Several months ago, Bill and I attended a marriage retreat. One of the talks centered around our expectations: conscious or unconscious, realistic or unrealistic. The moderator asked for any examples. I raised my hand. My husband groaned.
It wasn’t until that talk that I was able to pin down a source of friction in our marriage. Bill had always come home at dinner time…or later. The house was reasonably tidy. Dinner was nearly ready. If it was a late night, the kids were in their PJs and it was let’s-be-quiet-and-read-stories time, or they were already in bed. Over many years, I had conditioned him to expect a relatively quiet and pleasant home. In fact, he was usually home so late the year before our year in Kansas, that the kids were often not even awake when he got home, and the “baby” was a toddler not an infant. He was pretty much out-of-the-loop on 90% of the daily chaos that filled my life, and I was pretty much in-the-groove and managing just fine.
In Kansas, his school building was a five minute walk away. Classes were usually over by 1230 pm, or he might have to return after lunch for a guest speaker or one more class. He would come home around 1 pm to find a disaster. As I struggled to have my three students finish up their schoolwork for the day, he would have to blaze a trail from the front door to the kitchen through toys, books, puzzles, clothing and whatever else my mobile little ones had gotten into while I tended to the newborn and tried to keep students on task. In the kitchen, the breakfast dishes would be buried under the lunch dishes, and the counter would be covered in peanut butter and jelly and bread crusts. The floor would be sticky, and the milk would be getting warm sitting in the open. He would start yelling at the kids, and I’d get mad because they would only have a half hour more work to do, and I didn’t want to prolong the school day.
“So, it was unreasonable for him to expect a clean house when he got home at lunch time?” the moderator asked.
“Yes,” I said to a chorus of agreement from all the other stay-at-home moms with little ones.
But in recognizing my husband’s expectations, however unreasonable, I could address the issue or at least be more understanding of his irritation. I tried harder after that weekend to stop at some point in my morning to do a kitchen clean up before he got home and even to at least offer to make him his lunch, and I think he was more tolerant of the debris littering the floor.
For me, a schedule isn’t about knowing exactly what I’ll be doing at 3:17 pm. It’s about recognizing my family’s needs and priorities and assuring everyone that there is enough time for important things, including snuggling on the couch. It’s about managing expectations, so that the kids know mom isn’t going to suddenly interrupt their play because she just discovered the by-products of an hour-long art project or that dad won’t cancel their promised bike ride when he sees the mess in the kitchen. It’s about everybody knowing their role in the smooth functioning of the household, and it’s about dividing up the housework into small jobs done at different intervals so that nobody is overwhelmed.
It’s about me having the freedom to say “yes” to a child’s request for attention because I already have dinner in the crockpot, but also about me not feeling guilty for spending the baby’s morning nap time on the treadmill.
And so, here is my loose, flexible daily routine with plenty of margins:
7 am breakfast and cleanup, grooming and morning chores
9 am school (or free time)
12 pm lunch and cleanup
1 pm quiet time: naps or reading or coloring
2 pm free time (or finish school) and TV time if earned
430 pm afternoon chores, tidy house, dinner and cleanup
630 pm family time: reading or games or just talking
730 pm baths and pajamas
8 pm prayers and bedtime
Prior to 7 am and after 8 pm is “adult” time with obvious exceptions for sick children or extended family time. The children’s chores don’t usually take very long (“feed dog” = 1 minute, “vacuum dining room” may take 6 or 7 because of all those chairs that have to be moved). And the afternoon “free time” is for the kids, since that’s my time to prep dinner, make phone calls, pay bills, plan meals, etc. Even then, I don’t mind interruptions once I have dinner prepped, especially knowing that at 430, the whole household begins to tidy up and work together to get dinner on the table.
Speaking of interruptions…Bill is home and we’re off to his company picnic. Woohoo, no kitchen cleanup!