She's amazing. How can I thank her?
October 13, 2010 5:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I make my wife feel appreciated when I rarely see her and she's always exhausted?

I've been (happily) married for over 12 years now and life is pretty good. The problem is, our schedules are crammed to the breaking point. I know a lot of people say they have no free time, but let me explain...

I work days. I leave the house at 8:15 and get home around 6:00. I work Monday - Friday with 8 hours shifts. My wife works nights. She leaves the house around 6:00, and gets home around 8:15. She works (usually - sometimes the days vary) Thursday - Sunday as a nurse pulling 12.5 hour shifts.

Things would be fine if my wife could sleep during the day, but it's not always possible. Why? I haven't mentioned our four kids yet: they are 9, 7, 4, and 6 months old.

So five days a week, we hand off the kids to each other on our way out the door to/from work. Two days a week (Saturday and Sunday) my wife can sleep while I watch the kids. But two other days a week (Monday and Friday) she tries to nap when possible while watching the two little kids, all after staying up all night working.

When I get home from work on Monday evening, she is wiped out and usually crashes immediately, which I have no problem with. That leaves us Tues. and Wed. to spend time together or hang out with friends.

I'm not asking for your sympathy. I'm actually happy with our life and the fact that our kids have never gone to daycare. What I *am* asking is for some good ideas to let my wife know I appreciate all that she does. She gives and gives of herself, and I'd like her to feel ... motivated to keep it up, I guess.

We rarely get to "go out on a date" so we usually end up trading off our down time (i.e. I'll go to a concert on Wednesday, she'll go to a movie with friends the next Wednesday...). Oh, and she loves to cook - baking especially. She used to blog about it regularly (obligatory pictures of her awesome work) but she's too busy (tired) these days.

One last note: I have free time at night after the kids are asleep. They go to bed by 9:00 and I usually go to bed at midnight. But I'm still stuck at home, so I waste the time with TV and video games. And some occasional cleaning. My wife, on the other hand, seems to always be working or taking care of kids.
posted by tacodave to Human Relations (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds as though you have a lot more "me time" than she does right now. And there are ways to redistribute that. Since the kids are asleep when you're home and awake when she is, you have a lot of around the house time when no childcare needs to be taken care of. Can you use that time to do all the laundry, housecleaning, cooking, and other chores so that she doesn't have to worry about any of that when she's home alone with four kids, exhausted?
posted by decathecting at 5:19 PM on October 13, 2010 [28 favorites]

What a great problem. OK, a few ideas:

1. Salt the house or her work things (e.g. "lunch" sack) with notes about how wonderful she is and how much you love her and appreciate her.

2. If you can afford it, get her a gift certificate to a spa for her down time.

3. If you can afford it, book a hands on cooking class and go with her to it.

4. Arrange something fun with her for downtime, including setting up a babysitter you both trust for that time, and tell her face to face how awesome she is.

5. Do all the shopping, make sure she has all necessary gadgets, and take the kids for a down day so she can have fun cooking. Tell her its just a little thank you for all she does.
posted by bearwife at 5:21 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

What about not getting daycare, since you guys sound like you're really not into that, but getting a "mother's helper" (local college student?) to come in and look after the youngest two on Mondays and Fridays - at least for half-days? As much as your wife sounds like Superwoman, eventually the sleep deprivation is probably going to start taking a big toll on her - I know that there have been any number of studies done on nurses' health.

Agree with decathecting about taking care of some of the chores during your downtime.
posted by purlgurly at 5:22 PM on October 13, 2010 [35 favorites]

I would write her little notes and tape them to all the ingredients she normally uses for her baking adventures. Even simple stuff like "I am the luckiest man in the world to be married to you" would work.

This would also be a good opportunity to further encourage your children to write thank you letters -- Mother's Day doesn't just have to be once a year. Maybe you could work on a small set of notes to your wife with your kids so she knows that you and her babies love her as much as you do.

Also, can I just say that you sound like a really cool guy? Kudos for being such a supportive husband.
posted by patronuscharms at 5:23 PM on October 13, 2010

Also - I'm actually happy with our life and the fact that our kids have never gone to daycare. - is your wife as happy as you are? Because that is important. Even vital.
posted by purlgurly at 5:24 PM on October 13, 2010 [31 favorites]

First of all, you are to be commended for even thinking to ask the question.

There are certainly things you can do in your evening downtime that would make your wife's life a bit easier when she's home alone with the kids. Do the laundry, make kids lunches, set aside some homemade heat-and-eat meals (at least for the kids), etc. etc.

Hiring a babysitter so you two can have a proper date would be awesome too. Maybe throw caution to the wind and do it once a week on a regular "date night".

But aside from actually lightening her load, I think you can't go wrong with things that remind her why all the giving and giving of herself is worth it. Cute pictures of the kids when you put them down for bedtime. Little love notes left for her to find after you leave in the morning. Mail greeting cards to her. Bring her flowers (or better yet, have something nice delivered to her at work). You get the idea.
posted by DrGail at 5:27 PM on October 13, 2010

Definitely seconding the Mother's Helper idea. It's AWESOME that you're not sending your kids to daycare, but having a helper around the house might be wonderful. It would allow your wife to really sleep while the kids are engaged in playing, adventuring, or just doing whatever.

And if you can afford it: regular housekeeping, occasional food delivery, regular meal delivery service, regular flower delivery, etc.

is there a particular chore your wife dislikes? How about committing to doing that yourself. The hours of 9pm - midnight might include several loads of laundry, for example.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:27 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

What I *am* asking is for some good ideas to let my wife know I appreciate all that she does. She gives and gives of herself, and I'd like her to feel ... motivated to keep it up, I guess.

Sorry for continually adding thoughts (I probably should have put all of this into one response), but your phrasing here is bothering me. Why should she *have* to give of herself up to her breaking point (i.e. you say she's already given up something she loves)? Do you? (

What might make her feel most appreciated is letting her know that you're concerned about the (apparent) free time/sleep imbalance between the two of you, and you'd like to take some things off of her plate, if there's something(s) that she would like to let go.
posted by purlgurly at 5:29 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Give her what she appreciates. Flowers, a home-cooked meal, a house empty of kids, because you've arranged a sleep-over at a neighbor's, whatever.

She has to be sleep deprived. On laundry day, take an extra half an hour to surprise her with ironed sheets and pillowcases. Pure luxury. Bonus points for a flower on her pillow.

On the weekend, maybe enlist the help of the entire crew to make her breakfast in bed, and take it up to her en masse, to include your kids' artwork impressions of their awesome mom and the difference she makes in people's lives.

And use your words. TELL her how much you love and admire her, again and again. That never gets old.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:33 PM on October 13, 2010

"Say it with flowers." Yeah, it's trademarked, but there's something to it.

A lot of guys think flowers are just for screwups and/or birthdays, but if your gal likes flowers, there's something about even a simple little quickie bunch of flowers... they make the house smell nice, they glow with life for the short time they last, they're a tangible reminder that, hey, you weren't there to see it, but I was thinking of you today.

Sure they don't last, but that's actually a feature, not a bug: No requirement to keep them ad nauseum/dust them/ensure they live.

Not every girl likes flowers, but if yours does, they'll brighten her day every time she lays eyes on them for however long they last.
posted by Ys at 5:34 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. Your wife is amazing. That schedule, 4 kids and a blog? Boy, should I quitmybitchin!

I vote cleaning first. I know you are tired and just want to sit down but even taking 20 minutes a couple nights a week could make a difference with a schedule like hers. Doing a few loads of laundry might be pretty easy while you chill with the TV at night. Any minute you are doing something is time your wife isn't and isn't worrying about getting that done.

Do jobs that are messy and take time (you can't easily do that when you have a 6 month old at any second). Scrub the bathrooms. Scrub and clean out the fridge once a month. Scrub the kitchen floor.

When she is sleeping on Sat/Sun go clean out her car! I bet with four kids it's hard to keep clean.

And since you don't have a lot of time together maybe you could watch a show "together" like Mad Men or Survivor. Then when ever you/she can get an hour you can watch it and then chat about it after. Also could do it with a book/or a scrabble game online.

Who does the grocery shopping?? Can you do that on Sat or Sunday with the kids??

And I am not accusing you. .. you could be super dad, but I think that really trying to pour everything you have on Sat and Sun. I think nature hikes, making brownies together (whatever your wife wishes SHE could be doing with the kids if she had all the energy in the world) would make her really appreciative and feel less guilty for when she just wants to try to veg on the couch Monday mornings.

Oh and pictures and video. If you guys are anything like our family I feel like we are too busy to video tape sometimes. We are running out the door from one practice to another game and I wish the camera was charged, or in my bag, etc. Maybe putting effort into recording these busy days. Maybe even taking pictures of your weekends, printing a few of them out and leaving them for her on her monday mornings with notes from all the kids (and you!).
posted by beccaj at 5:55 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

purlgurly said: "Sorry for continually adding thoughts (I probably should have put all of this into one response), but your phrasing here is bothering me. Why should she *have* to give of herself up to her breaking point (i.e. you say she's already given up something she loves)? Do you?"

The phrasing bothered me as well, and I'm the one who wrote it!

I guess an easy way of explaining is this: we're not living above our means, but we're also not living below them. Two years ago we bought our first house (for our 10th anniversary) and she wanted one much nicer than I did. I'm a very rational person and I told her I was willing to go with nicer, but it would require her to work full time for us to be able to afford it.

A few months later, she wanted to trade in our minivan. I didn't think we needed to (both cars were paid for at the time), but she was so intent that I agreed. She offered to work an extra shift or two each month to cover the car payments.

These choices have led us to a point where we both have to work full time to keep up with the bills. And I agreed with her on those choices (or conceded to them at least) so it's my responsibility as well. I also helped make the four kids (a bit...).
posted by tacodave at 6:05 PM on October 13, 2010

Make her a couple kick-ass lunches for work.
posted by benzenedream at 6:16 PM on October 13, 2010

Dry erase markers are awesome for leaving love notes on pretty much anything- and it is really easy to clean up. Windows, mirrors, coffee mugs, tile floor, appliances, bathroom sink, etc. Super fun to find an unexpected message on the inside of the toilet!

(just don't let the kids know that it's okay to scribble all over the house)
posted by palacewalls at 6:35 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi, I use to work night shifts, 11pm-7am. I'd drive home after getting off work and many times, I would have no idea how I got home. Sometimes I would wake up and find myself driving home. So please believe me when I tell you that there is no way I could have watched a child, let alone two, for years on end, without something bad happening, either me snapping or falling asleep and one of the kids wandering off.

Ya'll are leaving above your means. Your wife is stretching herself thin. She may be superwoman and able to stretch herself thin for long periods of time, but you both are flirting with disaster here. Everything may turn ok, hey I never crashed or hit anyone while driving through downtown Baltimore in rush hour traffic after being up all night, but there were some close calls.

Perhaps the nicest thing you could do for your wife is find a babysitter or daycare for those two days a week where she's trying to nap while watching kids. If ya'll can't afford a full day, try for half a day on both days, or just one day. Then I think you guys need to sit down and discuss the situation, where she's working crazy hours, you aren't and you two rarely see each other. Sure leave cute notes around the house that say thank you and I love you and what not, but seriously, she needs a break and part of that is you saying no when she wants a new minivan or car that requires her to work extra hours. You can deal with a cheaper house or older car, but you'll never be able to forgive yourself if something bad happens because she is overworked. Even if you have to take a job working afternoons and nights on the weekends for a short while, it'll still be better than having her push things like this. It's not healthy for her, the kids or the marriage.
posted by nomadicink at 7:00 PM on October 13, 2010 [28 favorites]

I'm in a "Mother's Helper" position right now--I handle cleaning for half a day twice a week. I am kind of surprised with the amount of tension I see released from the mom after only doing this for a couple of weeks. $60/week (three hours twice a week) could allow her some valuable napping time.

However, it sounds like money is tight enough as it is. You say that you're not living beyond your means, but it's worth considering that living beyond one's means does not only refer to investment and spending of money, but of time as well. Are the minivan, the nicer house, and whatever worth the sacrifices of time and free sleep that you're paying?
posted by schroedinger at 7:24 PM on October 13, 2010

I agree with nomadicink. If your lifestyle *requires* sleep deprivation and rare opportunities to see one another, that is living above your means.

Have you taken a look at your budget to see if there are optional things that can be cut out in order to allow your wife to cut back on work or to pay for supplemental childcare? (Concerts, video games, future new cars...). Before my husband and I started really keeping track, I had no idea how much we spent on little, optional crap like Starbucks, lunch out, etc.

If someone so awesome is becoming so obviously tired, it's time to reevaluate. Maybe she feels like she's not allowed to complain or step down from any of her responsibilities, since those were the "conditions" of getting the things she wanted. But seriously, that's too much, and it's dangerous to try to keep up long-term.
posted by amberwb at 7:24 PM on October 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

Two points:
1. Your wife's exhaustion is dangerous for everyone, and I can't imagine how you'll manage if she gets sick, or in a car accident, or if she misses something when she's taking care of the kids, or misses something at work and there's a lawsuit and the associated guilt and blame.

2. Day care once or twice a week is actually good for the kids -- gives them a change of pace, new energy, friends, new experiences. And your poor suffering wife could sleep. Yes, day care all the time is really miserable. But if it's only occasional, it's really a good thing for everyone.
posted by Capri at 8:10 PM on October 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Your two older children are old enough to help out, get them into doing chores now. I remember realizing that if my kids were capable of mastering the complexities of video games they could also learn to do their own laundry. Your kids can also sweep, run a vacuum cleaner, dust, put stuff away, and even learn to prepare simple food.

Do you have family members nearby who could pitch in and watch the kids occasionally? You really need to find someone to watch the kids during the day when you're at work and your wife has worked overnight. She needs to sleep! Maybe you can find someone in your neighborhood who could come in for a few hours a couple of days a week.

Consider going to bed earlier and getting up earlier so you can do housekeeping stuff when you're not exhausted at the end of the day.
posted by mareli at 8:39 PM on October 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yes, someone to watch the kids, especially as that little one gets older.

Send some flowers - to her work, if allowed. Flowers are nice, but much nicer when everyone else can see them before you bring them home to enjoy. (Especially for women.)

Have coffee ready for her when she needs it. Get a programmable pot and make it in the morning before you leave so it is ready when she needs it.

Vacuum, clean the bathrooms, do laundry in those evening hours. Change the sheets and wash them weekly on all the beds.

Call up the car insurance company and see if you can save any money on your car insurance. Change your phone plan to cheaper. (No sense in paying $50 a month for long distance if you only make $20 worth of calls at 7 cents a minute.) See what else you can do to save money to get that person in to sit.

When you leave in the morning, try to have things spotless - dishes clean, kids clean and in clothes, animals fed, laundry folded and put away.

If needed, get the preschoolers up early, so that they can take naps early. I know when I worked late that I was wound up from work and needed a bit of time to unwind, so having them asleep when she gets home won't work. But if they will nap a couple of hours after she gets home, that is great.

And of course, everything that everyone else said.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 9:31 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

When my kids were little, I didn't want to send them to daycare either, we had no family here in town, and I was a paranoid, overprotective Mom in lots of ways. I was fortunate to find ONE babysitter that I trusted enough to let me have a date night every other week with my husband and it really, really helped! She was a college student studying elementary education and we really missed her when she graduated and went on to work somewhere else.

So I'd second the "mother's helper" idea. Ask around at work to find if anyone has recommendations and try to find someone you would be comfortable with watching the kids at least a couple times a month. Your wife really needs this downtime! A working Mom (and I think all Moms count as working Moms!) needs the occasional break so that she can 1) Remind herself that she is not just someone's Mom or even someone's wife and that she still has a life, and 2) Come back refreshed to the kids when she does need to take on the Mom role again.

And time together would be good for the *both* of you!

P.S. your wife will probably call home a few times when you are out. This is normal.
P.P.S. If you are really paranoid, the first time you rely on your babysitter, you might want to come home early and check to see if she/he has put the kids to bed early and is talking on the phone to an SO, or is actually, you know, spending some time with them, playing, reading, etc.
posted by misha at 9:32 PM on October 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Without a doubt, you should be doing ALL the cleaning and laundry after the kids go to bed.
posted by k8t at 6:22 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may not technically be living above your means, in that you are not having a negative cash flow each month, but you *are* living above your means in that it has pushed you into some lifestyle choices that don't seem to be sustainable long term. This is headed down a bad road - that's just instinct talking, and I'm not judging, because if it works for everyone in your family and each of you is healthy and happy then that's up to you.

The mother's helper is an excellent idea, for safety as well as sanity. It would also help your wife if you would clean, do laundry, prepare her some lunches for work, prepare some dinners (breakfast?) she could heat up at home, and basically pitch in by taking over whatever you see her doing that you could be doing in your TV time. And if you don't see what needs to be picked up to do, then ask her - tell her you appreciate the fact that she has two full time and demanding jobs (both with life and death responsibility) and what can you do to help her. And then follow through, consistently. Occasional flowers, a single truffle, a sweet note, etc will all help.

And I have to say that I am amazed. I'm not sure I could do either one of those jobs and do it well, and I'm a smart and capable girl, and I absolutely know I couldn't do all that she does, so my figurative hat is off to her.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:51 AM on October 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I agree with others, that helping out is really nice. However, a hug and kiss, with a whisper in her ear that you love and appreciate all that she does will take her to the moon. Even if you are handing off kids or passing in the night, little notes, winks, hand touching would add up to a loving feeling and being appreciated for what she does. Try to make time together, it is so important for the two of you, it is way to easy to let work take over and soon time slips by too quickly before you realize it. I think you should let your wife read your question, so she knows how much you care.
posted by jennstra at 6:51 AM on October 14, 2010

Daycare. Your children are missing out on socialisation, stimulation, new toys and new experiences, and how much actual playing can your wonderful wife do with the kids if she's exhausted? Book them in for at least half days on the Monday and Friday.
posted by goo at 7:23 AM on October 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get a babysitter every other week. A little extra down time is ALWAYS appreciated.
posted by Neekee at 8:20 AM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the great suggestions. I've never heard of Mother's Helper, so I'm definitely going to look into it. I'm sure we can find room in the budget.
posted by tacodave at 10:04 AM on October 14, 2010

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