I remember a few years ago when that stress level peaked. I had been home alone with twin babies for three days straight, while my husband was away hunting. I think one had just pooped in the bathtub when he came home, all relaxed and refreshed. He couldn’t wait to tell me about the “one that almost got away,” and I just wanted to punch him in the throat. I was at my limit and started in for all the reasons why.
From my experience, there are four directions at this point that a well-intentioned husband will choose to take. The first is to try to fix it: “What you need to do it hire a babysitter to help you when I’m gone.” True, maybe, but that isn’t helping the situation at the moment. Guys…please stop trying to step in to fix things, at least in the heat of the moment. We know you like to fix things, and we love you for it. Especially when you fix the faucet that’s been leaking for three months.
Second is to take the blame: “Fine then, apparently I can’t leave for three days in a row. I just won’t go hunting anymore.” Again, wrong answer. We don’t want you to internalize OUR problem and I’ll tell you a little secret why: Because it makes you look weak.
Third is one of my favorites, or at least my husband’s. It’s the “flight” solution. “Go! Run! Get out of here! Call some friends and go get drunk!” It’s empathizing, but not from a woman’s perspective. Yes, we’ve fantasized about running for the hills, but we know we inevitably have to return, most likely to a bigger mess than what we left. And I love drinking wine with my friends, but you should know by now that they need at least two weeks notice.
Fast forward to a similar “baby poop in the tub, husband returning from out of town” scenario. I can’t be specific because I honestly don’t recall the details. But what I do remember is my husband’s concerned eyes and six magical words: “What can I do to help?” I swear when I tell you I had a physical reaction, I am speaking the truth. My shoulders instantly relaxed and I exhaled deeply. I may have even seen a light shining down from the heavens. That’s it! You found the answer to solving this by asking a question! You’re brilliant. And hot.
Why does this work? Because it acknowledges our feelings. We already question whether we’re crazy for feeling the way we do. We see other women who seemingly have it all together. Clean homes, home cooked meals, successful careers, and never yelling at their kids. So why don’t we? This simple question says, “It’s going to be OK, and I don’t expect you to be perfect.”
It also shows empathy. It says, “Yes, this is a crazy life, and our kids are sometimes monsters, and I don’t know how you do it all. But it’s OUR life, and I’m here for you.”
Lastly, it displays leadership. I think this is a tough one for men to grasp. By nature, they want to come across as strong and direct, and offering help perhaps might make them appear vulnerable. If they ask this question, will their wife say something scary like suggesting marriage counseling? Trust me guys, it couldn’t be more opposite. It speaks confidence. It says, “Together we can fix this.” Oh, and did I mention it’s HOT? ;-)
And because in most families, it’s not just mom who gets stressed out, we can put these six words to good use, too. The other morning, our household was typical: running around making breakfast and lunches, dressing for work, and reminding kids to brush their teeth for the fifth time. My husband was especially stressed. He hadn’t slept well and had eight meetings that day, paperwork to drop off to the accountant, and a 3:00 orthodontist appointment for one of the boys. “What can I do to help?” I asked. “Would you mind picking up my dry cleaning?” he replied.
With a little patience and care, you have the power to smooth things out, or at least make things seem more manageable. Happy Mother’s Day to all you awesome moms out there, and “high-five” to those helpful husbands.
Written by Jill Carroll, mom, wife, and marketing manager of West Michigan Woman.