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Give Your Spouse the Gift of Time

Dear CMR:

I’m the father of a 3-year-old. Neither my wife nor I ever get enough sleep. When our daughter wakes us up in the morning, I try to quietly get her out of the bedroom so my wife can keep sleeping. More often than not, however, my wife spends this time on her phone emailing, texting, and reading news and social media posts. This bugs me. The way I look at it, if one of us can get a little extra sleep, that helps us both. I’m willing to handle the morning routine solo to make that happen. I’m not, however, willing to do it so my wife can get caught up on her work and social life while I fall further behind on mine. But if a gift is a gift—I’m not supposed to say how it gets used, right? Do I have a right to be annoyed here?

—Rather Be Snoozing

Dear Snoozing:

Wow - what a sweet husband to be willing to get up early every day with your toddler to let your wife get some extra rest. Impressive! That is an awesome gift!

However, the key word here is “gift.” A gift is not a gift if it comes with strings attached. No doubt your wife is picking up on your resentment, and I would guess your little one senses your frustration as well. That’s not a very fun way to start the day for any of you, and it ceases to actually feel like the gift you meant for it to be.

Notice the words you wrote: “The way I look at it…” Although your motivation in getting up early with the baby is very noble, finding rest in sleeping-in is your perspective and may not be your wife’s perspective. Where getting a little extra sleep may relieve your stress and refresh you, it doesn’t mean your wife necessarily feels the same way. She may actually find that a little extra time to deal with her work responsibilities or to connect socially relieves more of her daily stress and refreshes her soul.

My point is, you two are different, and different is OK. It doesn’t mean one of you is right and the other one is wrong. It’s an acknowledgment that God has wired you in different ways with different preferences and different needs. You can’t really demand she experience rest and relaxation in a certain way just because you do. That’s not realistic, and to do so sets up both of you for unmet expectations and conflict.

I suggest the following four-step solution:

1.     Take turns getting up early with your toddler. Set up a schedule that works for you two, but make sure it’s a win/win for both of you. An imbalance of sacrificial giving on either one’s part is unfair and can lead to bitterness and resentment.

2.     Give your wife freedom to decide for herself. Express to her that she is free to find “rest and relaxation” the way she determines is best for her and that you recognize it may be very different from you, and that’s OK.

3.     Pause and intentionally note the enjoyment you experience in your new arrangement and your new perspective in the process. Truly enjoy your time sleeping in, resting, and appreciating that you have a wife who is willing to sacrifice her sleep time because she loves and cares for you. Be sure to express your appreciation for her gift to you.

4.     On the days you get up early, intentionally delight in the fact that you get to genuinely meet your wife’s need for rest and refreshment in a way that is meaningful to her. Talk about your new-found delight with your toddler and help reframe her perspective, too, from one of sensing frustration to one of being complicit in being a blessing: “We get to bless Mommy this morning! Isn’t that fun?!”

With this subtle reframe in your perspective, I think you’ll find you’ll all be much happier, well rested, and truly experience the morning time the way you meant for it to be experienced: as a gift.