Parenthood Part 4: The fine art of self sabotage

I got AIM from a friend after my last round of posts, someone who doesn’t know if she wants kids or not. She liked the series and I wanted to write one for her. It started to be a post about how to decide (if there’s such a thing as a way to decide) if you want kids or not. I ended up writing a piece of tripe about why I had kids that’s all swooshie and metaphysical and only really tells anyone that I personally think having kids was the right decision for me. That’s some unhelpful crap. I haven’t posted it. There’s no way for me to tell anyone how to systematically decide what will and won’t make them happy.

So, instead here I offer a list of the stuff that will sabotage otherwise potentially happy parenting. People have to make their own lists of the good and bad things they think parenting will bring to their lives when they decide if they want kids. You’ll have your own list. Just add these considerations to the mix.

Marrying Up
While it’s not so pronounced among my particular circle of acquaintance, it is an american cultural kneejerk that women should probably “marry up”. They marry men more successful than they and sometimes older as well. Girls, if you married some guy who could “take care of you” and you ever thought about it that way, I hope you meant to be a stay at home mom because that’s what your marriage probably implied. Not to the man. To you, back in your little guilty-feeling hind brain. And your sense of what you’re supposed to do.

Sure anyone can marry a guy/girl who makes more than you. Nothing wrong with it. But one of the things that happens when you marry someone who makes notably more than you do is that the person who makes more money often has to keep working and the other person becomes the keeper of all the quality of life decisions. Daycare/stay-at-home-parenthood, this becomes the potentially guilty decision of the less economicaly empowered parent. Statistically this keeper of the household quality-of-life is the woman. I have smart and unconventional friends so I know a few exceptions. Just sayin, it’s usually a girl.

If the person who’s the financially weaker party is not a damn good communicator and/or crystal clear on what they really want, there’s going to be trouble in paradise. Oh, and the main breadwinner really needs to not expect anything with regard to their spouse’s work/non-work. It only adds more guilt to an already volatile situation as the person with the “choice” struggles to be happy doing whatever they’re doing.

Again, I have the unconventional friends. I probably know more men who cook and clean than women. That said, in middle America, even in generations X and Y, “studies show” men do WAY less of the daily necessary chores than women. Fixing dinner, laundry and other cleaning – women do most of it. Men tend to do chores that can be timed for convenience – car washing, household repairs, etc.

Assume the chore-doer is the woman. Add a kid to that mix. God help you. Add breastfeeding that only the woman can do. Guess what you get if you’re dumb? A guy who’s sitting in a messy house wondering where his dinner is and a woman who is exhausted and depressed trying to be everywhere at once.

This is unnecessary. The work is all manageable — IF it’s dragged out in the open and talked about and shared. It’s not manageable if you add my next (and personal favorite problem)…

Studies from as far back as the 80s have 85% of men and even more women believing that parents should share equally in childcare duties. They also show, even more recently, that this DOES NOT HAPPEN IN PRACTICE. Wanna know why? Perfectionist women, of whom I am one, insist on their children being fed, burped, diapered and put to sleep using their one true way of getting things done.

I was the first one home with Betsy, I had three months of total concentration on her every whim, so of course I knew how to read my daughter better than my husband did at first. But be a nitpicker…. try to “help” too much. And a partner gets to where you, being the expert, now “own” the problem. Childcare. Forever and ever, amen. Once a pattern is set, trying to change it is hard. They’ll still love and play with the kid, but most decisions and all work will be yours.

Now add to that housework and other things that the gatekeeping partner might have a hard time doing all at once. If you are a control freak who usually does all the cooking and housework AND you’re owning all the work of childcare – mon ami, you’re screwed.

How did we kick that out of me? Well, first we hired a house cleaning service. Then when I went back to work, Reed exercised his FMLA rights and spent a month at home alone with Betsy. The balance of “knowledge based power” evened right out. His first day with our daughter – and her first day taking breastmilk out of a bottle for every meal – was not a happy one. But it was the single smartest thing we did. I could tell him what I thought I knew about how to handle a situation and he had 8 hours where I could not stand over his shoulder to see what worked for him.

As for chores, since Reed already does almost all of the cooking, we evened out on the amount of household responsibility we each possessed. (He cooked while I nursed. Now he cooks while I try to make sure Betsy doesn’t trip him with toys in the kitchen.) I do tuck-in and bath. Usually.

Another fine American stereo-type, which I share because I suffer from it. Women tend to feel guilty taking time for themselves. Men, for whatever reason, do not. I suspect this particular problem is really just another expression of the Gatekeeping and Chore problems. If you have a partner who doesn’t think daily housework is their job and you don’t let them share parenting duties, of course that person (again, statistically a guy) is going to have more free time. And the person who does all the work is going to be, say it with me, people, SCREWED.

In a partnership where people actually talk to each other, are honest and fair, there are answers for all of the above. In a partnership where people don’t… post partum depression is just the tip of the iceberg for the woman, for the marriage. Yuck. Just yuck.

I am extremely happy right now with my life. I want a little more time with both my husband and my kid than I get – but I like my kid’s daycare, see it benefitting my daughter as well as myself, and am weirdly confident we can make it all work.

It’s worth it to me, but I have to admit, parenting is a brave choice. I hope I never come to consider it a crazy one. If it’s not worth the risks in the eyes of my friends on the fence, I do NOT require that you validate my choices.

Be happy.

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