Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t know what to do and could really use your help. I have two young kids, a full-time job, a house, a car, and a husband who is constantly getting on my nerves. I have everything I thought I always wanted and I’m miserable. The joy of being the picture-perfect family of four has worn off, and now I’m just tired and annoyed. And, of course, I feel guilty for feeling that my kids aren’t enough. I love them, and I love my husband, but I just need a break. Is that even possible? I’m feeling uncreative, uninspired and unmotivated to do much. When the occasional friend calls to get together, I’m usually too tired or stressed out to make it. Am I just in a slump? Or is this what married mom life is really all about? And if so, why did I want this??
Dear Hating It,
Whoever told you that getting married and having kids was going to make you happy? I know – only every TV show and movie and book you ever read. It’s not your fault that you expected the mere presence of a family to make your life complete.
There’s a societal push to get us all into domestic life as soon as we hit our mid-20s. Get on the assembly line, get a job, get a car, get married, have a kid, have another kid, don’t have too many kids because that’ll weird people out, now take care of your kids and be happy like the rest of us.
When I was a kid The Talking Heads released their song “Once in a Lifetime” with that amazing lyric “this is not my beautiful house / this is not my beautiful wife.” I listened to that as a child and I could not wrap any part of my head around it. Of course that’s your house, of course that’s your wife. Why would you ever feel otherwise? But now, BUT NOW, as a grown adult with a house and husband and a child, I get it. You’ve done the things you were supposed to do, you have the things that you’re supposed to have, but the meaning you were promised didn’t arrive along with them. It’s as though you’re living someone else’s life. It’s as though it was all assigned to you instead of chosen by you. It’s as though you’re living a lie.
We sell each other the lie that once you have a house and a job and a car and a husband and 2.5 kids your life will be complete and you’ll be fully satisfied. All boxes checked, all striving done, everything finally perfect. But the laugh/cry emoji truth is that getting married and having kids is when the work STARTS. And, as you know, IT. IS. WORK. Being a married mom is, frankly, weird and hard.
Your husband is annoying you, but your husband isn’t the problem. Your children aren’t giving you fulfillment, but your children aren’t the problem. Your problem is that life right now feels very different from your assumption of what this life should feel like. You’re dissatisfied while also feeling guilty for being dissatisfied while also being pulverized by the ridiculous grind of working parent daily life. We expect parents to wake up at 6am, get kids ready to go, get kids to daycare/school, go to work, work for at least eight hours, go get those kids from daycare, go back home, make a fresh home-cooked dinner, clean up, watch over homework, then get those kids to bed, and then have a full romantic life with their spouse in that short 26-minute window before you both fall asleep in front of the TV. It’s too fucking much. It’s unsustainable. It’s the worst plan and guaranteed to make you crazy out of your mind. And yet, it’s what we tell each other to strive for. It’s what we take pictures of and put on Instagram as #blessed.
My mom was very honest with me. She told me that raising three kids and working full-time and running the small business of our family kind of sucked. She loved us, she loved having us, but what she actually enjoys, day in and day out, is right now, now that we’re grown and gone. Now that we bring grandchildren to her home and then leave after a few hours. Now that she can finally do exactly whatever it is that she wants.
Family life is very fulfilling to some people, and not so fulfilling to others. Being unfulfilled doesn’t mean that you’re fucking up – it just means that you need to forgive yourself for being disappointed and forgive your family for disappointing you. Because, you know, your family isn’t the problem. The problem is that you expected your family to be your solution. Forgive them for not making you happy by realizing that it isn’t their job to make you happy. Not your husband, not your kids, not a single human on this planet. You gotta make you happy – no one else can.
While we’re at it, cut your husband some goddamn slack. You don’t get into what he’s doing to get on your nerves, so I’m going to assume it’s normal human shit like breathing and chewing food. Find a way to like him again because you’re going to need him to help you pull through these deep, messy years of child-raising.
Right now you’re sunk down low. You’re underwater and can’t even muster the energy to get your head above water. You’re eschewing the behaviors that will help you. Of course you hate everything, because there’s nothing here for you. Let’s make something for you.
What would help you? One less activity for the kids so you can have free time on the weekends? Hiring a cleaning service? Giving something more to your husband – making dinner, doing dishes, getting the kids from daycare? I want you to claim some time for yourself because no one will give you the time you need — you gotta take it. This is your permission to TAKE IT.
I want you to carve out two hours every week that you use to do exactly whatever the fuck it is that you want. And you must leave the house during this time and you must do a fun thing. Go for a walk, get coffee, take a class, do some bar trivia, take your people and go. Reconnect with you outside of your family. Restore your sense of self. When you get home, you’ll find that you have a new reserve for your family because, you see, when you’re less annoyed, more relaxed, you’ll be able to see your family. You’ll be able to look at the faces of your family, actually look at them, and not to manage them or plan their day or ask them to stop making that noise, but instead see how fragile and beautiful and wonderful they are.
Kill your idealized dream of how life should be and reconnect with what is. You have a lot of good shit here – work on seeing it.
Practice creating gratitude with your children. Every night, list off with them three good things that happened that day. Practice gratitude with your husband. When you see him again after being apart for a few hours, greet him. Notice him. Appreciate him. Hug him, kiss him, embrace, smile. He’s here, he’s yours, you picked him, so enjoy him.
Get out of your house. Get out of your head. Meaning will never be given to you – you must seek it out. Find the time, find the motivation, and find yourself.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.