Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dismaying Story #30: No More Time to Give

Dear Andrew,

My husband is a full-time college student and last year he opened up his own business / office. I have my own business to run, which takes about thirty hours a week of my time, plus I look after our three year old and do the domestic chores galore. I'm always picking up messes. I mow the lawn, take out the trash and it is a never ending circle. There is absolutely no "me" time.

Our financial situation adds to the stress. My husband's business only brought in $15K in profit last year, since much of the revenue went into covering the rent / utility / operating costs of his office. It seems to me it would make more financial sense to go back and run things from here at home, but his philosophy is "Once you step forward you don't ever step back." I have to do all the childcare because we don't have enough money for daycare. I sit here battling fleas and roaches because we can't afford an exterminator.

I believe I am giving 100% PLUS on the support side (I even help him with his homework!!) but now he's telling me to sit at his office and help out for hours during the week. I have two new customers of my own I can't get to -- I just don't have the time.

Am I stingy or something? Is it me? I'm sure feeling quite obstinate over this battle.

Signed, Overworked and Overstressed

Dear Overworked,

I had my scorecard out and a big black marker in my hand while I read your letter. Your husband has two full-time jobs. You have a three-quarters time "official" job. You are also a primary care mother and homemaker, which in my books is more like a job and a half. It runs from the moment you wake up until you give up on that last pile of laundry and go to bed at night. Add to that all the tasks your hubby might normally do if he were not so busy: the yard work and a portion of his homework. To be on the conservative side, I'll call that a quarter of a job, in the range of 10 hours a week or so.

So by my scorecard, here are the number of full-time jobs you are each currently doing:
Hubby - 2.0
You - 2.5

The 2.0 for your husband might be a little low, since new entrepreneurs are often forced to go the extra mile to try to get things moving. His number might be closer to 2.5 as well.

Let's just pause there for a moment and think about this. You are both putting in crazy long hours. You have virtually no time for yourself or, I'm betting, for your relationship. When was the last time the two of you went out and did something fun together? You have a small child at home, which is a joy but also means extra stress. Money is tight, which means your living conditions aren't exactly what you would like them to be, to say the least.

Criminy, is it any wonder there is tension between the two of you? You're living in a pressure cooker and the steam is turned up full blast.

A couple of things occur to me that you might want to think about. First, I believe it is a telltale sign that your husband is asking for more help from you. He may not have a good understanding of this situation from your point of view. It is unfortunately all too common in our society for people to downplay the effort involved with being a primary care parent and homemaker. I suspect in his mind the job scorecard might look something like this:
Hubby - 2.0
You - 0.75

He has two official jobs, while you "only" have a three-quarters job. Therefore, his harried and overworked brain reasons, you are the one with extra capacity. You are the one who should step up and help to bail the two of you out of this tight situation. As you know very well, that is simply not true. You barely have time to shave your legs let alone take on another part-time job with his business.

So one step you might take is to educate your husband about the workload involved with being a homemaker. The most effective method I have heard for this is to get him to take on your role for a few days. When Momma takes a trip and leaves Hubby in charge, he often has a much better appreciation for her workload by the time she returns. In fact, he usually can't wait to scurry back to the office so he can rest up.

My second concern has to do with the way the two of you work out compromises. You wonder whether out-of-home business premises make the most sense right now, but it is your husband's philosophy that determines the course. You used the word "telling" instead of "asking" when you said, "he's telling me to sit at his office..." Was that merely an unfortunate choice of word, or do you have somewhat of a "he tells, she listens" type of relationship? He is obviously comfortable asking you for help; are you equally comfortable stating your needs?

Many women are givers by nature. You give and you give and you wait for him to reciprocate ... and feel badly if it doesn't happen. Many men, on the other hand, will assume that if you're not asking, you don't need help. They assume this because that is how they operate.

Let's say the two of you are on your way to a wedding and he isn't quite sure how to find the church. He hasn't asked for help but you pipe up and offer to call somebody for directions. What is he likely to do? Many men will scowl and say, "I can find it." Unsolicited help can be an insult, an indication that you don't believe he is competent. Since men don't like to be offered unsolicited help, they are not always great at doing so for others. They will wait to be asked.

Do you ask your husband for help? I don't mean indirectly like, "I sure am tired today." I mean, "Will you take out the trash now please?" Some women contribute to your own workload because they don't realize how little they actually ask for help.

Finally, the two of you need a plan, a way to escape the pressure cooker. His plan is to get you to contribute more, to help his business succeed so it can take the two of you to the promised land. Since you have no more time to give right now, this seems to be an unrealistic plan.

What can you look forward to that will offer some relief? He will finish his studies at some point, which should help lessen the overall household work burden. If either or both of your businesses become more successful, the extra income can provide childcare, better living conditions and maybe even (dare to dream) help cleaning the house once a week. Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly can buy away some drudgery.

Those are medium-term measures, though. In the short-term it seems you and your husband have two choices. You can proceed as you are and keep your sanity by having faith that changes are coming down the road. Often it is easier to withstand hardship if you know (or even believe) that the cavalry is just over the next hill.

The other option is to open a vent in the cooker and release some steam right away. Do you truly believe that operating your husband's business from home is a better option right now? Might that save some money and make life a little easier? I have no way of knowing; perhaps he would lose customers without the image provided by having professional premises. Perhaps he would incur additional costs by breaking his lease and then having to re-establish the office later. I wonder, though -- have you presented your views on this matter and had a frank discussion about it with him? Or did you mention the idea briefly once and drop it as soon as he stated his "never retreat" philosophy? Yes it is his business, but this decision affects both of you, as well as your child. If you haven't already done so, you should take a hard, objective look at the issue and come to a joint decision.

I don't think you are stingy at all. You are simply already giving all you have to give. Hopefully these ideas might help you find some relief.

All the best,

Do you have issues finding balance between your work and home life? Tell me about it and your submission might end up as a Dismaying Story.


  1. this is excellent advice, well written, non-judgemental, insightful and clear.

    i;m a counselor/writer and i'm impressed.


  2. I have to agree...very good advice. I was runing myself into the ground and hadn't realized until a few months ago that all I really needed to do was ask. So I started asking for my husband to give kids a bath when he came home early enough...and even though he can't cook anything beyond a great pot of maccaroni and cheese, it is helpful on those nights I really want nothing to do with the kitchen. And I know that my husband was actually happy to help considering he does know everything I do, and that I help him out, so when I ask he feels like I need him, and that he is paying me back for those things he thinks he couldn't do without that clear as mud or what!