With heavy media focus on Yahoo!’s Marissa Meyer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, it’s no wonder that the topic of motherhood is as newsworthy as ever. Yet, this focus seems very narrow, limiting the discussion solely to mothers and work, when in reality we could stand to broaden the conversation to both parents and how they manage the work/life balance. Motherhood doesn’t exist in a bubble, and if we want to discuss the challenges facing working mothers, it would behoove us to look at how entire families manage their balancing acts. I’m not the only one who’d like to see a shift in how we talk about these things.
My friend Annie from PhD In Parenting - who has written about Meyer and Sandberg before - is eager for the focus on the work/life balance to move beyond a women’s issue to one that is a parenting issue. In hopes of widening the conversation, Annie has put out a call, asking for parents to write about their own households and what the parenting split looks like within it. I asked Annie more about her motivation behind this call for stories:
There are two things that prompted me. One is the continued focus on work/life balance as a women’s issue. I’d like to see it be a people’s issue. Why do women need to worry about whether their workplace has family friendly policies, while men (and men’s bosses) just assume they’ll keep on doing what they did in the same way they did before they had kids? The other reason is that I keep being told that equally shared parenting is impossible if the mom breastfeeds. I know that isn’t true (it wasn’t in our home) and I want to provide some examples for how you can breastfeed and still maintain equality.
I’m all for adding more stories to the narrative of parenting, and said that I would be happy to share my own…
We need to start by going back in time, about ten years ago. I was teaching high school social studies and was the primary wage earner while MD was in school full time working on his doctorate. That’s the way our unit of two worked for four years. I paid the bills, and MD wracked them up (well, okay, he wracked up student loans, but we’re still paying for them, so….). Then, just as he finished his program, we got pregnant. Literally, on the day he graduated, I woke up, peed on a stick and bam – we were having a baby!
We also decided to move out of state that summer. MD had a job waiting for him, and I was finishing up my Masters thesis, which I had began two years earlier (Yes. I simultaneously worked full time while working on my MA). At the time we moved, I was already 6 months pregnant, and couldn’t fathom starting over teaching at a new school only to leave 3 months in for maternity leave, so I opted to focus on my studies. MD, with his new job, was the primary wage earner now. Our roles were reversed but things went on as usual.
I firmly believe that it was because we had both been the sole wage earner at a point in our relationship that we were able to easily slide into an equitable parenting relationship. We had already done away with the traditional gender roles, so we didn’t fall into that trap either accidentally or willingly.
When the kiddo was born, I was in the editing phase of my thesis, and still focused on my academics. MD was working, but manage to scrap together a month off between paid family leave, paid vacation, and unpaid time off from work. I also firmly believe that MD having an entire month off from work helped solidify are more equitable parenting structure, and I can only imagine the benefits our family would have received had he been eligible for more. (Alas, in this country, we know that ain’t happening).
Here’s a breakdown of parenting in the Norman Nathman household through the years:
-When the kiddo was a wee one, neither of us slept much, but we slept enough. We breastfed, which necessitated me being up with the kiddo at all hours of the night. However, in the beginning, he was also making a lot of wet and dirty diapers. Since I was the one up to feed him, MD was the one to deal with the diapers. I was able to fall asleep much faster/easier and MD is the master of going right back to deep sleep, so he was fine. Breaking up the nighttime parenting like that caused less resentment on either of our parts and assured that we both got some sleep – which is totally better than no sleep. I’ll be honest and say that co-sleeping was also key for us. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but being able to roll over, get my son nursing and essentially fall back to sleep was huge in allowing me to feel like I wasn’t running on fumes 24/7.
-While MD was home in that first month, pretty much everything else was equal – we shared meal prep, cleaning, baby stuff, etc… After he went to work, only a few things changed. I took on a bit more responsibility when it came to household chores, most notably laundry and grocery shopping, but everything else remained fairly equal.
- Babywearing was our savior. Seriously. I know not every baby enjoys being worn, but EZ was all about it. MD would pop the kiddo into a sling or mei tai and head off on a walk or go do the dishes. I could get things done while wearing him that I doubt I could have accomplished otherwise. Babywearing helped keep us sane well into the toddler years, and prevented many arguments about nap time – both between parents and parent & child.
-Now, with the kiddo being 6 (SIX!) years old, and both of us working, it’s a little bit different but still pretty equal. We both have strange schedules – since I work primarily out of the home, my time is a bit more flexible, however MD only works 4 days a week, so he has some flexibility as well. We split school drop off/pick up between ourselves depending on who is home or who has appointments, etc… EZ has a few after school activities that also get split evenly depending on who is home (as in, if MD is off work, he’s the one taking the kiddo). Grocery shopping is an even split now as well, same goes for cooking. We each tackle cleaning in our own ways. I prefer to clean as I go, whereas MD enjoys doing one huge deep clean every 2 weeks or so. It balances the housework nicely and we manage to have a decently clean house (save for the hundreds of Lego pieces that still manage to fall under foot).
-When he’s home, MD is the go-to parent when it comes to bedtime, and I only do it when he’s working past 8 (which happens 2x/week). The kiddo is old enough to do bath time by himself and he also pitches in with some chores. I’m more than happy to have him see his father fold laundry, wash dishes, make dinner, as well as seeing me take out the trash, do minor fix-it type jobs around the house, etc…
-As I type this, on a Saturday morning, MD and EZ are downstairs playing Wii after having read books together. I’ve worked on our taxes and typed up this post. Our weekends are usually split between things we want to do and things we have to do – each of us gets some alone time if we want/need it.
I don’t think of our family as remarkable in any sense, but I do think we’re outside the norm when it comes to our parenting split. I don’t think of my husband as my son’s babysitter and he doesn’t see himself in that role either. Sure there are days when I take on the brunt of household chores or parenting responsibilities, but the pendulum swings both ways. Next weekend I’ll be gone for a couple of days, but I have no worries over what will happen while I’m away. MD doesn’t live up to or default to the “big oaf” daddy trap – it’s insulting to both of us. He’s a parent just as much as I am. Our parenting methods might differ, but our goals are the same.
I will say though, that we do get some pushback from those outside our family. MD’s place of work sometimes doesn’t understand why he tries to rearrange his schedule to be able to attend school or sports events. When he wanted to take a month off after the birth if EZ, he was met with a bit of resistance and a lot of bewilderment from his boss who couldn’t comprehend why MD would want to be home with his family. Also, because I work from home, there’s a lot of expectation from others that I take on all of the housework since “it’s just so convenient!” There is still definitely an overall attitude that women – by default – take on the majority of household chores, regardless of their work status. If a woman chooses to be a homemaker, then I can understand that thought, but otherwise? We all live here, we all pitch in, it’s as simple as that. We’re raising our son so that he understands the value of equality, both inside the home as well as outside of it.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our village that helps us out, made up of both biological family and chosen family. Our intentional community of friends and relatives help us out from carpooling, playmates, shared meals, in times of need, etc… That helps lighten the load for all of us. We are also fortunate to have work that, despite some unique challenges, affords us with a good degree of flexibility.
All that said – it’s far from perfect here. There are days where the house is littered with rumpled baskets of clean clothes because nobody feels like folding them. We probably eat take out more than we’d prefer simply because we get too lazy/busy to cook. I’m fairly certain my kitchen floors haven’t been washed in months (they look clean, so…) and there’s usually a dirty pot or dish in the sink. But, for the most part we’re happy, healthy, and usually have clean underwear, so I’d say we’re managing pretty well.
What about you? What’s the situation like in your house? Are their two working parents? One parent working the other at home? Just one parent? What does the work/life balance look like in your home?