Can a Stay-at-Home Mom Raise a Feminist Daughter?
A few weeks ago, there was a great discussion on Wandering Scientist about how two working parents can fairly balance the work of raising children and keeping a home up and running. This got me thinking about how Husband and I split the work in our household, where we have a clear division of labor right off the bat: Husband works outside of the home, and I stay at home with BabyC. Our division of labor is not equal, but is it fair? Could we do better?
When Husband and I met, we were in medical and graduate school and usually had similar workloads. We shared cooking and cleaning fairly equally then. During our 2+ years of marriage prior to the birth of BabyC, Husband and I both worked long hours, but as an emergency medicine resident, he worked slightly more and in a more emotionally draining job. Much of the housework shifted towards me during this time. I would usually spend one of my days off cleaning, shopping, and cooking, and Husband would spend a day catching up on sleep or occasionally playing golf. This bothered me a bit then, but I assumed that things would re-equilibrate once Husband’s workload lightened after residency. Of course, I should have known that nobody’s workload would lighten once we added a baby to our family.
Enter BabyC. And enter the choice, shared between Husband and I, for me to stay home with her. Add to this mix that Husband’s post-residency workload has really not lightened at all, plus his schedule is highly variable, so we can’t have a day-to-day routine in which we each contribute certain things to the household. I often find myself taking care of most of the housework, in addition to BabyC’s needs. This means that I basically work nonstop, and if I do get a spare minute, I try to work on writing projects. This doesn’t leave me any time to put my feet up and watch trashy TV or read a novel or finish a knitting project – all things I imagined that stay-at-home moms did, before I became one.
Plus, I don’t get a day off. I haven’t had more than a couple of hours to do something just for myself for the last year. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy spending time with BabyC – but still, it is my job. It isn’t something I can opt out of if I’d rather sleep in or go to a weekend yoga retreat or even spend an entire day writing (imagine!).
Luckily, Husband helps out. He usually hangs out with BabyC for an hour or two each day so that I can go for a run or do the grocery shopping without schlepping her along. He folds laundry and cooks dinner once a week. He takes care of snuggling with the cat while he sleeps during the day after a night shift. (This job is more important than it sounds, since when our cat feels that she isn’t getting enough attention, she expresses her resentment by peeing on carpets and couches.) And strangely, he has stepped it up in the housework department since I talked to him about my ideas of this post. You see how useful publishing something on the internet can be? Plus, we’ve splurged and hired someone to clean our house once or twice a month for the specific purpose of freeing up more time for me to write. I swear I’ll make that investment pay someday.
I don’t feel like I have much to complain about, but I still think it is worth talking about. I’m a little uneasy about being a stay-at-home mom for a few reasons, and the balance of work in our household is one of them. I worry about what effect it has on our marriage and our daughter that we model such traditional gender roles in our home. Will BabyC grow up thinking that daddies go to work and watch TV and mommies cook and clean?
How do we determine what is a fair contribution of household work for the parent that works outside of the home? There isn’t an easy formula for this. Husband and I both work very hard, and I actually think that the way we share work approaches fairness, this week at least. Husband’s job is draining, and I think it is fair that he should be able to count on a good night’s sleep and some downtime after a shift. His job requires him to be alert and clear-minded; patients are counting on that. I value his mental health, too. On the other hand, I think I should also get some downtime, and if Husband pitches in around the house, maybe we can even spend that downtime together (gasp!). The key is communication, as obvious and cliché as it sounds. Checking in with each other goes a long way. “What do we need to get done today? Is there anything you need help with?” or just, “I’m feeling really drained and could use a few hours to relax.”
Can our marriage remain a fair partnership if our roles in the family are so different? My main job has become taking care of BabyC and Husband and our home, and Husband’s main job is to earn money so that we can have a home and financial security. However, BabyC won’t have any understanding of the value of hard-earned money for a few years. What will she understand about our partnership in the meantime?
Having a baby in the house to watch my every move makes me think carefully about what she is learning from me. This has come up time and time again as I think about the behaviors that I am modeling (how I eat, how much TV I watch, how I express gratitude). I want BabyC to grow up knowing that she can be anything she wants to be, that she can have a fulfilling career and be a mother. And I want it to be clear to her that Mama and Daddy both work hard to take care of each other and of her.
I have a few ideas about how we can do this:
- When it comes to Husband’s contribution to housework, a little goes a long way. Even though my mother did most of the cooking in my family when I was a child, I have fond memories of my dad making pancakes on weekends and popcorn for dinner on Sundays. In a child’s mind, there is a big difference between “daddies don’t (or can’t?) cook” and “daddies can cook and sometimes do.”
- Husband does more ALL of the “fixing” around the house, and I do most of the cooking. We didn’t plan to split housework in this way, but here we are. Before I married a man who loves fix-it projects, I was just as likely as any guy to take on a little home repair or even a tiny car repair project. The current division of labor has occurred because I would rather cook and Husband would rather fix things, and since we have a limited amount of time to do any of this, it makes sense that we should each do the things we enjoy more, and in many cases, are better at. However, if I extend the logic of my last point about Husband cooking occasionally, I’m going to have to make an effort to also fix things occasionally.
- Involve BabyC in both traditional male and traditional female jobs. She can “help” trouble-shoot the water leaking from under the washing machine and learn to make pancakes. Whether she does these jobs with Mama or Daddy, we’ll try to send her the message that she is equally suited for either type of work.
- As she gets older, I will emphasize to BabyC that I stay at home because I want to spend time with her. It was a choice we made. I want her to know that I had a career before she was born and will have a career again in a few years, when she is more independent and going to school.
How do you split the household work in your home? Does the arrangement work for you and your family? Do you think about what your children learn from it?
(And if you are a single parent, how on earth do you do it?)