I have the privilege of being a stay-at-home mom to our 6-year-old twins.
My husband works full time and is out of town once a week.
I think we have a good relationship. However, this is a constant issue: My husband would like to be included in our activities – going to the zoo, miniature golfing, indoor playgrounds, etc. – and feels that I purposely exclude him.
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I have tried to explain that he’s not in town, the event is only offered this date/time, and I’m trying to occupy the children during their summer vacation.
He believes I should ask him if he wants to attend and schedule these activities on the weekend when he can go.
He believes I am excluding him and feels I should ask him to join us even if I know he’s going to say he can’t go.
I do want my husband to be involved in these fun days, but it’s challenging enough to entertain the kids during the week; to limit these outings to just the weekend doesn’t seem realistic to me. Am I being inconsiderate and difficult?
DEAR K: A little, but it pairs nicely with his being a little ridiculous and a lot out of line.
Accusing you of excluding him, on purpose, when you’re home and he’s out of town? Really?
Of course you can’t save every activity for the weekends. But, here’s where you’re choosing not to bend: Of course you can invite him “even if I know he’s going to say he can’t go.” I think that plea right there explains and reveals the true nature of his distress, and why he sounds unhinged: He feels he’s missing his kids’ childhood, it’s eating at him, and you’ve given no sign that you understand how he feels.
So find out whether this is the case by giving him that sign.
Again, it won’t be practical to push everything to the weekend. (In fact, to prove this to him, arrange for him to be home for a summer week with the kids while you visit friends – stipulating that he save the fun field trips for your return.)
But, you can include him in your plans this way: “I’m thinking this week I take the kids to the zoo, on a nature walk and to an ‘open bounce’ at Exhaust-a-Kid. Which one would you like me to save for the weekend?” It is a compact bundle of inclusion, validation and realism that leaves you otherwise free to manage your weekdays as the vacant hours demand.
If he remains adamant that he’s being wronged, then you no longer have the luxury of believing this is about mini-golf.
Ask him, kindly, what the real issue is. If compassion can’t coax out a truth, then let a skilled couples’ therapist try.
DEAR CAROLYN: My problem seems very petty on the surface. I am in my 30s and my mother still corrects me all the time … most often in front of other people. It bothers me deeply.
You see, I was raised in a household where you were expected to get excellent grades, have excellent manners and not give in to emotional outbursts, with parents who constantly chanted the mantra of “do better than we have done” – 100 percent of the time. I can appreciate that a lot of their guidance has been beneficial – on work ethic, treating people with respect but standing up to discourtesy, and being there to help others who are not in a good situation – but it also has instilled in me an enormous amount of pressure to be perfect. I have had to do an incredible amount of therapeutic work to stop myself from forcing this perfectionist expectation on other people, including my spouse, while also allowing myself to fall down once in a while. I am also an editor (and sometimes writer). I self-edit all the time; I don’t need someone else to pile on.
Sometimes I feel like screaming at her in frustration, “I am an adult and I don’t need you correcting me all the time like I am still a child who needs to learn how to speak properly from you. I make choices in wording based on who I am and how I feel, not the King’s bloody English!” How can I broach this subject without berating her or disrespecting the way she and my father parented?
These maternal corrections are all bundled up in the heavy emotions of your upbringing, which is understandable. Mom fussed you onto a therapist’s couch after all.
But the answer here is not to frustration-scream your entire psycho-linguistic mission statement. When you explain yourself, especially in public, defensiveness gets the last word.
Instead, pull out your most salient point and shut her down with it, lightly, in the moment: “I’m all grown up, Mother. You can stop raising me now.” Smile. Repeat as needed, verbatim. This is her baggage on display, after all – don’t throw yours on the pile.
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