Baby, you don’t know what it’s like

NS May 8th, 2010

I know I’ll probably be struck down by the yellow ribbon brigade for daring to speak even remotely ill of the military, but this article in a California newspaper, about a Marine base holding a day where military wives could spend a day in their husbands’ shoes — wearing camouflage and heavy equipment, performing drills, shooting guns and so on – annoyed the hell out of me. It irked me not because I don’t think it could conceivably be useful for the Marines’ spouses to get an idea of what they do at work and while they’re away at war, but because the Marines stressed it as a way for the women to be ‘more understanding’ and ‘sympathetic’ to what he’d been through when he comes home at the end of the day or after a tour of duty.

That’s all well and good, I’m all for a person having greater understanding of their spouse’s responsibilities and daily life when they’re apart, but there was absolutely no mention of what difficulties the women face in running the household and looking after any children they may have, perhaps in addition to working at a 9-5 job themselves, while their husbands are gone. The message seemed to be, ‘Ladies, when the men get home, give them a break. Don’t ask them to contribute to the household or do any ‘babysitting’ if they don’t feel like it. That’s your job and they’ve had it tough.’

While I don’t doubt that being in the military and serving in a war is indeed difficult, gruelling, emotionally and physically taxing work, the implication is that their wives, in comparison, have been on a bon bon-eating, all expenses paid spa break. This is just another way in which men’s work (especially anything requiring physical strength or manual labour) is framed as more honourable, more worthy or respect and more legitimate than the work women do.

Oh, but a housewife’s life isn’t in danger while she’s cleaning the house, raising the kids, doing all the shopping, home repairs, financial management and so on, right? Therefore, she should be grateful and ‘more understanding’ when hubby just wants to put his feet up and drink a cold beer at the end of the day. She just doesn’t know what it’s like!

I think this ‘Jane Wayne Day’ (as they call it) is a good idea but instead of inviting a Marine to come smugly watch his wife crawl through the mud and shoot guns, maybe he should spend that time doing everything his wife does when he’s away, including working her job, taking care of absolutely everything in the household and being a sole parent. I’m pretty sure that if Noble Husband ever had to spend a week or two alone with the children, without anyone else around to help or keep him company and with all of the usual weekday commitments and requirements instead of the unstructured freedom of weekends and holidays, he’d have a MUCH better understanding of why I sometimes thrust the children into his arms the minute he walks in the door and then shut myself in a dark room with a large glass of wine. I’d be more than happy to go spend a day in his shoes, dealing with office politics, lazy colleagues, looming deadlines, belligerent bosses and pack ‘em in like sardines commuting, to remind myself that working a paid job isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. Sometimes I do forget.

I think we all need reminding now and again at just how hard our partners work, but it has to be mutual. Empathy should be a shared quality between us, not a one-way street or who-has-it-harder competition. I’m grateful that NH, while not having first-hand experience in my role, knows that I work just as hard as he does. As he always says when he’s working long hours and I’m weary of doing everything on my own, “When I work overtime, you work overtime.”

I’m not sure if I even mentioned it here, but NH has been away on a two week business trip and only returned a few hours ago, which is why this article probably caught my interest. Because he travelled overnight on a red-eye flight, he’s upstairs sleeping and I’m keeping the children at bay. But he knows as well as I do that he’s not the only one who deserves a rest and a break. Tomorrow will be my turn to sleep in, have a break and put my feet up a bit.

At times,  in our early parenting days, I wasn’t sure if we’d ever get to this point. We’ve had a lot of misunderstandings, arguments and resentments along the way. But I’m happy with where we are now. I know he values what I do and I him. Our marriage isn’t 50/50 and it isn’t always equal, but we’re constantly trying to compromise, empathise and evolve to better understand each other and help ease some of the stress we each experience in performing our roles. It’s not perfect but it’s progress. And a willingness to make that  progress, slowly but surely, is good enough for me.

Welcome home, my lovely husband. We’ve missed you.

17 Responses to “Baby, you don’t know what it’s like”

  1. troutie says:

    I don’t know about you, but I think that sometimes my life is in danger when I am doing shit around the house. Don’t most accidents happen in the kitchen? And our lives are certainly in danger when we go into labour.

    With you all the way on this one.
    troutie´s last blog ..I got to wondering……. My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @troutie, Seriously. I think using bleach on two hours of sleep and carrying around a 25 lb. child for half the day while another, bigger child throws herself repeatedly onto your back without any warning puts one in a considerable amount of danger for injury. Crawling through barbed wire and mud? Piece of piss.

  2. jen says:

    do they also hold a “john wayne day” for the husbands of female Marines?

    somehow, i doubt it.

    i do get so sick of the trope about the people who’re “waiting at home” for their spouses/partners/family members to be finished with their military service. that all they do is sit around and wring their hands, crying into hankies, and baking cookies to send overseas.

    life goes on – and the people who are left behind still have to deal with paying bills, maintaining the household, raising kids… and they have to do it *alone*, with the imminent threat of potentially losing their family member forever.

    they may not be getting shot at, but they’re not unaffected by the stresses of war either.
    jen´s last blog it possible to have ptsd from an election 10 years ago? My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @jen, Exactamundo.

  3. I think you are right, it is difficult to see sometimes the tough sides of the other partners life. My husband works from home, one of the benefits of this is that he knows full well how difficult it can be to be a parent. He often says that he wouldn’t have had a clue (and thinks that many of his friends still don’t have one) if he hadn’t been at home so much.

    Kids have 2 parents, both need to take a share of bringing them up. It’s up to the individuals to work out a way that suits them all, but when a balanced approach is found it doesn’t half make life easier for EVERYONE.
    PantsWithNames´s last blog ..Being pregnant again My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @PantsWithNames, My husband is looking for a new job, one that will likely see him working from home quite a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing his reaction to trying to work whilst also looking after the kids or at least having them as a distraction. Is that evil of me? Perhaps. But I so desperately want him to know what I do — REALLY know what I do — once and for all. I don’t think that’ so bad.

  4. lori day says:

    I just remember what an old preacher told me once years ago. He said most people think marriage should be 50/50, but they are wrong. Marriage should be 100/100. If both people give 100% you should be able to work things out.

    Another note: My husband did construction work from a ladder most the time. After being confined to the shop one day, he came home unusually tired with his legs aching. I asked him what had happened. He said, “Do you know what it’s like walking on a concrete floor all day?” I looked at him in disbelief and immediately responded, “so you think I walk on padded carpeting all day?” (I worked standing 12 hours a day in a factory). He immediately apologized for my misinterpretation of his comment, he said what he meant was, that it was different for him. I thought about it for a moment and realized that if I had to go out and climb and stand on ladders all day, I would have come home feeling the same way. We learned a lot that day.

    NS Reply:

    @lori day, I like your preacher’s saying, I’ll remember that. :)

  5. beta dad says:

    Sometimes I feel like a housewife from the fifties. I do the lion(ess)’s share of the childcare and housework, usually putting the last dish away around 11:00 p.m. while the wife is already in bed. This is only a fleeting feeling though, because I know she does way more than the stereotypically traditional husband. She makes all the baby food, does most of the laundry (including mountains of diapers), spends every minute she’s not at work or asleep with the kids, and subjects herself to the breastpump about five times a day. I feel like my job is cushy compared to hers. I just have long hours.
    beta dad´s last blog ..RTT: Back In the Working World My ComLuv Profile

  6. Expat Mum says:

    I think that was a very badly packaged idea, but for men who are feeling any sort of Post Traumatic Stress after a posting, it is probably impossible for others to understand it. Crawling around in the mud with a 50 pound pack on your back isn’t going to get you there either. And yes, there should be a similar training program for the military person to appreciate what the spouse left behind has been through.
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..Sausages My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Expat Mum, You’re right, doing these simple drills won’t come anywhere near replicating a war scenario. Just like a father who has the kids at the weekends when there’s no school, play dates or appointments to attend doesn’t get the full picture of what it means to be responsible for the kids all day on top of all the other commitments and stresses.

  7. geekymummy says:

    I’m eternally grateful for having a husband who can and does spend a whole week alone taking care of the kids (well ferrying them to daycare and caring for then mornings and evenings) when I travel for work.

    One of the benefits of both parents staying in work is that the roles in the relationship remain more balanced and it is maybe a bit easier to appreciate each other. It must be harder to understand the stresses ine each others lives when one partner is at home.

    I can’t imagine being in the army, or being married to someone who is, but though I share your distaste for this program, it is at least good to see the army recognizing that a life in the service takes its toll on marriages and trying to do something about it.

    Enjoy your lie in!
    geekymummy´s last blog ..Beauty in the ordinary My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @geekymummy, I didn’t used to agree but after four years of being at home, I think you’re right about the marriage having a better chance of equality when both partners work. There’s something about the traditional arrangement of man at work, woman at home that makes us all revert to stereotypes we swore up and down we’d never perpetuate. It’s hard not to fall into the trap.

    No lie in for me, unfortunately, as NH has been ill since the moment he got home.

  8. Littlemummy says:

    “When I work overtime, you work overtime”

    This point particularly struck a chord with me, often this fact is overlooked by family and society.

    I’m fortunate that my husband understands this and so we often forgo overtime (and the money it brings) so that neither of us have to work overtime.
    Littlemummy´s last blog ..Littlemummy tries… My ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Littlemummy, NH’s overtime has been a lot less in the past few months, which I’m grateful for. For a long time he wasn’t getting home until 7.30-8pm every night (9 on Thursdays) and then working every other Saturday as well. Now he’s usually home by 6.30/7 and no late Thursdays or work on Saturdays. So much nicer.

  9. I agree with this notion: “When I work overtime, you work overtime.”

    My partner works at home, so like PantsWithNames he has a good idea what goes into stay at home parenting. And fully recognises that when he works, we both work.
    pissweakparent´s last blog ..When mothering isn’t work? My ComLuv Profile

  10. I completely agree that there has to be a recognition that being at home and looking after children and house solo is tough

    It struck me recently that Mr is happy for me to look after the kids on my own overnight but is reluctant to do so himself – its not magic, its just something I have to get on with but yet its seen as an insurmoutable task

    Muddling Along Mummy´s last blog ..I feel trapped by breastfeeding My ComLuv Profile