Carolyn Hax: A homemaker feels the sting of ‘free time’ remark

Columnist January 10, 2012

Adapted from two recent online discussions.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My husband and I have been married for 12 years. He has always worked, and I’ve always been a dedicated homemaker. I consider this my “job.”

Recently my husband was laid off from his job, and he accepted another position that pays significantly less. Now that my sons are middle-school-age, my husband wants me to consider working part-time for extra money, because I “have so much free time during the day.”

I find this extremely disrespectful. I feel as if he thinks I just lounge around all day. How can we compromise on this issue, and how do I show him the importance of everything that I do?

Already-Employed Wife

You can compromise by allowing that both of you are right. Since you’re a homemaker, you do all the jobs that two working parents would either have to divide between them or hire someone else to do, and you also are able to get involved in your kids’ lives (particularly schooling) in ways that parents who work full-time are often unable to. So, yes, you save the family money, and bring added value to all members of the household.

That said, your family apparently needs cash now — more than it needs your full-time attention to home and kids, and that’s legitimate, too.

Please let your husband know that you saw the “free time” comment as unfair, because you take pride in the way you’ve used your time to support him and your kids.

After you get that off your chest, though, you’ll need to set aside your defensive impulses and bean-count. Figure out what family jobs you couldn’t do if you had a part-time job. Then, figure out whether any new income would be enough to offset that and more. There’s no point in your working as a ceremonial gesture; it’s about improving family stability. Figure out where you can best be deployed for the family good, and get to it.

Hi, Carolyn:

I have suspected, and now know, that my college-age daughter is hooking up (having sex) in college in a non-relationship environment. She is cute, happy and well-adjusted, gets good grades and has always been very popular, but has never been “in a relationship.” She has been a very private person, and now I am heartbroken and feel like a failure for not being able to prevent her from making these choices. She seems to be fine, but I am not. Do I just need to let go? I love her, but I know she won’t have a conversation about this with me.

Anonymous

The most important things you can do are not judge her, not take responsibility for her choices and not let these choices overwhelm your other knowledge of her.

This is her business entirely. And, too, she is a complete person, making choices that you don’t like but that aren’t illegal or universally deplored. She’s committing sexual exploration, not armed robbery.

Since you’re taking it so hard, I suspect you came to child-rearing with some black-and-white views — and I also think one purpose of children is to shred parental black-and-whites into gray confetti.

If it helps, try to see this as trying her own rules in place of her parents’. Never pretty, that process strengthens the person she will ultimately become.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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