Here is May’s installment of “Ask Shelby” from Chester County’s own Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Shelby Riley.
I am a married mother who is the primary caregiver to our three children. I also am trying to run a small business from home. I feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. I am exhausted and I’ve been yelling at my kids and husband more often. I’m not sure what to do to find the balance in my life so that I can be a good wife, a good mom, and a good businesswoman. Any advice?
We work with a lot of women in our practice who are struggling to do it all and do it all well. Often, when a woman works from home, especially with her own business, it is easy to multi-task to the point of feeling fried. I had a client the other day who told me, “When I’m playing with my son, I feel guilty for not working on my business. When I’m working on my business, I feel guilty for not getting the laundry and housework done. And forget about my husband. I have nothing left for him at the end of the night!”
Nothing left for him, and nothing left for herself. A strong marriage can be a sanctuary in the craziness of trying to get it all done. Having a spouse who is a partner, a true partner, can help a woman feel like she isn’t all alone in her quest to have a healthy family, create a happy home, and run a thriving business.
As a wife, mom, and business owner, I’ve lived the juggling act and found that there are some key things that have helped me, and my clients like me, to stay sane while learning we don’t have to do it all by ourselves.
- Ask for help. Let your husband partner with you at home and with the kids.
This might mean it’s time for a conversation to re-evaluate the way the responsibilities are divided up at home. Most women tell me they’ve tried a thousand times to have their husbands help them more—to no avail. Listen when I say this, and I say this with love, Ladies, you haven’t talked as much as you have criticized. Clients often report their efforts sound like this: “What? You’re leaving the dirty dishes on the counter, AGAIN?! Unbelievable! Can’t I get some help around here?” This is not a request for a change in the system. This is a criticism. And men hear: “You suck.” So they give up and don’t bother to try.
When you start this conversation, try asking when a convenient time to talk would be. Then, at that time, calmly and kindly begin by addressing the need to re-evaluate—including changes in the family dynamics, work schedules, etc. Make sure to include acknowledgement of how hard he works and how he might want to change some things to better accommodate his schedule, too. I have a great worksheet in my Couples Workbook that can you can use to address the splitting of responsibilities at home.
I have two notes: 1. It works better if you don’t frame it as him “helping” you. That implies it is ALL your responsibility and he’s picking up your slack. Rather, decide together who does what and be responsible and accountable for the chores you have agreed to do. 2. Don’t criticize the way he cleans a toilet, cooks a meal or folds laundry. Ever heard of learned helplessness? We don’t want to create a situation where he hears “You suck” and gives up. It’s okay if it’s not exactly up to your standards. Let it be. It’s probably good enough.
- Develop some very good boundaries.
Create a schedule. When it is time to play with the kids—play with the kids. Allow yourself to be present and enjoy the moment. When it is time to focus on work, don’t fold laundry, or answer the phone to chat with a neighbor. Work. Allow yourself to be present and enjoy the work. If your husband agreed to be in charge of the dishes, and they are in the sink, two days deep…DO NOT do them! I repeat: DO NOT do them! They are not yours to do. Leave them.
Create some sacred time that is just for you. Read a magazine in the bath-tub, sit with a cup of tea, go for a walk. Create some sacred time with your husband. Swap babysitting with a friend and have a date night. Create small dates at home. TV dates don’t count. They are nice, but they can’t be all you do. Lift weights in the basement together. Play cards. Sit on the patio with a glass of wine after the kids are in bed and talk. Talk about politics, dream about vacations, share who you are with each other. We often get into a rut of only trading information with our spouses: “Johnny got a B on his math test. Toilet’s broken.” “I’ll call the plumber. I have a work meeting that starts early in the morning.” This information-trading only makes for great roommates—make sure you also make time for being great intimate partners.
On that note, save some energy for the physical relationship you have with your spouse. Leave some energy and space for flirting, for kissing, for intimacy. (And when you’re in bed making lists in your head, simply notice the list, and watch it as it flutters away and refocus your attention on to your physical sensations. Most women find they need more warm-up/transition time before sex and have to make a decision to be present in bed, rather than running through grocery lists and to-do items in their heads. It isn’t a direct reflection on your relationship—it is a symptom of an over-worked and overwhelmed culture. It is what it is. Note it, and choose to take care of it, so it doesn’t wreak havoc on your intimate life).
- Choose to look at your husband through rose-colored glasses.
Remember when you first fell in love? That funny humming noise your husband does that now drives you nutty was actually endearing. His enthusiasm for antique farm equipment was adorable. His tendency to get distracted by his own daydreams made you revel in his sensitivity.
By the time most couples get to my office, they have taken off the rose-colored glasses and put on a grey, dirt-filled filter instead. Little human flaws are now infuriating. Innocent mistakes are personal attacks. I have had countless clients report, “I think he/she does it on purpose to drive me mad!” Occasionally someone will confess to purposefully torturing their spouse, but usually it is simply a different way of thinking and going about being in the world. For one week, choose to ask all critical and complaining thoughts to take a seat on the bench at the back of your brain. Choose to see him for the adorable, charming, mystery that he is. My husband’s mother adores him. So when I do this exercise, I often try to imagine what his mom would be thinking about him right now—as he leaves shredded cheese all over the counter and chip crumbs on the floor, oblivious to the mess and walking back to play his guitar with no thought to clean up after himself. (Can you actually see the steam coming out of my ears?) She would have no such ear-steam. She would think: “What a sweet daydreamer. What an amazing musician.” One client said it helped her to think about how God sees her husband.
When you can interpret your husband’s behavior through a lens of love and compassion, it builds an environment of love and compassion. People find they get the same grace back. They tend to be more patient and kind with their children. Compassion grows with practice. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the person we chose to share our lives with was the one person we felt the safest with, the one person who saw us as our best selves? You can start building that kind of safety by choosing to use your rose-colored glasses. After the first week, keep it up, and allow yourself one constructive criticism/comment a week. Build up a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones.
People always say “Marriage is hard work.” It is. Not the “I have to tolerate someone I can’t stand and resent the choices we’ve made” kind of hard work that some people accept as the reality of marriage. The hard work is more like tending a garden: creating a solid foundation of rich soil, providing plenty of sunlight, plenty of water, weeding when necessary, and remembering to harvest and enjoy the crops every once in a while. These three steps are exactly that kind of hard work.
If you need more resources, you can check out my books on Amazon by clicking HERE. Good luck, and I hope you find the balance you are craving
Shelby Riley, LMFT is the owner of Shelby Riley, LMFT and Associates, LLC. She is currently the Past President of the Pennsylvania Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (PAMFT). Remember to check out Shelby’s website www.shelbyrileymft.com for useful information about therapy for individuals, couples, and families.