How this stay-at-home dad makes mom feel inadequate
As moms, we occasionally compare ourselves to other moms. Even the most confident mom throws a sideways look at another one that seems to have it all together and wonders how she does it.
It happens with our friends that are also moms, it happens with our co-workers that are moms and it happens even with our own moms and moms-in-law. But what happens when the measuring stick isn’t actually a mom at all? What happens when the person “showing you up” is a dad?
My husband works a lot during college football season and since those games are played on the weekend, that is when he is on the clock. As a result, this fall he is home three days during the week, and works a late shift on Friday which means he is here all day then too. Though he has worked from home at other points, this is the first time in our marriage that he has been home — and not working — during the days that we have all four kids here.
With my freelancing work really piling up, we decided that the days he is home, he will take the lead with the kids in order to free me up for work. This means getting two ready in the morning and making trips to two different schools, and handling return trips in the afternoon (with the aid of a carpool situation). When he isn’t in the car, there is a very bored three-year-old girl and a four-month-old baby to keep him busy at home.
To top it off, we decided the three older kids were really overdue for swimming lessons, so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he handles three different lessons at three different times away from home. Then there’s the laundry. Ay yi yi. A girlfriend of mine stopped in a few weeks ago and there were a few freshly folded piles on laundry on my couch.
“Laundry day?” she asked.
“Every day is laundry day,” I replied.
I haven’t been completely able to hand everything over to him, however. I’ve always enjoyed the breakfast routine with the kids so I still take the lead there most days. I also like to drive them to school occasionally. But by about 9:30 a.m., I’m in full work mode, with breaks to nurse the baby. I have a workstation in my stepson’s room, but I rarely sit in there. I set up at our dining room table which sees a lot of cross traffic throughout the day. It’s a little bit distracting but I do not like cutting myself completely off from the rest of the family — unless I’m really pushing a tight deadline.
My husband is living up to his end of the deal. He does tummy time with the baby and wears her in a Bjorn when she gets fussy. He sits and watches Phineas and Ferb with the three-year-old and keeps up with her constant hunger. He takes the kids outside when they are all home and sends them shrieking with laughter when he sprays them with a hose as he washes his car. He waits for an opening in my day and then works out. He does a lot of laundry. He does a lot of dishes.
I’ve been getting a lot of work done and it helps out my family in financial ways. We are planning a move in the summer and need to save as much possible to make it happen. We have three college funds that need contributions. I’m still paying off my own college debt. We are trying to clean up our credit scores. Christmas is just around the corner. Every freelance job that I say “yes” to gets us closer to making those financial goals a reality. I’m thankful that his work schedule is allowing me the time to forge forward with my own career, affording me so much work that I have hired several writers to help me get it all done.
Still. There is a part of me that feels guilty when I sit and work and he parents. I know that is like nails on a chalkboard to some people (women) but it is just how I feel. I’m sure part of it stems from my single parenting days, when I had no choice but to work AND keep up with my parenting and household obligations. To choose one or the other for any period of time feels unnatural to me. I think it is also awkward (for me) to be physically there working while minor household disasters take place all around me and he attends to them. If I actually left the house for an office, I could remove myself from household and child obligations, at least physically, and not feel so, well… guilty.
Feeling guilty for making a living for my family? I know it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I think there is more to it than that, though. His help makes working easier for me and I’m used to working under frantic, nearly-impossible conditions. Sometimes I find myself just blankly staring at my computer screen after I’ve put in an hour of interrupted work. I’m having to retrain myself from a stop-and-go mentality and my brain has not quite caught up. I’m used to always being just a little bit behind and having plenty of excuses for that fact. Without my go-to reasons for lagging, what can I blame?
Plus he is really good at being a parent and keeping up with the house. I know that some of that stems from his days as a single dad — when all of the responsibilities fell on him for a few days every week. From what I’ve heard, though, he has always had “Mr. Mom” tendencies and now he is really getting a chance to show them off. He’s good and I’m thankful. But he doesn’t really need me. The kids don’t really need me. They are fine functioning independent of any help that I might offer. And that might be where it really stings a bit.
If my husband is reading this, he is getting ready to come tell me that I’m completely wrong — that despite working, I still do a lot around here and there is no way he could do it without me (it’s like I’m inside your brain, right honey?). But he could. Even if he doesn’t know it, he could.
So along with retraining my brain to work like the ones of non-stay-at-home parents do, I’m reshaping my thoughts on my role in the family. For over a year, I’ve complained that his ex-wife “gets to go to work” several days each week and that he gets to do the same while I am always the first line of defense with the kids because my job is clearly not as important (it’s not a complaint I use a lot, but I’ve certainly said it on the very exhausting days when I’m behind on 15 different writing projects and my lovely children have flooded the bathroom somehow. Again.). So now I’m getting the work respect I’ve been claiming that I deserve and I’m fumbling a bit. First world problems, right?
At the end of the day, though, I have a supportive and helpful husband who is also a dynamite, hands-on dad. I have more work waiting for me as I finish each assignment in an industry where projects are often few and far between. I have colleagues, if remotely, that I interact with everyday and a feeling of credibility in my skills as a jack-of-all-trades writer. I have four beautiful children that I can grab a snack for or randomly take to the beach whenever I feel like it. Any feelings of guilt, or awkwardness, or dare I say (gasp) jealousy towards my husband just need to bite the big one.
Easier said than done, of course, but I’m a work in progress.
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Tags: combined family