Under Construction
May 15th, 2010 by Chris

under constructionThere’s a major renovation project going on at our house, and I’m the architect, contractor and primary recipient of this refurbishment.  That’s right; I‘ve decided to expand and rebuild myself.  The current floor-plan is simply not accommodating our family’s needs.  I‘m one of a growing number of men who has been thrust into a “house-husband” role, and I have to admit—I’m struggling with it.  I’m having trouble reconciling who I am with who I am.  In fact, there are times when it feels like I’m disappearing altogether.  What is required of me often conflicts with what is desired by me, and my current “position” (house-hubby/dad) has me feeling like the “Incredible Shrinking Man.”  My circumstances and domestic responsibilities have conspired to squeeze me into a corner closet with a box of old records and a fondue pot.  I’m doing a fair amount of kicking, screaming, stomping, moaning and groaning about it, and I’m not an easy person to ignore, but with the piston-driving engine of home, wife and children churning in the foreground, I’m always going to be outgunned.  It all adds up to an inefficient (and cranky) household, so we’re going to have to knock out a few walls and move some things around.

If I sound like a “typical man” with some “spoiled, only-child” issues, the shoe fits.  I see a problem and I want to fix it (with a home repair metaphor no less).  I also want to get mine.  Don’t worry moms; I understand (by now) that parenting (and husbanding) requires near-legendary levels of selflessness.  And, I realize that no person is above “grunt” labor.  But, remember that age-old question, “Whatever happened to the woman I married?”  She becomes a mother and a homemaker and her husband doesn’t recognize her anymore.  I’m facing that same kind of thing: an identity crisis and a little “stuck in the rut blues.”

I know plenty of dynamic moms who integrate their family responsibilities seamlessly with vibrant, unique personalities.  They are confident and interesting, and their kids and husbands are proud of them.  So, what’s my problem?  The number one issue I need to overcome is acceptance/denial.  I have not welcomed or embraced the “home-making” concept.  I have a soft, sensitive side and I’m pretty in touch with my feelings, but I’m still mostly a “dude.”  I don’t really think about this stuff much.  Most men are genetically hindered in their ability to process things like dust, grocery lists, shower-grime, or home-décor.  Even before I was laid-off, I was a stay-at-home dad because I worked nights.  Having a job meant I could guiltlessly slack-off housekeeping, and hold my head high, knowing my kids could say their dad worked in the sports department at the local newspaper.  I viewed our cluttered, undecorated home as a temporary condition.  We (i.e. my wife) would get around to fixing things up eventually, when we were more settled.  That was nine years ago, and I’ve been unemployed for the last nine months.  We don’t always choose what happens to us, and sometimes the choices we do make lead us to unexpected places.  Like it or not, I am the primary housekeeper, cook and child-care provider for our family.  Thus far I’ve resisted putting much of myself into these noble endeavors.  I’ve managed to get things done by just going through the motions.  I’ve been trying to tread water and survive until “something” changes, but just-getting-by on a day-to-day basis for nine years has taken a toll.

So, what can I do?  First thing, take a deep breath.  Look at my smiling, healthy children and pat myself and my wife on the back.  This is hard.  It’s okay if we don’t have it mastered.  Survival in this game is synonymous with success.

Next step, assume ownership over these responsibilities and begin to address the problems proactively.  I’m discouraged and grumpy because I’ve accepted mediocrity from myself.  I’ve been sleepwalking through the cascading to-do lists, and waiting for some special moment to shine again; however, an opportunity exists right now.  I simply need to apply myself.  I should put as much enthusiasm and determination into creating a more-efficient, nurturing home as I would any other personal project.  Just because I lack a little housekeeping acumen doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have taste, style or a willingness to fight mildew.  I’ll admit I’ve held little regard for most domestic duties, instead viewing them as chores to be dreadfully endured.  This is a critical mistake.  I never visualized “house-husband” as a career choice, but I did see myself having a family.  And now, my wife and kids are counting on me to deliver as much (or more) than they ever did when I was bringing home a check.  I need to set a positive example for my kids and make the most of this fate.  It is time to officially “take the position” and begin applying more passion and ingenuity to the task at hand.

Once I’m committed to the project, I can begin to develop strategies for overcoming my deficiencies.  House-hubbies, like kids, require a lot of structure.  I can’t continue to apply a “take care of the basics and wing the rest” approach to my daily agenda, or I‘ll remain powerless over the fortunes of each new day.  A schedule reestablishes control.  Things are addressed when I determine.  Schedules eliminate uncertainty.  Does that shower really need to be cleaned? Yes, today I scheduled “bathroom scrub.” Most men function efficiently when they’re “on the clock.”  The successful house-husband mandates specific hours for specific tasks.  There are children involved, so the calendar should maintain some fluidity, and it might take a while to establish the authority of the household schedule because it has lapsed for so long.  It must be written down.  The commitment to writing is a tangible statement of intent and a personal contract.  When something exists on a family calendar, the entire family tends to acknowledge and respect its importance.  I’m not too comfortable with contracts or dictating structure, so I’ll have to convince myself of the benefits we all stand to gain from the concentrated effort.  Improved time-management increases efficiency which enables more productivity.  Ultimately this should create more quality “me” time.

Two other vital elements of my renovation project involve expansion and repair.  Life is a brutal contest that really requires top physical condition, especially when kids are present.  As my propensity to feel overwhelmed has increased through the years, my dedication to health and fitness has waned.  This is backward thinking.  Aging and added stress necessitate improved fitness.  I’m not just going to say I should get in shape while regretfully eyeing my paunch in the mirror.  I’m going to schedule it.  I’m also determined to get out of the house more on my own.  I need to plan and participate in activities that will provide intellectual stimulation (or physical fitness) and networking.  I shouldn’t isolate myself.  I have to broaden the range of my daily experiences.  In order to truly value myself, I must find ways to integrate who I am with what I do.  All those super-moms that I mentioned earlier find a way to incorporate elements of themselves into their homes, their meals, and the activities they share with their children.  If I lend more of myself to home-improvement and take pride in what I’m doing, I might find new means of expression.  Defining and discovering who I am outside the traditional work-place is an ongoing project, but I’m determined to reassert myself rather than just passively enduring my circumstance.  The blueprint has been sketched; it’s time to break-ground.

Lunchsense is always looking to become more sensible, so please share your experiences, suggestions, or shrieks of laughter below.  I’ll continue to post select moments from my misadventures, offering relevant insight when I can, and together, we might make some progress.

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