When I chose to be a stay-at-home mom 12 years ago, the hours were long, the kids were needy, my duties were mind-numbing and the compensation was paltry. Because of this, I needed and expected to be praised for everything I did. My husband obliged often, knowing I just might break without it, but I rarely offered any type of gratitude or affirmation in return.
Eight years later, he went back to school full time to earn a master’s degree. We moved across the country with three kids, a meager savings and a lot of hope; we embarked on a very new and tenuous journey. For two years, we scrimped, hustled and sacrificed to make ends meet and life happen. To be honest, it was all pretty miraculous. After his graduation, I never looked at the role of the working spouse the same. I was so thankful that he was back in the workforce providing for our family so I could focus on being home with the kids.
1. Do say thank you
I know it seems easy, but when was the last time you thanked your working spouse for working? It might sound funny in the beginning, but it is as simple as, “Thanks for getting up every day and working so hard for us so I can stay home/work from home/work part time. I love being able to be here for the kids.”
2. Don’t assume work is a party
Unless your spouse is a golf pro or a movie critic, chances are work is stressful on a daily basis, just like staying home is stressful on a daily basis. Acknowledge that what he or she does is hard mentally, physically or emotionally and that there is a lot of pressure when only one person in the family is financially providing. Do what you can to alleviate stress by supporting his or her role as a provider.
3. Don’t constantly talk about what you wish you had
If you choose to stay home, oftentimes it means you choose to give up certain extras in life. Try focusing on all you have instead of all the things you wish you had. You may not have a new couch, but it’s you who gets to snuggle your toddler on your old couch. Enjoy that.
4. Don’t throw the worker under the bus
If your spouse has to work late/miss a game/travel/bring work on vacation and your kids complain, remind them how lucky they are to have a parent with a job that provides for the family so you can stay home with them/enroll them in sports/take a vacation. Help your kids realize that dad or mom works hard for them because he or she loves them and wants them to have life opportunities. No one wants to miss out on fun family experiences, but sometimes being an adult means we don’t always have a choice. This is such an important lesson for kids to learn. Work is hard and inconvenient, but it’s necessary.
5. Do watch your spending
It doesn’t matter how much money your spouse makes; those dollars are hard-earned. There is no worse form of ingratitude than spending money haphazardly without regard for where it comes from. If you have a budget, do your best to stick to it. If it is not working, have a conversation about it, and decide together what you can do to make it more realistic. All efforts to save money or be smart and frugal are recognized by the one bringing home the bacon.
6. Do pick up the slack
Everyone has a different situation at home, but as I think back to working full time, the last thing I wanted to do after nine hours at work and a 45-minute commute was make dinner and do laundry. I’m not talking about a 1950s unrealistic ideal, but if you are home most of the day and can throw something in the slow cooker and do a quick pick up, it can make a world of difference in the stress levels at home. As an employee, there were things about my job I loved and things I hated, but they had to be done. I try to adopt that same attitude when I think about cleaning bathrooms, making lunches or dealing with sick kids. Not my favorite things, but the other parts of my job are pretty awesome, so I just have to suck up the stuff I hate and push through.
7. Do recognize that downtime is a must, for both
Having little kids hanging on you all the time is exhausting. Staring at a computer all day with looming deadlines is a different kind of exhausting. You will both need a break from your kind of mundane. Talk about what “outs” you need and how you can both get a little of what makes you happy in each day. Sometimes, doing the dishes all alone is a break for me. Sometimes wrestling with the kids is exactly what he needs. Other times, it’s something bigger. Be willing to bend when someone needs a little more.
8. Do talk nicely
9. Do notice help
Saying thanks when your spouse brings home dinner or takes care of things when you have a girls’ or guys’ night out should be automatic, just as the reverse should be true. Don’t be afraid to show gratitude just because you deserved a break or time away. Saying thanks always makes the situation better, not worse.
10. Do enjoy your job
A marriage should not be a contest to see who has it harder. If you stay at home and have a fun, rewarding day with the kids, own it. If you were able to run around in the sunshine at the park, get together with friends, read books and make cookies, have a little spring in your step and some extra energy at evening time. If your day at work was productive, interesting and included a delicious business lunch, come home relaxed and ready to engage.
11. Do share in the highs and lows
When raising kids, there is nothing better than having a true partner. If one child calls from the principal’s office and the other has an embarrassing tantrum all the way through Target, share that. If you master a new yoga pose and potty train your 3-year-old, be excited. If you get a raise at work or navigate a difficult business relationship, it’s cause for a little celebration. If you get laid off or didn’t hit your sales goals, let your spouse be the first to know. Marriage is so much more rewarding when both the good times and bad times are shared. Be each other’s biggest fan and support, regardless of the situation.
After my perspective shift, both my life and marriage became much sweeter. My husband and I found joy in both our individual and shared roles, and we now do our best to support each other and pick up the slack when the other person is overwhelmed or stretched too thin. It’s something I wish I had done long, long ago. It doesn’t matter if you are the one at home or the one in the workforce, a little gratitude in both directions goes a long way.
You might also like: 15 Ways My Husband Makes Our Marriage Work.