I was eight months pregnant. My oldest was two, my youngest had just turned one. The dishes were done, the dishwasher empty. All toys were in their rightful places. Basically, the house was spotless. Dinner for the night was already in the crock pot.
The boys were prepped on their “Welcome Home Daddy” messages. I had even managed to paint a bench! My make-up was applied, and I was adorned in a cute outfit. While Travis enjoyed his three-day men’s retreat, I had worked my tail off. As a third-trimester prego, I was entitled to kick back a bit for the weekend, but I had fledged full-force ahead, all the while picturing the impressed look on my husband’s face. He was going to be floored! I couldn’t wait for the moment he walked through the door and gawked at my progress. At last the moment arrived. We heard the creak of the door, and we rushed to give Travis a warm welcome home. Gleeful shrieks of “Daddy! Daddy!” filled the kitchen. “Hi Guys. Sorry, I’ve got to shower,” was his response. I became slightly dejected, then I realized “Oohh—this gives me time to unpack his suitcase!” I whisked the bag upstairs, and had it sorted and unpacked instantly. The boys and I waited for a refreshed daddy to give us much-desired hugs. When he came out of the restroom, we got quick hugs. Then he began to make himself coffee. I could tell his retreat hadn't been as physically refreshing as he wanted. Still, I waited for his admiring eyes to sweep across the kitchen counters, me, the boys, the house. My heart sank with each passing moment. (Before you misjudge my husband, let me insert an adorable picture to show what a wonderful father he is.)
All the work I had done with a joyful heart, to serve the man I loved suddenly became fuel for bitterness. My inner monologue was not pretty. How can he not notice how hard I’ve worked?! I should have left it a mess—he doesn’t even care! Did he even think about the boys and I missing him, or is it just about him?! And did I stop there? Nope! I voiced my bitter heart at the weekly play date a few days later. Of course I felt completely vindicated…. until I left the play date and felt the pit in my stomach. As justified as I may have felt, quenching the Holy Spirit and disrespecting my husband were hardly worth the venting session. (Side note: My husband is generally quite appreciative of my hard work. He thanks me constantly for doing laundry and cooking dinner. Travis was exhausted from sleeping around snoring men on a hard floor for the weekend. He is the kind of man that was born to don a luxury bathrobe as he’s reading the paper and drinking coffee. :))
We have since been able to laugh at each of our faults and forgive each other, that is why I feel free to share this story with you. I need to tell it because this wasn’t a one-time experience for me…and I know I’m not alone. Many a women’s Bible Study or small group has the bitter, complaining wife Proverbs warns of. I.do.not.want.to.be.her.anymore. Not even for a second.
Being a mom is hard work. No matter how you do it, it takes sacrifice. It challenges all of us in different ways. For some it’s the dying to yourself—the asking if it’s an okay time to shower, eating cold food because you are constantly instructing children and cutting their food, losing your figure— that is most difficult. For others it’s the fear you’re not the mom you should be, that you’re making huge mistakes or repeating generational patterns, or the anxiety that something horrible will happen to one of your precious children. For other moms, the giving up of your career dreams or the lack of affirmation motherhood can mean is most daunting. Still others struggle with disciplining. Perhaps your child doesn’t obey like you thought he or she would and it embarrasses and exhausts you. Some moms buckle under the comparison games that social media sets them up against. Other mothers care for a child that has been diagnosed with a disease, and it robs hopes for their future as they wonder what God has for them on this earth. Whatever aspect of motherhood challenges you most, I find that many women take their frustration out on their husbands. And I admit to you—ashamedly—at times I have been in that category. However, God has transformed my outlook, and I want to impart to you the ability to be joyful as well…even when your efforts are unnoticed.
(Another side note: Are there men out there that are severely lacking in their fathering/partnering duties? Yes. I’m not talking about these men. I’m talking about the well-intentioned, sometimes oblivious husbands that many of us have. These are tips for relating to the men who are trying.)
First and foremost, stop working for your husband.
I used to race to have the house spotless before Travis walked through the door. “Come on, Boys! Daddy’s going to be home soon!! We need to clean!” Not fun. Not for me. Not for my kids. Not for my husband who was expected to affirm my good deeds. Colossians 3:23-24 tells us “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” What an honor! We are serving Christ in each of our situations. The one who sees everything you do is also the one who rewards you! No more hoping for a human being to notice your sweat and tears—look to Jesus! As I have put this into practice, I have been blessed with such a joyful heart. As I clean, my thoughts are now filled with thankfulness to the Lord. Lord, thank you for blessing me with such a beautiful home. Thank you for providing these books and toys for my kids. Thank you that I have another meal to set before my family. If I’m honest, I want the house clean for Travis, but I want it clean for me too. I like it that way! I want to be a good steward. It’s not his fault it gets destroyed on an hourly basis.
Secondly, don’t expect affirmation and gratitude if you aren’t also dishing it out.
Do you expect your husband to thank you each time you clean, change a diaper, nurse in the middle of the night, chauffeur a child to practices and appointments, etc…? If so, do you thank him each time you go grocery shopping or run an errand? If your husband is the primary breadwinner, send some thankfulness his way! My husband loves it when I thank him for providing groceries for our family, and I need to do it more! I try to model this in front of our children so they also have a grateful attitude. The point is, the more we show our husbands we appreciate them, the more likely they are to reciprocate.
Next, don’t allow yourself to get frustrated with your husband about something you’re not praying about.
If we’re honest, there are challenging aspects to each of our mates. (I sure wish I could change things about myself too! We are all a work in progress!) Marriage is sanctifying, right? It’s okay to get frustrated, hurt, or even angry at times. However, we are warned in Ephesians 4:26-27, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” That gets my attention! Clearly God understands our frustrations, but he gives us the power to overcome them and forgive. This is my challenge for you: if your husband is truly hurting or frustrating you in some way, commit to pray for God to convict him in that area. Prayer is powerful! If you’re not willing to take the time to pray over it, don’t take the time to be angry.
Finally, forgive, move on, and kindly advocate for yourself.
Recently Travis went away on a business trip for a week. He gave me full permission to have the house in hurricane mode when he returned. (So sweet, right?) Instead, I worked diligently to keep everything in order. But THIS TIME, I did it for the Lord. I wanted to bless Travis, but I wasn’t expecting anything from him in return. If I would have harbored bitterness from the last experience, I wouldn’t have enjoyed serving him or the Lord this time. To his credit, he also learned from his former mistakes, and although he was tired from traveling, he overflowed with gratitude. There are still moments I don’t feel entirely appreciated and noticed, and God has taught me to calmly bring these items before my husband. It’s not in a “record of wrongs” kind of way, but a “I believe the best about you, and I know you don’t want to hurt me, so I’m sharing this with you” way. This one has been hard for me! I used to be afraid to ask for anything. Now I know if Mother’s Day is approaching, I should tell Travis it would mean a lot to me if he tried to do something thoughtful…and that I’d like a nap! I need to make sure he sees that date on the calendar. I’ve learned to not be disappointed with communicating my requests. I know he loves me, sometimes I just need to spell out how to do it! Praise the Lord for growth! Marriage really has gotten better for us each year, I hope the same is true for you. If your communication is increasingly rocky, consider having a godly, neutral third party counsel you. Sometimes the best growth comes when we humble ourselves.
I’m not living these out perfectly yet, but I am increasingly able to walk in joy as I serve my family. I pray my mistakes can challenge and bless you. All of your sacrifices are noticed by our Wonderful Savior, I encourage you to lay your burdens at his feet.