In our six years of marriage, we've always had different work schedules. I didn't mind it early on because I thought that once Roger completed school and we were in our "real life," the scheduling would iron itself out. Besides, we had uninterrupted weekends together to make up for all the time apart during the week.
Then we became parents, and those leisurely weekends were history. Now we were caught up in a cycle of tag-team parenting. Roger would care for our son, Luke, during the day. Then I'd take over when I came home from work as Roger was leaving. The upside was we didn't pay for childcare. The downside was that my husband and I were like ships passing. Instead of being husband and wife, we were only mom and dad.
Whenever I brought up the alienation I was feeling, Roger's reaction was "Well, quit your job!" But I couldn't see how we could make it financially on one income, and I resented the implication that his job was more important than mine. The other alternative—that one of us switch shifts so our hours would be compatible—meant that our son would be in daycare, and neither of us wanted that.
The distance between us grew until it seemed we had nothing in common. Even our Sunday nights, a once-precious time together, usually ended with me going to bed early and Roger staying up to watch television. It was obvious that something had to change.
It was a big relief when Mel and I finally got married. We'd been engaged for more than two years, and most of that time we spent apart, living on two different continents. Finally, I thought, we'd be married and be able to enjoy lots of time together.
I was taking classes and working the night shift the year we were married, so I encouraged Mel to work nights as well. She preferred to work during the day, but we got along all right without seeing much of each other during the week. After all, we had our weekends free.
When Luke was born, I was still a full-time student and an employee. We didn't want to put our son in daycare, so I assumed Mel would quit her job after I finished school and got a better paying job. But she didn't.
After I graduated, I got a job with an airline. I began by working the night shift. I needed to accumulate more seniority before I could be switched to days. Mel knew I'd have years of night-shift work before I got a promotion, yet she still got a day job. I was willing to care for Luke, even though I didn't feel that Mel should keep working.
If she was unhappy about us not seeing each other much, it was her own fault. I thought we had enough money for her to stop working. If she'd just quit her job, we'd see each other plenty and our problem would disappear.
What Melodie and Roger Did
The Wrights knew their scheduling problems were driving them apart. But how could they make enough money to pay their bills and still see more of each other? A breakthrough came one night when they were having dinner alone, away from their son.
"The lack of time alone together was really affecting our communication," Melodie says. "It's hard to talk seriously when a two-year-old is always interrupting."
Over dinner, the Wrights agreed that while the opposite work schedule was ideal for their son, it was damaging their marriage. But it also became clear that they needed two incomes.
"Melodie showed me the checkbook and our bank balances," Roger says. "Since I don't normally deal with the finances, that really opened my eyes to our situation. But it also showed her that she could work part-time and we'd still be able to pay our bills."
While Melodie began to look for another job, the Wrights started having daily devotions together and set times for date nights, which gave them a sense of togetherness that had been missing. It also helped them see each other's point of view.
"I saw how important Mel's work was to her," says Roger. "She enjoys getting out of the house and interacting with people each day. As a result of that, I think she has more patience with Luke than she would if she were home all the time."
On her part, Melodie realized Roger wasn't working at night to get away from her and the pressures at home.
"I never openly questioned his commitment to me and our son," she says. "But I think his absence was beginning to equal, in my mind, a lack of interest. And that made me feel insecure. So I'd strike out at him just to get his attention."
Spending time together away from their son meant a break in the parenting routine, when they could just be two people who enjoy being together. Eventually, a part-time job opened up and Melodie cut her workload to three days a week. The other weekdays are spent catching up on household chores and doing things together as a family.
by Melodie Wright
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