Dear Family Whisperer,
My husband farms part-time with his family. He is gone virtually all of May and June for seeding and mid-August to late October for harvest, basically leaving me a single parent. I dread these times of year, and I get very resentful of all of the "extra" work I have to do when he's gone. I'm a teacher and, unfortunately, my busiest times coincide with seeding and harvest. A lot of other women in my situation feel this way, and the men don't seem to understand. Mine tells me that "lots of other people manage." How can I get him to understand the burden his part-time occupation places on me (and that our daughter who is now 21 months old really misses him)? How can I get past the resentment? Is there anything we could do to work towards overall balance of responsibilities throughout the year so his absences feel less like a burden? (Technically that's more than one question, sorry ;)
-- Resentful Wife
Dear Resentful Wife,
When you make a life with someone, the two of you are you are never in the "same boat." Rather, you have decided to travel down the same river. And if, at times, life takes you to different rivers, you need to believe that both of you are at least heading towards the same place.
Whether your husband will give up part-time farming remains to be seen, especially if he's been part of his family's planting and harvesting rituals since childhood. In the meantime, as partners and parents you need to figure out how to run your family together -- each steering your boat -- despite your separations, despite whatever else the world throws at you in years to come.
Start by being honest and listening to each other. Tell him what his absence brings up for you. Perhaps it evokes scenes from childhood or inspires fears you never realized you had. Perhaps you didn't expect to be as lonely, busy or tired as you are. Perhaps you worry about his flirting with other women.
Also share the good things you miss, like spontaneously sharing bits of news about your daughter, having a buddy to [fill in the blank], talking at night in the dark as you drift off to sleep.
Don't continuously point out how much your daughter misses him. Stay with what's happening in you. Painting him as the bad guy and trying to make him feel guilty will only short-circuit your discussion and drive you farther apart. But by all means, admit that it's hurtful and dismissive when he says that "other people manage." You are managing. You don't expect a reward, but you do want him to hear you and to appreciate you.
Then do the same for him. Ask what those months away are like and what farming means to him. Listen without judgment. He might enjoy the time away and he might miss you both. He also might feel guilty, lonely, or resentful. You'll never know if you don't ask.
These are not easy talks for couples to have. You might never be "on the same page." But by being careful, respectful, and honest, at least it will feel like you're on the same side. At that point, he might be more open to figuring out with you how to make your separations easier.
Take both your needs into consideration. Would it be comforting to you to hear more details of his days? Would he prefer to text during the day (just to let you know he's thinking about you) or have one long phone conversation in the evening? If you don't agree, do a little of both. Skype is probably best for communicating with your daughter. Find out his best times.
You both have options. He might decide to cut back his time on the farm or at least offer to do more when he's home. Feeling overwhelmed, you might ask yourself, "How important is it?" and let some responsibilities wait. Enlist help to lighten your burden- - family, friends, or paid workers. Make more of an effort to have fun on your own (giving you a break and him a happier wife to come home to!). Make a photo album for your daughter so you can talk about Daddy when he's away.
You also might join him. Spring and fall are your busiest times at work, but what about weekend visits? Your daughter would get to know her extended family and experience life on a farm -- one of the few places where even young kids are expected to pull their weight. You'd have extra hands to pitch in. And who knows? The two of you might even carve out some alone time!
Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children welcome. These columns are brief. You'll find more on this topic in FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. Also check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.