An email

The book fair is over today. I can’t wait until it’s all packed up and I walk out of that room until spring.

Yesterday I had big plans to work out this morning, but in the end I was so tired I gave myself permission to get a good night’s sleep. I was passed out before 10pm, with my daughter asleep next to me-and besides one wake-up with my son, I didn’t get up until 6am. I really needed that.

I still wanted to post though, so I decided to put up an email I sent my husband a little while ago, when things between us were frustrating me. Since this email our marriage has been great. I don’t give the email all the credit, but I do think every time I send one of these, we inch closer to where I – and we, honestly – want our marriage to be. I also think I’m handling a lot of things in different ways, which is also helping. I definitely take responsibility for the negative I bring to our marriage.

So here is the email, which I’m posting because I always find it gratifying to see reflections of my marriage in the marriage of others, especially when I know the couple is find ways to improve their dynamic.

For some context, I sent this email during the 2nd week of my school year, when I was a total wreck trying to juggle the demands of my new schedule, with the responsibilities of managing my daughter at school. I had so many events in the evenings that my husband was doing way more than he usually did. We had very different takes on that arrangement.

I have been wanting to talk about the last two weeks, and how uncomfortable it has made me asking you for increased assistance. You ask me what you can do to help me manage the stress of the beginning of the school year, and then when I do need help, you seem overwhelmed, or even resentful.

What is most distressing, is you perception that right now you are doing everything and I am doing very little. Honestly, to me, our current set up seems more “balanced” than what we normally do, but it seems clear you don’t see it that way.

Of course the big thing here is bedtime, which I am guessing you think we used to “split,” and I felt used to fall more on my shoulders than yours. My perception of bedtime (before this week), was I got (our son) ready – made his leche, had him pee, got him out of his clothes and then into PJs, read a book to him, brushed his teeth, and then snuggled. You did the same for (our daughter), but from what I tended to see, a lot of that consisted of you sitting on the couch and asking her to do things for herself (get on PJs, brush teeth, pee), and then reading with her, and then helping her get everything into bed, and then me coming in a snuggling until she fell asleep. In my mind (which I admit, is surely skewed toward me doing more so can’t be entirely accurate) that was me spending a lot more time on bedtime than you, especially when you take into account the 30-45 minutes I lose lying next to her with my arm over her body in a very specific way, until she falls asleep. And yes, I know many times you have to deal with (our son) during those minutes, but it’s not as all-consuming or consistent, as lying next to her for that time. I would trade helping him pee/poo getting him water or changing his music with lying down with her every night any day. I’m guessing you’re not as interested in making that trade.

I know you do the dishes. I know that is A LOT. I know EVERY NIGHT you have to go into that disaster of a kitchen and make it usable for the next day. I know that. I see that. I appreciate it. The problem is I don’t think you really see or appreciate all that I do. And it’s frustrating that when you take over more of what I do, you still fail to recognize how much it is or how it equates to how stressed I am.

I feel like you don’t really see or appreciate the 15-30 minutes that I’m up before you every morning, getting both of them leche, starting the toast, finishing her lunch and packing up her backpack, buttering and cutting the toast, and then lying with (our son) when he wakes up. Just the stress of knowing I have to be the one to get my ass out of bed every morning on time is stressful. You go to sleep every night assuming I will be on it and when you get up, a bunch of stuff will already be done. I go to sleep every night panicked I’ll sleep through my alarm, or just get up late enough to fuck the whole morning into a frenzy.

I feel like you don’t see or appreciate the fact that I get up with (our son) 95% of the weekend mornings. Even if I just have him pee, make him leche and lie with him for a while before putting him on the pad, that is still 30 minutes, and a much earlier wake up. And whenever you do it, I feel like I owe you or something, which just doesn’t seem fair. I know you’re not a morning person, and I know it’s hard for you to get up. That is why I do it every morning. But I would also love to just sleep through some of that stuff once in a while, or just stay in bed while someone else does it. Today you said you were giving me some time, but that meant having both kids in bed with me with a loud radio play going. Would that feel like some “time” for you in the morning?

I ALWAYS get less sleep that you do. My sleep is ALWAYS more interrupted. And yet you seem to lay claim on being the most tired. Maybe you are more tired, despite getting more and better rest. Maybe you aren’t sleeping well because of your snoring. Maybe you just need more sleep. Any or all of those things could be true. But I feel like the fact that you are so tired makes you unable to see how much less sleep I’m getting, and how much more I do before you even get up every morning.

I also feel like you have no idea, and don’t appreciate, how exhausting pick up/afternoons are. Yes, I know you have more time with (our son) at home every morning, but I spent more time picking them up and then being with both of them before you come home, than that time. Pick up is fucking exhausting. Everyone is tired and hungry and expecting some candy in the car (an expectation that was created elsewhere and now we need to manage). If I get to (our son) by 4:45, I’m still not home with both of them until 5:45 because somehow it takes over an hour to drive one mile, find parking, get out of the car, find (our daughter), gather all her things and make sure nothing was misplaced, coax her away from her friends (or a movie if it’s Friday) walk back to the car, break up an argument, get them both in their seats and buckled, and then get them home. Then I have to get HW done (which involves SERIOUS emotional management for (our daughter) (and me quite frankly), deal with the backpack, make dinner, and manage TV expectations (both what they watch, which is alwyas a flight, and how much they get to watch). Pick up alone is totally depleting, the hour afterward is hard too. And then you come home and see me on a chair or on the elliptical machine, and have that tone in your voice and/or look on your face when you hear they are watching a third show, and I can tell what you are thinking, or even if I don’t I know what you’re thinking, I know it’s NOT, oh I’m glad she’s getting a minute to sit down or work out.

I won’t even go into all the invisible mental energy I expend dealing with her school and making sure everything is turned in and that our family is participating in an effective way (and I’m not talking PTA, but just paperwork that needs to be turned in for her, and meetings that needed to be attended as a parent, not a PTA officer).

I know I’ve had a lot of stuff going on in the evenings and you’ve had to take over bedtime and it’s hard, but surely if we tallied every night either one of us has been alone for bedtime, even just since (our son) was born and not before with just (our daughter), I’m still behind you by a lot. Which means I’VE had countless more of those incredibly tiring nights, and that has just been the expectation. There was no, oh I can’t wait for it to go back to normal, because that just was normal. (I also think those nights are so much more exhausting for you because on a night where we “split” bedtime, I’m doing more, which means you taking over my “half” is more depleting for you than when I have to take over your half when you’re gone.)

And that is really where I’m at with all of this. It’s not the whole set up, because I know that is never going to change. I’m always going to be the one doing pick up every day (except when one of our parents take it on), and I know I’ll be the one to get up first every morning, and I know I’ll be the primary parent at school. It’s just the expectation that I will do those things, and the lack of acknowledgement. It’s that, when I’m not available to do everything I usually do, there isn’t a thought of “holy shit she does a fucking lot and must be exhausted,” instead it’s I can’t wait for it to go back to being “fair.”

I wish so badly we could actually change places for a month so each of us could better understand where the other is coming from. I’m sure I would better appreciate how overwhelming everything feels for you, and I’m sure you would understand better where I’m coming from. But we can’t do that. Instead we have to fall back on empathy. I try to be empathetic. I do. I believe you are doing the best you can, and that is a big reason why I step in and do what I do, in the mornings, in the afternoons/evenings, and at school. I do it because I really do believe our family is better off if I just get that shit done. But I feel like instead of getting empathy back, what I get is an expectation that I will do it all, and frustration and resentment when I can’t.

I know we’ve had this conversation a million times, especially when I am overwhelmed and can’t keep up with all that I normally do. I know the actual dynamics aren’t going to change, I’m just hoping our attitudes might. Please let me know where I need to clarify my own understandings and perceptions, because I know they can’t possibly be accurate – I’m a human being and not a machine. Hopefully we can figure out a way to better support each other, because this year is going to be really stressful for me, and that could really upset things at home if we’re not tackling this stuff proactively.

Sorry for the long email, which I know you hate. I figured it was better than a hostile conversation, which I know you hate more.

16 Comments

  1. I can really see the advantage email provides as it is possible to re-read and think and re-read again. And then, finally, to react after time to reflect has occurred.
    One thing I saw was your acknowledgement of both what he is doing and that somethings really are harder for him. That he IS tired. Then you mentioned snoring. And I wondered…….. could he have apnea? It is actually common and is not about being overweight. Has he been evaluated for it? Apnea doesn’t have to mean loud snoring or even lots of snoring. It is not breathing while sleeping. MIGHT make a difference in his fatigue levels and his resilience. You might ask a doctor which I am not.

    1. I have been asking him to get tested for sleep apnea, or just do a sleep study to make sure he is achieving REM sleep, for a long time. It hasn’t happened. Lately his snoring has been interfering with my sleep and I think that will push him to get his snoring looked at more than doing so for his own benefit. It’s definitely something I really want him to do, because I do think his snoring is keeping him from getting quality rest.

  2. Good for you. I can identify–my DH does do a lot of the cleaning etc but it’s always me worrying about the school paperwork, making sure reading minutes are logged, and on and on and I don’t feel he gives me “credit” for all that stuff and it’s assumed I will do it. And yes pickups can take forever when we’re wandering around looking for water bottles coats etc.

    1. I really loathe the pick-up hour. I’m tired. They are tired. Is is nothing but transitions. Expectations need to be managed (for all of us!) It really is my least favorite hour of the day.

      I really hate how invisible the invisible work is. How can he recognize and appreciate all I do when he has so little idea it’s even getting done?!

  3. Why exactly does he feel so overwhelmed?

    I agree that it could be apnea. Myself, I’ve been diagnosed with a less common type of anemia and getting that treated has made a big difference in my maternal exhaustion.

    1. He is not a person who handles stress well. He doesn’t do well juggling a lot of different things at the same time. He also needs a lot of down time to unwind, and with kids he doesn’t get much of that.

      It’s interesting that you mention anemia because I’ve wanted him to get his iron (and Vit D) levels checked to see if that may have something to do with his general fatigue, but he doesn’t go to the doctor ever, and I’d rather push the snoring than anything else right now.

      1. Honestly, it sounds like he likes things the way they are. If he really is so tired that he literally can’t do things, then he is tired enough to go to the doctor.

        For anemia he should see someone more specialized. Several GPs missed my anemia because it was a different type.

  4. Good for you! Before we had kids I made sure that my husband knew that it would be as close to 50/50 as possible. We trade off putting the kids to bed- I take my son one night while he is with our daughter, I take my daughter the next night while he puts my son to sleep. It’s a good system so that the kids don’t rely on one parent to put them to sleep every night….but it may be too late for your kids if your daughter relies on you to lay down with her every night. I will say that with so many other things I am the default parent and I think that my husband just doesn’t even think about the many little things that I do to make the household run smoothly. It’s frustrating to say the least.

    I also echo the previous commentator that maybe your husband has sleep apnea? If he is constantly tired no matter how much sleep he gets, then getting a referral to a sleep clinic from his primary care physician might be a good way to find out if he is in fact having an issue when sleeping.

  5. A very constructive yet direct e-mail. I’m really glad that things have improved between you.

    I feel that, character-wise, I’m a bit like your husband, and my husband a bit like you. I’m lazy (not to say your husband is lazy, but to simplify), ineffective, get easily distracted, and need a lot of sleep, and he’s effective, orderly, a morning person etc. We’ve been together for 17 years and I think it is clear by now that our innate tendencies differ consistently in this respect. However, we have an equal or almost equal share of child care and housework. This is because I force myself to act against my personality, and to get things done. I do feel that it is a bit more difficult for me than it is for him, but that’s not relevant: I chose to have kids so doing 50% is not really a choice for me.

    It’s true that my way of doing things is more bit-by-bit, I rest and do something nice in between, whereas he just gets things done, and this probably leads to him doing a bit more housework (I tell him to leave the dishes, that I’ll do them in a minute, but often he cannot do that). But the kids are more after me, and I’m more attuned to their requests, so that evens things out, I think. He does do all the early mornings because he almost always wakes up automatically before anyone else, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But my point is that yes, I’m lazy and if I followed my gut I would just lay on the couch reading from 7pm to 10pm, but I don’t. I also get distracted at work and am inclined to surf the net, but I don’t do that (much…). It IS possible to act against your personality.

    I also think there is a gender issue: a marriage like mine is much more likely to be equal than a marriage where the male partner is the “lazy” one because, like you have written before, the cultural norms are much more willing to tolerate a passive husband than a passive wife. Thus I feel, constant, strong pressure to be different, while your husband probably does not. For instance, my husband is a very light sleeper, and wakes up EVERY TIME one of the kids has some issue in the night. I just sleep through these, and my husband takes care of them (I ask him to wake me up, but he cannot go to sleep before the problem is solved, because his sleep is so sensitive to sounds, so he says it makes no sense for both to be awake). And for quite a long time, I felt like I was not “feminine” or “motherly” enough. These thoughts came right from the cultural norms – I don’t particularly want to be “feminine”, and I know that I’m a good mother. But still, I questioned myself. We are the only family I know where the roles are this way, all moms I know tell me how they always wake up and their husbands just sleep, so that didn’t help.

  6. Saw this on Wandering Scientist and thought of you and your readers instantly:
    “You’ve probably already seen Gemma Hartley’s article about the emotional labor imbalance, but if you haven’t, it is worth your time. As I said on Twitter, straight men can do their relationships with their partners a lot of good by reading it and really thinking about it.

    It prompted me to finally just go ahead and post an article I wrote about balancing the suckiness and a time when that failed for us recently. I’d been trying to find a paying home for that, but decided to give up on that and just post it on my real name blog.” Look it up on her site. Seems the links did/do not transfer with copy and paste.

  7. Like Z, I’m interested to know how this email has affected your marriage. I can’t imagine my husband taking this positively; it would make him defensive. And of course the downside of email is it’s really hard to get across tone, or to respond in real time to how the person is taking things. But you say that it helped you.

    Both my husband & I are exhausted all the time. And honestly, it’s just our jobs, and commuting, and the house, and the kids. Nothing medical.

    1. I wrote about my marriage in the next post, and I did attribute things getting better to the email, but I’m realizing I don’t really have a definitive reason to attribute causation, and really it’s just correlation: before the email his attitude was one way, after it seemed to be another. I assumed the email changed his attitude in some way, but perhaps it was something else. Perhaps his attitude changed DESPITE the email. We never did talk about the email, what I said in it or how it made me feel. Maybe I should check in with him about it.

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