I know at-home parents ARE incredible and have historically been undervalued. I know my spouse's days can be very difficult, repetitive, physical, etc.
However, mine are, too, starting with a fairly grueling commute. I deal with difficult people and often have nothing left to give. And then I get home and am immediately told it's my turn to be "on duty," as though I've been on break for the past 11 hours. Spouse generally leaves the house to get fresh air. I don't feel there's any space for me to complain. We split the cooking and outsource cleaning. (Spouse hates housework of any kind.) I just feel there is a societal presumption that the at-home spouse is a saint and the income-earning parent must perpetually remind self of that fact. How do I fix this dynamic?
— Resetting the Pendulum
Resetting the Pendulum: Ugh. Complicated.
I know every household, child, parental temperament, job and commute is different, so the very idea of piling all these things onto a scale to see who has it tougher is ridiculous.
But when has that ever stopped me?
Home-with-kids vs. at-an-office reality is that the home version is just relentless. Even people who have relentless jobs can finish their sentences and go to the bathroom alone.
Your difficult people might equate to people who scream when they can’t wear their lucky socks. In the end, though, what you have is this: You are in charge of your head space to a degree no on-duty parent of littles can be.
I do not mean to pile on; I am just setting a baseline.
One advantage you have is that commute. Again — you lose this time, and rush hours are punishing. But, still: You are in charge of your head space. No one is tugging at you and saying mommydaddymommydaddy. So: ear buds on the train, speakers in the car, play something you look forward to.
Then look at your day. Breaks? Lunch? Can use downtimes better?
More radically: Can you relocate? Change jobs?
Make the changes you can, then live with them a bit — then it’s time to talk to your spouse about whatever needs you’re still feeling.
Wanting to feel appreciated is valid, so say that. At-home spouse is a hero, you’re grateful — but also feeling erased and burned out by long days plus immediate “on-duty” status. Being able to cite the adjustments you’ve tried will help you here.
Ask for changes that don’t burden your spouse: a sitter one or two nights per week; a “parent’s helper” (neighborhood teen) daily around dinnertime; one night where spouse stays “on duty” in return for a weekend “shift” off?
Also, arrange to discuss bigger or longer-term plans. This is a moment you’re in, not a permanent state of being; knowing things will change on their own is a form of relief. The question is whether you can still like where you’re going, and like yourselves and each other as you get there.
Little kids are just tough.