It’s Friday night, our typical “date night”, but like this Friday night, we don’t always get to enjoy it. And like every other night this week, I put the kids to bed alone as they asked if they’d still be awake when Daddy gets home. (They won’t be.) Yes, it’s “peak season” at UPS which means while everyone else is trying to get more family time in for the holidays, we’re getting less of it. But though I’m no “newbie” to having a husband work long, odd hours; I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to dealing with it graciously. (Mercy is not my strongest quality, you may know.)
So before I dive a little into my journey with this issue, I just want to say that…
- This post is not a way for me to put down my husband. I hope that will be clear. He works really hard for our family and I’m proud of him!
- I’m not seeking sympathy, and I know I’m not alone. In fact, most of my friends have husbands who work LONG hours or odd hours which leads them to manage their homes accordingly. I know there are many husbands out there who work longer than mine or are away from home for longer periods of time. I don’t want to compare. All moms have hard things they deal with. Period.
When Randy and I first got married, he was working third shift (11pm-7am) and had Thursday/Friday nights off. He was “emergency staff” which meant that he didn’t get any holidays off unless they happened to fall on his normal “weekend” and if someone called out sick for the day shift, he would sometimes get forced to stay and work a double. About six months into our marriage he also went back to school full time. And I got pregnant with our first child while working full time myself. We thought we were busy then! I longed for a time when he would work a “typical” 9-5 job. I dreamed we’d have family dinners, put the kids to bed, and then snuggle up on the couch to watch our favorite show, and then go to bed TOGETHER. And for a brief period after he graduated and we had two then three kids, he did work a “9-5” job. But he also worked part-time Mon-Thurs from 7-11 pm. No enjoying the evenings together. No going to bed together. A little over three years ago, for good and necessary reasons (that I didn’t understand then and won’t get into here) he gave up his two jobs and began working for UPS. His 8-hour days quickly turned into 10-hour days minimum, 12-14 hour days during busy seasons or difficult weather. And while yes, he was now home “more” in the evenings, he wasn’t home for dinner or bedtime–probably the most trying and tiring time of day for any mom. And then we had a fourth child. And now we have five. And I have accepted that I will not get the “typical 9-5” schedule I thought I wanted. And honestly, I’m okay with it. But it doesn’t mean that it feels normal when a week goes by and he hasn’t come home earlier than 10:00 p.m. or when he has to start working Saturdays during the already busiest season of the year.
When the long weeks hit and I’m forced to be “it”–responsible for all decisions, scheduling, planning, in addition to my regular tasks–I quickly realize from where I’m trying to pull my strength. Sure, I could last one day. I would get the text that it was going to be a “late one” and I would feel sorry for him. I would put on a brave face, tell the kids Daddy would be late, and I would take care of everything myself and make sure his plate was saved (if he even wanted to eat that late at night) in a clean kitchen. I would shut down the house stoically. Then the next day when the same text arrived, I would explode. Surely more than one day of this was too much to ask! I’ve been home with these kids all day and I need help! It felt personal. I knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose, but it still hurt. I didn’t remember signing up for this. And because I wanted to hurt him back, I would respond in anger. And then there were the Saturdays. Tell me you’re working a Saturday and I will accuse you of not putting your family first. I mean, they can’t make you, right…?
I remember listening to a podcast a couple years ago on this topic and one of the hosts described wanting to hurt her husband “back” for working long hours by giving him the silent treatment, willing him to cross her so she could explode. I thought I was listening to myself for a second. (Seriously, check out Risen Motherhood if you haven’t already. I can’t say enough good things about their book or podcast!)
But wait. The reason I take it personally when he works so much is because I believe that I am “owed” a certain amount of time by my partner. My teammate. My co-parent. Isn’t he “supposed” to be putting in a certain number of hours with us, too? But the reality is, my identity is not a mother or a wife, but a daughter and servant of God FIRST. And yes, He has given me the joy of being a wife and mother next and those are roles I take very seriously. But within them, whatever comes my way day to day, are really between God and me. My job is to do my best with it. Just as Randy takes what comes his way each day and does his best. God never promised I would have a “working 9-5” husband, but He did promise that He would take care of me and my needs. And that He would always be there for me, even 9-5, when I’m “supposed” to be running the house myself. And even in the middle of the night, when I’m getting up again with the baby/toddler/child.
And consider this: though it isn’t a personal attack on me when my husband works late, my sin really is an attack on Christ. And his response is not to hurt me back, but quite the opposite. And that’s the way I’m called to love my husband.
The truth is, I can only love him well when I’m rooting my identity and strength in the Lord and letting Him satisfy me fully. When I do that, He helps me show love and mercy, even when it’s hard.
So how do we make it work? Here are some practical things that we do in our house to keep our marriage and family strong, and help me maintain my sanity when the long hours hit…
- Find a routine that works and keep it up. It doesn’t mean it has to be a strict “schedule”, but a routine that becomes familiar to everyone is helpful so that whenever Dad gets home, he can easily recognize where we are in the routine and jump in if needed. For us, this means I’ve had to let go of the dream of family dinners for a while. We get them on the weekends, and they are a priority! But during the week, it’s family breakfast. We are now a family of early risers so that we get meaningful morning time together because we never really know what the evening will look like. I can remember when Randy first started this job and he would tell me when he “thought” he’d be home. If it sounded early enough to have dinner together (like, 7:00) I’d try desperately to keep the kids up and happy so we could eat together. But 7:00 would soon turn to 7:30, then 8:00. He didn’t quite know how long things took yet and whether he was going to be sent out to handle an emergency somewhere. And then I’d be left with hungry, tired children who I had to feed, bathe, brush teeth, and put to bed all alone. Much later than I wanted. So we decided that for my sanity, we had to maintain a decent bedtime, which meant dinner had to happen by 6/6:30 no matter what. We save a heaping plate for Daddy every night.
- My personal time with the Lord is vital and our time as a couple with Him is that way, too. We both have our quiet times in the morning. I get my workout in, and then we do devotions together at 6:30. (I told you we’re early risers.) Breakfast and family devotions are at 7:30 and then he supervises the older kids cleaning the kitchen so that by the time he leaves for work at 8:30, we can start our school day or whatever we’re doing all dressed and clean and ready to go.
- Family time is the best time! We have family movie night, family game night, family nature walks, family book club. Everything we do as a family is a big deal and it’s super fun. If we have to clean the house one Saturday, we play loud music and make it a big family affair. We take family day trips and overnight trips. We make the most of our time together because we know how precious it is.
- We save things for Daddy. Whatever happens during the day or whatever we discover, we make it a point to share with Daddy when we see him. (The kids recently saved him 2 pieces of origami paper so he could discover just how fun they think it is to make paper animals.) We save him what we bake, and save the biggest, best portions of supper for him. We video call him when we can and if possible, bring him a latte if his route is close to where we are. We do our best to include him in our day.
- Likewise, if Randy happens to come home early and I’m still preparing dinner or the house is (just a little) chaotic, his first words are always, “Hello, beautiful. How can I help?” When Randy is home, he’s PRESENT. He makes it a point to participate in our day when he’s able to.
- I don’t allow myself (anymore) to dwell on the negative. It was so easy to feel sorry for myself when day in and day out I was doing everything alone. But I’ve realized it does no good. And when we go to events without him, I smile politely and answer the “where’s Randy” questions quickly. It doesn’t do any good to try to garner sympathy from others by emphasizing his absence or trying to explain why he needs to be at work (or sleeping when he worked nights). I know he’d rather be with me than at work. My goal is to make him look good in public and especially in front of my children. (I do have my good friends who “get it” because they’re in the same boat. We vent every once in a while in a healthy way, trust me! Just because we know it’s necessary, doesn’t mean it’s always easy.)
Some verses that serve as good reminders for me:
- Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger.”
- Romans 15:5-7 “Our God is a God who strengthens and encourages you. May he give you the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. Then you can give glory to God with one mind and voice. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has accepted you. So accept one another in order to bring praise to God.
- Philippians 2:13 “God is working in you. He wants your plans and your acts to fulfill his good purpose.”
- Psalm 62:5 “Yes, I must find my rest in God. He is the God who gives me hope.”
- Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are tired and carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest. Become my servants and learn from me. I am gentle and free of pride. You will find rest for your souls. Serving me is easy, and my load is light.”
- James 1:12 “Blessed is the person who keeps on going when times are hard. After they have come through hard times, this person will receive a crown. The crown is life itself. The Lord has promised it to those who love him.”
I wish I could say I no longer get disappointed or have hopes and expectations of shorter days at times and that my reactions are always gentle. I’m working on it. God is helping me. And while mercy may not be my strongest suit, He’s blessed me with a husband who is very quick to forgive.
Left: Randy helping with our Resurrection cookies last Easter. Right: Noah practicing his reading with Daddy. You can tell he jumps into our family life as soon as he gets home.