On Tuesday, my daughter woke up early. I gave her some warm milk (her favorite wake-up treat) and then asked her to go back to sleep. Of course, 30 minutes later, she was still awake so I went in before I left to say goodbye. She didn’t want me to leave, so I brought her into our bed for some snuggles. She kept insisting that she didn’t want me to go so I lay with her and kissed her face and acknowledged how sad she was and told her that I wished I could stay with her that morning, I really did.
And then we just lay there, next to each other, until she rolled over to her father’s side, saying it was time to snuggle and asking if they could read books. I said goodbye, kissed her cheek and crept out the garage door, all the while mentally thanking, How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk for their awesome, easy to use, chapter 1 tips.
Later Mi.Vida called me, exasperated. He couldn’t find any clean school uniform shirts and after I apologized for the bag of clean, but unfolded, clothes hiding in our bedroom (lest our cat find them and pee all over them) he gave me the run down on Isa’s tantrums so far that morning. He sounded beat down and exasperated.
I listening and commiserated and then we both sat in silence. Finally Mi.Vida said, “I don’t think I’ll have time to read that book you got for me.”
The book is The Explosive Child, which was recommended to me by a friend. I bought us each a copy on Kindle, hoping we could read something–and apply the new techniques we learned–together. I hoped it would help him better navigate the challenging morning situation, make him feel more in control. I also hoped it would stymie these frequent phone calls in which Mi.Vida unloads his stress about Isa’s bad behavior on to me.
Hearing him declare he just couldn’t find time to read it only moments after he recounted Isa’s many uncontrollable moments was, in a word, frustrating. I got off the phone pretty quickly after that.
Then I simmered in passive aggressive rage most of the morning.
I used to be really proud of our co-parenting situation. I believed that both parents working–while a challenging situation to be sure–was ultimately positive because it helped create a domestic/parenting situation steeped in equality. The fact that Mi.Vida takes Isa to school and I pick her up gives us both a chance to be the primary care giver. The fact that we both work full time hours means we’re both responsible for after-work tasks like making dinner and doing the dishes. With both of us working outside the home, our work inside the home can be more equally shared.
Except, I’m realizing, that it’s not.
Recently I read an interesting article in The Atlantic; The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss. I really enjoyed looking at how gay and lesbian couples compared and contrasted to hetero couples. Not surprisingly (to me at least) most same-sex couples do a better job of dividing domestic chores equally, since they are not tempted to fall into traditional gender roles. This is especially true for same-sex couples with kids.
And yet, as many same-sex couples as opposite-sex couples chose for one parent to stay home and be the primary caregiver while the other went to work to be the primary breadwinner. This “specialization” is evidently the easier way for many (regardless of gender norms) to organize a family because it gives each parent a domain in which they are primarily responsible. Having someone at home to watch the kids, take care of the house and cook the meals allows the other person to commit fully to his or her job, which in turn gives him or her more opportunities to increase earning potential. In this situation, each person gets to focus on one thing and can be more successful in that one area of family life. The family unit becomes a more well-oiled machine.
Reading that article last month I actually found myself nodding along. In the past I would have found the idea antiquated–and a bad fit for our family–but now I see the common sense of “specialization.” In light of the seeming failure of our own attempt at equality, I wonder if having one person being in charge of the home, and one in charge of earning, isn’t the way to go, even for us.
The reality is, in our family, the shared responsibility model is not working out so great. Mi.Vida feels increasingly frustrated with his morning duties and I end up being stuck in both the role of full time teacher AND primary care giver. Almost all the stay-at-home parent responsibilities fall to me: I am the one who buys all of Isa’s clothes and gets rid of the ones that don’t fit; I make and take her to her doctor’s appointments; I give her all her baths and put her to bed; I buy her birthday presents, make her birthday cupcakes and take time off work to bring them to school on her special day; I’m the one who takes her to the library and gets her hair cut; I make her dinner every weekday night (though Mi.Vida makes her breakfast). While we do share the domestic responsibilities more evenly, the parenting responsibilities fall primarily to me.
I know this division of responsibilities is partly due to circumstance and partly my own fault. I was the one home with Isa for the first six months of her life AND I’ve had two other summers to be home with her. I also get about a month worth of vacations during the year when I’m with her. Of course I’m also more interested in a lot of what I listed above and I will admit to enjoying buying clothes and birthday presents, and while I’d rather forgo the actual baking of the cupcakes I certainly want to be the one who brings them to school this Friday.
Mi.Vida would describe this division as “relative equality” and the Atlantic article mentions something similar in that same sex couples are more likely to divide responsibilities by the ability/interest level of each partner than by what is expected by society. For example, if one partner enjoys cooking more they would do that, while if another is more particular about how clothes are washed, he or she would do laundry. In our household, I am more interested in the daily minutia of raising a child and so I take on many responsibilities happily, but by doing that I seem to end up with the other, less savory responsibilities as well.
The least surprising conclusion of the Atlantic article was the of all the partners in same- and opposite-sex couples, the woman in the hetero couples were the least happy. Women in hetero relationships, especially those raising children, were most likely to feel they carried an unfair workload while feeling least supported by their spouse. I definitely nodded my head at that statistic and I’m sure many women I know would do the same.
In the end, I don’t know how to improve our situation. With our mortgage and health insurance there is no way I can stay at home and with my early-start school schedule Mi.Vida will always have morning duty, so how do we create a system that works for both of us? I can’t keep absorbing the stress he feels when he’s alone with our daughter and he doesn’t seem open to learning new techniques. It just feels like this is a never ending cycle and we’ll never find a balance that works for us. It’s so disheartening.
What does your family dichotomy look like? Does it work for you?