I work full time, volunteer locally and try and keep everyone fed watered and looking well at home. I don't have a family network to lean on so I have taken care of everything and myself for many years. Now that my kids are getting older I thought I would have time for myself but the list of activities and other demands on my time seems to grow Things are starting to come in on top of me. I'm not a single parent but my husband trains 6 days a week and also works full time so he's not around a lot. I'm not sure if I need a solution or a kick up the bum!
SUE SAUNDERS MSc, MA, HGDipP, FHGI
HUMAN GIVENS PSYCHOTHERAPIST – Dublin Human Givens Centre
Sounds like you have carried the burden of caring for your family for a long time and I’m not surprised that you are now looking for time for yourself. The difficulty is, as long as you continue to take responsibility for everyone, they will continue to expect it and not necessarily notice that you are doing everything. You can end up being taken for granted and that will result in you feeling resentful.
In time, this will go on to have negative effect on all your relationships with your family, which is something you obviously don’t want. It seems like it’s time to start offloading some of the tasks you are doing to both your husband and your children. You need to take care of yourself and manage your own needs; otherwise your family’s demands will continue to take their toll.
Resentment is not necessarily a negative, it is purely an indication that something needs to change, so see it as that, rather like a warning light on the dashboard of your car. Something needs attention. So it is time to take action.
It often helps to start with a family meeting so that you can let them all know just how you feel in a calm way. Then invite them to suggest jobs or tasks that they could take over to give you some slack. It always works better if the suggestion comes from them and they are more likely to take ownership of the jobs if they themselves suggest it. This of course includes your husband. A word of caution: Do not have this conversation when you are tired or emotional as it could come across as blaming or nagging, which you don’t want. You really need to get them on side.
You can start with them taking over one job and then slowly get them to increase their responsibilities. This will give the children a sense of competence and achievement which they will enjoy (even if they complain initially). Remember your job as a parent is to develop your children’s competencies so that you become redundant and they can be fully functioning adults in their own right.
As regards your husband it appears as if you have facilitated him in his interest in cycling for many years. You both work full time and you are both responsible for the children. Your job is to acknowledge that you have needs and these needs are currently not being met in balance. How much attention do you give each other when he is focused so much on his cycling and not at home sharing time with you?
The most crucial aspect of any relationship is attention exchange, whether that is with your children or your husband. We need to give and receive attention from one another, sometimes referred to as emotional nutrition. You have probably given a lot of attention to your children especially when they were younger. As they get older they often get their need for attention met outside the family. So bear in mind that the attention they would have previously given to you may now be declining, as they get older.
I suggest that you also have a conversation with your husband (again when you are calm and not too tired) and discuss your need for time out to pursue your own interests and also your need for attention and intimacy from him. Perhaps he is unaware of how you are feeling and has assumed that as his cycling has been okay with you in the past it is still fine with you?
You are obviously a very competent, capable woman well able to take on responsibility and manage a very busy life. That being so, the challenge is to stop doing so and give others the opportunity to grow and develop. The first step to making changes in a relationship is to recognise what is in your control to change. So often we try to change others when making even a small change in our own behaviour can make a huge difference. So start with making these changes in yourself.
The family may not do their tasks exactly the way you want, and may do an inferior job to you; but everyone has to learn and we all do household tasks differently. Looking for them to meet your expectations and standards could leave you disappointed. So have the conversations to change the dynamics in the family, it will lead to less resentment and more appreciation of the time and effort you have already expended on behalf of your family.
Well done on keeping all the balls in the air for so long and the best of luck with making those changes!
As Sue says, this needs to be addressed as a practical change, not an emotional problem. Your kids are now at the age that they can make a meaningful contribution to the household. Ideally, this should be embedded from a very early age. We must think about the adults we are raising have not just the kids standing in front of us. However, at the moment, they are learning by example that you are the one whose job it is to everything.
According to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and ESRI study, women spend over twice as much time on housework and double the time carrying out caring duties as men. This is just not good enough. To paraphrase Martin Amis, the trouble with female emancipation is that took on the duties in the workplace, without sharing the duties in the home. The good news is that this very topic is in the spotlight right now, and it's not going away.
The first step to any change is awareness, both yours and your family's. It's a good idea to start by mapping out your week on a large blank page, all your duties, across all your areas.
Share with them the scope of the duties required for the house to function properly. We had to trawl through the internet to find a template for sharing out chores amongst the family, thank to the Get Organised Wizard for doing the hard work for us, downloadable on the site.
By your own admission, there is currently no time for you in your schedule so you need to look at what has to change or go, and the domestic logistic is only one part of that. Maybe your volunteering work is an indulgent way for you to relax? Maybe there are other things that you should be doing instead until you feel more replenished, yoga, dancing, walking, reading, sipping coffee in a cafe? You decide. It hard to pour out of an empty vessel. There's no shame in taking a break from volunteering for others and volunteering yourself to yourself.
Your husband should be willing to support this new regime to even out the responsibilities. If he is not, then there are bigger questions at play. There are two ways to invest in change, time or money. If your husband is not willing to concede any time to support you, then perhaps he would be willing to pay for a cleaner to come in once a week to help. As a family with two working parents, this sounds like a luxury but, even if it's only a couple of hours, can be a game changer.
1. GET A CLEANER
Simple as that, you will take away a huge chunk of duties, bed linen, general dusting , hoovering and floor cleaning, bathrooms and maybe a bit of ironing.
2.BUY A LARGE WHITEBOARD
Draw out the weekly rota, the meal plan, washing etc, and allocate the responsible person.
3.WASHING, HANGING, FOLDING, IRONING AND STORING
Your kids and your husband are all capable of getting involved in this process, set a rota.
4.SCHOOL LUNCHES, PREP AND CLEANING
Get the kids involved in the decisions around what they will be bringing and they will feel more invested. No problem to them at this to own that duty.
5.DINNERS, PREP AND CLEANING
Good weekly planning, knowing in advance what the meal is each day and allocating a signature dish to the older child, something easy like pasta or an omelette, will give them a great sense of responsibility and achievement.
Try out online delivery services, use the window of time that your cleaner is in the house and maybe packing away can be one of their duties.
7.SPEND TIME TOGETHER AS A FAMILY
A family is not dissimilar to a business. What is your culture, what is your leadership, what are your values? Maybe start a monthly meeting to ask each whats working and what could be made better. You could give ask everyone to nominate a family member for kindness at each meeting, explaining why it meant so much to them. If you can bring kindness and support into the culture of your home, it will become natural for everyone to want to be part of that. You are not alone, you are in a family unit, you have a shared responsibility to make it work.
8.SPEND TIME AWAY FROM THEM
This should really be number one, but we didn't think you'd be ready! Go and take a long weekend away with your girlfriends. Get yourself out of there and let them fend for themselves. Let them see how much you make life easier for them. Then, come back refreshed and restored and start the conversations about the new regime. Psst - go somewhere REALLY nice, you deserve it!
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