Matthew and I went to couples therapy this week. I have a long history of going to couples therapy.
This post is potentially offensive to everyone’s sensibilities. I’ll just start right now and tell you that if you’re a little kid being sexually abused by your dad, you are living in a messed-up but really close, special relationship. So in hindsight, when my dad and I went to therapy with a child psychologist (because for some wild, mysterious reason that no one could figure out I was a difficult child), it felt like couples therapy.
And then there was the boyfriend who was so dysfunctional that our couples therapist told him to wait in the hall and she told me I had to leave and she was very concerned for me.
Then there was my ex-husband, who told me we were going to couples therapy but it was really a divorce lawyer.
And then there was the couples therapist who tossed me and my current husband out of couples therapy because neither of us was trying. He was right.
So last week when we went to couples therapy I took a Valium. I hate writing that I took a Valium because I know it’s not a very hip drug. One reason I know it’s not cool is that it makes me think of Mike Jagger singing Mother’s Little Helper and I’m the last person in the world to be called a raging feminist, but think he’s making fun of women. The other reason Valium makes me feel outdated is that I read an article in New York Magazine about what drugs women take to cope with their lives, and none of my favorites are on there. Xanax is. But it puts me to sleep. And I can’t be a hipster if I’m asleep.
So I take a Valium and I get ready for Matthew to complain about me. And say that I am not appreciating him. Or not making time for him. I can’t actually even guess what he’s going to complain about. But that lack of imagination only makes things worse. And I put another Valium in my pocket. Backup.
Oh. And I am late. Because I was at physical therapy with older son and didn’t leave enough time to drive in between appointments. So I get to the couch—there’s always a couch—and he has already given the therapist background. She asks me, “How are you feeling about how things are going for the two of you?”
I say, “We never have time for each other. I really love Matthew and I have no complaints about him, but the marriage is not going to work if we don’t make time to have the marriage.”
She said, “He said the same thing. He is very happy with you, too.”
I couldn’t believe it. I’m in a therapist’s office with my husband and we are saying the marriage is good. I want to cry from happiness. I’m so proud of myself, because I have never been good at relationships with anyone and I have been trying so hard for so many years.
Then we get down to business.
I drive to Chicago twice a week. I drive to Madison twice a week. I’m only home three days. Matthew drives to Madison once a week and takes care of whichever kid I have left at home. We have two parents who have full-time jobs and we have two parents who are full-time homeschoolers.
You’d think this would be a dream situation. We love our jobs and there’s always enough money. But there is no time. We cannot actually sustain the homeschooling life we’ve set up.
You’d think it would be so great to live on a farm. But what if you have kids who want stuff that is not on the farm? All that stuff is very far away. And a farm is a very specific offering. It’s nice. It’s just not sufficient.
We spent the whole time in the therapists office talking about what we provide for the kids and what we provide for the family unit. The therapist agreed that given the circumstances — an eight year old who wants to be a professional cellist and an eleven year old who has Aspergers and needs various activities — there is not a lot of wiggle room in the schedule we have.
We could hire people to take them places. We do that. But at some point, my son said to us that he gets lonely for a parent. So we cut back a lot on that, since obviously it wasn’t working well.
The therapist did say something really useful, though. She said in our lives it is difficult to decrease the negatives. We have a difficult situation in terms of schedule. But we can increase the positives. We can add one more family game of Uno. We can do an extra walk in the woods, even if it’s a little too dark. We’d all like it. We can pick the pumpkins. It only takes a few minutes, and they are still there in the garden waiting for us.
The therapist told us to focus on the small things that will make us a little happier for a short period of time. That’s something we can do right now.
I don’t think we are a lot different than other homeschooling families. I think homeschooling is very parent-intensive. So if a parent wants to homeschool and work full time, there needs to be someone helping manage the time. For so long I have studied productivity to be better at my work. At some point I realized that productivity advice is geared toward thirty year old men trying to balance work, dating, and going to the gym. Productivity for someone taking care of kids is much different. If nothing else, all the challenges are less predictable.
So it turns out that what I needed was someone to help me with time management for homeschooling. I needed someone to help me figure out how to think about time in a new way, from a homeschooling perspective. The most important thing we realized is that we don’t need to have a date night, or a two-person getaway. We can’t be away from kids and work for that long if we want to keep both of them on track. But we can have a walk in the woods that lasts fifteen minutes. That’s progress for us. And I think it might be for other people too.