“You’ll love this,” my friend Eric messaged me. “We went to a party at my wife’s friend’s place and when it got late, I left with the kids so Morgan could stay longer. You know, because they’re her friends and the party was transitioning into an adult party. Well, her friends were shocked and asked her for advice on ‘how to train their husbands to babysit for a mom’s night out.'”
I groaned. Eric’s been criticizing popular cartoons getting passed around on Facebook too, and has been surprised at how few side with him. As an example, he called this BS, while some of his friends commented with, “BUT IT’S TRUE, THO.”
The dynamic at their home as changed over the years — Eric was in law school while Morgan was pursuing her career; now they both work while their kids are in school and divvy up household and parenting duties.
“We have historically more-or-less split the family responsibilities evenly. We’ve never thought of anyone as a ‘primary caregiver.’ Morgan’s friends’ comments were so odd to us, because in our minds, the kids belong to both of us and there’s no major difference between our roles (except that I don’t braid hair or paint fingernails and she doesn’t teach them submission holds).”
To note, the people making the comments aren’t generations older than the early-thirties couple, themselves; they’re peers.
“Do you think I’d get more (undeserved) appreciation if my wife thought less of me?” Eric joked. “You know, lowered expectations?”
At this point, I work more hours than Jack, but he has taken over so many responsibilities — including those that people traditionally view as handled by women in the home.
I was at a work event, talking with some people about different dietary restrictions. It had come up that two of my three kids have extensive food allergies, and that my husband is vegan.
“Oh my God. That must make cooking for them so hard! How do you handle it?”
The first time that statement came up, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t correct her right away, because of embarrassment, maybe, or expectations on myself, or failure to live up to the stereotype surrounding positive phrases like “nothing like Mom’s cooking.” I’m mostly over that, now, and instead I respond with something like,
“My husband does the majority of the cooking, and he’s really great at creating meals that everyone likes.” Often the responses range from shock to admiration to “you’re so lucky.” Instead of my knee-jerk reaction to feel defensive –“but I work XX amount of hours a week and vacuum out the cars on Saturdays, etc” — I simply respond with, “He’s a great partner.”
And he is. Truthfully, Jack does 90% of the grocery shopping, makes breakfast six mornings out of seven, packs lunches every day, and cooks dinner four nights out of the week. He also takes the girls to school four mornings out of five and makes me a cup of tea on the nights that I work late (which currently, is most of them).
I finally came to terms with the fact that not cooking beautiful meals most nights out of the week doesn’t make me less of a doting mom. It just means that I know my strengths and cooking is not one of them. On the other hand, it’s a strength for Jack — he’s great at it *and* he loves it. Win-win.
Combined with the fact that some people don’t quite “get” working from home, it does mean that some people have the idea that Jack is the perfect husband and the perfect father while I lie around all day making carpet angels. But I’m learning that I can’t correct everyone’s assumptions (hnnnngggghh) and get defensive, you know, all the time.
While nothing is perfect, we’ve found our new normal, put our own systems in place (I braid little girl hair, put on little girl shoes, and slather sunscreen on little girl faces while Jack loads the dishwasher and packs lunches), and paid for some conveniences, as well (like getting a babysitter to pick them up from school, which happens right in the prime window for phone/video calls with clients on Mountain and Pacific Time). On weekend nights when Jack’s singing (it’s wedding season), we’ll declare it “Girls’ Night” and pop some popcorn and play games and watch a movie. Life is currently hectic, but neither of us feel an undue amount of pressure or that our responsibilities are split unfairly. So it’s hectic, but manageable. And peaceful. And even enjoyable.
It looked different five years ago when I was a stay-at-home mom, and it’ll likely look different five years from now.
I spoke at the Dad 2.0 Summit in February, and I saw multidudes (that was a typo and I’m leaving it because it fits) of men wearing t-shirts that declare, “Dads Don’t Babysit … it’s called parenting.” It was cool to see. I had no idea that there was an entire network of dads wanting to fight a stereotype, but more importantly, just raise their families. (Dads, if you’re looking for some cool sites, also check out Life of Dad, How to Be a Dad, and Puzzling Posts to start.) I’m also a contributing writer over at Adweek, and one trend that we’re seeing really start to ramp up is brands refusing to create spots casting men as the bumbling, idiot dad being managed by the mom folding her arms and ruefully shaking her head at him. Things are shifting, in a good way.
Families can figure out whatever works for them. Dads can raise kids, dads can handle bedtime so moms can stay out late, and dads can chaperone field trips. Moms can pursue careers and eat ice cream sandwiches whenever they want, because they’re grown-ups now.
I might be projecting a little with that last sentence. :)