[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]
Okay, mama—sit back and relax. I'm going to tell you a story, and it's probably a scenario you'll be all too familiar with as a wife and mother. (It also might be autobiographical in nature. )
You've planned a Saturday evening out with your girlfriends, so you spend that afternoon getting the house in order, the laundry going, the dishes unloaded and reloaded and prepping dinner for the hubby and the troops. When you leave, everything is not only in working order, but the house is looking pristine. Dinner is ready to be put in the oven and you even have the kids' pajamas laid out and ready in their rooms.
You head out for a night on the town with the girls—perhaps dinner at your local quasi-fancy restaurant, so you have a reason to get out of your yoga pants, sip on an overpriced glass of wine and dine on mediocre food, all so you can talk for a few hours to people who don't call you “mom." You pull your minivan back in the garage and step into the house, relaxed from a night out and you round the corner into the kitchen...
Is this actually my house, you may wonder. It's hard to know for sure, because it looks like a bomb went off in there. Your blood pressure rises. Dishes covered in food scraps are scattered across your kitchen countertop. There are 19 cups full of water on the counter, the casserole you slaved over is sitting out on top of the stove and kitchen chairs are pushed into a tent-making formation. There are crumbs all over the floor and a huge sticky spot that looks suspiciously like melted ice cream. There are remnants of burned popcorn remaining in your favorite copper cookware and there is rage flooding your soul.
Thoughts begin to fill your mind—thoughts like, “No one appreciates everything I do around here" and “My husband has no regard for me and everything I do for our family." With your temper burning hot as the sun, you open the dishwasher and begin to slam dishes into the racks, making sure enough noise is generated to get your husband's attention upstairs. You grab the casserole and cover it, then loudly make room in the refrigerator for the Pyrex dish. You make sure he can hear you shoving the chairs back into place, grunting a few times for good measure. You're like an animal waiting for your prey.
And: enter husband. “Hey, babe," he says, strolling blissfully unaware into a warzone. “How was your night? Did you have a good time?"
You glare at him and mutter, “Mmmhmmm."
“We had fun, too," he says. “We had dinner and played for a long time, then we watched a movie. I just got the last kiddo to bed."
“Hmmmmm. That's nice," you respond in a snarky tone of voice.
“Umm… Is everything okay?" he asks, legitimately confused by your behavior.
“Oh, YES, everything is FINE. Why do you ask?" you answer, slamming things around a little harder.
“Well, it just seems like you're a little upset, and..."
“Oh, it DOES, does it? Yes, I'd say I'm a LITTLE upset. I just don't understand how I can leave the house in spotless condition only to come home and find…"
And you launch into a tirade you've been rehearsing for 10 minutes in your mind. After you unload every reason why you feel undervalued as a wife and a mother, your husband stands silently, unsure of what to say. Finally, he speaks, and when he does and you hear his response, you sort of want to take a jackhammer to your kitchen floor until you hit soft earth, and then keep digging until there's a hole big enough to hide your over-inflated self in.
“I'm really sorry, babe. I really didn't mean to leave a mess for you. I was going to clean up—I just got distracted, because the kids and I were playing together and having a tickle fight and building Legos, and then we all piled on the couch and watched a movie together, and by the time I got them all to bed, you had just gotten home. I really was going to clean it up, I promise. Here, let me finish up and you go do what you need to do."
And… crickets. Crickets for what feels like hours, because what do you say when you realize that the man you chose, the one you promised yes and forever to, has actually become the father you dreamed of for your children.
He's the father you never had. He's a breaking-the-mold kind of man, because he sets aside things like dishes and crumbs and half-eaten casseroles to have tickle fights with and build Legos with and watch movies with and access the hearts of his children. He's the kind of father who goes into the office early, before the sun has begun to think about making an appearance, not because he's an early bird, but because it allows him the flexibility to make it home each and every day before the sun says goodbye. He co-parents—he never “babysits"—and he shows you up on a regular basis with his innate parenting instincts and skills. He recognizes the value of sacrificing temporary things like hobbies and alone time and nice cars and dirty dishes and clean kitchens for the eternal investment he makes in his children. In your children.
And finally it dawns on you—you're not mad at HIM for the mess in the kitchen (or at least you're not too mad)—you're ashamed because you temporarily put more value in a clean kitchen than you did in your children connecting with their father.
So let me encourage you to hit the pause button next time you want to go off on your husband over the temporary things. This doesn't mean that he should never contribute around the house, and it doesn't mean you can't have pet peeves and speak your mind and that he should leave things trashed every time you leave because he's “pursuing eternal things," but try to build up an abundance of grace for your man, the one who is your children's father.
You'll never regret having crumbs in your kitchen if it means your children are secure in their father's love for them.