Lately I am seriously struggling with balancing all the roles I play — specifically being a mother to Piers and Wallace, a partner to Gil, and a working person.
I’m also craving adult conversation.
My emotions are all over the place, and I really need to get it together.
It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’m feeling resentful — not only towards Gil but men in general.
This is where I feel compelled to qualify and apologize to my male readers. Please, if you’ve made it this far, keep reading. I’m not a man-hater, and I have no interest in turning this conversation into a beat-up-on-men discussion.
I sincerely believe that women play as much of a role in what I’m about to discuss as men.
Stay with me. I’m looking for solutions.
I’m having a hard time understanding the women in my life who seem incapable of expecting more from their partners.
Many of my women friends seem to have accepted that regardless of the equity in their roles in their relationships, they must still be responsible for the bulk of the childcare, housekeeping, and meal preparation — tasks once considered “women’s work.”
In other words, SO many of my female friends work a full-time job but still come home and handle the majority of the cooking, cleaning, and managing of their children’s schedules — hence the term “the second shift.”
Last week I hosted book club at my house. This group of women has been meeting monthly for the past two years. There are fifteen or so local members. We usually have five to ten people at each meeting, and there were six of us this time — a good group but fewer than half. I also invited three other people who’ve shown interest in joining, but none were able to make it.
For the most part we’re a light-hearted bunch. We pick books for the year and select one for each month. Most finish the book before the meeting, but many do not. We meet from 7-10ish and spend thirty minutes or so discussing the book. The rest is spent eating, drinking, and socializing.
We range in age from late twenties to mid-forties with most being in their thirties. All have children, most of whom are in elementary school (K-5) — a few younger and a few older.
There are a couple of stay-home moms, but most have either full-time or part-time jobs in addition to parenting. Several are re-entering the workforce after staying home while their kids were little.
At this past meeting the discussion turned to why so many weren’t able to make it. We had four who had confirmed but had to cancel the day of for one reason or another.
This is absolutely NO big deal. Like I said we keep it light and low-pressure, but we all want an active group, and lately scheduling conflicts seem to be happening more frequently, enough so that those of us in attendance thought it was worth re-examining meeting times.
We brought up switching to a weekend night instead of during the week to hopefully accommodate more people. Most prefer to keep it on a weeknight.
We’ve also gone back and forth about the best time to begin. I’m flexible but would prefer to start earlier — 6:15 or 6:30 and go until 9:30. I’m just spent if we stay any later. I said this and a couple of people agreed, but three of the women flat-out said that would not work for them, and they’d still have to come around seven but would prefer 7:30.
One of the women voting for an earlier start asked why, and all three said that before coming they had to make dinner and get their kids ready for bed.
Um, hello. Are your spouses incapable of handling those tasks ONCE A MONTH?
I asked this question and tried to phrase it kindly, so as not to imply that their spouses were incompetent nitwits. They’re not — I know these men. They’re involved dads who could certainly feed the kids and get them tucked in ONCE A MONTH.
“Oh, it simply would not work.”
“Yeah, if I want my kids to eat a happy meal and stay up til ten.”
They also went on to say that they are wiped out by the time they get to book club and at times it almost feels like the amount of work that goes into getting there outweighs the enjoyment.
I certainly relate to this. I feel that way about most adult activities — activities that I would have jumped at prior to having children now seem like work.
Still, I don’t like this about myself and would like to change it, but maybe that’s just me.
I also get what they are saying about the trouble with the dads handling the evening duties. On the night of this particular book club, Gil rolled in from work at 6:45 right before people started arriving. He took the kids out for pizza and then they went to the local bowling alley/arcade. It was nearly nine before they got home and yes, I was annoyed. Ideally they need to be in bed between 7:30 and eight.
But you know what? It’s good for Gil to have to handle the entire evening routine. It’s good for our sons to observe him handling it.
And he absolutely handles it. For all his faults, he’s a can-do kind of guy. Had I not been hosting, he would have made dinner at home and had them in bed earlier.
Would it have been done the exact way I do it? NO…and that’s okay. I’m not willing to give up extended adult company and conversation, something that I’m learning is essential to my well-being, because of this.
I don’t know. I’ve just been frustrated lately with my women friends who can never do anything because they are almost afraid to leave the kids with THEIR DAD — their OTHER PARENT. And don’t even get me started on women who say that their husband is “babysitting.”
IT’S NOT BABYSITTING WHEN IT’S HIS KID!!
I know I’m being judgmental. (I hate being judgmental…especially about my fellow women.) I just know so many women who talk about being spread thin and exhausted and unhappy and unfulfilled and stressed at work and concerned that they’re not being good-enough parents. It goes on and on.
It makes me sad, and I want to help — them as well as myself. I certainly don’t see men beating themselves up for not balancing it all. Granted I talk to more women than I do men, but still.
If Gil laments anything it has more to do with the fact that his heavy workload prevents him from spending more time with the kids… but that’s another topic altogether.
I wholeheartedly agree that a lot of men need to step it up with childcare and household tasks, but women have to give them the opportunity. We can’t simply allow ourselves to believe that they are incapable and will never do it right. I guarantee you they will not do it exactly like you, but that’s okay.
Something positive that came out of our unresolved discussion at book club was that I was forced to recognize how amazing Gil is with our kids. There is no doubt in my mind that if something happened to me and he had to be a single parent that he would figure it out.
Honestly I’m just muddling through life trying to figure it all out as I go. I totally recognize that I’m frustrated with my friends because they’re having the same struggles as I am, and no one seems to have any solutions.
I’m frustrated that since I’ve started back working that I can’t get all of my work done while the kids are at school, or I try only to see that nothing else has been done — no dinner, no cleaning, no errands, no laundry, etc.
I’m frustrated that because I work from home, my work and family life often collide and no one (including Gil) understands that I actually have to get work done.
I’m frustrated that because I make significantly less money than Gil that he takes my job less seriously, though he vows this is in my head — perhaps it is.
Gil can very much be a check-it-off-your-list kind of guy, and that works fine with his job. It doesn’t work for mine. I need space for creativity. Sometimes I have to walk away from what I’m doing and other times I have to sit and think. It’s all part of the process for me. This often comes across to Gil as though I’m wasting the time I have. Sometimes I do waste time, but I’m trying to get back in a groove and it’s all an adjustment.
I just become disenchanted when I talk to other couples and no one is particularly happy with their arrangement — especially women.
It also seems to be the same regardless of income variability between partners.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who is a tenured professor. So is her spouse. They have two children ages six and three. I have always admired this couple. Both are career-driven but extremely hands-on parents. They set their schedules so that one teaches Monday and Wednesday while the other teaches Tuesday and Thursday, which allows them to split parenting duties.
On the outside it appears to run flawlessly.
But my friend recently confessed to me that she was secretly beginning to wonder if families with traditional gender roles ran better. I consider her husband a progressive, highly-evolved male who grocery shops while wearing their youngest in an Ergo carrier. She said that she felt like things were fine when one or the other was in charge of the kids, but they just returned from a family vacation that “was so disastrous” they may never take another one.
So what is the solution?
My gut tells me there is no one thing that’s going to work for everyone.
I guess I want a rule book.
I think for Gil and me I have to understand that we’re transitioning and in time we will work out the best solution for our family and adapt accordingly. I also have to focus on how much he does and not get mad at him when I see other guys not pulling their weight at home. He has no control over them, and he really is trying.
What do you guys think? I’d love to hear from men and women. Do you have these same struggles? Or did you if your kids are grown? How did your parents handle division of household labor when you were growing up?
How do you and your significant other split responsibilities, particularly when one spouse makes more than the other? Should this matter?