It’s interesting, isn’t it, how relationships ebb and flow. Just over a year ago, Mr H and I split our weekday jobs into diametrically opposed roles: he would keep working, focusing on his career and bringing in the dosh; I would stop working and do everything else.
On the face of it, you could say I have a cushy life. We live comfortably without me working. With Littlest H now at pre-school every morning, I have time (in term) to myself I can decide what to do with. If there’s a snow day at school, a child is ill or there’s something at school I’d like to attend, my life isn’t turned upside down. Yes, some rejigging is required, and things I planned to do go un-done, but in comparison to the stress created by the nanny calling in sick or figuring out how to be at home to attend a school event without missing meetings I couldn’t really miss, it’s pretty manageable.
And yet, such a stark split of roles is tough. Especially as a reasonably feisty, independent woman who enjoyed working and having financial parity with my partner, and who also has a pretty highly honed radar for female stereotyping. It certainly took a while for us to get used to the new arrangement, without me feeling defensive about perceived expectation of ‘little woman’ behaviour, or a lack of understanding about just how much juggling there is in managing the day to day commitments of two kids. (To give an example, after a typical logistically-challenged day early on last year, that ended with tired, awful children, when Mr H arrived home to discover no milk, he questioned how I could not find time to get more. A rare reaction, I might add, and rarer still since that particular instance and my response…)
Most of the time I can genuinely say I am happy managing the kids and the household by myself Monday to Friday, although I’ll admit I count the hours to Friday nights. I’m used to it; we have our established routines and they work well nearly all the time. I love hearing about the kids days first-hand and being the person ferrying them here and there and getting to know their friends. I love being part of a community of mums who support each other through good and bad days, emergencies, building work, appointments or just the need for time out or a rant. It’s also easier now I have some time in the day for decent exercise, as that keeps me sane (Mr H’s hours mean I can’t exercise early morning or evenings).
But I can’t pretend it hasn’t felt a bit dull and mundane sometimes too. I love my children dearly, but the level of conversation is more “Mummy, I have a joke. What is it Littlest H. What do you get if you have a farmer? I don’t know Littlest H, what do you get. A farm. Get it, Mummy? Isn’t it funny, Mummy?” than discussing whether Cameron is right to call a referendum on Europe or even gossiping about the latest workplace drama or thorny issue.
I don’t think I noticed that mundanity last year. Alongside the novelty of being with the kids, there were plenty of ‘projects’ that kept me occupied – redecorating, the allotment, planning a home-building project, writing this blog and children’s stories. It’s only struck me since I started setting up a business with a friend this year. It feels so purposeful, so constructive, so stimulating to be thinking about the world outside my domestic enclave in a pretty tightly circumscribed corner of Surrey.
But it hasn’t really changed anything about the roles Mr H and I have. It won’t, as the whole point is for me to find fulfilling work that fits with family life. In a way it’s harder – the volume of time I need to work on the business competes with time to spend with him, so the need to schedule ‘us-time’ is almost more important.
Being brutally honest, our set up has put a big strain on us, and we’ve fallen into lazy habits that haven’t helped. Mr H is knackered when he’s home, and rightly puts his limited energy into the children first, who clamour for his attention. Then there are the outings or social engagements, exercise, and sometimes it feels like we come last. Not by planning or design, just by circumstance. Us can feel like a mostly practical, sorting-out thing, a managing-our-lives thing. A co-existence, not a fulfilling, positive relationship.
Last night we went out for dinner. Just the two of us, to our favourite local haunt. I think it’s the first time we’ve been out by ourselves since mid December. It’s been too long. We’ve let our commitment to weekly date nights, or at least weekly ‘cook together and eat/chat without putting the telly on’ nights, slide. It shows in our snippiness and lack of connection. It’s easy to get lazy, but that connection is so important – I’ve seen at close hand what the loss of it has done to other relationships. Without it, all our relationship is is a vessel for the children’s lives and our own separate existences.
Family life with young children, at the age when careers break through or risk being left behind, is tough. You’ve survived years of sleep-deprivation. The time, money and energy for things you used to love doing are harder to find. The fun of life requires more effort. But allowing a lack of effort towards one’s relationship to slide into routine is a big risk.
So in a way I feel thankful we had a row on Thursday that triggered a rearranging of commitments to go for dinner last night. Because we talked, we re-connected with each other’s lives and each other’s feelings. We acknowledged the situation we’re in, the risk and the need to do it differently. We discussed ways to achieve regular date nights that don’t get canned by unavoidable work commitments or opting for the easy way out of tv and laptops. We’ll book in some fun things to do together. The ebb will return to a flow.
No doubt we will face another ebb at some point, but I am certain we are strong enough, and have open enough communication lines (albeit sometimes at higher volume than we’d like), to turn it around. It might be relationship 101 to stay connected, but it can be all too easy to forget. Marriage was never meant to be easy, but it definitely needs to be fun. Time to bring on some more fun, I think. Nevermind the Year of the Snake, let’s make 2013 the Year of Fun.