All posts by James Mbewe

Are We On The Same Page?

are-we-on-the-same-pageHeck, are we even in the same book?

On my last blog post “How Does She Do It?” I touched on some of the challenges mothers face raising kids and how most of the work they do at home is not appreciated. Culture teaches us that work is earning a paycheck. It is so embedded in our brains that we do not see the sacrifice of a spouse who has to deal with the day to day chores and dealing with kids at home.  I have received a lot of good feedback on how men and women can learn to listen to cues and establish an environment where we don’t take each other for granted.  I have to admit that I have a lot of learning to do. Despite trying to understand my wife between conversations that beat around the bush and non-verbal cues, I can totally miss what she has to say.

friendshipWhat’s fascinating is the huge difference in the way men and women process information,
yet we have to live with each other.  Our differences somehow are weaved into this amazing hidden treasure that unfolds as we explore life together, discovering the
beautiful and the ugly parts of a relationship.  True friendship develops when we can connect with each other on a deeper level, going beyond the superficial. We then discover that beauty comes out of the ugliness in a relationship.

I am not as patient as my wife when it comes to grocery shopping. I get in, get out, and get on with my life, but then I would only have a meal for dinner and most likely break the budget. She has all the menus planned out for the entire week, a grocery list, and a plan of attack upon entering the store. Sometimes, in the middle of planning the menus, she will ask me a question about what I would like to eat during the week, and it is usually when I am in the middle of doing something. And my mind goes blank.  It sure is not rocket science—it’s a simple question, right? If it takes more than 30 seconds for me to respond, she will come back with a suggestion.  She will say “What do you want to eat Monday, chicken or beef?” Information overload! I still hadn’t processed the first question, and now she’s added a second! And my response will be “yes, chicken or beef”.  My brain has just gone through a state of nothingness.  I have been caught off guard and do not know what to do or how to answer the question. My brain is flat-lining. It’s not that I am not interested in eating for the week. Interrupting a one-track mind is like making a wrong turn on the highway, like a GPS, I am recalculating trying to find an easier route to the question at hand. It won’t take long before she is frustrated because of my lack of input in planning the meals and she will proceed to make the menus without me. Or just quit cooking altogether. Good thing she loves cooking.

What frustrates both men and women in a relationship is the fact that we don’t operate on the same page most of the time. We think that we have communicated with our spouse about what we need, but we are using words or giving them cues they don’t understand, and then we expect instant results. What makes sense in our head does not mean that it made sense to our spouse.  I have heard frustrated women say “why can’t he do something without being asked? Can’t he see that there is work that needs to get done around the house?” In a lot of cultures, the mentality of most men is that work around the house is done by women and as a result, they do not feel the need to take the initiative to help. Men who do help on the other hand get frustrated when they are asked to do multiple things at the same time. I can’t multi-task like my wife. When I’m sweeping the floor or something and she asks me to take out the garbage, my response will be, can’t she see I’m already doing something? Our frustrations are the result of our lack of understanding on how different we process information.   We tend to be impatient with each other and are unwilling to give each other grace.

Every once and awhile, my wife and I have these self-evaluations where we talk about our needs and the things we do that makes the other person frustrated. At times my wife will say she has needs. I ask her what her needs are, and she tells me she doesn’t know. What’s a man to do with that? It is hard when you hear your spouse take a jab at your ego and bring out some of the ugly parts of your life, but it is necessary.  This helps us find ways to reconcile our differences and learn how to meet each other’s needs. We become better people when we learn to take criticism and not become defensive when we are corrected. Many times we are all locked up in our own little world, but we must look beyond it.  We must work hard to keep the channels of communication open even if it is a hard thing to do.  In the end, it will be worth it.

What do you find frustrating while trying to communicate with others? Spouse, parents, friends, co-workers, kids? What has been the most rewarding conversation you had? Would you mind sharing some of the ways you use to effectively communicate? We can all use help in establishing genuine and solid relationships.


How Does She Do It?

mother_imageTwo hours with the kids and I am almost pulling my hair out!

I work 8 hour days, 5 days a week, by 5:00 p.m., my brain is all mushy from writing web programs or dealing with the technical issues of the day. I always look forward to getting home so I can have a few minutes to relax and spend time with the kids before their bed time. My wife who is an excellent cook always has a meal ready for us to eat. After the meal, we try to get the kids to help with cleanup and getting the dishes in the dishwasher, even though it is messy at times; it’s the thought that counts. Once we have the dishes all cleaned up, it’s time to play tickle-kiss with the kids—some kind of game we invented. Our oldest son is the loudest and most active and our youngest is obsessed with stuffed animals; she has quite a stash in her room. All it takes is several minutes for the house to look like a mini tornado went through. If my wife told anyone that she had cleaned the house and had everything in order, no one would believe her because of the lack of evidence.

How does she keep up with the never ending list of chores, menus for the week, cooking, laundry, cleaning and whiny kids? And the list goes on. Where does she get the strength to keep going? When does she have a quiet time to reflect and rest? Can you imagine a single parent who has to raise children, work, go to school and worry about the day-to-day chores?

The other day, I heard a man argue with his wife; he told her “all you do is stay home with the kids while I bust my [tail] with these 10 hour shifts at work to put food on the table”. I couldn’t believe what came out of his mouth. Yes, he definitely deserved the dog house. I am afraid that was probably the way he regularly talked to her. The lady, who was visibly shaken, picked up the crying baby and proceeded to check out the groceries in silence. The guy kept grumbling on the way out the store.

One thing that came to mind after I saw the incident was the story of a Texas woman Andrea Yates, a stay at home mother who drowned her children. No one really knows what drove her to commit such a crime, but what we know is she was suffering from postpartum depression after her fifth child. When I read an article “Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?” by Katherine Ramsland , I couldn’t help but feel sorry for a family that was fully involved in their local church and appeared to be happy on the outside,  go through something so horrendous. When I read comments from people, calling her a monster and that she deserved to be hanged, I was amazed at such rage coming from the readers of the article. Wow! I am not trying to lessen the crime she committed; I am just appalled by people who commented without a clear understanding of what mental issues can do to a person. Her oldest son’s final words to her were “I am sorry”. Could it be the challenges of raising five kids that drove her to the breaking point? Is it possible that her husband was so busy trying to provide food, clothing and shelter for the family that he neglected a crucial aspect of their relationship, her emotional well being?

A lot of people who are suffering from depression and in need of help are afraid to reach out for help because of how we respond to them. We tend to isolate ourselves from people who are dealing with emotional or mental issues. We have created an environment where there is no room for people to be real. People like Andrea Yates who do reach out to the church or people around them, get a “you got to fix your life first” before you can come into my little circle of friends. This kind of treatment could be the reason why a lot of people dealing with depression and other emotional issues remain silent. What Andrea Yates shared with the cops in the 30 minutes interview after she was arrested, was what she should have shared with her husband or her church group. She believed she was a bad mother and the kids were getting out of control. She needed to do something to save them from hell. This to me sounds like an outcry of a mother who felt alone and did not have anyone to share her issues with. Could the whole situation have been avoided?

What makes us human is the ability to process information and able to make sound judgment. In most cases, people going through depression or extreme stress have a difficult time making rational decisions because their reality has been warped by isolation and compounded by life demands, cultural expectation and the little voices that circulate and condemn. Sometimes family and friends who know of a loved one dealing with depression or other mental issues live in denial, and would rather not deal with the situation instead of seeking help through counseling or other means.

I can’t comprehend what it is like for a mother carrying a baby for 9 months and going through labor, the everyday demands of giving without receiving, sacrificing herself for the needs of the kids and her husband over and over. Moms never have a break. They keep going even if they are in pain or sick. Parenting is hard, harder when you feel like you are carrying it all. It is easy to go off to work, earn a paycheck, and come home and check-out of this world through watching TV. I know of mothers who work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week who still go home and cook, clean and do all the household chores. We all need a break, we all need a rest and refuel, but how does a woman find the time? Since she is so in the groove of self-sacrificing she will not ask for time alone, she might. Sometimes she does, but it feels wrong to her….is it culture telling her that she cannot rest, refuel? We guys can zone out in front of the TV, computer, iPhone, play games, be totally oblivious to what is going on in the house. Sometimes it is easier for a woman to do the chores herself, rather than try to communicate to a spouse who has checked out to what needs to get done or how to help. Wives are expected to assist their husbands, to listen, be sensitive to pick up on the cues of what they like, dislike. Why can’t men try to do the same?

What a mother does is more than work, it’s LOVE. It’s sacrifice. So how does she do it? I can honestly say that I don’t know. But I can help her.

When Cultural Expectations Don’t Lineup With Reality

cultural_expectations2When my wife and I got married, like any other young couple, we had a list of things we wanted to accomplish which included having kids. We thought we had this whole marriage thing figured out during our courtship, and since we were not guaranteed tomorrow, why not get on with the program and have kids right away. I had always dreamed of a baby boy or girl running around the house getting spoiled by daddy. Whatever the challenges this little munchkin brings my way, I would be able to handle them as grown up men do. After our two-year honeymoon was over, I was more than ready to be a daddy. My wife always talked about being a stay at home mom, that was her dream before we even met.

Two, three, four, five years had passed, no baby. We had started to wonder if this whole children thing was for us.  Me being on the road, traveling with a music group did not help the situation. We felt time was not on our side. It seemed everyone around us was getting pregnant, even couples who were not ready to have children. We talked about adoption if we could not have children of our own. My wife’s work was getting more stressful, she wanted to quit her job, but her dream of becoming a homemaker was getting shattered, and I knew she felt bad. If she stops working, what would she become? A stay at home wife? It would have helped if we had a bunch of pets, she would have at least quit work to take care of them at home. Ha! 

Finally, we accepted the possibility that we might not be able to have children – and we were okay with it. But then what would she do? Her purpose in life was supposed to have kids and take care of the home–at least that is what culture taught her. And me.

During my time of reflection, I began to realize my cultural expectation of what marriage should be was getting a kick in the rear. I grew up in a culture where married couples were expected to have children. I remember even at a young age how people who had failed to conceive were isolated and ridiculed. In every case, the woman was to blame even though there was no proof that indicated the woman was the culprit. I couldn’t imagine how women felt who expected support from their husbands, family and friends, but instead got a slap in the face – a baby making machine that does not work.

We have literally created these cultural boxes where roles for men and women are stored. Everything expected of a man or woman is defined by the checklist within the box. My wife who was born and raised in Minnesota was challenged at one point by someone she knew. She told the lady that her desire was to get married and raise a family but she wanted to go to college to get an education first. The lady told her “why do you want to waste money getting an education when your desire is to get married and be a homemaker?”

That kind of cultural expectations hung over my wife’s head as she tried to figure out what she should do until meeting Mr. Right. So, she became a lady-in-waiting, waiting for prince charming to whisk her away to a castle where she will live happily ever after. Then she met me…LOL. In the following six years she remained childless. What was she going to do in the meantime? Be a housewife? No, she went off to college and discovered her true passion. Not that her desire for having kids lessened, but sometimes we have to face the inevitable. What if my wife never had kids? Was she supposed to work menial jobs? Or could we perhaps be called to more? Do we allow our culture to hold us back? To dictate certain expectation but only to find that these cultural demands does not line up with reality? Then what? Maybe we need to take a step back and think what we are teaching our sons and daughters.

Challenges we face now are definitely different from what our forefathers faced a century or two ago. There is nothing wrong with keeping up with traditions, but if our traditions become a source of strife and harm to our loved ones, then maybe we should think twice about holding on to them. I have seen families who hated each other’s guts get together for cultural  or traditional holiday gatherings because it is expected of them. At what cost? Perhaps we should spend more time mending broken relationships and empowering people to use their talents to their full potential. This world is full of pain and suffering, we can all use a little encouragement from loved ones.

What are some of the cultural expectations you faced that did not lineup with reality? How did you deal with them?