I don’t like to be told what to do. (Who does, really?) And if that something that I need to do involves making a change in myself? Well then, whoever is brave enough to tell me to my face had better be wearing a helmet and a sports cup.
Just about the only people in the world that I can take direct criticism from are Chris and my sister. Ginny keeps me in check when I’m being stupid or immature. She tells me to get over things, grow up, and let it go. And though I sometimes get mad at her in the conversation, almost always, I go away somewhere by myself to lick my ego’s wounds and then I think about what she said and usually I make some changes. Sisters are great for reality checks.
Chris hardly ever criticizes me. Ever. He’s a good man and patient beyond belief, so when he tells me I’m doing something wrong or need to make some changes, I usually listen up. You’d think having that much of an impact on a person would give him a power trip, but it never has. He is selective when it comes to asking things of me and because of that, I always take him seriously.
On our way to Atlanta, after the kids had fallen asleep for the night and while we sat in comfortable silence, Chris came right out with a request.
“I need you to make a little more effort, Kate,” he said.
He had said this to me the week before, but it had been in a tense voice over two cranky kids and dinner on the stove, so we had just fought about it for five minutes and then moved on. It wasn’t productive (or even kind) at all. But hearing him speak to me thoughtfully and lovingly helped me let my guard down a bit so that I was really able to hear what he was saying.
The immediate problem he needed more effort in was with our money. Since my meltdown last year, Chris has taken over our finances to take some of the load off of me and I cannot tell you how helpful that has been. He took it over completely and except for an occasional, “Go easy this week,” I really hear very little about our money. Which is why I am ashamed to admit that the few times Chris has come to me to help him make financial decisions, I have pushed him away or melted down and not been able to have the conversation.
“I know you’re still anxious about money,” he told me in the car. “But we’re doing okay now and I really need you to get back to the point where you can help me make some decisions. It’s not fair that I have to decide budgetary things about our money by myself. It’s too much pressure for one person. You should be able to help me. Not with the day-to-day, but with the long-term planning. I need you to get to a place where you can help me.”
I listened to what he said and I knew he was right. In fact, maybe some of my anxiety would go away if I was more involved and knew what was going on. Once I agreed to make more of an effort, Chris thanked me and then said, “Actually, I need you to make a little more effort around the house, too.”
That’s when I started to get defensive. I do a TON around our house – cooking, laundry, diapers, bath time, bedtime, blogging… Who was he to tell me I needed to do MORE?
But Chris, knowing me so well, reached over and held my hand before I could explode and told me to listen. “It’s not about chores. I need you to make a little more effort with responsibilities. Things like sorting the mail, instead of refusing to open it. Answering emails, instead of asking me if I’ve looked at them. Our household is just a little messy right now and I need you to get to the place where you can help make it better.”
Once again, I knew just what he was talking about.
The truth is that last year when I had my meltdown and crawled into my black hole for a while, it was all those little things that I lost track of. I stopped opening mail – even to the point of not paying our bills. I stopped checking my email because there was just so much of it and it overwhelmed me. I didn’t manage our family calendar. I’d make appointments and then not go, or I’d forget to make the appointment altogether (case and point, Gracie STILL hasn’t been baptized and I forgot to schedule her six month vaccinations). I stopped planning our meals and clipping coupons. If it required planning or patience, I basically gave up doing it. Partly because I was depressed and partly as a solution to the depression. I cut myself some slack. I asked for help and I learned how to take help when it was offered. And there wasn’t a thing in the world wrong with that.
But now, things are better. I’m not overwhelmed (more than normal…). I’m happy and healthy and our family is back where we needed and wanted to be. And so, Chris was right. It was time for me to start taking some of that responsibility back for myself. I’ve had a whole year of excusing myself from details so that I could get better. And I did. But now, it’s time for me to start picking my load back up again.
I told my friend, Sarah, about the conversation I had with Chris and when I confessed that I was a bit of a mess at home, she was shocked.
“Your classroom is one of the most organized places I’ve ever seen,” she had said. “Maybe you just need to implement some of the same procedures that you use in your classroom in your home.”
I decided she was exactly right. What my home life needed was structure. We have a pretty clear routine, but we don’t have many structures or procedures in place. In my classroom, my students know where to turn in homework every day and where and how to check out books from my library. They know where the extra pencils are kept and they know where to keep their materials throughout class. I needed some of that same structure in my home and then maybe it wouldn’t be so overwhelming to me to take on some of that responsibility again.
I decided to start small. Our entry way in the new house is a little tricky because you have to come up a flight of stairs before you put your stuff down. And when I would finally get upstairs, hauling all my stuff and two kids in the afternoons, I’d usually just fling everything into a big arm chair and that’s where it’d stay until we left the house again. Papers piled up there, random mail, coats, keys, cell phones, shoes – it was just a big mess. So, last weekend as soon as we got home from Atlanta, I asked Chris to move one of our small cabinets into that entry way.
It has a key bowl to hold keys and sunglasses (because I am ALWAYS losing both of those). There’s a plug for my cell phone charger (because I am ALWAYS losing that, too).
And there is storage space down below to hold all of our daily bags that we use – lunch bags, diaper bags, my school bag, my purse, etc. Now it all has a place.
Now, I have a place to sort through the mail and put my things so that my house doesn’t look like a college apartment. Is that a solution to all our problems? Not by a long shot. But it is a beginning step for me. I know myself and I know that I have an urge to please people and so my first instinct is to just take on the world because Chris asked me to make a few minor changes. But if I do that, I’m going to sink again under the weight of everything. So, I’m starting with small steps. Like meal planning and doing a load of laundry every night.
And this weekend, I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning out the NEWBORN clothes from Gracie’s closet (see how bad it had gotten?!?!).
None of these are life changing, but they are changing my marriage day by day. Chris really appreciates me stepping up and helping more. He likes coming home to a house that isn’t going crazy and not having to search around for mail or step over piles of laundry. And, you know, so do I.
Chris and I have been together a long time and through all those years, I’ve come to see him in a lot of different roles. Sometimes he’s my husband and sometimes he’s like a brother. Sometimes his presence is commanding, like a father, and sometimes he is like having a third child. But the role he plays in my life that I am the most appreciative for is the role of my best friend. Having a kind, loving voice of reason who helps me become the best version of myself is a quality in our marriage for which I am very thankful.