Before you even start with me; yes, husbanding IS a word. Not like it really mattered; it was a cool title before I found out it is a real word.
Lexical issues aside, the word husbanding does have some excellent use for this topic. The word means, in its verb form, “to manage, especially with prudent economy.” Our wives, and by extension any mother, needs to be managed, especially with economy. Now before you get in a huff, I don’t mean in some detached, business-like way that has connotations of an authoritative boss over his assistant. The word husbanding has a more archaic, agrarian sense of tilling or cultivating. That sands any harsh edges off the word. As husbands, we want to love our wives, and we do not do that as a big boss handing down the laws, but we lead through tilling and cultivating and doing the hard work of managing our family in a way that leads to the flourishing of our wives.
My wife, Tina, and I have been through a lot together, and I have been learning the hard way how to be the best husband I can be and seek her full flourishing in life. There have been many things that have been helpful, but none more helpful than just sitting down and talking to her about what she needs. She has never been one to mince words with people, and that is especially true of me. At first this was really hard for me to swallow. I didn’t know how to handle someone being honest with me all the time with her emotions, our relationship, and how we took care of our kids and our family. However, after eight years of marriage, I could not be more happy and satisfied with who my wife is. I still am praying and striving to be more like her in this area. I think many problems and blow-ups in life could be avoided if we just talked to each other and were open and honest. But, more of that in a different post.
Part of my continuing self-discovery of how to lead and care for my wife led me to an article that she said is one of the better articles she has ever read. Eowyn Stoddard wrote an article on the Gospel Coalition titled, The Introverted Mom. She asked me to read it because she felt it accurately described who she was as a mother. She said one of her friends cried after reading it because it lifted a bunch of guilt she had always felt as a mother. That piqued my curiosity, and as I read I observed some similarities between what Stoddard was saying and some things about Tina that I had never really been able to put my finger on before.
I don’t want to re-hash the whole article here (I would suggest you read it), but I was struck by the author’s struggles, her thoughts about parenting, and how Tina had communicated her exhaustion and frustrations with having four kids constantly requiring her attention, permission, help, etc.. I saw three connections between what the author saw and what I see that a husband can do to make sure your introverted wife doesn’t just survive, but flourishes.
Live in an understanding way
It is, and has been, too easy to get caught up in the idyllic picture of a wife and mother. Early on in our marriage, I expected the wrong things of Tina (and so did she) and I talked past her to what I thought she needed, not what she actually needed. When you get married, especially as two young Christians, there is monumental amounts of advice heaped on you from multiple angles. You read books, attend conferences, field advice from friends and family, and soak in our cultural trappings, all of it tugging gently in similar and sometimes competing directions on what a healthy and wonderful marriage looks like. My mistake was trying way too hard to make my marriage look exactly like some famous author or pastor thought a marriage should look like, and not trying hard enough to model healthy marriages on the people around me.
Tina and I learned a lot more learning how to parent from our friends who were in the throes of raising their four young children. We spent tons of time at their house taking care of their kids, watching how they interacted, and learning to raise a young family by being a part of an existing family. Tina and I always reflect fondly as that being some of the best days we had as a couple.
However, modeling was helpful so that we could actually learn how to parent and love each other in the hurricane of children, but it came up short because we were able to leave after a day or two and our friends’ kids weren’t always with us. Also, our friend Lisa was much more extroverted than Tina (we didn’t think along those lines at the time) and she was content to spend all her waking hours with her children and to have them always around her. She ate it up, and we loved that about her!
We discovered after a couple of years that this was not how Tina was. She couldn’t do that. She needed respites in the midst of the craziness and constant demands of being a mother, and for years we did not understand and at times I was harsh with her and only made her feel guilty for how she was. I expected her to be there for me when she got home, when she really needed time to recharge from a full day of mothering. She felt the guilt and also felt the pressure from others to be the kind of mother she was not.
It took her and I sitting down and actually communicating what she needed to have some breakthrough. I wanted to not just see my wife as the one who manages the household and takes care of our children, but I wanted her to understand who she was and to help her not just survive, but flourish. When I understood the Apostle Peter’s advice to live with my wife in an understanding way, instead of a harsh or judgmental way, I was able to start making adjustments in how we spent our time and how I interacted with her in our marriage, as well as our parenting.
I began to understand that Tina needs time to herself or she is unable to recharge. Being around the kids wasn’t always a “blessing” and a “time to cherish”. Sometimes the kids were a total drain on her and it left her empty at the end of the day. It was not understanding of me to expect her to be charged by a day full of our children, and I began to take joy in giving her what she needed in order to not just survive, but flourish and find joy in being a woman of God, a wife, and a mother.
“Stop quoting Proverbs 31 in your mind and transposing those expectations on to your wife. Put down your copy of whatever marriage or parenting book you have, and TALK TO HER! Find out what she needs and communicate with her in a way that listens to her and understands what she is feeling.”
Husbands of introverted wives, I implore you to stop putting false expectations on your wife. Stop quoting Proverbs 31 in our mind and transposing those expectations on to your wife. Put down your copy of whatever marriage or parenting book you have, and TALK TO HER! Find out what she needs and communicate with her in a way that listens to her and understands what she is feeling. She does NOT hate being a mom, even if the words come out of her mouth. Hold back on the Scripture verses you have memorized, hold back the man-made expectations that our Christians sub-culture has put on your wife, and LISTEN to her and find out what she needs. There is one person besides Our Lord who knows your wife better than you do, and that person is your wife. STOP pretending you know what is best for her, and find out from her.
Give her time away
That being said, after I was able to actually find out what Tina needed I found out a huge blessing for her was to schedule and giver her time away from the responsibilities and stresses of being a mom. She would say to me, “I just feel like I have no other identity but ‘Mom’. I just want some time to be Tina.” If you hear that, it should be a clear sign that you have a burnout Momma in need of some time to herself.
What I typically do now is make that a genuine offer to her. I ask her, “Do you need some time away?” Sometimes she will say yes, that she really needs it, and other times you just need to gauge her day and just give it to her. Tell her to go upstairs, unwind, relax, and spend some time to herself. She might go nap, she might read a book, she might watch TV, she might take a bath, she may pray, or she might just go fold and put away laundry. She might also just need to leave. Let her go on a run, get some errands done, shop for the kids/her/friends. The bottom line is let her spend time to herself and let her mind, heart, and body recover from a day of having her energy sapped.
Also, I will schedule that time in to our monthly routines. My hope (it doesn’t always happen, unfortunately) is to schedule in sometime for her to get a mini-vacation from being a mom at least once-a-month. It might be a scrapbooking weekend, a trip to her parent’s house to spend time with her mom, or a trip to visit her best friend who lives three hours away. When I am good at this, I get comments from people like, “Wow, you are alone with the kids a lot,” or, “Where is Tina this weekend?” I proudly respond, “Absolutely, I wanted Tina to get some time away, so I am Mr. Mom this weekend.”
The whole point of getting her time away is for her to be able to rest in God, rest from the work of motherhood, and find time to be someone other than “Mom.”
Schedule time together
But she doesn’t just need time away from the kids; she also needs time with you, her husband. For all the talk of getting her time to herself and making sure she has time to do stuff on her own, your introverted wife also needs to recharge by spending time with her other half and parenting teammate.
Remember, that woman you married because she was fun, smart, attractive, and really good at Scattergories? (all things that are true of Tina) That is the woman who is craving time with the guy she married that is funny, smart, and likes watching Project Runway with her (all things that are apparently true of me). This could be as simple as sitting down and talking about your day and hearing about hers for twenty minutes to a half-hour after the kids go to bed. It could also mean getting a baby-sitter and going out to dinner or seeing a movie. It could mean catching lunch together while the kids are at school. If you are a smart husband, it DEFINITELY means all of those things.
I will admit that this one is really hard for me. I put together these three points, but it is a challenge for me. The brain God has given me is a tad scattered, and I selfishly put other things ahead of making this a priority. But, we (I) need to make this a priority if we really desire our wives’ to thrive and grow as women and as moms. Put time together on the schedule to be able to listen to her wants and needs, but also to enjoy each other and the relationships God has blessed you with. Pray together, eat together, have fun together, and just enjoy being together without children. When you build into your wife and build a life together, it charges her and builds up your family as a result.
Introverted moms are much more common than you think. Your wife is not the outlier, and it is important to strive in prayer and in practice to put these things into motion. Husband, I implore you to commune with the Spirit in prayer and to communicate with your wife in conversation about how you can help her to flourish and help her to mother well. It is your God-given joy and responsibility to do this, and I am praying for you to embrace this as part of your calling as a man of God.
As for those with extroverted wives…I have no idea. *You’re on your own.
*I’m joking, relax…But seriously, I have no idea…