“Mom! Justin’s stinky,” my 4-year-old notifies me while covering his nose and cowering in a corner. I wonder why my own lazy nose has somehow lost its acuteness; still, I hurry away from dinner preparations dimly aware that the potatoes are boiling over. Not only has my 2-year-old produced “treasures” in his diaper, but he also has smuggled a chocolate-covered granola bar into the bathroom, a feat that involves climbing up the pantry shelf like a barefoot bandit and reaching into the box. How did I not notice that? I watch now as my 2-year-old smears his grimy fingers across the never-clean bathroom mirror, and it barely bothers me. I am certain dinner will be late, the hamburger potentially burnt, and my baby is probably pillaging the garbage can for scraps to eat. It’s at this moment that it happens: the expected sound of keys in our back door, notice that my husband Sheldon has indeed arrived.

When I was first married I used to listen for those sounds with perfect anticipation, excitement fluttering in my chest, but now . . . I often find myself hoping, wishing, praying that he would be a little late so that I can fold that atrocious pile of laundry draped over the living room couch and put my head on straight. Did I even brush my hair today?

It’s a subtle change when a wife goes from enfolding her man in a warm hug the very instant he walks in the door to instead hiding in the bathroom trying to quickly give her hair a brushing and apply some lipstick. Some would say this distinction is part of motherhood. I’m not sure when the severe symptoms began, but like so many mothers I noticed that amidst my scattered state of mind and feeling of failure, there was something new growing—apathy, disregard, and resentment. I found myself actually glancing at my briefcase-toting hero, with annoyance, as I thought to myself: “Great. Someone else who has expectations.”

“I’ve had those moments,” many moms admit, and usually the discussion contains statements like “if he helped me more around the house” or “if he wasn’t always in front of the TV . . . .” I, too, have been forced to ask myself, Does my husband really want to come home to a frustrated wife or does he want to come home to a wife who’s sweet and pleasant?With horror, I have been reminded of my own parents’ marriage and my mom’s exuberance on the nights when my father stayed at work late. In every other respect she was meticulous, homeschooling my sister and me with endless energy and dedication. However, the lack of investment in her marriage resulted in tragedy. Now she is divorced with no intact home for the grandkids to visit. That picture has always been one I wished to avoid.

The importance of “balanced investment” cannot be overstated to wives like me who are scurrying around with barely a chance to eat. Balanced investment describes a conscious determination to carefully fulfill the three roles of house-maker, mother, and wife. Often I’ve found myself viewing these expectations like a shopping list: “Once I’ve got the kids to bed then I’ll clean the house, and once that’s done then I’ll spend time with my husband.”Instead, wives must see their three roles as a complete whole, interacting with and inseparable from each other. Being a great mother includes leaving the dinner dishes for a bit longer than intended to give Daddy a foot massage. This requires deliberate flexibility, since by nature we want to finish the task at hand. A mother will easily leave the boiling potatoes to change a diaper, but will she leave the stir-fry to give her man a much-deserved hug?

The writer Charles Lamb pointed out that our “love grows by giving.” Some days it feels like giving is truly all I do. The level of unselfishness at which I am expected to operate would give me super hero status, if anyone bothered to notice. Sometimes by the end of the day I am just tired of giving, and since my husband is not going to throw himself on the floor screaming if he’s ignored, when it comes to short-cuts, my husband is the obvious choice.