Appreciation was a big part of what made our relationship enjoyable. Appreciation, not in just saying "thank you" here and there, but in a real, true and genuine sense. There are about a thousand ways I can think of where appreciation made a difference in our marriage. I will write about a few important ones, particularly for my children, but suffice to say I could not possibly cover this topic here the way it deserves.
First I do need to point out what may seem obvious:
Everyone wants to feel like what they spend their time working on is valued and appreciated, especially by the people they love.
Joe was way more traditional than I am when it came to some things. For one, we went back and forth for pretty much the entire time we were engaged as to whether or not I would take his last name after being married. I basically did not want to. I could not see the logic in why I should take his name any more than why he should take my name- a thought that often elicits laughter from most people, including Joe. In my mind, all of my accomplishments up to that point in my life had been completed by "Robin Lord". I took pride in who I was and why, WHY would I change my name?? In the end, after many discussions with him in which he constantly and repeatedly told me that he wanted me to take his name, I did. Because I loved him, and because it was important to him. I did it 100% for him because that's what you do sometimes when you love someone. And he appreciated it. That appreciation is what has caused me to not regret my choice and feel confident that it was the right thing to do. If he didn't appreciate it, I would have felt forced and resentful.
As I have said before it was important to Joe that I stay home with our kids. This was a constant and ongoing discussion between us the entire time we were married. I have a hard time with it, I still do. Now a disclaimer- I never would EVER say what is right for any family in terms of caring for their chidren and it drives me nuts when people comment on such things. I believe that every woman and family should do what is best for themselves and that in itself is enough of a burden to carry. I do not waver from that opinion.
Although I would never tell anyone else what they should do, like many other mothers ("working" and "stay-at-home") I am given unsolicited opinions all the time about the choice that my husband and I made- they are both opinions in support and against our choice. I have been the recipient of comments that imply that I "wasted" my college education- (seriously, can you pull the knife out of my heart now)- as if somehow since staying home while my kids are young means my professional life is over, also, furthermore implying that what I do with my life currently has no positive bearing on the world. I also repeatedly get a constant stream of comments of how "lucky" I am to not work, assuming that would be aspiration of all women, if they were all given the choice. I have a deep personal negative feeling about that assumption as well. I also hear a constant, constant stream of what I would call put-downs by people who act like, only if you work, are you contributing to society in a positive way. Only then are you are doing something "worth-while". If you stay home with kids, you are doing nothing. In fact, you are living a life being provided for you to which you sail through your easy days while your husband works his butt off. I hear this stuff all the time, it never ends.
I know that there are few people I could have been married to and be a stay-at-home mother.
Joe and I approached our family situation in a very basic way. In order to live the life that we wanted we needed TWO BIG things. We needed MONEY and we needed CHILDREN. All the necessities to living a full life came from those two things. Money provided us food, clothing, shelter, etc. Children provided us with family, love, joy, fun, fulfillment, etc. In a very basic sense we decided how the bulk of our time would be used- Joe would provide the money and I would provide care for our children. We did not treat either contribution- money or childcare- as more important than the other. We knew in order for our life to work the way we wanted, we needed BOTH. From that basic premise we were able to make our situation work, but there was another important ingredient that was necessary to keep us happy and keep us going. It was appreciation for what the other person was providing.
Joe often thanked me for staying home with our kids. More than anyone he knew and understoood what it meant for me to do so. He didn't act like what he was doing at work was more important or that he was 'providing life' for me. We were 'providing life' for each other, and for our family. He would praise me for how well I did and listen to my gripes without judgement or defensiveness. He didn't leave this up to "I thought you knew" he actually said the words to me. "You do such a great job Robin."; "I don't know how you do it."; "Thank you for my children." etc etc. Those types of things are what kept me going. I honestly don't know if I could have done it without those words from him. And I do know for sure that if he hadn't been that kind of husband, if I did continue to stay home, I would have been pissy, resentful, and hateful. And our marriage would have suffered.
On the other side, I also praised Joe for getting out of bed early every day- though most days I had to kick him out :-) For working so hard and for making such a great living. I admired his people skills....and marveled at how he could do his job so well and let all the difficult stuff slide off his back. I congratulated him about the success of the company that he and Derek built when they reached milestones. I constantly reminded him if he got frustrated with money that he was solely supporting a family of four- and look at the life we were living.
I don't want to act like it all worked perfectly all the time. It didn't. There are gray areas and neither of us was perfect. I might have accused him of having a few too many wiffle ball games at work (implying he wasn't working hard) and I am sure that he said things that weren't perfect either (though I can't think of any and if you know of any you don't need to tell me). But the point is that the bulk of the time, I'd say 95% of the time we made the choice to appreciate each other for what we were doing. And I do want to point out that although I was providing the majority of the care for the children, we saw care for them at night and weekends as shared responsibility. In other words, Joe didn't treat me like my "job" never ended yet he still got nights and weekends to himself. Our relationship just wasn't like that. He was a great father and husband. And I appreciated him deeply.
Luke and Alyssa, I hope that when you grow up you find someone who appreciates you. It is powerful and can guide you through the difficult times. It makes life more enjoyable and full. I hope that when you read this you understand that my struggle with staying home started long before you were born. It had nothing to do with who you were as children. It had to do with who I was as a child, what I thought my own life would look like, what my own dreams were. Some day I know you will understand. And I hope that if you struggle too and either of you make the choice to stay home with your babies then you can keep in mind and remember something my mother has told me through these years:
"In the scheme of things, it's only for a short time."