Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thoughts About Harried Wife Syndrome

Marriage is under attack today in my old neighborhood. I can only pray and hope about that outcome today. Here's my first stab at talking about an even more insidious erosion of sacramental marriage--a rotting from the inside out.

My husband needs me. It doesn't matter how many non-sleeping toddlers and newborns we have in our house. I doesn't matter how critical I think homeschooling is this year. I doesn't matter how many church committees I get invited on. It doesn't matter how much I want to pray, or write, or organize a craft room.

If it gets to the point (like this past summer) where I scowl, or hiss, or look at him regularly like "there is nothing more inside me honey, I don't know where you think this extra energy to take care of your needs is going to come from?" It's up to me to back up and start over.

There's a book called "A Mother's Rule of Life" that I heard touted about online but I rushed to pick up before this year. As a Carmelite, I'm totally allergic to rules. This isn't "rules" about household management--this is more about Order. The author talks about a hierarchy of needs. Here's the passage that really helped me. (Thinking about putting this 5 P things in order)

Partner (Spouse)
Parenting (Kids)
Profession (Ummm, I can't really remember the exact title of the 5th P, and the book is with a sleeping baby so can't check it right now.--but basically it would be work for my husband and household management for me).

This simple chart was revolutionary for me to chew over last summer. First, It conquered my feelings of envy. I'm a messy person-with frizzy hair and loose (okay practically non-existent) sense of household order. I really envied my friends who had clean houses, lots of kids, and beautifully smooth lives. I realized that I had mistakenly assumed that if the "household management" part of their life was smooth, that it meant they had hit the other four parts of their life in order too. That wasn't necessarily the case. Moreover, I shouldn't be spending my time on pinterest, dreaming of organized pencil boxes for my home--I wasn't on that level yet. That would be a "misuse" of my time and attention.

What did shock me, was the "Person" level. I had to go back and find the inner Abigail that had gotten lost under layers of "Ack! There is a crying newborn in my house!"

I had gotten confused--and unintentionally become a member of the  Association of Women Suffering From Harried Wife Syndrome--because everyone kept talking about "the need to put yourself last." I don't know how many Catholic chats I had where it was told to me "God First, Then Others, Then Yourself." That is very true, except that service occurs after you've had a shower!

If you haven't had a baby yet, you probably think this is crazy disorganized of me, but there were many days that I didn't get a shower until 4:30 in the afternoon because I had a kid with colic. I'd wake up at 5:30 AM and she would be screaming. I'd nurse her until 6:30, and then the toddler needed milk and a diaper change. Then my six year old wanted oatmeal, which I made while bouncing a mad newborn on my shoulder because no kidding, she had turned herself strawberry red while screaming for the three minutes it took to change her older sister's diaper.  Round and round it would go.

I neglected myself.

I neglected my husband--who is the better half of myself, because that was part of neglecting myself.

It's been very strange in this journey to go back and "reinject Abigail" into my life. I feel like I got everything peeled away as a stay-at-home mother. I gave up my career dreams. I gave up my artistic dreams. I gave up my little vanities and pleasures. Here's the thing--that was very holy! I was not a pure, well-formed soul when I entered into this marriage--so I needed God to strip away my very, selfish and hardened heart.

Yet now we are in a stage of "reintroducing" Abigail back into her life. It's not going back to the old ways of chatting for hours at Art Gallery Openings or coffee houses. It's things that are so injured and forgotten, I didn't even think I could do them anymore. Tennis. Running. Scrabble. Chocolate Souffle.

Now, no matter how many shades of frustrated my sensitive baby girl becomes, she goes in her crib in the morning. I have an early morning coffee with my husband. I pray with Jesus. I put on my tennis shoes and run in front the sidewalk in our house. I take a shower. I fuss with my curly hair. I write a blog post. Then I spend the rest of my day, taking care of others ahead of myself. Its easier to take care of myself when I have the inspiration to do so in order to "serve others better." Its easier to serve others better, when I'm feeling more fresh and hopeful myself each day.

I don't want to be a Harried Wife, anymore. When I get like that, I hurt my marriage.


  1. I am new to your blog, I got here through theroadhomewv. I can relate, not to the children part but the stuff about forgetting yourself and your marriage. Even with infertility it is easy to forget who you are and your vocation. I love the line "as a Carmelite, I am allergic to rules", me too!

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  3. Kat, I think infertility is right up there in terms of major life stress.

    It was interesting for me that the wife in "Fireproof" had a mother who had a disabling stroke one year ago. Any kind of chronic stress on the heart of a woman--a sick relative, infertility, or a needy child--risks a sort of special "caregiver burn out" that hurts a marriage.

    It's not easy to remember that our perfectly healthy, self-reliant, happy to cook his own dinner husbands still need us too. Thankfully, God hands us a sacrament that is constantly healing itself, and us in it.

  4. Abigail, you have really been speaking to my heart lately. THANK YOU.

  5. This is really helpful, thank you. It's confirming a message God has been trying to teach me.

  6. I don't know what it is about having my hair and make up on that makes me more available to others during the day. I think it means I'm also in a good mood and that I have energy.

    I used to do this working, why won't I give the same respect to my family of putting myself together and greeting them fresh and not just out of bed?

    I try to do it every single day. I let them both scream until I'm ready to meet them. :)

    I'm toying with the idea of waking up at 5am every day....I need to pray, get dressed, have coffee and make hubs lunch all before the day begins. THat is what I need for me to be able to meet the demands of the day without loosing my religion. :)

  7. thank you for this. i just had my 1st 2 mo. ago... hence this horrid, one-handed typing :) ... and in spite of his fussiness, most days (and thanks to grandparents who live very close), I manage to get a shower and get dressed. At first I thought i was being selfish b/c at the end of the day, the house wasn't immaculate soooo shouldn't i skip the shower/makeup in the morning?? problem was it seemed like every day i skipped getting ready, something would come up that really required me to go into public, smell decent etc. And at the end of the day, my dh seemed so much happier when i was dressed like the woman he married vs. the harried new mom. And the beauty of making the effort on most days is that the truly disastrous days when i end up a total mess suddenly seem like less of a big deal b/c it's not our "new norm" - just 1 off day.

  8. This is spot-on! Thanks, Abigail, for taking time to inspire us. Every post you've written lately has also resonated with me. I've been dwelling on this very subject over the past week.

  9. Exactly my sentiments. Just about anything can keep a person from the most important priorities in their lives...thanks for reminding me.