I wake up when my husband does, early in the morning, and I pack his lunch while he showers and the coffee brews. He’ll be gone all day, coming home in the evening from meetings and presentations and reports to a hot meal that (if all goes according to plan), I’ll be scooping from a steaming pot as he steps in the door (no promises).
Meanwhile, I spend my days with the kids. I walk the older two to their different school buildings, then take the youngest to a library or park or plop him in front of some Sesame Street with a pile of graham crackers. I work from home, sure, but I also handle all of the household cleaning, the laundry, the pediatrician appointments, and home-and-school baking. Betty Draper, but without the great wardrobe. Scratch that, Betty had help, right? I don’t have a maid, and I have a job. In spite of all of this, I feel pretty confident that our relationship is feminist and egalitarian. I just sometimes worry it doesn’t look that way.
Traditional Roles, Contemporary World
On paper, our life is very traditional. It might seem the picture of old-fashioned gender roles. We’re not subverting anything, at least not visibly. But while our relationship may appear lopsided, it really isn’t. We approach everything as a team. As I type this, Josh is in the kitchen making me dinner and fielding requests for water called out from the dark nursery. It’s not that the house and cooking and kids are all my responsibility, and he’s granted just an eight hour workday. When he gets home from work, we both work to make sure everyone is fed and bathed, and then there’s the bedtime routine (oh God, the bedtime routine). If someone is sick in the middle of the night, we might both be up catching puke in a bucket.
I like our arrangement. I like being home. I’m home, mostly, because I picked it (after the first surprise baby came along. Baby count is now going on four). And now that I’m here, I get to use my time in ways that I believe in, volunteering in community organizations, watching kids for other moms who need childcare, pursuing different career paths. I own a small business. I write. But, of course, it’s more complicated than preferences. Logistics, timetables, finances, so many things factor into any couple’s similar decisions, no matter the end result. The outworking can be similarly complex. I know women who work full time, but still shoulder the bulk of the household burdens. Everything is a bit more complicated than meets the eye.
And that kind of bothers me, frankly. I wonder what people think about my marriage, worry they assume that I’m slaving away while Josh has feet up and a glass of whiskey. Or, conversely, that I’m lazing around with trashy magazines and soap operas, that I’m lacking in motivation or intellect. I worry that having so many kids will make people think I’m in a cult. I worry about how it all looks because, honestly, I’m pretty vain. But mostly, I worry for my kids. I know that my marriage is built on equality, that we’re partners in a team. But I wonder if that gets conveyed to my boys, or if they’ll just think that only ladies wash dishes, or only men go to work. That they don’t need to learn how to cook.
Fighting the good fight
There are ways we try to fight that, of course. When my husband is home, and the kids default to yelling for, “Mooooooom,” he’s quick to jump in and say, “Guys, I’m right here, what do you need?” We surround ourselves with friends whose relationships work in different ways, and whenever the kids slip into some super gendered, “That’s for girls” stuff, we’re quick to correct them. My hope is that they get to understand the nuance. That Josh rolls up sleeves and does the dishes when he gets in from the office, that we both take care of them equally when he’s around. That there are days when I’m shut up in my room and he’s telling them, “Leave Mom alone, she’s got important work to do.” I hope that this is enough.
I know that no matter how it looks from the outside, my relationship is equal. But I can’t help but wonder and worry about appearances, how I’m perceived, how that impacts my kids. I guess that’s how it works with so much as a woman—the appearance feels just as important as the substance. Even though I know it isn’t, it shouldn’t be.