I know that in modern society the burden of parenting -- and the work -- often falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women. This is in part because we have a fairly traditional division of labor, and we fall into those patterns for a variety of reasons. One of those would be economic.
In our house, we decided that whoever was making more money would continue to work. The reality of our situation was that that was my husband. I think it’s the reality of a lot of families, although I do know at least one whose wife earned more and therefore continued to work - and then they had twins.
But, in my house, my husband was the higher earner. I thought - naively and incredibly optimistically - that I could find an hour or two in a day to write. Babies sleep twelve hours a day, right? Mine frequently did. Unfortunately, in the first two months, he could sleep his twelve hours in alternating 30 minute chunks for the entire twenty-four hour period. This is not, as you might expect, conducive to thought, let alone productive writing.
So, my husband went back to work.
But he felt - as I’ve admitted I did - that work was easier than being at home with an infant. He came home immediately after work. He left a little later in the mornings, because he’d take our son while I curled up in bed in a daze. I was a new mother; I couldn’t fully relax if my son was not in the hands of someone I did not absolutely trust.
I went back to work part-time at the bookstore when my son was six months old. I worked a full day on Saturday. We discovered that my oldest son would not drink from a bottle of any kind. We tried them all. He simply refused.
So…my husband had a cranky, hungry child every Saturday. He would come to meet me for lunch, and I would nurse my son while we ate, and take him for the hour while my husband decompressed, and then he would take my son home, where he would basically eat nothing until I walked in through the door.
To say he was cranky by this point would be an understatement. I felt horrible because at least when my husband was at work, my son was not hungry. But my husband, who was frazzled, did not insist that I give up the part-time work. He said, “I’m his father. I am going to have to come up with coping strategies. They won’t - and can’t - be the same as yours, obviously - but I still have to have them in place.”
(My son, on those days, made up for the not eating in the day by nursing throughout the rest of the night. At his age, he was perfectly capable of going without food for six hours, but in theory those six hours were night-time hours, which is when many babies do unfathomable-to-us things like: sleep.)
There was no discussion about our children that was reluctant on the part of my husband. There was no decision that, when mutually undertaken, was not his work as well as mine.
In fact, in some cases, it was more his work, than mine. He is unfailingly patient. He has never once lost his temper. He doesn’t swear, he doesn’t raise his voice. Even when he is at his most frustrated. In fact, I do remember one night, when, at thirteen, my oldest son was clearly exhausted and frustrated and in tears. He was shouting at his father; I could hear this while I was working. I didn’t expect to hear his father’s response because, as I mentioned, he doesn’t shout.
But I closed up the computer and went upstairs to see what had happened; they were in our bedroom; my husband was putting away the clean laundry while my son was having his version of a teenage meltdown (they were much quieter and much more rational than the same at age two, thank god). I asked what the problem was (in more or less exactly those words), and my husband said, “we’re just having a discussion.” This caused my oldest son to shriek with frustration.
Well, it didn’t really sound like my version of a discussion either. So I listened to my son explain what the problem was, and finally recapped (which I often do when discussing things with my son: I explain what I think he said in my own words to make sure that I understood it; he either confirms this or he corrects it).
“Let me get this straight. You are having an argument about nothing with your father because you are trying to make him lose his temper?”
And he shouted, “YES!” Because, ASD. He didn’t have the social ability to build excuses into his foul moods or his actions. “Dad never gets angry! Dad’s a robot!“
My husband continued what he was doing, although he was, of course, listening. I said, “Sweetheart,” (an endearment I use when I am somewhat perplexed or annoyed), “what makes you think your father never gets angry? Of course he does. Everyone does. Your father doesn’t express anger the way you and I do, but he definitely feels anger. It’s important to your father not to lose control over the expression of emotion, and he is the person we are both trying to grow up to be.”
This was a diversion. “But you’re an adult.”
“Yes. And clearly, even adults have things they are still struggling to learn. In the meantime, there’s no point in this - you might as well ask your dad to go berserk and shoot or stab people in a blind rage: it is never going to happen. You will be here all night, and at some point, mom will lose her temper.”
I am not sure where the argument would have gone, but at this point, the youngest came running in, jumped on the bed and said, “Why is everyone having fun in here without me?”
Which of course caused his brother to laugh, dispersing the rest of his mood.
My mother is constantly in awe at the things my husband both supports and even tolerates. When it comes to the kids - actually, no, when it comes to the family, there is very, very little that he begrudges. For years, we didn’t own a car; we have never owned a new one. He is willing to work on a slow and pokey computer, and in one case, when finances were very tight and one of our computers died, a machine that to all intents and purposes belonged to my five year old. (I, on the other hand, found that difficult because my son was so quietly disappointed when he couldn’t use the machine because of said work.)
He used to spend money on war games. On computer games. I would love to see him do that again one day. But all of his focus and his energy went into the kids. He cooks. He does household chores. He is a much better homework regulator than I am.
I think, when we are young, we look for perfect partners. We might even find them. But we don’t always look ahead to the day when partner becomes parent. Parenting is hard. Sometimes it is grueling. Sometimes the relationship paradigm shifts so drastically with the advent of children, if we’re not prepared for it - and who is? - and we don’t work hard, the primary relationship itself becomes too frayed to hold together.
But our son was our son. There was no division of labor that placed sole responsibility on my shoulders; I had my son when my husband was at work, and he came home as quickly as possible to give me a much needed mental health break.
I don’t often talk about my husband, and in part, that’s upbringing. You know that old adage? The more you complain the longer god lets you live? It’s a little bit of that. I’m afraid, sometimes, that if I am inordinately proud of him, if I am obviously too grateful, something Bad Will Happen. But…it’s Father’s Day, today, and in honor of the day, I wanted to write this. I understand that I am extremely lucky. That I’m blessed.
That both of my children are. The great thing is: they seem to be aware of this. My oldest learned quickly that not all parents are like his father. In fact, he learned quickly that very few fathers are like his father; it was a huge shock to him; he had base assumptions about the role of parents due to his own experiences and observations.
And now, I am going to go upstairs and ask my husband - as I often do - to read my LiveJournal.
I hope you are all having a happy father’s day today.