<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15parenting-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin”>This article</a> is a thought-provoking (and lengthy) examination of how couples struggle to achieve a fair balance when it comes to raising kids, managing the home, etc. I’m fascinated by how little the numbers have changed over time, as though there’s something hardwired in either us or our society that prevents us from moving the ratios too much. Regardless of how your family is set-up (one career, two careers, single parent, etc.) I think we all struggle with this.
This comes along at an interesting time for me. I’m approaching the fourth anniversary of when I began staying home with M.. I’ve had a couple friends ask me what kind of feedback I get from others about the choices I’ve made.
I think it’s important to say first that I’ve always felt like my friends and family respect me for choosing this path. If anyone thinks that it is an odd choice, or that I’ve left some of my manhood behind in the process, they’ve never shared that with me. Almost everyone has been extremely supportive.
I feel like I get some extra slack from people for two reasons. First, when I decided to stay home, it was because my job was eliminated. While I had an opportunity to stay with my employer, I was ready to move on (Just the other day S. said her memory from our first year in our house was me sitting in my office, looking miserable as I pretended to work.). Also, I told everyone I was going to grad school. I think a lot of people thought this was a short-term thing, not a semi-permanent decision. (S. and I may have thought that, too, when we first chose this route.) Second, my path was paved here in Indy by a good friend who set-aside his legal career for almost five years so he could stay home full time with his three (and later four) kids. He established that it was ok for a man to stay home, and did a phenomenal job at it, which made it easier for whoever next decided to do it.
Things can be a little different when I get away from our immediate friends and family. There are the random, well-meaning people we run into while we’re out-and-about who assume I’m taking the day off from work to hang with the girls. I try not to get offended and politely explain that’s in fact what I do every day. But there are days when it’s tough to take. For example, a week or so back, I got that line from a lady at Old Navy. A couple hours later, when we got home, I checked our messages and had one from the mother of one of M.’s friends to reschedule a birthday party. I had RSVPed for the party, but the mom left the message for S.. I had had a long day with the girls, dealing with screaming and whining and crying and 1000 questions, and I felt a slight where there was no intention to slight me. In those stress-laden moments sometimes those comments can frustrate and upset me. I think that’s probably true for any parent, regardless of their role.
Therein lies my secret to parenting success. You have to be egoless. You have to understand that whatever choices you make are about giving your kids the best, most normal childhood possible. You can’t take it personally, at least for more than a moment, when someone doesn’t understand your parenting model. If your kids are happy and fed and cared for and reasonably well-behaved, that’s all that matters. Let others think what they want to think.
After reading that article and thinking about our family set-up, I realize again how lucky I am. S. and I have naturally, without much debate or argument, established areas of responsibility that are roughly equal. There are aspects that overlap and others that each of us take on in full. We may not do things exactly how the other would, but we don’t jump all over each other when things aren’t perfect around the house or with the kids. The responsibilities shift a bit when she’s working a lot, or on the nights/days when I have an assignment and have to be out of the home. But our arrangement makes it easy to do that without too much disruption. We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to find a balance that is fair to each of us. I know a lot of couples want to get there but other things (careers, kids, etc.) have prevented them from doing so.
I’m not sharing all of this to make us seem like the perfect parenting/marriage model. Trust me, we’re not. But I do think that it is important to, from time-to-time, sit down and examine how you are doing as a spouse, parent, friend, etc. Even if there is room for improvement, at the same time you’ll notice the things you are doing right, which is easy to lose sight of when the kids are screaming, the house is a wreck, and you’ve got a deadline coming up. If you feel like you’re coming up short in 10 areas, chances are there are 10 or more areas where you’re doing exactly what you need to be doing.