When we got married, we both left our jobs and moved to a new town to have a fresh start. I was unemployed for five months and concentrated on the child, the house, and our admin. After two years, my husband got a job offer in another town. To support him, I left my job. I have been jobless for more than a year now as there are no employment opportunities for me here. I do not mind, but I feel that both my husband and my stepson are taking my efforts for granted.
The child, who gets a lot of attention from me, does not do as I say. I find myself constantly having to nag, and my husband just sits there and makes me feel bad because he believes that I should leave the child to his own devices. With my input the child has dramatically improved his grades. I’m basically doing everything that I would have done had he been my own child. On top of that, my husband and the child’s mother had a very strained relationship. I inserted myself and things got better.
My husband feels I’m too neat and nag them too much. Wendy, I’m not. I just want a clean home and want him to keep things tidy the way he found them. When we argue, he makes me feel petty, like I’m trying to end our marriage because he did not rinse his coffee cup.
The cycle with both father and son is the same. I ask nicely, I remind, I explain, I ask again, I ask again, I ask again and nothing! Then I explode, because there is just so much a woman can take. They never do what they say they are going to do. It pisses me off. So here I’m sitting raising a child who’s not mine, without a job and still struggling to have my own child (unexplained infertility with two unsuccessful IVFs). I feel so helpless. I think I had a nervous breakdown two days ago, and my husband’s response was I’m doing this to myself and he will take me to my family so I can relax. I think he wants me to go because he is tired of my nagging. Also, every time we fight he uses the opportunity to go do things he likes leaving me at home with his child. I think it is very unfair.
In their defense, I am a very organized person and love things to be structured. When they benefit from this, it’s not a problem. However, when I ask them to do things that inconvenience them, then I’m too fussy. — Not a Nag
Oy, so much to unpack from your letter. First, what’s up with “the child this” and “the child that.” The way you describe him is with such a cool detachment, like he’s such a burden to you. You can’t even call him “my stepson”; he’s simply “the child” you’re raising who isn’t even yours. I mean, that’s what happens when you marry a single parent (especially one with sole or primary or shared custody of his or her child): you become a parent-figure in the kid’s life and take an active role in raising him or her. And, yeah, that means if your spouse wants to go out and do something on his own, you are left alone with “his child.” If that wasn’t something you were OK with, you should not have married a single father.
It sounds like you’re getting angry and feeling resentful at your stepson for… acting like a normal 13-year-old boy? He makes some messes? Doesn’t always tidy up after himself? Yeah… that’s what kids do! You do realize, don’t you, that even if you have your “own” child, that child will also makes messes that you’ll have to clean up, right? That child will also take you for granted. All children behave this way. Welcome to parenting. Buy a bunch of baskets and storage bins and make sure everyone knows where shit goes and at the end of each day, set the timer for ten minutes and have everyone put stuff in the baskets and bins. It works for my family when we remember to do it and I have a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old. If we can get the mess cleaned up every day in ten minutes, you three can, too.
The truth is though, you do sound like a nag. I say that as a borderline nag myself. I am hyper organized, I am tidy almost to a fault, I love order and structure, and I HATE messes. (“Can you STOP with the Dustbuster, Mom?!” my 6-year-old son said to me the other day as I was cleaning the crumbs around him, literally as he was still eating. “No, she cannot,” answered my husband. “Don’t you know that about her yet?”) Being a wife and mother has challenges, and at the top of the list for me is dealing with the mess. But… it’s part of the package. You can’t live with other people, especially children, and expect there never, ever to be anything out of place or never to be a mess left longer than you’d like (which for me is never since I would love for there to never, ever be a mess!). Dealing with other people’s stuff and messes is the sacrifice we tidy freaks make in exchange for sharing our homes and hearts with our loved ones. It’s the payment we make to stave off loneliness.
Maybe you feel you’re getting a raw end of the deal. Maybe you feel your loneliness is not staved off. Maybe you’re sad and depressed and feeling like you are getting no return on your investment, or at least not enough return for the value of your investment. If that’s the case, you need to talk with your husband about what you need and how he can help meet your needs. In a reasonable way! You can’t say that your need is for everything to be perfect all the time; it doesn’t work that way. You also have to think about how you can meet your own needs. If you’re lonely and bored and depressed and you’re relying solely on you husband and 13-year-old stepson to rescue you from these feelings, you’re going to be let down. You have to be proactive in saving yourself, too.
Where and how else can you find companionship and fulfillment other than at home? You say there are no employment opportunities where you live and that you “don’t mind,” but I think you do mind. You WANT to feel appreciated and like the work you do to has meaning, but when the only work you are doing is at home and you need for your husband and 13-year-old stepson to provide consistent acknowledgment and appreciation for that work (including work that they don’t care about as much as you, like keeping things tidy), you’re going to feel let down. It’s simply human nature even for adults to not notice the work that goes into running a household. If you get a couple “thank you’s” a week, you’re doing pretty well. Most women who raise families get some flowers and maybe breakfast on Mother’s Day, and that’s about it as far as big acknowledgment goes for the work they do.
You need to find some meaning elsewhere. Volunteer in your community, volunteer at your stepson’s school. You have all day free while he’s in school — have you considered babysitting 1-2 mornings a week for a mother of a baby who could use a break? I suggest this because I wonder if that time with a baby might change your mind about wanting one of your own. They make a lot of mess, they’re super demanding, and they never say thank you. Maybe you think you would’t mind that as much if the child were actually “yours,” to which I say that’s really fucking shitty. “That child” you’re helping to raise is your stepson, and if you weren’t prepared to LOVE him like your own, as well as raise him like your own, you shouldn’t have married his dad.
Take your husband’s offer to go stay with your family for a bit. I think some rest and some distance from your husband and stepson could do you good. Maybe spending a few days in someone else’s home (and mess) will give you the perspective you need to better appreciate your own. Maybe being without you for a few days will give your husband and stepson the perspective they need to better appreciate all your work and effort.
But work and effort are only part of the equation to running a happy home, and they aren’t even the most important. The most important is something I don’t see a lot of indication of in your letter. The most important quality in running a happy home is LOVE. I speak from experience that if you can offer tons of love to go along with your nagging, EVERYONE (including you!) is happier for it, and your needs will be better met.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.