For the past two weeks my husband’s job has kept him pretty busy. He has a demanding profession that he’s very good at, which has recently resulted in the kind of promotion that a woman like me loves (for her husband’s sake) and fears (for her husband’s and child’s sake). I don’t like how careers can chomp on people’s lives like an owl swallowing a mouse whole and vomiting out the skeleton. (Did you ever dissect owl pellets in middle school? Those were awesome.) Chris doesn’t like it either. In fact, we both feel drawn to a life outside of the demands of the business world, we’re just in a place of trying to figure out what that means. But in the meantime, my dear husband has been forced to work late at least two of the four normal weeknights for the past few weeks. We’ve been used to that as a couple. Chris and I both worked long hours before August appeared in our lives. But it’s different now when our two year old has about thirty minutes to see his dad in the morning and an hour or so to see him at night.
It gets especially difficult that our little boy is now at a point where he can communicate how he feels about those nights where he doesn’t see his dad.
Chris is one of those men who cooks and cleans (without being asked, most of the time) and gets out of bed in the night for his kid. And, often in the morning, while I’m busy writing, Chris is the one who responds to August’s cries for “Mama!” when he wakes in the morning. I know it’s typical for a child to feel more connected to the parent he spends most of his time with. And every little boy needs his mama. But it’s difficult to watch my husband becoming more and more rejected by our son.
It culminated Wednesday in August’s hysterical cries when Chris walked through his door in the morning. August fell on his face in his bed kicking and screaming: “No Dada! Want Mama!” It wasn’t pretty for Chris or August. My husband was devastated. And I had no compassion for him.
“August is a two year old!” I yelled at Chris, holding our wailing child. “Give him a break! He’ll get over it.”
It was the first time I really felt the mama bear in me charging at my husband. I could not find a spot of tenderness for him. I was frustrated that Chris would ever be annoyed with his son for something so, well, childlike.
It was enough of an incident that I called Chris a couple of hours later while August and I ran to catch the bus on our way to Mom’s Group. I told him I was sorry.
We talked for a couple of minutes. He asked me to consider how it would feel to have August choose him over me on a consistent basis.
As I sat down on the couch during August’s naptime that day, quiet enough for a moment to hear God’s clarity easing in, I was suddenly aware that I had all along been carrying a sense of how much more important I ought to be than Chris. After all, I had been thinking, I am the mother. He’s just the father. It was as if I really believed that August ought to love me more.
Wow. What’s that about? Do I think August should love me more because I stay home with him and have somehow earned that love by giving up my profession and succumbing to days of park outings and tower building and dinosaur book reading (all of which I love, by the way)? Is there some inbred belief in me that mothers are more important than fathers? Do I think I deserve extra love because I carried this boy inside me and fed him from my body? Is it a maternal instinct to feel vital to a child’s life in a way that a father is not?
I don’t know. But I do know that it’s there and it’s wrong. My husband deserves my compassion and respect, whether or not August is choosing me over him (or vice versa). When we got in bed Wednesday night, I reminded Chris that I’m sometimes a real jerk. I said, “I know it’s wrong but sometimes I think I deserve to be the favorite because I’ve earned it.”
“You should blog about that,” he said.
Here you go, honey.
I got up from my computer that next morning when August woke at 6:45. He smiled when he saw me. I quoted from memory “Good Morning, Merry Sunshine,” the same poem my mom always recited to me each morning. I changed his diaper and then, after a little encouragement, sent August to visit his dad at the sink in the bathroom.
In a perfect world, my husband would not have meetings with his CEO until 8 at night. But in that same perfect world, I would remember that everything doesn’t revolve around me. I’m the mother and despite what I might believe about that role, it shouldn’t earn me extra love; it should simply be growing my insides to hold a lot more compassion.