So Motherhood Is Overwhelming You...Part 2
Balancing wifehood and motherhood - as if mastering one wasn't challenging enough. It's not that we can't do both. It's that we want to do both excellently. But in the midst of scrambling to feed, clothe, protect, and instruct our little ones, we can often find ourselves giving our husbands the leftovers.
Welcome to Part 2 of "So Motherhood Is Overwhelming You..." - a two-part post dedicated to the problem of meeting the needs of your husband when your children are placing overwhelming demands upon you. In Part 1, we focused on the spiritual aspect: sin problems that might be leading you to be chronically overwhelmed and feeling like you are at the end of your rope. Part 2 is intended to be a more practical toolkit for firstly, understanding what your husband needs and secondly, meeting those needs while also being a present, caring mother.
What Husbands Need
This may sound like an unnecessary section. Of course we know what husbands need. They need our love and support as well as our service. But I felt it was important to remind ourselves of a few of the key, basic needs of husbands. Not to generalize, but also to generalize, most men are pretty simple, I've found. Mine sure is. This is relieving because it takes a lot of strain off of me - instead of thinking of what I would like done unto me (a long, specific, and complicated list, my friends) and applying it to my husband, I can save all that energy and make sure I'm taking care of the basic things he cares about. And when I do, he's happy, because he never needed or cared about that extra stuff anyways.
I would like to point out that this little list of "needs" is not comprehensive. My goal is just to point out a few basic things that I have learned my husband needs.
Our husbands need our attention. It's as simple as that. They need us to pay attention to them when they talks, when they enter the room, when they have done something worth noting, when they are struggling with something. It's obviously a sign of caring to them, but paying attention to them is also a huge indicator of respect.
Our husbands feel respected when we pay attention.
I want to break this down in really practical terms and the best way I know how is by giving you some examples from my own life.
As I've mentioned before, my husband isn't a talker but if there's one place the floodgates of his thoughts open up it's the car. Which is inconvenient and annoying to me because car rides are dead time, in my mind, and therefore acceptable times to scroll through social media or just be engrossed in my own thoughts. My husband needs me to stop what I am doing and listen to what he has to say because it shows him I care about whatever it is he is trying to share and even more importantly, it shows him that I respect him enough to give him my full and undivided attention.
Not to liken him to the President of the United States, but if I was driving with the President, I wouldn't be on my phone. And if he spoke to me, I'd sure as heck listen because he is an important man, the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth. I would do this not because of the man, for whom I may or may not have any respect at all, but because of his position.
Though my husband may not be as important to the rest of the world as the President, he should be important to me. He is God's chosen leader over my family and the one that will give an account to God for the decisions he makes as head. I'm not suggesting we should take this to the extreme and bow our way out of whatever room our husbands are in. In some sad and unfortunate cases, we may actually not respect our husbands as men at all, and yet we are called to treat them with the respect that their God-ordained position requires.
My example was in regards to paying attention to our husbands when they speak. Obviously, the principle applies to a myriad of other situations that arise in marriage. Imagine a husband walking into the house after a long day of work. His tired wife is busy stirring the pot and simultaneously chasing after one of the children. She barely looks up when he enters. He tries talking to her during dinner but she cuts him off and starts complaining about her day; what children disrespected her, how expensive the groceries were, how the toilet is still not fixed even though she has been asking for months, etc. She finally stops talking and he starts telling her about some upcoming things on their schedule and she nods and mhms while scrolling on her phone. Later when he mentions an upcoming event or commitment of his, she has no idea it was happening because she was definitely not truly paying attention. Even at night, if she agrees to be intimate, she is distracted, tired, no fun. From our perspective of tired mothers, this scenario not necessarily uncommon and not necessarily unavoidable. After all, we've had a long, exhausting day, too. But it's not hard to see from his perspective, how he might feel disrespected and not considered worthy of his own wife's attention.
In a very different way than our babies, our husbands need our care. They are actually grown men. It's not that they can't wash their own clothes or make their own meals. They can and sometimes, life makes it necessary that they do. For example, if both partners are working full-time, the workload of the household must be shouldered by both or else one partner is going to just collapse under the strain of it all.
So this section isn't about that kind of care, in particular. Whether or not it is with housework and meals or something completely different, our husbands need our care in one way or another. Some husbands really do feel helpless at planning out what they will eat or keeping their area clean. Some husbands do it better than their wives. My husband, for example, often won't let me wash his clothes because he has some sort of system I'm interfering with. Some husbands may need emotional care more than others. Some husbands may need organizational care.
It is our job as wives to identify the ways in which our husbands need care and provide it for them.
Be aware, however, that as we have natural caring and nurturing tendencies, we can slip into mothering care, which is not a healthy way to care for our husbands. That's why we need to identify the ways they specifically want and need care, and meet those without wasting energy on the others.
It's hard to really define what "support" is. To my husband, support meant his dad going to every single one of his baseball games, so physical presence. Because of their involvement in ministry, my parents often didn't have the time or the energy to go to my "things," and I didn't even know that that was a way you support someone, really. It didn't seem like big deal to me. So everyone has a different definition of what support looks like.
Our husbands need our support. That's a Biblically based truth that God reveals as a key aspect of men and their relationships to their wives. In Genesis 2:18 we are hear God say "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Whatever that "help" or support looks like practically, whatever form it takes, I can tell you what it feels like.
Our husbands want and need to feel that we are 100% on their team.
If they feel that in any way we are pulling against them or are cutting down who they are at their core, they experience internal suffering, whether or not they tell us about it.
There are so many ways in which our support manifests itself practically. Our husbands need to feel that we support their decisions in front of our children. They need to feel that we are behind them still even when they make giant mistakes. They need to feel that we like who they are, and so demonstrate interest in their hobbies and passions. One of the most important ways is that they need to feel that we prioritize their mission.
Every Christian man has a mission from God. As wives, we are called to actively take care of the needs they have that burden them and make it more difficult and complicated to fulfill their calling. For example, when my husband has a message to preach on Sunday, he needs extra time during the week to prepare it. He needs Sunday morning to go smoothly so we're not late to church. He needs me to tell him it went well afterwards (and hold any criticism for later). My support looks like not demanding he spend time with me or getting angry he was so preoccupied and inattentive all week. It looks like prepping as much Saturday night so Sunday morning is not hectic; also, sacrificing any thing I may have wanted to do Sunday morning (extra time for hair or makeup, stopping for coffee, changing my outfit 5 times) so that we aren't late to church. It looks like paying as much attention as Emory will allow to his message so I can provide encouraging and supportive feedback after church; also, remembering to say anything because sometimes it's easy to forget to encourage someone.
I love the example in the early church where the apostles were confronted with the problem of whether to preach God's word or focus on distributing food to the needy. Their conclusion was that the workload should be divided so that attention is not divided from the main mission: preaching the Word of God. "And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty" (Acts 6:2-3).
I often think of my calling towards my husband as just that; doing my part so that he does not give up preaching the word of God. Of course, not every situation is the same, but the point is that whatever our husbands' callings may be, our responsibility is to unburden them and equip them as much as possible to fulfill it faithfully.
The Atmosphere We Create
The first time I stepped into my husbands dorm room at college, I was...taken aback. My husband isn't a messy person by any means, and his actual bedroom which he shared with on other guy was, despite his messy roommate, half-decent. But oh, the shared space. Some Trinity dorms have a shared space with a little living room, kitchen and bathroom. I had often spent time in my girlfriend's dorm which she and her girlfriends had made a cozy, pleasant space with soft lighting, cute pillows and wall art. This was...different. Unwashed dishes with food crusted over them filled the sink. There was nothing decorative to be seen. There were giant black bags filled with trash (which were actually not my husband's but his roomates' but which my husband refused to take out for them lol) in the living room, waiting to be taken out. Quite disgusting.
It's hard to write about "husband/wife" topics because not all husbands are the same. I know some men that have the ability and care to make their space as welcoming and aesthetic as my girlfriend did. But many, many men don't have that skill. It's not that they don't enjoy a nice space, it's not that they don't feel more rested and comfortable in a truly homey atmosphere; it's that they don't know where on earth they would start in creating that. If we are generalizing, that's a skill women are often the ones gifted with. We know how to make a house a home. We know how to create create a welcoming, beautiful, and physically comfortable place to live.
It goes deeper than that, though. We can also do that with our presence. They say "happy wife, happy life," and I think a new saying should be invented: "happy mom, happy everyone."
Because somehow, as God planned it, the woman of the house is the centerpiece of the happiness of that particular family.
So when I refer to atmosphere, I'm referring not only to the physical space, but to the mood we create. If we are in a bad mood, everyone in the family is on edge. If we are stressed, everyone feels stressed. If we are angry and liable to start chastising anyone that crosses our path, everyone skuttles around trying to avoid an interaction. If we are often complaining, often upset about something, often anxious and in tears, the whole family suffers under the cloud of our emotions.
Our husbands need us to create an atmosphere that they desire to come home to. It's a simple as that. They need to not fear coming home because they will hear about the troubles of the day or be scolded and criticized for things they have failed to do (I'm not saying to not address problems in a proper way). They need home to be a beautiful, peace-filled haven from the world, and not only are we uniquely gifted to create such a place, it is our responsibility to.
My pastor once had a sermon on a woman's mystery and I thought it was a great way to explain a particular aspect to women. Maybe it's simply that we are more complicated, or maybe it's that we are made fundamentally different, but there is a sense in which a man will never fully understand a woman. He doesn't get her reactions to things; he doesn't get the emotions; he doesn't really get how we function, and in a good way. Not that he can't relate so as to comfort or have fellowship, but in the sense that no matter how much he may get to know a woman, there is always a part of her that is shrouded in mystery. And that's a good thing.
I believe God made it that way because men are conquerors who shelve conquests, but a woman's mystery is something they are always going to have to chip away at and never feel like they have mastered it.
It is one way (obviously not the only one) that they stay attracted to us - interested in us.
Obviously, if this is an innate quality to women, it's not something we really have to work at. However, I do think there are ways we can work to amplify our attractiveness to our husbands. A good, faithful man will love and be attracted to his wife whether or not she lets herself go, whether or not she loses all interest in self-care and self-development by focusing too much on the kids, whether or not she keeps trying to be his friend, whether or not she makes the effort to be flirty and sweet. However, a man does need that. He does desire it. It will minimize temptations to look outside of marriage, because though this may be hard to hear, a man will always be drawn to the type of woman he fell in love with. If he fell in love with a charming, cheerful girlish soul who always took excellent care of herself and is now married to a distracted, cranky woman who has let herself go, he won't stop being attracted to that original type and tempted by it when he runs into it. I'm not saying our husbands will leave us if we don't measure up. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm simply trying to say that the loving thing is to care about what attracts our husbands and put in what effort we can to be that for them.
Our godly husbands love us for who we are, not for how we look or act. But it matters to them, it is loving towards them, when we make an effort to be attractive to them.
How does this relate to our mystery? Practically, I think men like it when we occasionally and unexpectedly change things up in our appearance. I believe it is important to them when we choose to be charming and flirtatious with them. I believe they appreciate when we focus on self-development, have hobbies and interests, and learn new things. They feel that they are with an interesting, growing person, not a stagnant person that depends on them for self-fulfillment. I cannot emphasize enough that we aren't doing this to earn their love. They love us all the same. I'm simply trying to explain a way in which we can lovingly care for our husbands' need for mystery.
I've covered some of the basic needs I think men have. There's one more little thing I wanted to mention before moving onto the practical portion. I know we prioritize needs in our heads...for example, I recently read a mother's comment that basically said, "Yes I know self-care is important but my needs can wait and the baby's can't." And in fact, that's a noble attitude to have. I believe we reason in the same for our husbands. By our logic as mothers, the baby is, well, a baby, and our husband is, well, a grown man. One's immediate needs clearly need to be prioritized above the other's.
The problem lies in continually putting off those secondary priorities; never finding the time to meet them.
It lies in caring for the children's immediate needs and non-immediate needs, real and imagined needs, and never getting around to the other needs, those of self-care or the needs of our husbands. We have to develop the skill of differentiating between "putting off a need for later" and "putting it off entirely." Putting off our own or our husbands' needs entirely isn't fair or healthy for anyone and takes its toll in the long run by putting our marriage relationship under strain. Which sadly, comes back to the kids because they cannot thrive when the marriage relationship is suffering. One way to think about it is that caring for our needs and our husbands' needs is ultimately caring for our children's needs because our children need our marriages to thrive. And our marriage relationships simply won't if we don't put in the work.
Practical Things We Can Do
I'd like to divide this section in to "no-effort" stuff, and "effort" stuff. Of course, everything takes effort, but some things I want to suggest just little changes you can make while others will require a little effort.
Practical No-effort Stuff
Plan your tasks so that a half hour before he comes home, you can stop what you are doing and quickly freshen up. Be intentional about meeting him with a smile, a hug, and a cheerful attitude. If you have any complaints about how your day went, hold off on those and make sure it's not the very first thing he hears.
Pray daily that you create a Spirit-filled, peaceful and blessed atmosphere in the home.
Give your husband your full attention when he talks. For me, this means putting my phone in an unreachable place in the car, because even with the best of intentions I'll get on it without realizing. You can decide what you need to do, but make sure that he feels that when he speaks, you are listening.
Change up your hair now and then, or buy a new dress/pair of heels/lingerie item. Some women don't need to be told this because they overdo it and some do, so be discerning about whether this applies to you or not.
Pray daily that God helps you discern which tasks are absolutely necessary and which ones are extraneous. I usually pray for God to do my work through me in His excellently efficient way and no surprise, when I seriously pray that, my day goes smoothly and in His strength. Things fall into place and I don't feel overwhelmed.
Wear cute house clothes. Seriously. This doesn't require that much effort at all. If you irreparably stain a cute dress or have one that's too low-cut/short to wear in public, convert it to a house dress. Wear bright colors or just something that flatters and is comfortable. Just wear cute stuff around the house. Your husband cares about that stuff and thankfully, it's such a little thing!
Put the kids to bed early. This might not be an issue for everyone but at least for me, it took awhile to realize that if Emory is down earlier, I have more me time and Nate time. I had to move some things around and she may not loved it at first, but it's worth the inconvenience it takes to adjust their schedule so that you can prioritize some time with your husband.
Use your "dead" time, such as folding laundry or cooking, to self-develop. There are so many things you can listen to, like podcasts, sermons, youtube videos, or even just the news. Alternate spiritual stuff, like worshipping to some encouraging and theologically correct music and listening to sermons, with stuff on topics that interest you and that you want to grow in (for me an example would be photography). It's tempting to just do something mindless, like watch a show or a YouTuber with shallow content, and maybe sometimes you need that, but you'll like yourself better and your husband will enjoy having a wife who is interesting to talk to!
Practical Effort Stuff
Try to have him come home to a clean house and a warm meal. If at all possible - sometimes this is impossible, and don't beat yourself up about it. Just make sure it's not because you prioritized other, less important things throughout your day.
Plan weekly dates. It doesn't matter if this is a walk in a park or an expensive restaurant downtown. At least once a week, plan time for just yourselves. If you can get babysitting, try to get the kids picked up at least an hour before you are supposed to leave on your date so that you can not only have time to make sure you look nice, but also have some mental breathing space to leave mom mode behind and enter into wife mode.
Same applies for times of intimacy. Try to take a little time beforehand to enter into "wife" mode, or even just to nap. Let your husband know you need it. Your husband will appreciate if you are flirty and fun rather than tired and "let's just get this over with," but that takes planning beforehand because the truth is, if you've been hanging out with the kids all day, you will most likely be tired and not feeling it.
Sit down and make a two-column list. Try to identify things you are doing for your kids that are absolutely necessary, and try to find some things that are extra and can be cut out. Prayerfully decide if there is anything you need to let go of and trust God with that will unburden you a little and make you more available for your husband.
Take advantage of the people who want to serve you, especially through babysitting. Often I don't ask for babysitting purely because I don't want to inconvenience people by asking, or even those who have told me that they would be willing to help out. I need to humble myself and allow people to serve me sometimes, especially if it serves my marriage!
Work on having a correct perspective on making time for your husband, especially through prayer. The mom guilt will come - but that doesn't mean you have to succumb to it. God's design is that we are respectful, supportive wives whom our husbands find delight in. We need to say no to feelings of mom guilt when we are obeying and fulfilling this aspect of our Scriptural wifehood. Feelings will come, but we don't have to be mastered by them.
Work in Progress
Wow, as I'm wrapping up this particular post, I'm feeling like I shouldn't even post it. Don't ask me how well I'm doing with many of these things or how much of a hypocrite I feel right now. It is TOTALLY a work in progress for me, but one I take seriously. I hope that these thoughts can give you some Biblical truth, perspective and even some practical ways that we can still make time for our husbands in the overwhelm of motherhood. Don't forget to read Part 1 of this two-part series for some important information about what might be causing us to be chronically overwhelmed!
I wanted to end with some of my favorite verses about wives that continually inspire me:
He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.
An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
That last one lets me know how rare it is to find a truly excellent wife, and how much work, intentionality and self-sacrifice it takes. I truly believe that only a Spiritual Woman, i.e. one filled with the Spirit, deeply rooted in her relationship with the Lord, can actually master this excellence, where the heart of her husband can fully reside and rest in who she is towards him. I pray that all of us who are married can attain to this as we faithfully fulfill our callings as wives.
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