As I have mentioned before, our family is a tad non-traditional, for instance, currently I am working full-time (outside of the home) while my husband is staying home with our daughter during the day and is a full-time student during the evenings. Adjusting our lives to live on one income and some financial aid has certainly been a challenge but I am finding the emotions tied to this role reversal more of an issue for us, or at least me.
First of all, our current situation was born out of necessity and mainly my own emotional baggage. Even before I knew I wanted kids I knew that there was no way I would be able to hand over my three-month old to a stranger and be done with being the person they spent the majority of their time with, so when I became pregnant we were faced with quite the predicament. What the hell were we going to do after my maternity leave was up? We discussed several options but neither of us really made enough to support our current rate of expenses and needless to say neither one of us were enthused by the possibility of bargain shopping for child care either. The husband never finished college and had always wanted to even though he has been rather resourceful in finding pretty good employment that paid well (most of the time more than the jobs I had after earning two degrees!) and so the motivation was always lacking. At one point in our many discussions of what to do he said off-handedly “I can always go back to school and stay home with the baby during the day.” I went into full research mode to find out the possibilities. Neither one of us ever took out real student loans before, but when I needed a few thousand dollars to finish my masters program I was offered way more than I needed so I figured it was worth finding out more. Long story short, we decided after much deliberation, that it was worth the sacrifices that would have to be made in order to have one of us home with our child during their first year or so and it would put him in a better station in life working towards a career he was actually interested in with more earning potential in the long run (of course hoping that it would be enough to support all of us while I stayed home with the little one while bringing in a small income doing my own thing).
So, here we are in a situation born out of necessity that neither of us really envisioned ever really happening. Mostly, it has been a good thing, our daughter gets the love and security of being home with one of her parents every day and we have created quite the family unit. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t created its own set of challenges. To begin with, other than some babysitting jobs in his late teens, the husband didn’t really have a whole lot of experience with kids and especially babies (in fact, I don’t know if he ever held a newborn before his own), but we both felt that we were both fairly educated people and even with his limited first-hand knowledge, would do a much better job than a lot of the people out there parenting. And, let’s face it he isn’t the only male in our group of friends I’ve heard say “I’ll gladly be the one to stay home with the kids while the wife goes out and earns the dough,” obviously oblivious to the overwhelmingly difficult task they are ‘signing up’ for. This has led to more than one misinterpreted recommendation or comment about how he spends his days with our daughter, which in turn has led to myself feeling more than a bit resentful, left out or disregarded.
Then there is the usual frustrations that I’m sure many stay-at-home moms have but because the majority of husbands in those situations aren’t feeling like their missing out on much shrug it off as the usual mommy gripes and there are plenty of blogs, mommy groups and such where similar mommies with similar gripes can commiserate. I find these gripes coming from the husband more than a little frustrating…first of all, one or both of us must have done something right in our lives to deserve this child from most accounts seems pretty darn close to perfect. Secondly, given some of the working environments (and bosses) he has had to deal with in his life, being in the comfort of our home with the cutest 1 year old around bossing him around, how bad can your day really be? Finally, the resentment that I want to be the one home with her watching her grow and develop and being the main contributor to that development is sometimes too much for me to handle when I hear him ‘complain’ about how she wanted to be held all day or wouldn’t let him out of her sight or wouldn’t let him cook dinner in peace.
Then there’s the reality that in spite of the fact that he does a lot and WAY more than most men, he still tends to spend her nap time on the couch watching TV or taking a nap (and this is after sleeping in until 8-9 am in the morning because oh yea, our perfect little one sleeps a good 13-14 hours/night). While, on the weekends when I am home, the TV would never come on during the day if it were up to me and I rarely take a nap (even though I am currently 7 months pregnant and always tired), mainly because there is always some pressing chore that hasn’t gotten done (yes, in my opinion), laundry, sweeping/mopping/vacuuming, bathroom cleaning, meal planning, etc. So, in my limited time at home it seems that a lot more would get done around the house if I were the one at home…again, resentment rears its ugly head.
So, when the husband came down with the flu last week, resulting in me staying home for a few days to take care of things, I expected to be overcome with the gripes of SAHMs or those that I have heard him voice. I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t exhausting, from 9 am to nearly 9pm every day I was not sitting still, there was always something that needed to be done, but instead of feeling exhausted at the end of the day like I normally do after ‘working’ all day, I felt invigorated. Spending all day with my daughter uninterrupted was like a dream, even in spite of figuring out a way of cooking a meal with a toddler tugging at my leg and wanting to be picked up, cleaning up after meals, moving along the laundry, running errands and maintaining some type of order during the day all while taking time to keep her engaged and entertained and then at the end of the day cleaning up. I’m sure what most SAHMs would say would be yea, you did it for a few days, give it a month and see how you feel. Besides taking a shower in the evening instead of the morning (which was my choosing by the way, if I had gotten up at 8am, instead of waiting for her to wake up around 9am, I would’ve had plenty of time to shower and get ready for the day) and realizing that my eyebrows were in some serious need of tweezing by the end of the 4th day, there was little discomfort in my days with her. This realization is yet another glaring illustration of how the one job I was meant to do with my life is be a mom. Even when I hear myself type that it sounds absurd given the majority of my adulthood I didn’t even think I wanted kids of my own, but since the moment I saw her perfect little face, I knew it in my bones to be the truth and at the same time I felt my heart breaking with the realization that it wouldn’t be reality any time soon.
So, here I am supporting my dearest while he goes to school to gain the knowledge to pursue a career that I hope will fulfill him and provide for our family, while I wait patiently to be the one at home with our child (or I guess by then it will be children!) and using this time to study, learn, practice and prepare to do my own thing. Photography has always been a passion of mine given that I was raised by a father who was equally obsessed and gifted with a photographer’s eye, so it seems fitting that my life has come full circle and I have realized that being a photographer would fulfill many of my enduring dreams. I say to myself and my husband that our daughter was a true gift in so many ways, she has been the catalyst for us to live better lives and be better people but more importantly she has lit the fire under us to get off the proverbial and literal couch and follow our dreams to a better life for ourselves and our family and for that I will be eternally grateful.