Ever heard of the show Wife Swap? My husband and I participated in a "role swap" this week, and while it wasn't exactly intentional, it was good.
For the past year-and-a-half, in addition to his full-time teaching job and part-time seminary studies, Craig has worked part-time at Covenant Seminary's bookstore. At the end of every December, the store closes down for a couple of days while owner Nick Gleason and his three part-timers account for every item in the store.
Thanks to Nick's flexibility, I've occasionally covered Craig's shift when his school schedule has been too tight. This week, as it's the last of his school vacation, I asked Craig if I could help him out by taking his two full-day inventory shifts at the store while he stayed home with our kids. He was happy to make this arrangement work; thus, I've been a "working woman" for the past two days, while he's been a "stay-at-home dad."
At the end of the shifts, I came home exhausted, ready to be alone somewhere; he was ready for conversation about the day. I semi-expected the house to be in perfect shape (after all, what did he do all day while I was gone?); he expected me to contribute to the overall well-being of our family existence once I got home.
After making dinner (trust me: neither of us wants Craig to cook), I was checking my email on the computer when he came over, pulled up a stool next to my desk, and suggested we "spend the next few minutes justifying each other's existence." It seemed in our two-day "role swap," we both gained some insight into what the other one does.
Despite---or perhaps because of---my exhaustion, I could better sympathize with Craig's work at an extroverted job (teaching) from 7:30 to 3:30 every day, followed immediately by either a seminary class or a two-hour shift at the bookstore. When he finally makes it home to our often-disheveled house---complete with dishes piled in the sink, laundry in stacks all over the bedroom, and no place to lie down and rest---not to mention my hope and expectation that he will lend a hand with the girls, it's a wonder he doesn't turn right around and go sit in the car for another hour.
I can tell you this: The last thing I wanted to do today when I got home from the bookstore was fold laundry or make dinner; rather, I wanted to curl up into a ball and sleep for three hours. Somehow, though, he chooses to overcome that tendency most days, and I gained a new appreciation for him today as a result.
Based on what he said to me, he, too, could better sympathize with what I do everyday: juggling four girls, 400 pounds of laundry (including coats), bathroom cleaning, bedroom cleaning, and the whole play-in-the-snow/come-back-in-multiple-times/have-hot-chocolate/spill-hot-chocolate/clean-up-hot-chocolate scenario while I was gone. Craig said he didn't have any problem getting all the work done and making sure the girls didn't kill or maim each other, but he did wonder how in the world he would have fit in six hours of homeschool teaching and learning had he needed to do so. He said he gained a new appreciation for me and for what it takes to do more than just play referee.
I don't think every married couple needs to experience a "role swap" to fully appreciate what the other does, but perhaps if we each gave a little more thought to what our spouses do on our behalf, we might live with them in a more understanding way. And, if we really want to get crazy, actually communicating our appreciation for the other's role fulfillment might just be a great way to start 2010.