“When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out.” ~Erma Bombeck
Parenthood is one of the most challenging, rewarding, confusing and personal growth experiences someone can have. Having recently become a grandparent and having had some time between my daughter’s childhood and her becoming a mother, I am watching with a newfound lens on how this all works – and I am truly amazed! Although she is a working mom, we talk about the weekends when she is singly managing this role from dawn to dusk and she is convinced that both ways of parenting are joyous and conflicting in their own way. In an earlier blog article I wrote about the quest for work-life balance as a parent and the feelings that come when you are out of balance; in this blog I want to talk about the importance of understanding the stay-at-home parent as an essential step in retaining balance in the relationship.
Imagine this scene: You’ve had a “normal” day with kids at home, your spouse left the home at 6:00 AM and returns at 6:00 PM and immediately upon his/her return asks the very innocent question of, “How was your day?” Where do you begin? Is a minute-by-minute account of the day beginning with spit-ups, food on the floor, the cat’s tail being pulled, the doorbell ringing [setting the dogs barking], the toddler disappearing into a pile of dirty laundry, and the 6 year old proudly showing you the artwork she brought home from school the night before where you begin? Or is the reply typically uttered, “Fine.”
Speaking with stay-at-home parents they talk about having many conflicting emotions and sensory experiences during a day that there is a newfound appreciation for the term “head reeling” that is formed. In an article on stay-at-home parenting appearing in the Huffington Post Parent Blog [Jan. 24, 2014], the following was presented as the most accurate answer this parent would give to the question, “How was your day?”
How was my day? Today has been a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode. I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone. I was saturated — just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do. Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst. At 3:30 today I decided that we should adopt four more children, and then at 3:35 I decided that we should give up the kids we already have for adoption. But I’m not complaining. This is not a complaint, so don’t try to FIX IT. I wouldn’t have my day Any. Other. Way. I’m just saying — it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain – how my day was.
What can happen with couples where one of the parents is the homeworker is a growing feeling of not being understood or appreciated for the efforts and complications of a day at home with children, and the out-of-home working parent can begin to feel dismissed. So, how can communication be enhanced where both parties can feel appreciated and cared for?
We first want to explore the day’s events with open-ended questions, questions designed to invite information and opportunity to share with someone who really does want to listen.
Emotion/Action Focused Questions.
We then want the questions to focus on the various feelings and emotions that can happen in a given day where things just aren’t simple and easy.
Here are some examples:
- What happened today that made you feel loved?
- When did you feel lonely?
- How did I show you today that you are appreciated?
- What did I say or do that made you feel unnoticed?
- Tell me about a “magical moment” you had today?
- What can I do to help you right now?
Reconnecting with our partner in this way allows us to attend to them as a thinking, feeling and cared for person in our life; we communicate an understanding that their day’s experience is beyond description, and that the response “Fine.” is a missed opportunity to deepen our understanding of each other.