Whining

             “Mommy, I’m very jealous,” he declares from the middle row of our minivan.  Although my eyes are trained on the traffic in front of me, I am well aware of the pout that accompanies that tone of voice.  I proceed cautiously, because I also know that his four-year-old sense of justice requires me immediately to remediate the situation once he has voiced his dissatisfaction.  “Gavin’s daddy drops him off at school every day.”

            Hitting my right turn signal so I can queue up to get on the 405, I silently curse Gavin’s daddy.  I’m jealous, too, I want to say.  I’m jealous that Gavin’s mommy only has to come to the preschool once a day. I’m jealous that she does not have to parent all by herself on the weekdays.  And, most of all, I’m jealous that she does not have to hear her son kvetch all week long about not having his daddy around.

            Of course, this is not how I respond.  I glance in my side-view mirror and say, “I know you miss your Daddy, baby.  He’s working really hard right now.  I miss him, too.  But, you get to see him all weekend, and you get Mommy dropping you off at school.”  Even as I say this, I know I am offering weak solace, at best. 

            Zachary is at that age when children start to identify with the same-sex parent.  He is trying to learn what it means to be a man, and he is looking around for role models.  Unfortunately, there are none to be found.  From Monday to Friday, my kids rarely speak to an adult male, much less see their father.  When he is not on the road, my husband leaves for work before they wake and returns once they are in bed.

            It is hard on the children, I am fully aware, but it is the nature of his work.  Even as recently as a few months ago, I railed against it myself.  I admonished Jacob that we could not continue this way indefinitely.  “You are going to need to find a way to be here a few evenings a week,” I told him.  “We always said we would not be one of those families where the kids never see their father.”

            Jacob, on the other hand, was between a rock and a very hard place.  What exactly was he supposed to do?  He was giving his all to a project at work that demanded his attention, but he was also giving his all on the weekends to his kids.  How much “all” did he have to give?

            My friends fueled my frustration.  Tell him he needs to pull back from work, they advised.  It’s not fair to you or the kids.  We are the generation that is not going to be like our parents, with the father scarcely seeing the kids because work is so all-consuming.  I was enforcing fairness and the values we had agreed upon long before we had children.

            When we had first discussed having children, we had promised one another that Jacob’s career would not become more important than mine, even if he earned more than I did.  We declared that he would always be home to tuck the kids in, except when he was travelling.  We pledged to maintain a sane work-life balance, even if it meant a career sacrifice. 

            However, when we so sagaciously committed ourselves to this perfectly aligned equation of parenting, we failed to factor in the variable of Wall Street raining bricks while the housing market sank.  We neglected to foresee our savings bleeding value and layoffs across almost every industry. 

            Whoops.

            It becomes a lot harder to nag my husband to leave a job he loves in search of one that brings him home in time for bath when there are no jobs for the getting.  I have suddenly gained the perspective of valuing the fact that he is employed, even if he spends more time working than I would like.  Not everyone is so fortunate these days.

            Suddenly, counting our blessings involves appreciating the chance to work one’s tail off.  The economy is giving us a new outlook on all of the alternative scenarios.

            As I veer the car off onto the Olympic/Pico exit, Zachary informs me he only wants Daddy.  I acknowledge his complaint, although the refrain is getting a little stale as far as I am concerned.  Really, child?  Is that much whining absolutely necessary?

            From Zach’s perspective, of course, the whining is warranted, and perhaps it is even effective.  If he draws enough attention to the tragic state of affairs, perhaps it will miraculously resolve itself.  Resolution-by-bitching, as it were.  Only from an adult viewpoint is whining pointless.  As we mature, we realize that complaining about the unchangeable merely puts us in a foul mood; results are best obtained through actual action. 

            This economic catastrophe has been one giant kick in the rear for the country and the world, forcing us to stop complaining to one another about how hard life is and start looking for real solutions.  I turn into my driveway, considering that, in fact, our family does not have it so bad.  

24 responses to “Whining

  1. Isn’t that the truth. We don’t have it so bad, either.

  2. Tough choices. And it’s true, it could be lots worse. You could live in Afghanistan.
    It’s heartbreaking for me to see the paradox that so many children are growing up with- the necessity of role models to teach them how to *be*, and the parent attempting to provide for the family. Your son will always miss his dad. And someday, he’ll understand why he was away so often.
    Blessings.

  3. Reality is hard. And right now, having a job is important. But, at least he is there, if only on the weekends. Sometimes I think kids know just the right buttons to push to make us feel bad.

  4. it’s strange sometimes to find yourself in roles you never intended to play. I struggle with that too.

  5. I second what defiantmuse said.

    The boat I’m in is somewhat similar to yours. My husband and I are both busy working round the clock. I haven’t had even an hour by myself in 6 months, but my husband can’t spare any more time from his work. He has a startup, and it’s not only his job, but the jobs of quite a few others, that depend on him putting in the hours.

    I find myself wondering, seriously, how you manage all that you do, Emily. I’m struggling to keep my head above water with only 2 kids, one of whom goes to daycare a few days a week, and a husband who works from home and takes care of the older one’s bedtime. How do you manage, for example, bedtime for the boys when you are taking care of the baby?

    This is something I’ve been wondering about a lot recently. How people manage to juggle.

  6. I agree. The economy and the uncertainty of my SO’s work has made me stop bitching and be thankful for the job security I do have. Brings to mind a clip I saw this morning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoGYx35ypus

  7. We made those same promises to one another when we first became parents. We have been fortuante that his job has always enabled us to keep that promise. But I understand that once you are bound my a mountain of financial responsibility and the economy is looking grim, priorities change. We would like to relocate to be closer to family, but that’s just not going to happen right now. Having a job is the thing that is driving our lives right now. I have hope though. Things have got to get better.

  8. All I can say is … I feel your pain.

    The other irony I find is that I wanted to be able to stay home because I think it is so important — but that puts all the more pressure on him to keep his good job in order to provide so I can be home which then eats at the kids ability to have him in their lives. Frustrating.

  9. I do keep reminding myself of this, particularly as my job keeps telling me how LUCKY I am they aren’t laying me off (even though they are doing X and Y and Z and we are all well aware that they are, behind the scenes, already planning the lay-offs).

  10. My boys see their daddy every night (although sometimes for just an hour) and they still whine that he can’t take them to school or pick them up. I try not to take it personally…

    And I try not to complain about hubby coming home later and later, and more and more stressed out from work. I try to just be thankful he has a job that keeps him so busy. But it is still hard. I can’t imagine having him travel all week long. Ugh.

  11. Weekends count too. It’s great you could see the good. If we can put food on the table and have drinkable water and our house and we’re all healthy, we are blessed indeed.

  12. Yup. I’ve become much more thankful for my cramped two bedroom condo and the jobs we have in the past few months. I read recently that previous to the Great Depression, recessions were seen as a good thing, the needed down in the ebbs and flows that reminded us to live responsibily, etc. Maybe we need to get back to that. But I wouldn’t mind a bit more security too (even if its a false sense of security really).

  13. you humble me and remind me to count my blessings. even though Dave works pretty much around the clock, his 9-5 is precisely that and the rest can be fit in mostly after baths and bedtime. he does mornings sometimes too, if i’ve been up with the bebe. and his work may not pay great, but we live in a cheap part of the world and i get government mat leave and the university that employs him isn’t likely to close its doors.

    i think i have been taking for granted the fact that we’ve been as able as we have been to balance this work/life thing…now that i pay attention, i notice how much luck has been on our side.

  14. It’s not quite as bad around here, but my husband just recently started a full-time job after working freelance for 10 years. It’s been quite an adjustment for me, going from having him available during the day (at least some of the time) to his working long days, and sometimes weekends. It’s hard on everyone, but like you I try to be grateful that I have this ‘problem’, which is really more of a blessing these days.

  15. My husband was just gone for a few weeks and my kid took to hugging other kids’ dads (other, the one SAHD dad we know). It’s nice to have a daddy.

    Things are horrible now. My husband’s job is in jeopardy. I might have to work full time. But at least I have that option already made available. It’s a hard time.

  16. It’s amazing how things have changed on every level for families so quickly. I know we’re working a lot more since a huge part of our retirement and the college fund evaporated, and we’re just glad that we have that option.

    I’m a firm believer that quality outdoes quantity on most subjects. If your husband is spending his weekends truly giving his attention to your boys, then that’s better than a lot of dads who come home exhausted every day, plop down on the couch and ignore the kids.

    Of course, the kids don’t understand that now, but they will.

    Even though our son is incredibly lucky to have both parents with very rare flexibility when it comes to work

  17. We are kinda in the same boat that you are. I look around and think, we have it okay. Yes, I miss my husband when he works until 11pm. Yes, my kids need him more than the weekends. But I know it’s temporary and we have this motto here, at least he has a job. Some days I say it more than others, some days it doesn’t help at all. But it is true.

  18. Excellent post.

    I have been that mother and have tried to explain how busy daddy is and how important work is, and how he loves his children and would spend every day, all day with them, if he could. It’s very tough to explain to kids that age – they just don’t get it.

    However . . . we are recent victims of a completely unexpected lay off. My husband was a successful software engineer for a high tech company here in Canada and one day they underwent some restructuring, and suddenly he is home mid-day explaining to his wife that he no longer has a job. And I am currently off work and at home full time with three kids four and under. Scary stuff.

    The first couple weeks he was home were a novelty and kind of exciting for the kids – except that they don’t understand why his is “working” all day. It requires him working 9-5 (at least) every day just to research and find jobs, prepare his resume, talk to recruiters and head hunters, and go to interviews. Now that we are on week four of him at home, the excitement has worn off, we are edgy, stressed, and bickering a lot. I swear life was better for the kids when he was working all the time. I hope that doesn’t sound bad, and I certainly don’t want you to feel badly for what you wrote, just wanted to share our position.

    The good news? We are healthy, happy, blessed and both of us are highly educated. Things will fall in place for us eventually, that much is certain.

  19. you have a beautiful gift for getting right to the heart of it

  20. The economic news is really beginning to terrify me.

  21. Your post reminds me that I’m very glad I don’t have a child given my financial situation. I think I’m going to have to teach myself how to write code, because everyone I know in that industry seems inexplicably fine and fancy free.

  22. Now reading up a few I see Shannon’s story, and retract my second sentence with a heavy sigh.

  23. I’ve tried writing a comment about six times now.. I want you to know I am reading but this is a tough one.

    Yes– it’s absolutely great to have perspective that you are fortunate and I agree that in this economic climate, people ARE fortunate to have a family income, health care coverage, etc. But also– it’s totally OK to want your husband to spend more time with your children, to yearn for more balance in the work-home department, to have concerns about the message the mommy & daddy current roles send to your children. So whining might not change anything, but naming what we wish for when the time will allow it lets it be known that you want to work for a change.

  24. I personally lived through many tearful good-byes with my three-year old daughter whenever I had to travel for business. So much so, it inspired me to leave my corporate job and write a children’s book called, My Mommy’s on a Business Trip (I’m coming out with the dad version this fall). It will help calm kids down and not feel as resentful or confused (or in this case, jealous) about travel. I mention it here not as shameless promotion but as something that I hope will help your family. The book just came out in November so not a lot of people know about it yet.

    I also have a number of tips to help kids feel better about travel and to stay well connected while away. I’d be happy to share them here, if interested. Just email me.

    Good luck!