Need some advice about dh's work

freezetagAugust 7, 2007

I am just doing a reality check, because I am the only one who feels that there is a problem with my marriage. Dh and I have been married 13 years and have 4 kids, ages 4 - 11. We both work, but I am upset to be working 35 - 40 hours per week, while he works 110 - 120. He works a 24- hour shift as a firefighter 2 or 3 days a week, and the other days, drops the kids off at the sitter at 9:00 a.m., and returns at 10:00 p.m. I leave at 6:00 a.m. so I can be home by 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

It is really difficult for me to handle 4 kids and their homework, activities and bedtime by myself. I would accept it if it were necessary, but it isn't. We are not rich, but don't have a problem making our house payment or putting food on the table. It hasn't always been this way - just the last six months or so. Before that, he worked every day, but would at least come home for the evenings. It just seems to be getting gradually worse.

The shiftwork won't change, but the other days, dh is working as an independent contractor and can set his own hours. I think it's fine to work long hours when you're single or childless, but feel that it is selfish and irresponsible of dh to work as much as he does after having four kids. My friends and family just shake their heads and say, "Oh, that's how men are" or "be glad that he is a hard worker" (which I am, of course).

I have asked him repeatedly to come home and help out at night, but he just won't. My feelings are hurt, and I am tired! Am I wrong to feel that he should change his work habits?

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I'm sure you'll get some helpful perspectives on this forum, but I'll throw out one or two thoughts I've got in reading your dilemma:

This kind of issue usually isn't best addressed a "him versus me" (you need to work less and help me more...) issue as much as it could be approached as a "we/us/our family's well-being" issue. You have four wonderful kids who need the care and attention of both of you. Are you willing to do anything differently, too, in order to make your family a healthier place? If you and your husband can approach this with an openness to talk about "what can we do together to make our family situation better?" you may get farther because he won't feel like he's the only one being required to make changes. And it would reinforce the sense that you're working together as a team around this, not against each other. But, of course, that would mean you'd have to being willing to make changes, too...

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 10:43AM
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You're right, halfdecaf - the reason we never resolve this issue is that when we discuss it, I am emotional ("why don't you want to come home?"), and he is defensive (no matter what, you're never happy anymore"). And I am continually behind at work because I am usually the one who takes days off or goes in late if the kids are sick or if we have childcare issues. So it has become a "whose job is more important" issue.

I don't know what to do, in order to make our family a healthier place. The only requests he ever makes is for us to spend more time alone together, e.g., more dates or a mini-vacation, and for me to keep the house more organized. Other than that, he is happy, as far as I know. We did resolve to spend 15 - 20 minutes every night talking; I think that would be very helpful for us. But that was a week ago, and it hasn't happened yet - he has been out late the last few nights (11 - 12?? not really sure, because I was asleep when he returned).

I will have a hard time offering to plan some alone time for us when I am already struggling to keep up. I suppose it's a catch-22 and one of us will have to make the first move - I just don't trust him to come home more if I carve out some time for us. Last Sunday he wanted our family to spend the day at an amusement park and I said no, I need the day to catch up. But in the end I gave in, and now feel it was a mistake, as he worked late last night to make up for taking Sunday off.

Maybe I just need to grow up a bit and stop trying to "win".

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 11:30AM
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HalfDecaf's made some excellent suggestions --

One thing that works well for me is to ask my husband for his help. You say you're behind at work because you always have to take off for the kids. Next time you know something is going to come up with the kids, tell him you're "in trouble" at work and ask if he can "help you" by taking the kids to whatever. Most guys love to do the "knight in shining armor" routine, so you'd both get what you want.

The "what's best for the whole family" angle is really important. And some quality date-night time for you and your husband is an important part of that! With four young kids, I know it's hard to get out -- But what about having a 'date night' at home after the kids are in bed? Tell Hubby in advance so he will be there, then feed the kids and get them in bed early. Have a nice simple but romantic dinner and a nice bottle of wine set out for you and DH to enjoy alone.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 3:33PM
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You asked for advice on your husbands work.
What kind of an independent contractor is he? The firefighters we know work shifts and then are off different days but I don't know any contractors that are out until 10 or 11 at night,especially in the building trades. I think you might want to meet him at work with a picnic lunch some evening --the job where he sets his own hours.
I would also be looking at his cell phone bills and calling him often just to say "hi".

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 2:34PM
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Dh does plumbing / HVAC work. It is a lot of remodels/upgrades for realtors flipping homes, so it doesn't matter what time the work is done. And since he can't do plumbing every day, people are generally fine with him staying late, if it means they will get their job done faster.

I am not worried that he is running around, because I normally know where he is, and occasionally we'll stop by if he is working somewhere close (one of the kids loves to help out, so I'll bring him by for a bit if there is some age-appropriate thing he can help with). I have never called and found him somewhere unexpected, so I don't have any reason to suspect anything illicit is going on. He does, at times, stop by the firehouse at night to hang out with whoever is on shift - which annoys me slightly, but I don't begrudge him a little time with the guys.

We are going out for dinner tomorrow night after the kids are in bed, which was a hard thing for me to accept. I know I will be sleepy at work the following day and drag through the night, but here again, I am getting the sense that no one really thinks dh's work is a problem, and there have been a lot of suggestions for me to change my way of thinking. So hard as that is (when I still truly believe that working so much is selfish) I am going to give it a try.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2007 at 9:55PM
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Hey there, freezetag - I didn't mean to give you the impression that I don't think his work is problematic; I can see how it may have sounded that way, though. Any time you've got someone working 110-120 hours a week, that's got to be a part of the strain! From my own experience, I just usually find that my husband is more open to considering changing if he hears that I am, too. From your posts, I can tell you're thinking things through and I think it's great that you're willing to try something for the sake of your marriage, even though you know you'll pay for it the next day. That's very sacrificial of you, and I hope you have a great tme!

I re-read your initial post where you mentioned that he wants to spend more time with you. Perhaps you can negotiate around that a bit (i.e., if he wants more time with you, then maybe he could be one of the ones willing to make some extra time every week or so to make that happen). Especially if he knows that you want to spend time with him, too. Just being together more in a non-chores related way may be more valuable in the short run than helping out with the bedtime routines.

Best of luck to you - you're carrying a lot, and I think it's great that you're trying to make your family and marriage the best they can be.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 1:44AM
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Yep - I also see that kind of work schedule as a problem -- but I don't see "calling it selfish" as a solution. (Even though I tend to agree with you that it kind of is...)

My suggestion is simply in regard to how you ask for more of his time. Asking him for 'help' and inviting him home for specific 'date nights' with (wink, wink) hints that it'll be worth his time...

    Bookmark   August 9, 2007 at 10:44AM
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No, you are not wrong to think he should change his work habits.

Does he have a special reason to work such long hours at his contracting job? For example, is he hoping to build up his business so he can quit the firefighting job? Is he trying to earn enough extra to afford his dream home?

If this situation happened between my husband and me, I would suffer through it if it was temporary and for a good cause. But long term, this is not a good situation for your children or your marriage. Children need time with their dad - time when he is not rushed or exhausted or in a hurry. And they also need some time with you when you are not exhausted. You have such a short time to have your children at home, to teach and guide them and establish a loving foundation. These years pass by all too quickly and he can never get them back (can you tell my oldest is starting college?).

The idea of asking my husband to "help" didn't work out in the long run for me. I fell into that trap and am trying to get out of it. Perhaps not all husbands are like mine, but if my husband sees himself as "helping" me, he approaches things way differently than if he sees something as "his job" or "his responsibility". For example, if my husband is "helping" with dinner he will ask me what to fix, where the ingredients are, ask about the recipe, etc. If he owns the responsibility then he will decide what to cook and take care of it without my even asking him. It is exhausting trying to be the quarterback of the home front, and I do not want to ask, remind, plan, or check behind every household chore. A more formal division works out better for us - i.e. I cook and you clean the kitchen, or you do the yardwork and I clean the bathrooms. When your husband does housework or takes care of the kids he is not really "helping" you with the kids - he is "helping" himself fulfill the role he chose as father and husband.

I hope you can work things out together. What an exhausting way to go through life - for both of you. Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2007 at 8:18PM
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From your description, this situation is totally out of control. Nobody works hours like that consistently and still gets to call themselves a spouse and father. In the end, you're either there or your not. The way things are, he might as well mail the checks and just stay in the field. If it's working for you, OK. But, if it is, it won't for long. Suggest acting now.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2007 at 12:09AM
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That's how I feel, too - I don't really want to ask for dh's "help" all the time; I think he should realize being a dad implies some responsibility to stay around the house and tend to the kids. I love the days when I can leave early for work without worrying about getting the kids ready (even though I have to bite my tongue if their clothes don't match or if they eat poptarts and cinnamon rolls for breakfast :).

Dh is always working towards something - a vacation, finishing the basement, etc. He said that his long hours lately have been because we used money out of our savings to pay for 2 of our kids to get braces (on the same day - I admit, that was financially painful!) Knowing that, I feel somewhat better, but still asked him to ease up when he can. So we'll see - I think this is something we won't solve overnight.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 8:34AM
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