The following is a transcript of the audio. Transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I'm Emily Jensen and I have my interviewee sister-in-law, Laura Wifler, sitting right next to me today.
Laura: Yes, we're together which is super fun.
Emily: We do this occasionally, record together in person. We have a special episode for you guys today, a topic that has come up several times over the course of Risen Motherhood. We’re speaking to moms who have a husband who isn't home as much as they would like, due to potentially longer working hours or other commitments, and trying to talk through how to deal with that. Many of you guys have heard Laura - either she's written about this on her blog, or has mentioned it on past podcasts. It's definitely a question we've gotten and we wanted to interview her. Put her on the spot.
Laura: Yes. We're going to try to answer some stuff because I have seven long years of learning to work with a husband of long hours.
Emily: It's something that Laura and I have talked about a lot in our personal relationship. I can attest to the fact that Laura is facing this with the truth of the Gospel and trying to grow in God's grace as she's facing this process. Let's start by sharing your story a little bit. What does your husband do and what are his hours?
Laura: My husband is an engineer at a large chemical and petroleum company. He works typically 12-hour days. Then he goes through these longer seasons, once or twice a year, where he’ll work like 15 hours, up to that amount, sometimes longer but usually less, anywhere from about 30-90 days straight. He did have one that was three months long. And yes, he works even on the weekends. He’s supposed to have every other Friday off but those don't always happen.
It's always been this way with him. He's always worked a lot but especially after we moved here to the Chicago area. It became a lot more frequent for him to be working Fridays and weekends. He's always connected. 2 a.m. conference calls, for him to take them in the guest room, are not unusual. I've gone to birthday parties alone, Christmases, weddings, lots of different things. We're not going to get in to the why he works so much just to protect him and our family but it's necessary in this season. That's the season God has us in.
Emily: Yes. As you're listening, you guys may definitely relate to that. Even if your husband doesn't work quite that much, we don't want to get into the comparison game, but maybe you can relate to that feeling of my husband does have to take these calls, or I am going to events alone with the kids. Laura, what is your schedule in light of his schedule?
Laura: That's a little bit on the "Ask Us Anything" show but we keep a later schedule so the kids get to see him more. They go to bed anywhere between 8-10pm. We have a really flex bedtime and the wake time does reflect that. He typically leaves around 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning. So we don't see him in the morning and we try to see him at night but sometimes that doesn't happen. Our evenings are really fluid. A lot of times I do errands after nap time, kind of a weird time. Or the kids and I eat and we keep a meal hot for him or warm it up in the microwave. Unfortunately, we don't have family dinners right now either, except we do get them on weekends. I don't want to make it sound like he's never home but typically on a weekday, that's what it will look like.
Emily: It's funny. He's home right now. He's making sure kids don't pop out of bed while we get to record this.
Laura: Yes. We’re in the basement and he's upstairs. Thank goodness.
Emily: We're just going to dive in deep, really quick here. Maybe you can go ahead and start to share. What are the biggest obstacles that you’ve faced in this process?
Laura: I think when you have a husband that works a lot or more than what you want - whatever your "perfect" is - and then it is more than that - especially when you're at home all day or maybe you don't work full time, you feel those hours away. I think at first, I took it really personal when he wasn't home. Things like, "Are you doing this intentionally because you don't want to be home?" or wondering if he prefers work over you and the kids.
I think you expect him to have a lot more control over his schedule than he does. Something that I would do is, I would take it so personally and I would want to hurt him back personally. Super petty and immature, but I would get so mad at him I wouldn’t even speak. Or I would ignore him and give him the silent treatment willing him to cross me so that I could explode.
Emily: But I know that you're not in that pattern now and we've talked through a lot of those things. What were some of those realities about the Gospel, and about who you are in Christ, all of that good stuff, how did that come in and start to change your response to him?
Laura: First of all, wanting to do it that way, silently grumbling and then exploding doesn't line up with the Gospel at all. When I sin against God, it's a personal offense to him but what did he do for me instead? He hasn't exploded back on me. He gave me Jesus and he paid that cost and all that I get in return for my sin is grace and love and mercy, a wonderful relationship with my creator. And that's something that can extend to my husband even when I felt personally wronged.
I think it just took me years to understand conflict management and resolution. It doesn't mean that you're just a doormat and that you let your husband do anything he wants - and this applies in a lot of areas of conflict - but it does mean that you extend grace. You don't make your husband pay for being home late by frittering away those precious minutes that you have with him; instead working on modeling the Gospel to my husband and my kids and remembering that I'm not my husband's Holy Spirit. I wanted to convict him with my holier-than-thou-actions, or my words that we're going to zing him in the heart. I'm not his Holy Spirit. I cannot convict him so it doesn't do anything.
Emily: Yes and that's something you and I have talked a ton about, personally in terms of marriage. Everybody's got their own marriage things going on, where we want to see our husband change in an area. The question of how do you walk alongside them in love, on the same side of the table, facing it together, saying, "I'm going to pray for you and lock arms with you and not be your enemy." Because we're really not enemies with our spouse.
Laura: Yes, you’ve got to learn to live in that tension together.
Emily: Okay. Another thing we've talked about a little bit but wanted to dive into more is that comparison game. What did you learn about comparing your situation to other moms?
Laura: It's pretty easy to compare. I know it is in any situation but you know, I'd hear a friend say, “My husband didn't come home for lunch today” and I would about die. Or, "My husband came home at 5:30 p.m." Or different things like that - and it genuinely is hard for them. They're in a different season of life and they have their own hard things. I think I've had to learn every mom has hard. It doesn't ever do any good to compare the hards because it either leads you to pride or it leads you to despair.
Honestly, I can only compare my standard to God. And what is his standard? Complete and perfect holiness. I do not measure up. I fall short of that every moment of every day. But because of Christ’s work on the cross, I'm redeemed, which frees me from needing to judge anyone else. To say they're a wimp and for me to be prideful in that or feeling superior, or feeling jealous of their home situation too and falling into despair. I think I can swing between both types of feeling and it just never leads us anywhere good.
Emily: Yes. We have to trust that God is good and what he has given us. Super hard. Another thing we honestly talk a lot about on Risen Motherhood is we're replacing our identity. I guess in this journey, as you’ve figured out that, “Hey, I can't necessarily count on my husband to be at this event. I can't necessarily count on him to do bedtime with the kids for me or give me this break.”
What have you learned about where your identity is and where to place your expectations?
Laura: I feel like this is one that God continues to work on. I think that it's easy to wrap our identity up in our husbands, no matter what situation we're in. And that's just the fall, front and center in our faces. We were created to worship God but once the fall happened, we were immediately worshipping anything else. Like I said earlier, I would get so upset, giving a disproportionate response with my husband to what it needed to be that I got to a point, I guess this isn't the best, but I couldn’t live like that anymore. I was over it.
I was like, “Fine God. I’ve tried it my way and it doesn't work. I'll try yours.” Unfortunately, I’m sometimes sad to admit that it took that but I'm so thankful that God really brought me to my knees, to recognize that God's the only one that deserves my worship. He created me and his son died for me.
My husband will always fail me no matter what. If it wasn't work, it would be something else. But when I put my hope and my trust in God, then I'm fully satisfied. He brings me full joy and I think that I find my attitude is a lot more stable. It's not so up and down; not so rattled easily. And there's that perspective too, of keeping eternity in mind and knowing that my present can change all it wants but my future never does. That is a hope that I think gets me through a lot of those hard days.
Emily: Yes. It's unchangeable, undefiled, unfading, kept in heaven for you, Laura.
Laura: Oh yes, keep it coming!
Emily: I like how you pointed out that differentiation between being able to love our husbands well, can only happen when we're fully satisfied in God. Because then we're not putting those…
Laura: Explanations, needs…
Emily: Yes. It's not a you-fill-my-need based love. It’s I love you, because I've been loved.
Laura: Exactly. Yes, no-strings-attached love.
Emily: Yes, no strings attached. Another hard one. What do you feel you've learned about being able to honor your husband? Because even though again we've talked about learning your identity and all these things, but it still doesn't necessarily change the circumstances. How do you continue to go forward and honor him?
Laura: Yes. One phrase we like to joke about in our house is, "We always give daddy the best." "Daddy gets the best." Daddy gets the best piece of pizza. I think I stole this from a blog. It’s not my own thing. He gets the best piece of pizza. He gets the best comfy chair. He gets the best smiles from mom. I want him to know that I value him and for my kids to see that too.
One big thing I've had to learn a lot is to protect my husband in front of other people and in front of my children. When dad works a lot, it means they miss a lot. It can feel like nothing’s safe, nothing's off the table, even a vacation. A lot of people don't understand why he has to work, or they can't really comprehend how much he works. I think that you want to justify that or defend that. But what I'm learning to do is always speak highly of him even if I'm not jiving with him in that moment, but honoring him with my words. It doesn't mean it's false, but I means that I'm obedient to Christ and I'm honoring him even when I'm feeling hurt because he's not with me.
Emily: And let me interject because in case somebody is going, "Oh no. Who does she talk to then?" Just know Laura, does have safe relationships where you process the hurts.
Laura: Yes. True.
Emily: But in general, for the average acquaintance or person, that is going to look different. I think that's the differentiator there.
Laura: That's true. Like someone who isn't super close in the moment of, "Hey how's it going? Where is Mike?" I'm not going to say, "Oh my word!"
I think I'm not a super naturally merciful person. But God is teaching me that Godly womanhood looks like protecting my husband and also like winning him and having kind and gentle words - or sometimes no words at all. You’ll win him without words. I think that even when I don't understand what's going on, or why he has to work, it's choosing to trust him and if I cannot trust him, knowing I can trust God with our situation.
The last thing is, I spent some time memorizing verses that would help me when I was in the heat of it: wanting to lash out, wanting to be angry, wanting to get upset and just saying - "Let me say these verses, take ten hot seconds to chill out and move on." I will link some in the show notes.
Emily: That will be awesome. And that's a nice practical thing and a good segue way into some practical tips of a mom who is going okay, "I'm starting to internalize these truths. I want to rely on God and begin to be transformed in my desires towards my husband and in my responses. But in the meantime, practical tips. Help! What do those things look like?"
Laura: Well, we always start with prayer and get in the Word. This is Risen Motherhood, we are going to talk about that. But pray that you would be gracious and that God would give you stamina and endurance in this season. Pray for the same for your husband. Praying for success at work, or that God would make his time more efficient, that your situation would change if that is something that you guys want.
And also that God would change your husband's heart, not you.
Then, of course, getting in the Word and having the Bible out to talk with God. Believe the best of him. I kind of talked about that a little bit. Knowing that he feels a lot of pressure to provide financial especially if you're a stay-at-home mom and if he tells you he’d rather be home, trust that he's telling the truth. It's hard, but choose to believe what he says. Talk about it with him. You want things to change, let him know. Again, going back don't be a doormat. Have these discussions but don't exhaust the topic. I think it's very easy for us to nag on that.
Emily: And timing is everything.
Laura: Emily has taught me that one. She is the best husband timer ever.
Emily: It just took a few poorly timed conversations.
Laura: But I think what you're saying is true. Again, these types of conversations don't happen necessarily in the heat of, he walked in the door late, let's have a convo right now about how many hours you work.
Emily: Exactly. It's like okay. I'm going to be patient. I'm going to trust God. I'm going to wait. And then in a situation that's more controlled, where you can all be rational and you can hear each other, that is the time.
Laura: Yes. There was a season where I would hand him my son when he walked in the door and say, "I'm frustrated with you right now, but let's talk about it later." It was literately in that tone of voice because I need to let him know, I'm a verbal processor. I was like, "I'm going to choose to enjoy this with you because I love you and I want what's best for us but I need you to know how I feel right now." Choosing that timing of when the discussion should come.
Another one is making him look good. This goes back to some other things that I said. Sign the card for him, send the thank you notes, say the right words for him, like on behalf of him. I feel like I'm literally doing all this stuff and then I'm like, “Honey. Sign here” and I prep it all up for him. I want him to look good. I want to serve him in that way.
Also with your kids, have them call him and tell stories, or make special videos art, photos for him. Our kids mirror us so much and so we want to model that positive attitude in letting them know daddy loves you and wants to be with you, and can't wait to see that. No matter where you're at in motherhood, I think that that's just a good practice to talk up your husband. You want to be talked up? I feel like I would want my husband to do that for me.
Emily: And again it's like some of you go, ‘Oh, that’s so unfair.’ I totally can hear that in my mind too. That's not fair. He didn't do any of those things but the Gospel is not fair and God is constantly making us look good. By his grace, and he is extending mercy to us and we don't deserve it. Again, it's just another opportunity to model and walk in what we believe God has done for us.
Laura: That's a good one. Last couple I think: Be flexible with your routine. Like I talked about, our evenings look a little different than other people's. Self-care. Do not be afraid. Ask for what you need. I have three hours of childcare a week and I love it. I'm not ashamed and it's for whatever I want to do. I don't have to do anything motherhood related.
Emily: Sort of mother, but not directly.
Laura: Yes. At first I felt really selfish for wanting alone time especially as a stay-at-home mom. I felt like that's my contribution. It’s watching the kids and giving my all to them and not needing childcare. But really I don't really get a lot of built-in breaks and so how can we build that in? My husband was so supportive of that when I came to him and said, what do you think about this?
I think we started with this thing called “Selfie Saturdays," and my husband would watch the kids and I would go out. But it kind of became inconsistent and also stole precious invaluable family time. So we do it now during the week and I have a babysitter, which is great. I would encourage you to advocate for yourself, don't ask for the moon, but be realistic and come to your husband saying, “I love you and I want to support you and here are some things I need to be able to do that.”
Emily: Yes. A lesson for all moms to figure out how to ask for what we need, so we can really love our families well. Laura has some writing on this that we will link to in the show notes risenmotherhood.com. I know hopefully this week too, she’ll share extra wisdom on Instagram stories or something. Anyways, we hope you'll find us on social media @risenmotherhood Instagram, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. So come check us out and thanks Laura for baring your soul.
Laura: Thanks for interviewing me, Emily.