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The Great Mom Debate: Moms talk about how work choices affect their marriages

Briannan Gahner plays with her children Hunter, right, and Alexis, left, at Lindenwood Park in Fargo Oct. 26. (Carrie Snyder / The Forum)


About "The Great Mom Debate" series

Even so, taking care of children and the housework can amount to more than a full-time job - one that doesn't come with built-in breaks and paid time off.

"I think every stay-at-home mom has some tension about feeling like she does everything," Gahner said. "As a stay-at-home mom you still need a break here and there. A five-minute shower alone is nice sometimes."

Gahner said she used to get mad that her husband's job took him away from home more than she liked, but she realized it wasn't healthy for her relationship or her kids.

"I basically made a pact with myself to just show my husband love and support for his very tough, burden-riding, exhausting job," she said. "It's made a huge difference in our relationship."

She also makes sure to give herself regular breaks by napping or just enjoying moments of quiet when her children nap.

"That is my time," Gahner said. "I also have a very strong support system and my in-laws and parents are always willing to babysit so I can have time for me."

Whether a mom works or stays home with her children, both partners have expectations that should be clearly communicated ahead of time. But even if the lines of communication are open, the signals can often be muddled.

Colleen Lanners of Fargo has found that by changing her attitude, she has been able to enjoy more time with her family.

Lanners works full time and has a 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

She said her husband is more relaxed about housework than she is and she is learning to let more go.

"Where I see the house is messy, he sees that the kids were having a fun time with their toys," she said. "I try to do more outside of the home with the kids so I don't find myself doing housework all the time. I can become consumed by what there is to do. I realized that I need to shut my phone off, take a deep breath and make some memories."

Still, it can be tough to work and keep up on household chores. If Lanners can run home during her lunch breaks, she will use the time to clean, do laundry or run errands.

"My goal is to stay on top of things so that when I am home with my children, I am not consumed by what has to be done," she said. "I do a little something every day instead of just leaving things for the weekends."

She said chores are not divided evenly and never will be, but she finds cleaning and lawn work relaxing and her husband enjoys taking care of the finances and investments.

"I think there is always a time when one partner does more than the other," Lanners said. "The key is to not keep track."

Karissa Schmoll a marriage and family therapist with The Village Family Service Center, which has offices throughout North Dakota and Minnesota, said that although the division of household labor has become much more even over the past few generations, most women in heterosexual relationships feel they do more work in the home than their male partners do. It's a topic that often comes up in couples counseling.

Schmoll said it's very important for couples to communicate their expectations before changing the household dynamic whether a mom decides to work or stay home.

"If these things aren't communicated beforehand, each partner can have unspoken expectations about the way things 'should' be," Schmoll said. "The end result can be that a partner will violate expectations they aren't even aware of."

To keep the peace when a child or work changes the family dynamic, Schmoll said couples should:

Be flexible as they adapt to those changes.

Remember that things will never be exactly even and avoid keeping a scoreboard as it tends to fuel anger and frustration.

Tackle changes as a team and not as enemies.

Schedule talks a few times a week to discuss what needs to be done and choose which partner will do it.

"The most important thing for couples to strive for is to show their partner respect and appreciation," Schmoll said. "It is easier to handle tough changes in your workload when you feel respected and appreciated by your partner."

Kimbra Amerman of Kindred, N.D., was a stay-at-home mom for eight years. Now that her daughters, ages 5 and 8, are both in school, she works in home-based businesses she owns. She's found that the easiest way to get the help she needs is just to ask for it.

"I think as moms sometimes we take everything on because it is just easier that way or just so it gets done our way," she said. "That leads to bad feelings. I have found that my husband cannot read my mind and all I have to do is ask. I have also found that he can do things just as good as I can and sometimes better."

Both Erica Cermak of Bismarck and Carrie Stange of Fargo are full-time working moms who say household tasks are divided pretty evenly.

"We still get into some gender-ideal roles ... I cook, he'll do snow removal, but I've certainly mowed a lawn in my day, and he's done his share of laundry," Cermak said.

Stange's household responsibilities are divvied up based on time of day.

"I do the morning stuff since Dad leaves for work before we are out of bed most days, and Dad does the evening stuff because he is home before I am done with work most days," she said. "We try to do everything as a team and be as fair to each other as we can."

Whether women work or stay home, it can be overwhelming to balance their needs, their spouse's needs and their children's needs.

To deal with feeling overwhelmed, Schmoll said women need to take care of themselves by scheduling time to do the things that recharge their batteries, ask for help from others, and talk to their partners about how they're feeling.

"Even if there is nothing your partner can do to ease your stress, it is essential that you seek emotional support and feel that your partner understands how you are feeling," Schmoll said.

Amerman said that in the past, balance was a hard thing to find.

Now, she makes sure to take breaks by spending evenings with close friends and working out.

"My husband understands how important those things are to me and knows that I am a much better mom when I get out to do my own thing," she said.