Archive for the tag 'empathy'

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.