You’ve heard of the Emperor Penguin. Meet the Queen Penguin aka my missus getting ready for her office Christmas party. She looks p-p-pretty good to me! And six hours later, she was p-p-pretty p-p-pissed, too!
Tag Archives: Wife
The other day I was ironing my wife’s dress when I received a text message from her.
‘Home late. Still at lunch,’ it read.
It was 5pm and lunch was at the Savoy Grill, one of the poshest restaurants in London. And the reason why she was going to be late was because she was sat at the Chef’s Table with her boss, who had ordered more wine.
‘Fine,’ I wrote back.
And then I let the hot iron linger a little too long on the Isabella Oliver maxi dress that I was pressing for her visit to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, Prince Philip, William and Kate last night.
The reason for my petulant act was jealousy. Pure and simple.
I should be eating at chef’s tables. I should be going to the Palace. I should be the successful one.
Because I used to be. Now, however, my wife lives the life I used to lead and there are times when the green-eyed monster overwhelms me.
Such feelings are perfectly natural, according to clinical psychologist Linda Blair. ‘Whenever you have a unit of people together they make comparisons with themselves. It’s an extension of sibling rivalry. You want to be the best in your group. Inbuilt in us from childhood is a desire to be a centre of attention. That’s how we survive when we’re little. The need to compete is a basic instinct.’
When my wife Rebecca and I first met, I was the more successful. I was editor of a top-selling magazine with salary and perks to match. My wife was also a high-flier, a senior executive in the publishing industry.
But I always had the upper hand, a situation which prevailed for the next ten years, when she gave up work to become a full-time mother to our three children, my stepdaughter, Daisy, nine, and sons, Tom, seven, and four-year-old Sam.
Then last year, our worlds were turned upside down.
After being in work for 28 years, I was made redundant.
I was devastated , but I was sure I’d find another position quickly. I failed. This led to a drastic re-appraisal of our situation. My wife began job hunting – and landed a dream role as editor of one of Britain’s biggest-selling women’s magazine.
And so the tightening of the vice on my fragile male ego began.
She is now the breadwinner while I am a housedad to our children. I do everything for them that she used to do – the housework, the hand-holding, the nagging - and as much as I take great pride in being there to nurture and develop our kids, I am occasionally floored by the drudgery of this existence – and deeply envious of hers.
There are 200,000 housedads in Britain and, although many are there by choice, a great number have been forced into this situation because of economic circumstances. Many have had this life thrust upon them through redundancy, or the simple fact that their partners earn more than them and, like me, many find it damaging to their self-worth, which in turns breeds envy.
This is not an all-consuming emotion, but it does rear its head from time to time and when it does, it shapes the dynamics of our relationship.
Stress management specialist Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress (Wiley and Sons), believes jealousy is common among professional couples.
She explains: ‘Many of us forge our identity and self-worth based on what we do. Many people who lose their job experience “identity theft”.’
Identity theft. I can relate to that phrase. Redundancy robbed me of my power to earn enough to keep my family – and earning enough has always been how I have defined myself.
Despite this, if anything, our circumstances have brought my wife and I closer. For all the occasional envy I feel, I don’t resent my wife her success. She’s earned it. The way I’ve coped is to try to be as good, if not better, than she ever was around the house.
I treat raising our children as a job in itself, and though I don’t get paid for it, I figure I’m earning the gross equivalent of the £25,000 a year I would have to earn in order to pay for childcare.
But there are tensions and the flashpoints in our relationship revolve around three things: lifestyle, status and money.
I come from a traditional working class background and felt my masculinity was threatened by me being out of work and my wife supporting us. She was used to running the home her way. What worried me most, however, was that she would find me less attractive.
She married an ambitious, high-flying dynamic kind of guy. Now she has to listen to him moaning about book bags, school bake sales and her leaving her tights on the bedroom floor.
She says it doesn’t change the way she feels.
But still, it makes me feel less of a man. I would swap back in a heartbeat, but not so her. She is happy and thriving.
Our alliance is one of acceptance that there is nothing we can do about it so we just have to get on with it. We have children. They come first. I just wish I could afford to buy them birthday and Christmas presents instead of watching them unwrap the gifts bought with their mother’s toil and then feel guilty about the grateful hugs they give me because I was the one who had the time to go shopping for them.
But the degree of my jealousy is quite mild compared to others.
A childless friend of mine has a much harder time with his wife’s success. Nick and Corinne met on a business course university ten years ago and both landed jobs at the same accountancy firm. But while Corinne’s career soared, Nick’s stalled, and now, as a senior manager, Corinne earns almost twice as much as her husband.
‘It felt like Corinne would get a promotion every year, but I kept getting overlooked,’ Nick, 33, explained. ‘At first, I was delighted for her. We’d go out to a great restaurant and celebrate with champagne, but when it kept happening, I thought, “Hang on, what’s she got that I haven’t?”’
Nick tried to correct the imbalance by becoming more and more competitive, but when his endeavours proved fruitless, he started to take out his feelings of inadequacy on his wife.
‘She was the star of the show,’ he said. ‘Her bosses and colleagues were falling over themselves to praise her. We’d go out to work functions and I’d feel like an appendage, like I didn’t matter. She tried to make me feel good about myself by saying it wasn’t what she was earning that mattered, but the total dual income we were bringing home, but I didn’t buy that.
‘I became petulant and surly around the house, always putting her down and criticising, not just her, but the people she worked with. I said she was only successful because she was attractive.’
Their relationship hit the buffers when, after one drinks party, Nick started verbally attacking Corinne.
‘I’d had way too much to drink, but all the resentment I’d been feeling over the years came to the surface. She’d paid for all our holidays, bought me more expensive presents than I could afford to buy her, and I just lost it. I accused her of sleeping with her boss. Before I really knew what I’d said, she threw me out.’
Finally, Corinne gave Nick an ultimatum: get therapy or divorced.
Nick chose the former and it saved their relationship.
Linda Blair says she sees many couples like Nick and Corinne.
‘There are two basic ways that you deal with jealousy,’ she says. ‘Either you puff yourself up to be a bigger chicken, or you stick pins in the other one.’
Nick’s story resonates with me and though I have never consciously put my wife down, there have been times when I have been less than over-enthusiastic about her achievements.
When she did a presentation in front of 1,000 people, I chose to regale her of the time I presented to an audience of 2,000 on three consecutive nights. It was as if I was saying: ‘Anything you can do, I used to do better.’
So what can be done about this?
Linda Blair advises the jealous spouse to find a different way to be successful. In my case, it might be to be a better stay-at-home-parent than my wife ever was.
Debbie Mandel says couples have to communicate.
‘The jealous spouse needs to announce his or her reality and be heard without interruption,’ she says. ‘Then the successful spouse can ask the jealous one what he or she is longing for. The key is not to give advice and fix it. Home improvement begins with self-improvement.
‘The jealous spouse needs to tap into the positive side of jealousy which is to grow as a person, find a mentor, update skills and network to turn adversity into advantage. The successful spouse should never issue commands and use the bell-tolling words “I’m paying for it.” The goal is to realise that you are a team – sometimes you shine and carry the ball, and sometimes the other person does.
‘It is easy to cheer someone on when he or she is down. However, to cheer and affirm someone who is successful can take the marriage to new heights.’
And when all else fails? Have lots of sex. ‘Sex is similar to exercise,’ says Debbie Mandel. ‘Have lots of sex to forge intimacy and connection.’
Sounds like a plan. Once I’ve finished ironing these school uniforms.
With the kids going back to school this week (Hurray!!), I thought this rather poignant article my wife wrote about our youngest son starting nursery last year was worth an airing. He is four now and starts Reception on Friday. It will be a Big Gulp moment, let me tell you. He and I have had six whole weeks together, and as much as I complain about the frustrations of being a SAHD, I will miss him massively. I will miss all three, of course, but his stepping up a year feels especially poignant. He is astonishingly wonderful company.
This week’s theme: My nest is EMPTY!
We walked along the pavement hand-in-hand and passed through the school gate. At the classroom door, I crouched down and my three-year-old son placed his arms around me and pressed his face into my neck.
‘Have a great time,’ I said.
Then, in the next moment, he was taking the hand of another woman and waving me goodbye. The classroom door closed and a chapter of my life ended.
My youngest child had started nursery full-time.
I thought I’d feel excited. Instead I went home, made myself a cup of tea and had a good old howl. Anyone would have thought it was me starting nursery, not my son!
‘Don’t worry,’ said The Husband. ‘You’re just mourning the baby years. You’ll get over it.’
But all week I felt wobbly and weepy. The house was so quiet. I missed our mornings watching CBeebies together and our afternoons strolls to the park to feed the ducks.
I made myself busy. I scrubbed out the kitchen cupboards. I cleaned out the fridge. I even dared to venture beneath my nine-year-old daughter’s bed and found a mug that had gone missing three months before.
But the time dragged. I kept checking the clock to see if it had stopped. I felt out of sorts and limp, like a damp rag.
‘I’ve got all the oomph of a wet lettuce,’ I said to my friend Sue over a cup of tea later that week. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’
‘I do,’ she said. ‘You’ve got Empty Nest Syndrome.’
She explained. It was the term given to explain the loss and sadness that many parents experienced when their children no longer lived with them or needed day-to-day care. It was common when kids left home for college or university.
‘But he’s only gone to nursery,’ I said to Sue.
‘It can strike at any time,’ she said. ‘It’s not surprising really when you think about how much our lives change when we have kids.’
On the way home I thought about what she’d said. Ten years ago, my life was different. It was all about me. I went out to work, I spent what I earned on myself, I was selfish. If I wanted a new pair of shoes I bought them. If I wanted to go out with my friends I didn’t have to think twice about it.
Then I became a mother and things changed.
Instead of pursuing a career, I fitted work around the children. I spent what I earned on them. I put them first and me last. I didn’t mind. It was what I wanted to do. Now a decade had flown by. The kids were all at school and didn’t need me to be around as much. I took a long, hard look in the mirror and got a shock.
I thought: ‘I’m over 40, I’m going grey and I’m heading for the menopause. If I were a horse, I’d be put out to grass….Or worse.’
Never mind my baby years being over, I reckoned my best years were over!
I felt redundant. I’d given up my life for my children and now they were moving on. What would I do now?
Next day, after the school run, I walked home via the park. As I passed the swings I caught sight of some mums with their toddlers.
‘How lovely,’ I thought. ‘I wish that was still me.’
Then I took a closer look.
One mum was running around the playground after a shrieking toddler. One was trying to change a nappy on a bench. One was shouting. One was trying to drag her child off the slide while balancing a baby on her hip. And one was trying to coax a grumpy toddler into his buggy but every time she got him in, he got out again causing the buggy to tip over and all her bags to spill over the floor.
‘I’ve had enough of this!’ she cried, pulling at her hair and looking close to tears.
And I thought: ‘Yes, love. You’re right.’
I’d been mourning the end of a golden age but had it really been as wonderful as I remembered?
The years when our children are very young are precious. But they are also the hardest. Yes, there are magical moments but there are many more moments of sheer slog.
For nine years I have had at least one child in nappies, or in a buggy or walking so slowly I’d sprout a new grey hair by the time we’d made it to the shops and back.
I’ve lost count of the number of sleepless nights I’ve had, of tantrums, and of days out that started with high hopes and ended in tears and a massive sense of failure.
When the kids were very small I used to fantastise about what I’d do when they were grown up with homes of their own. I’d draw on their walls, pour washing up liquid into their fish bowl, take one single bite out of every apple in their fruit bowl and refuse to eat anything that wasn’t smothered in ketchup. And on trips out I’d wait until everyone was in the car before announcing that I needed a wee and I’d shout: ‘Are we nearly there, yet?’ before we’d even set off.
After all, I’d think, it’s just what they have done to me!
It’s easy to look back on the baby years with a rose-tinted view but those same years can leave mums feeling isolated, depressed, overwhelmed, frightened and angry.
I know. I’ve been there.
When my six-year-old son was a baby, I took him and his sister, then three, out for a picnic. Halfway through our sandwiches, my daughter needed the toilet. I took her off behind the nearest tree but then she refused to come out again. I tried to coax her but she ran off.
Of course, I had to go after her but I daren’t leave my baby so I scooped him up and carried him as I ran through the trees looking for my little girl.
I couldn’t see her anywhere. I called her name. Nothing.
I started to panic.
And then my foot caught a tree root. Before I knew what had happened I was falling, clutching my baby son to my chest.
I fell. The baby landed beneath me. And then my daughter stepped out from where she’d been hiding behind a tree.
At that moment I began to cry. Part of it was fear I’d hurt my son, part was relief my daughter was safe, part was anger at her behaviour and part was pain from my twisted ankle. But the main cause of my tears was a terrible and overwhelming sense of failure.
I thought: ‘I can’t do this. I can’t cope.’
Of course, I did cope. When you’re a mum you just have to get on with it. But now, as I watched the mums in the park battling with their double buggies, their baby bags and their fractious toddlers, I could honestly say: ‘I’m glad that’s over.’
Yes, I may be middle-aged. Yes, I may be going grey on top and saggy in the middle and, well, let’s not talk about the bottom, but at least I will never again have to deal with The Baby Years.
Instead, I can start to be me again, the person I was before I was Mum. What will I do? Who knows. But whatever it is, I won’t be attempting to do it while attached to a small child. I can’t wait.
Last year, we had the Most Amazing Holiday Of A Lifetime Ever-Cum-Honeymoon to Corsica. This year, we’ve been – and are going – nowhere. Lack of cash and the demands of the Succesful Other Half’s job have conspired to deny us the annual treat. Instead, we’ll be touring our parents up in the North East and North West (where I am posting this from now – a complex affair involving finding a hotel that has Wi-Fi, then shelling out a fortune on BT OPenzone access). This has its plus points – no getting to the airport with three young kids, no queuing, no dicky tummies from dodgy food. We did a similar thing a couple of years ago, which my wife wrote about in her weekly column for the women’s magazine she now edits. And here it is…
This week: Our holiday-at-home was supposed to be hassle-free heaven. But I was more stressed than the underwiring in Jordan’s bra
It was a day straight from a holiday brochure – cloudless sky, gentle breeze, my skin beginning to tingle in the sunshine. I slathered on some sunscreen, lay back and let the cares of the world melt away.
‘This is the life, eh?’ I said to The Partner Who Is Not My Husband.
‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘There’s nothing like a holiday.’
But this wasn’t your average break.
We had decided that instead of going away we’d have our summer holiday at home. Right here, in our little back garden. Instead of spending a fortune to stand in airport queues and bump elbows on the beach, we’d save our cash and take our chances with the Great British weather.
My friend, who was off to Spain, thought I was mad. She showed me her holiday brochure, full of happy families relaxing on deserted golden beaches and frolicking in empty swimming pools and said: ‘You’ll regret it.’
‘And,’ she added, ‘it’s bound to rain.’
But right at that moment I was feeling pretty smug. The weather was wonderful, the children were happy and we hadn’t spent a penny. And then it happened.
A big, wet drop plopped onto my sunglasses.
‘Was that….?’ I began but before I could even get the word ‘rain’ from my lips, a shower of cold water began to descend from a now darkening sky.
I screamed. The kids screamed. We all scrambled for the door and the heavens opened. And stayed open.
‘Well,’ said The Partner, watching the rain lashing against the windows. ‘That’s it, then. That was the holiday. Are you going to put the kettle on?’
‘No,’ I replied, settling on the sofa with my book. ‘I’m still on holiday.’
‘I’m hungry,’ said the seven-year-old. ‘Can I have a sandwich, Mum?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m on holiday.’
‘Can we watch Power Rangers?’ said the four-year-old.
‘Grrr…’ I snapped. ‘I’M ON MY FLIPPIN’ HOLIDAY!’
After two days of leaden skies and driving rain, however, I was forced to accept that my holiday-at-home idea had been a disaster, just as my friend had predicted.
But then a miracle occurred. The sun came out.
‘Quick!’ I said, slapping suncream on the kids. ‘Let’s make the most of it!’
We scrambled into T-shirts and shorts and headed for the park for an afternoon in the sun. We expected relaxation. We expected fun. We expected the weight of the world to lift from our shoulders.
We were in for a nasty surprise. The park was so packed with people, we had to queue for the swings and stand in line for a turn on the slide, and it took half an hour just to get an ice cream, only for most of it to have melted down my arm by the time I’d picked my way through the sea of pink flesh back to our scrap of green.
Hot and sticky and cramped, I could feel a grump coming on and, as I looked around, I realised I wasn’t alone. No one else was enjoying the afternoon much either.
On one side of us, a couple were arguing about which of them had had the most to drink the night before. On the other, a toddler was having a tantrum about a dropped ice-lolly while his lobster pink mum and dad snapped at each other in frustration. Close by, a baby was crying, two dogs were fighting and a man whose head looked like it had been dipped in boiling oil was exploding with rage about being hit by a kid’s football.
No one was smiling. No one looked happy. The whole experience was about as relaxing as being tied to a juicy steak and thrown to a pack of starving wolves.
After an hour I was so stressed I was ready to hit someone over the head with my Factor 50.
‘I’ve had enough,’ I said to The Partner. ‘Let’s go home.’
Back indoors I gave up all pretence of being on holiday. I did the washing. I made the tea. I let the kids watch TV. And strangely, freed from the pressure of expecting to have a relaxing time, I felt more, well, relaxed!
What was it about holidays that I couldn’t seem to get right? It wasn’t as though I wanted much from my break – at home or away. Just heaven on earth. Was that too much to ask?
The following week, I met up with my friend. Over coffee, she produced her Spanish holiday snaps and showed me picture after picture of blue skies and smiling kids.
‘Looks fabulous,’ I sighed.
‘Oh it was,’ she replied, ‘if you don’t count the tiny apartment with the view of the car park, the rowdy teenagers in the swimming pool, the beach with standing room only, the trips to the supermarket with bored kids, the fights with the husband over who’d got the passports, the packing and unpacking, the loading and unloading of the washing machine, the endless making of sandwiches and cups of tea…’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘It sounds like my week at home.’
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Only with a delayed flight at either end!’
As she spoke I realised it wasn’t just me who found holidays a let down. In a recent survey of our biggest disappointments, holidays featured three times in the top ten, which shows just how much expectation we heap on them – and just how different the reality turns out to be.
The problem is we work hard all year long for our week or two in the sun. We pour twelve months’ worth of hope into those few days, willing them to be golden enough to eradicate the stress and strain of our everyday lives. But what holiday can manage that?
In reality, the empty white beach turns out to be a grimy strip. The beautiful panorama in the holiday brochure turns out to have an oil refinery just out of camera shot. We don’t look like supermodels in our supermodel-designed swimwear.
Ultimately, the glittering dream of the exotic is dulled by the reality of the mundane. Even though we are on holiday, we still have to make cups of tea and wash the dishes. We still nag our children and bicker with our partner.
As the writer Alain de Botton observed in his book The Art of Travel, we expect a holiday to transform us. But it can’t. On a break in Barbados, he finds himself worrying about the same petty things he worried about at home, and is alarmed to realise that: ‘I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island’.
Holidays are about ‘getting away from it all’ but the one thing we can never escape is ourselves.
‘I don’t think we’ll bother with a holiday next year,’ said my friend, putting away her snaps.
‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘It’s not worth all the hassle and the disappointment.’
We sat there for a long time, sipping our coffee and contemplating the alternatives. What were they? Rain. Misery. Rain. Frustration.
‘Oh, come on, who are we kidding!’ I said at last. ‘Thinking about our holidays is the only thing that keeps us going.’
‘You’re right,’ said my friend, reaching into her bag and pulling out a handful of holiday brochures. ‘What d’you think of Cyprus?’
‘Ooh,’ I said, drooling over pictures of golden sands and sparkling sea and instantly forgetting about 5am flights and teenagers dive-bombing the pool. ‘It looks gorgeous. It really does look like heaven on earth…’