Mar 5, 2009

Why is life easier when she's away?

When there's no girls, we can stand on our heads and eat hotdogs all day."
- Zekiah's assessment of our life during Sarah's 8-day trip

Of course I've played the "Mr. Mom" card and cooked hotdogs and perogies the first two days of Sarah's absence. But the side dishes were broccoli, carrots and corn, breakfasts were the usual steel-cut organic oatmeal soaked overnight in a bit of yogurt, and car snacks were homemade raspberry-grapebutter-almond muffins. And today we got more adventurous - sausages from the organic Providence Farm down the road. Snack time was an artfully decked out plate of tortilla wraps (homemade cream cheese, carrots and cucumber), cashews, sliced pear, and leftover pb&j sandwiches from 2 days ago. I've cooked more and better than when she's home.

This nutritional and (in my mind) tasteful culinary success begs the question, why does life get logistically easier when the wife's away? I don't know if it encourages or frustrates her, but the boys and I quickly get into a rhythm on our own. Dishes and laundry get done, the living room got cleaned up while I cooked dinner, Thursday morning showers still happened, and we hosted a 4-kid playparty all afternoon while I worked on the garage. We work together well as a team, and everything gets done and done well. We become synchronized, like Dustin Hoffman and his son reading their morning papers over coffee and unburnt toast in Kramer vs. Kramer.

I'm certainly not suggesting that Sarah interferes or that anything about her is a problem or encumbrance. There's just something about having two adults in a house that bogs things down. But the "why" question remains, and it's a genuine question. Here are a few theories:

1. We are (thankfully) still two individual people. A friend staying with us recently commented about how often Sarah and I are arranging things, talking details and business. I'm still not sure if she meant it in a positive or negative way, but it's true that it takes constant communication to keep up with each others' schedules, desires, & needs. Today was faster and easier because I didn't have to consult or inform or accommodate anyone about decisions to have friends over, go shopping, work late on the reno or eat mashed potatoes. I just did things, got things done.

2. Diffusion of responsibility. I cook about 95% of the breakfasts and lunches in our household (she does most dinners), but still there's always the fallback that she'll do it if I don't, and still the slight uncertainty that maybe I shouldn't be doing it because maybe she was planning on it. Same with bedtimes, garbage day, chicken feeding and counter wiping - even when we have fairly established roles, it's not as clear as right now when it's either me or no-one doing the job. While she's away I don't stop to think about whose turn it is; I just do it (or don't, and that's my sole decision and consequence too.)

3. No silent expectations. I know that the kids, cooking, cleaning, etc are 100% my responsibility this week; there's no part of me thinking, "If only she'd wake up early and do breakfast so I can sleep in..." Even though it's clearly my job as stay-at-home dad to do the school drop-offs and pick-ups, and even though I thoroughly enjoy it, there is a bit of mental and emotional energy that goes into thinking that maybe she will/should do it this time.

4. Intrinsic motivation. When it comes to some chores like cleaning or gourmet cooking (by that I mean following a recipe), Sarah will happily admit to having higher standards than me. What that means, unfortunately, is that when I am doing dishes or wiping out the bathroom sink (yes Sarah, I do that sometimes :) there's an adolescent voice grumbling inside me that I'm just doing this for her. And that grumbling voice is sometimes louder than my own desire to have a clean kitchen or sink. Now on my own, I'm still doing these cleaning chores, but just for me (and to be a good role model for the boys) and to the level that satisfies my life view. My own motivation is clearer without the superimposition of hers, and with that clarity comes Zen-master efficiency and Joy of doing.

5. Going to the Mattresses. When it all comes down in The Godfather, they hunker down in one house with mattresses all over the floor, eating men's cooking and somehow surviving. Maybe the boys and I know we have to pull together while she's away so we all increase our efforts - physical and emotional.

Big disclaimer: This is not a call for nor a glorification of single parenting. I cannot claim to know what one or ten years, or even one month, of this would be like (though I would be interested to hear from some of you if this "simplification" I'm experiencing continues long term).

Bigger disclaimer: This whole entry is only in relation to logistics, not emotions. I've already got a companion piece brewing in my mind about how it feels to be without her this week - stay tuned.

So, that's 5 theories off the top of my head, all which I believe to some extent, and none of which seem to fully answer the question. So please, share your own experiences and theories about why (or if) life gets easier when your partner is away. I've wondered about this for a long time, and would appreciate any help in better understanding it.

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  1. I totally get this post.
    When my husband goes out of town (which isn't often), I worry all the days leading up to it that I'll be alone 24/7 with three kids, but when the time comes, I am super-efficient, the house is tidier/cleaner than normal, meals are made earlier, kids are in bed at a reasonable hour, and after I do an after-bedtime cleanup, I still have time to chill out before it's lights-out for me. Foe me, I think it comes down to not having that back-up, so I don't procrastinate (with the why-doesn't-he-see-that-I'm-tired-and-make-the-dinner-himself-tonight? thoughts)I know it is all on me so I JUST DO IT! I am eager to read the emotional aspect of Sarah's absense, because that's the hardest part for me. I realize how much chatter goes on in our daily lives when I'm by myself with no one to chatter to!

  2. Abby here.

    I really understand how the house runs easier when there is only one adult around. Since becoming a single parent a little over a year ago, getting everything done in the household is so much easier. The work I need to be done gets done. THAT part is incredibly freeing.

    I think you hit on some really important reasons why it is different/easier, in particular the silent expectations (that was HUGE in my former marriage/failed partnership).

    It's a trade off though, eh? I'm curious to hear what you have to say about the "feeling" side of things.

    While running the household is sure a lot easier on my own, I don't have a partner, someone to fall back on, to LOVE and be loved by...and it is THAT (or a combination of that and other benefits of partnership) that makes me say, "ENJOY this ease, this difference when you're on your own...but remember that it is a rather empty perk."