My husband, Keith, works as a pediatrician, and when he arrived home after three days on call, he had popcorn and a DVD in hand. He was ecstatic to finally be off work, and he was determined to have fun with his family.
But I was having none of it. The chores weren't done, and both our daughters were behind on math homework. While Keith was away, Katie, our 9-year-old, had refused to practice piano. A movie night may be fun during long summer days, but a new school year had begun, and I already felt like I was playing catch-up.
When Keith walked in the door that night, I thought he would back me up. Instead, he suggested that perhaps the girls should quit piano if it was so stressful.
And once again I was the bad parent, while he was the fun parent — complete with a Pixar movie.
Every year, the back-to-school season can be a frantic time for moms as we vow, "This year will be different. We will get the homework done, stay on top of chores and keep everyone's schedule organized." But I've found that charging full-speed ahead without involving my husband can backfire. Our kids benefit far more from witnessing teamwork than they do from seeing a stressed out mom and an aggravated dad. When I asked Keith for help, I realized that he actually wanted to be my knight in shining armor — I'd just never given him the chance.
So, consider asking your husband:
Can you help me? For my friend Sarah, back-to-school marriage tension revolved around feeling broke. Her husband, Sherman, never understood how school supplies could cost so much. Realizing that the blame game wasn't working, Sarah invited Sherman to come along with her. He shopped with their son while Sarah shopped with their daughter. They finished in less time with far less financial frustration. Now it's an annual tradition.
How can we keep each other informed? Sherman was aggravated because he was finding things out after the fact, and Keith was aggravated because he was finding things out when my frustration level was sky-high. Keeping each other in the loop should be a main goal of back-to-school planning. Keith and I have learned to sync our Google calendars, to use a giant planner on our fridge and to talk every night about the schedule, and the stresses, the next day may bring.
What's most important to you? When I did all the planning, I inadvertently overlooked my husband's priorities by focusing too much on our daughters. Now I ask Keith a simple question: "What are your non-negotiables this year?" Usually, we focus on four: a family night once a week; meals together at least three times a week; one day a month for Keith's hobby; and couple time at least every two weeks. Setting these parameters helps to avoid overscheduling.
What should our kids be responsible for? We use this time of year to reassess what responsibilities the kids can handle, and together we make the new assignments. Because Keith is better at sticking to the plan than I am, he's become the go-to guy for keeping the girls on top of their chores.
What are we each good at? My assistant, Holly, is mom to four, and she's a natural organizer who functions best at night. Each evening she asks questions about the next day and encourages her kids to collect homework, permission slips and their sports equipment. Her husband, Chris, is better in the morning, so he helps before school by asking the kids what events are happening in their day, praying with them and being available over breakfast.
I used to think I was doing Keith a favor by organizing our family schedule without him. I realize now that carving him out of the picture only increased the tension in our house, and it ultimately deprived Keith of the opportunity to help. Since we've embraced more of a teamwork approach, I am far less likely to have panic attacks during the school year, and Keith feels indispensable. It's a back-to-school plan that's good for our parenting and our marriage.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is a speaker, blogger and author of eight books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum.