Okay, Mama—sit back and relax. I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s probably a scenario you’ll be all too familiar with as a wife and mother. It also *might* be autobiographical in nature.
You’ve planned a Saturday evening out with your girlfriends, so you spend that afternoon getting the house in order, the laundry going, the dishes unloaded and reloaded, and prepping dinner for the hubby and the troops. When you leave, everything is not only in working order, but the house is looking pretty daggum pristine. Dinner is ready to be put in the oven, and you even have the kids’ pajamas laid out and ready in their rooms.
You head out for a night on the town with the girls (i.e., dinner at your local quasi-fancy restaurant so you have a reason to get out of your yoga pants, complete with an overpriced glass of wine and mediocre food, all so you can talk for a few blessed hours to people who don’t call you “mom”). You linger over scraps, willing time to pass quickly so you don’t arrive back home before the minions’ bedtime. No night out is successful if you make it back home before the kids are asleep, amiright? #ImRight
You pull your minivan back in the garage and step into the house, relaxed from a night away from crazy, and you round the corner into the kitchen. You know, the same one you cleaned to sparkling earlier that afternoon, the one where your family’s prepped dinner sat neatly on the counter before you left that evening.
At least, you think it’s the same kitchen. It’s hard to know for sure, because it looks like a bomb went off in there. A dad-and-kids-sized bomb, to be precise. #WhatThe?
Your blood pressure rises. Dishes covered in food scraps are scattered across your kitchen countertop. There are 19 cups full of water on the counter, which is evidence of your children’s lack of ability to “find” their current cups at any given moment, resulting in new cups being grabbed every time they’re thirsty for another sip. The casserole you slaved over is sitting out on top of the stove, cold, and kitchen chairs are pushed into a tent-making formation, with every blanket you own being tethered to the tops with clothespins, because who doesn’t want a fort built in the middle of their kitchen?
There are crumbs all over the floor and a huge sticky spot that looks suspiciously like melted ice cream. There are remnants of burned popcorn remaining in your favorite copper cookware, and there is rage flooding your soul.
Thoughts begin to fill your mind, thoughts like no one appreciates everything I do around here, and they obviously think I’m their slave, that I’ll always be there to clean up their messes. And then there’s this one: My husband has no regard for me and everything I do for our family.
C’mon, I know you can testify.
With your temper burning hot as the sun, you open the dishwasher and begin to slam dishes into the racks, making sure enough noise is generated to get your husband’s attention upstairs. You grab the casserole and cover it, then loudly make room in the refrigerator for the Pyrex dish. You unclip blankets and make sure he can hear you shoving the chairs back into place, grunting a few times for good measure. You grab the countertop cleaning spray from under the cabinet that you slam closed behind you, and you start to wipe down the filthy surfaces that were gleaming and spotless before you left for the evening. You’re like a rabid animal lying in loud wait for your prey to arrive, because you know he’s going to arrive in the kitchen at any moment. And…enter husband.
“Hey, babe,” he says, strolling blissfully unaware into a warzone. “How was your night? Did you have a good time?”
You glare at him and mutter, “Mmmhmmm.”
“We had fun, too,” he says. “We had dinner and played for a long time, then we watched a movie. I just got the last kiddo to bed.”“Hmmmmm.
That’s nice,” you respond in a snarky tone of voice.
“Um…is everything okay?” he asks, legitimately confused by your behavior.
“Oh, YES, everything is FINE. Why do you ask?” you answer, slamming things around a little harder.
“Well, it just seems like you’re a little upset, and ----“
“Oh, it DOES, does it? Yes, I’d say I’m a LITTLE upset. I just don’t understand how I can leave the house in spotless condition only to come home and find…”
And you launch into a tirade you’ve been rehearsing for 10 minutes in your mind, and you’re sure you’re righteously angry and unappreciated and misunderstood, and your husband WILL understand that hell hath no fury like that of an unappreciated wife.
After you unleash and unload and lay out every reason why you feel undervalued as a wife and a mother, your husband stands silently, unsure of what to say. Finally, he speaks, and when he does and you hear his response, you sort of want to take a jackhammer to your kitchen floor until you hit soft earth, and then keep digging until there’s a hole big enough to hide your over-inflated self in.
“I’m really sorry, babe. I really didn’t mean to leave a mess for you. I was going to clean up; I just got distracted, because the kids and I were playing together and having a tickle fight and building Legos, and then we all piled on the couch and watched a movie together, and by the time I got them all to bed, you had just gotten home. I really was going to clean it up, I promise. Here, let me finish up and you go do what you need to do.”
And…crickets. Crickets for what feels like hours, because what do you say when you realize that the man you chose, the one you promised yes and forever to, has actually become the father you dreamed of for your children. He’s the father you never had. He’s a breaking-the-mold kind of man, because he sets aside things like dishes and crumbs and half-eaten casseroles to have tickle fights with and build Legos with and watch movies with and access the hearts of his children. He’s the kind of father who goes into the office early, before the sun has begun to think about making an appearance, not because he’s an early bird, but because it allows him the flexibility to make it home each and every day before the sun says goodbye. He co-parents—he never “babysits”—and he shows you up on a regular basis with his innate parenting instincts and skills.
He recognizes the value of sacrificing temporary things like hobbies and alone time and nice cars and dirty dishes and clean kitchens for the eternal investment he makes in his children. In your children.
And finally it dawns on you—you’re not mad at HIM for the mess in the kitchen (or at least you’re not too mad); you’re ashamed of YOU because you put more value in a clean kitchen than you do in your children connecting and experiencing relational intimacy with their very own father.
Maybe you’re even ashamed because you choose the kitchen over the kids regularly…
Unfortunately, this story is MY story, one I’ve lived out several times, embarrassing as it is to admit. Maybe it’s your story, too.
Or maybe not. Maybe your kids’ father isn’t what you hoped he’d be, or maybe he’s moved on and left you high and dry and carrying on as mom AND dad in your home. If you live out one of these scenarios on the daily, my prayer is that men with integrity and character step up to father your children; after all, a dad isn’t always a father, and a father doesn’t always have to be their dad.
The best news of all is that your children have a Heavenly Father who is crazy about them, knows every ounce of who they are, and will never be anything less than 100% faithful to them.
That said, if you do have a story, a partner, like mine, let me encourage you to hit the pause button next time you want to rip him a new one over the temporary things. This doesn’t mean that he should never contribute around the house, and it doesn’t mean you can’t have pet peeves and speak your mind and that he should leave things trashed every time you leave because he’s “pursuing eternal things,” but ask God to give you an abundance of grace for your man, the one who is your children’s father. You’ll never regret having crumbs in your kitchen if it means your children are secure in their father’s love for them.
With that, I simply say happy Father’s Day to all of the amazing dads out there, and also to all those who step into the role of father in the lives of kids who need one most. You are changing the world, one tickle-fight at a time.
XO — Jordan