previous marriage of seventeen years was a typical conservative/religious/patriarchial arrangement. I worked as a school teacher while my wife stayed at home and took care of the kids and a significant amount of the household responsibilities although I did quite a bit of the domestic chores as well. Over the years I gradually began to burn out and became increasingly frustrated and depressed as I worked overtime, taught summer school for sixteen years and commuted two hours a day. My depression/frustration was due to the fact that I had very little time to myself and I felt I could no longer meet or live up to what I "now" consider to be unrealistic expectations from the Christian subculture I was a part of. Let me explain. In certain Christian quarters men are expected and exhorted to sacrifice their lives for their wife/families as Christ sacrificied himself for the Church.....Translation..."Good" Christian men are expected and or rewarded for working long hours, if needed, in order to meet the primary economic responsibilites of their families, so their wives can be stay at home moms, which is considered th e highest calling in some Christian communities. Don't mean to imply that there is anything wrong with women who stay at home and acknowledge that wives who do stay at home most often work very hard and may be equally stressed as men....but....became increasingly depressed about "my situation" over the years because I never felt any empathy for how hard I worked and when I sometimes asked for some space of my own or tried to communicate how hard my life was I was perceived as a whiner and out of line because I was not fullfilling my expected role as the good self sacrificing Chrisitian husband. At least, that is how I often felt. Not blaming my ex-wife, per se, because I believe this problem is more or less systematic in much of the Christian communities....I also want to say that I empathize with many women who may have to work outside of the home and than go home and take care of the rest of the family. Both genders are under a lot of stress in my opinion.....I say all of this because I believe both men and women who work outside of the home and try to raise a family are under alot of stress in modern society and IMO, they need alot of empathy, support, space for themselves during the course of the day and year. I also strongly believe the workplace needs to be much more sensitive towards their workers who are under tremendous pressure and they bear,imo, significant responsibility for adding stress to family life in the 21st century....As far as marriages or families that aren't working is concerned both therapy and a change in living circumstances is most often needed because, imo, the root of the problem is most often both individual and structural. I hope this all makes some sense....

julieunplugged said...

Matt, I can totally relate to the un-ending nature of housekeeping and the sheer frustration of having to keep up with it when exhausted. I literally broke down in tears yesterday when the vent and duct cleaners arrived and I saw my house through their eyes. We have one kid moving out, one who moved downstairs and a husband who moved his office home which means various stages of furnishings in transitionary locations (dressers in hallways, boxes in the entry, bags of clothes to give away on the stairs to the basement etc.).

I felt overwhelmed just looking at it all. Add a counter of dishes from breakfast and I just collapse.

Worse, I don't enjoy cleaning at all. At all. No high results from spiffing my house up.

So yes, those demands would be lovely to escape but they beset us all.

Bill, your story is powerful and I hope lots of readers read it. I am much more compassionate toward the FT worker than I've ever been. It's not that moms don't work hard. We do! It's that we are care-taking and are in charge, whereas for many workers, they are being charged with responsibilities both at work and at home. That's exhausting. It just is.


Kansas Bob said...

Wow, what a great post Julie - you write with such vulnerability and transparency. Thanks for giving us a window into your world.

I was thinking , after reading Bill's comments, how many people I know that are or have experienced challenges like Bill's.

It seems that life is always presenting us with challenges that cannot be solved with traditional thinking and fundamentalist thinking doesn't help us but hurts us instead.

I sometimes think about the unwise choices I have made along the way in the name of 'being led by God'. I think that most of these choices (like sending my children to our church 'Christian' school) were driven by conformity, fear and fundamentalist thinking. I am ashamed of how emasculated I was ... but I ashamed no longer because I no longer cowtow to dogma ... at least I cowtow less :)

I think that it takes a lot of courage to face the financial stuff in our lives. To go to the place that asks these questions ...

Why do I need so much money anyway? or

Do I own the money or does it own me? or

Am I driven from within or without? or

Can I be successful and poor? or

What will my kids think of me if we are poor?

... is very difficult. These questions hit us to the core and are very uncomfortable to confront. This is not territory for the timid to travel.

OldMom said...

(Somehow I missed this one and posted on the following one first.)

This almost reduced me to tears. Your description of reacting to you household could be a snapshot of me. Almost the hardest thing I have ever, ever, ever done is just try to hold together my single-working-parent act--being sole provider AND mother to my 2 is physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Housekeeping is a distant dream. . .

The only harder time I have ever had was trying to earn a living, mother, commute and hold together a marriage in the face of insurmontable odds. But at least then I sometimes could think "He'll do that" or "It's not my fault." Now, well the buck stops and starts here. . .

Everyone seems to struggle with work/home/time/children--just one of those 'we are all the walking wounded' things.