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There was a great moment in the show Everyone Loves Raymond where the wife explained how hard it is to talk to her husband, “When I need to talk to Ray about my feelings or our children, I know I have until the commercial’s over. That gives me 30 seconds. And if there’s a girl in the commercial, or a truck with big wheels, or, God forbid, a monkey, forget it!”
There is a lot of truth in that line. I have often felt as though I’m competing with everything from my husband’s tiredness, to the tv, to our daughter, for bits and pieces of his attention. And as a mom who homeschools, I need that adult interaction at the end of the day.
A regular evening in my home: My husband comes home from work, and as we try to talk about our day, our daughter pops in and out of the conversation with observations, comments, and stories of her own. I have things to say, and so does she. Quickly that conversation turns into dinnertime, which turns into family reading or tv time, and my husband is asleep within minutes of his head touching the pillow.
In a perfect world, we would have family time in the evening, and after our daughter was in bed, my husband and I would have time to talk. But that just isn’t our reality right now. Most nights we have limited family time, and time spent together as a couple is rare. After a long, hard day cutting trees, my husband is often the first person to fall asleep.
I started feeling shut down. Family time felt like chaos to me. I didn’t feel like I was being heard or that my voice mattered. It also didn’t help that when my husband is interrupted mid-thought he forgets what he is trying to say, and I was left with half-told stories and unanswered questions. I found myself becoming quickly annoyed at my family every evening, and grumpy was becoming my normal state.
This nearly constant grumpiness wasn’t helping my relationship with my husband, and it certainly wasn’t helping me to be a patient, loving mom.
I told myself that I was being selfish, petty, and childish. Surely three people could sit in a room and have a conversation without one person getting huffy and annoyed. I reminded myself that my daughter wanted a chance to talk to her dad and be heard too. I reminded myself that it is important for her to have that time.
But those reminders didn’t work. And I was shutting my daughter down every time she tried to say something, as if we were in some kind of competition. I’m not proud of that.
The day I reached a breaking point, I remembered a very important thing. Being honest about what I need isn’t selfish, it is healthy. I knew what I needed. I needed to be first. I needed to be able to talk about the day with my husband when he first came home – before dinner, tv, and yes, even our daughter entered into the evening.
I told my family I needed the first fifteen minutes of the evening before family time could begin.
They heard me (it turns out my voice does matter to them, and they actually listen pretty well; also they love me). And we made a change.
A new regular evening in my home: My husband comes home from work and puts his stuff inside. I remind our daughter she can use the computer or read because it is time for my fifteen minutes, and my husband and I go outside and sit on the step in front of our door. We talk. We spend fifteen minutes looking at each other without distractions, or interruptions. We talk about important stuff and unimportant stuff. We say, “I love you,” and occasionally get a little mushy. We work through small problems. We laugh.
I know fifteen minutes doesn’t sound like a big thing or a long time (and there are days when we go over fifteen), but I have realized we can say a lot to each other when we are alone and uninterrupted.
And when our fifteen minutes are up, I walk back inside a more centered, calm person.
I’m a more patient mom, a nicer wife, and a happier woman.
Then we have family time, and when my husband and daughter tell silly jokes, I am more likely to giggle with them than to be annoyed. I might even join in on the fun.
Tracie lives in Florida with her husband, daughter, and more books than her shelves will hold. She spends her days writing and homeschooling. Many of her words end up on her blog, From Tracie (where she also manages the monthly Blog Against Child Abuse) and on Twitter @FromTracie. Tracie loves office supplies, and takes pictures of things that are yellow.