I read a post this evening that triggered me a bit. Triggered, meaning I responded defensively and with a bit of irritation. I wouldn’t say I’m angry about it, but it irks me when men are outed as brutes and insensitives. I’m certain, given the response in the comments of this post, that many women feel the same way. Perhaps there is more to examine in our reactions: mine, “not all men…” and theirs, “yep, my husband was the exact same way.”
Being the Primary Parent is Exhausting – from Close to Classy (link to post)
It’s not that I’m tired of being a parent, because my kids are the sun and the stars and all that jazz, but I’m exhausted trying to juggle all the things that keep their lives and mine running smoothly. I’m not a single mom, I’m married, happily even, but I’m definitely the parent that keeps the world spinning in our house.
And in some ways she’s right. Moms do have a very central role in the earliest moments of a newborn’s life. And moms also relish that moment of bonding, quiet, respite. Moms can be a bit selfish with the newborn baby. And, in our house, mom spent a lot of time feeding the baby at her breast. Amazing! Wonderful! I’m 100% in! Yes. And…
Dads probably take this opportunity to check out, in some circumstances. That’s the time the man cave becomes more of a focus. Maybe it’s because sex has been taken off the menu for a bit. Maybe it’s because they are not so comfortable with the new competition for their wife’s affections? Maybe it’s because they are a bit bored with all the parenting stuff and want a break themselves. I am sure there are plenty of new dads, and dads in general, who check out of the family master planning and master doing.
I Stayed Close, I Worked To Support My Wife
I was a different variety of dad from the moment I helped my son’s shoulders turn and slip out of his mother. I caught my son and the spiritual transformation was complete in that moment. I never left my son’s side during the next 24 hours. I traveled with his little red body to the warming room, to the initial heal prick, to the washing and prepping him. I never took my hand off his tiny back, actually. I was not the norm. I didn’t see dads or moms in the warming room. Seems they all needed the break too.
And perhaps that’s more of what this story is about. We all need a break now and then. And this mom is complaining a bit about always being the responsible parent. She talks about needing a break and more rest. And she talks about how her husband is not doing all he could to support her and the new lifestyle.
Okay, let’s look at her main points and see if we can sort any of this out, both in terms of what she is saying (I want to listen and learn) and from what I’m feeling when I hear her complaints and requests (I want to understand more about my reaction and perhaps my failure in supporting and nurturing my then-wife during the early years of being parents together.
I’m the keeper of all the things
Mom talks about being the captain of the morning routine, including school permissions, coats and jackets, and (I’m assuming) sick days. While dad seems to have this cushy commute to work instead. Okay.
I don’t really want to kill him, but…
When I leave work each afternoon, I pick the kids up from school, listen to the stories from their day, and find something we can eat for dinner when we arrive home. Many days that something is cereal or sandwiches, because I’m frazzled from the day and just want to sit down.
Okay, let’s parse this one out a little bit.
“When I leave work each afternoon…” Okay, so you get off work in time to pick up the kids from school? And you get to work after dropping them off? So you’re not working full-time. All right. And you have to plan dinner? Well, okay but couldn’t your husband take dinner 50% of the time? And you’re frazzled when you get home. Yes, I’m imagining your husband might be as well, unless that quiet commute has charged up his batteries. What the heck is a “quiet commute” anyway? In my world, my commute (45 minutes each way on a good day) sucked. Stopped in traffic, even in a nice car with AC and music, sucks.
So the little “I don’t really want to kill him” jab was about what exactly? Because he has it so easy compared to you? Um, I’m going to hold my comments until later.
I’m nothing like June Cleaver
Every moment of my day is accounted for in one way or another. Whether I am at work, home, or in between, my mind is whirling with things I need to do. Even when my husband helps shuttle the kids back and forth to soccer practice, it’s me who keeps the schedule and reminds him where to be and when.
Um, yeah, June was a full-time stay-at-home wife. So you are correct in that assessment. What I hear in this one is my own shit, “even when my husband helps…” it’s not enough. It’s never enough. And it’s the mom who keeps the schedule and plays the project manager role for the entire family. Well, I think this is a problem with communication and roles. The dad can do 50% of everything if that’s what you both want. Or… If you WANT to be the primary parent, if you LOVE having the majority of the time with your kids, then you’re going to make choices, even if they are unconscious choices as you seem to claim, to get what you want.
Do you want to give up control? Do you want to give up time with your kids? Would you rather have the hour in the car listening to NPR or time with your kids, getting ready for school? I’m guessing your answer to all of these questions would be, “No way.” But you’re complaining as if this is not what you want. And you are failing to ask for your husband to step up in the ways you need him to. Why is it hard to ask for what you want? Would you have to give up some of the time with the kids if dad took them to school 50% of the time?
Guess what? Every minute of all of our days is planned out. Perhaps you feel your responsibilities to your kids is heavier or more critical than your husband’s responsibilities to his boss and his financial obligations to keep the part-time lifestyle you enjoy as a viable option. I’m guessing he’s pretty tightly scheduled as well.
I drink coffee and I know things
My husband is not a slacker, he does plenty. He is the saint who keeps the dishes clean, takes out the trash, and keeps our yard looking presentable. And if I asked, he would jump in and help wherever he could. This is why I don’t ask for help more often, because I know he has responsibilities too.
Thank goodness your husband gets a little love in this one. Dishes, garbage, lawn. Check. And here’s the big one, “And if I asked…” And you don’t ask because… “I know he has responsibilities too.” SRSLY? Here’s the problem with this post. She’s not asking for what she needs. She’s saying she’s not asking because he has a lot of responsibilities too. And yet, she’s complaining about not wanting to kill him because… why exactly?
Sorry kids, Mommy forgot
And here is her final swan song for the life she wishes she could have but just can’t get her courage up to ask her husband for what she needs.
I will probably always be the primary parent, because this is just the way our lives work, but man, can it be overwhelming and exhausting. Even if just for a few days, I would love to hand over my responsibilities, thoughts, and worries, enjoy a peaceful morning and drive to work, and not feel like I’m always on-call.
I’m sorry, she is holding on to this shit and it’s probably not good for her marriage and her husband’s future either.
I would love to hand over my responsibilities, thoughts, and worries, enjoy a peaceful morning and drive to work
Yes, yes, yes. Dear god, mom, you’ve got to ask for what you need. “I will probably always be the primary parent…” line is bullshit. This is the way you want it. This is the way you want to keep it. You are not asking your husband for the day off because you don’t want to give up the time with your kids. You want to be mom.
Flash question for the writer: if you could afford to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, without compromise and without limitations, would you do it? Would you still want to “quiet commute” to work if you didn’t need the money?
My ex did not ask for what she needed. I tried to give the support anyway. And early on I got good at deciphering her complaints as asks for help. This mom needs to complain and tell her husband what she needs. (Perhaps writing her post will give them both more information.) Would this mom want a full-time job so the dad could stay home with the kids? Um, yeah, I didn’t think so.
Stereotypical Roles for Moms and Dads
Yep, this mom certainly gets a lot of support in the comments for her lament. But, I think she’s doing herself and her husband a disservice when she complains as if she’s the victim of some harsh primary parent responsibilities. The truth is, parenting is a lot of work. If the tasks aren’t shared 50/50 there is going to be resentment, complaints, and anger. And in my case, those things will eventually lead to divorce. She gives a strong shout out to single parents, but she has no idea what she’s talking about. She’s thinking that means she’ll have to do all the dishes, take out the trash herself, AND hire out the lawn care. Single parenting is a bit harder than all that.
Here’s my unsolicited advice to Ms. Classy: Be honest with your husband in real life not just through your blog. Tell him you want a day off, a week off, a change of plans. You are whining like this situation is beyond your control, it is not. Parenting well is beyond your control because we’re all beginners and there is no predrawn roadmap for how to do it well. So, we have to create the new map with our partners.
If one partner settles into the primary parent role and doesn’t ask to share the responsibilities, then that one person is making a decision to assume that role. This writer uses phrases that seem to indicate she accidentally fell into this role. Nope. She chose the role, and she continues to choose the role because she’s not asking for what she needs. Chances are, she doesn’t want some of the things she’s asking about. She doesn’t want to give up the primary parent role, because it comes with a lot of perks. But she should not then blame her husband for not doing more of the heavy lifting.
because this is just the way our lives work
That’s also a line of crock. We make our lives work out the way we desire them to. If you’re not asking for change, look at why you’re not telling your husband what you need. Sorry Jorrie, you’re the primary parent because you want to be. And you’ll give up that control only by asking for the help and support you say you need. But, you will be giving up some of your control and some of your time with your kids by getting these “breaks” you want.
Ask for them. Try them on. Get a weekend away, alone. I’m certain your husband can take care of the kids. He might even enjoy the added time with them. He can do the dinners. He can do the baths. He can read the bedtime stories. He can troubleshoot health and emotional issues, just like you can. He will do it differently. That’s part of the design. See, we’re both parents. We’re both being transformed by the process of being parents. Let your husband participate more by asking him for support in the places where you feel the most pain. You’re not happy about this situation, but you’re not asking for a change. Why?
Dear Ms Classy: Say Your Truth
My husband is not a slacker, he does plenty.
If you don’t ask for the change you will probably get more of what you’re getting. If you assume the primary parent role without having conversations with your partner about roles and responsibilities, then you might be leaning more towards June Cleaver than you think. I don’t think that’s the best way forward. Ask. Cajole. Rest. Take time for yourself. But most of all, ASK YOUR HUSBAND FOR WHAT YOU WANT.
And that statement above. Somewhere inside you, that is a lie. You are saying he IS a slacker and he does not do enough. Why aren’t you asking him to do more? Because you love being “the keeper of all the things.” At least own that. Then figure out how to ask for what you need of your “not a slacker” husband.
Not sure if it will ever get approved, but here is my comment on this blog post. (Update: I’m sorry to say Close to Classy killed my comment and didn’t post it. Too bad. The comment section is a cacophony of “atta girls.” We can’t learn if we can talk to one another. She is doing her husband a disservice by keeping her complaints in until she needs to vent in a post like this. Waves to Mrs. Classy!)
See more from The Positive Divorce section:
- The Emotional Cost of Divorce is High for Everyone
- Single Dad Writes to his 16-year-old Daughter About the Divorce
- Experience, Strength, and Hope After a Divorce with Kids
- Single Father Manifesto: I’ll Never Stop Pursuing You
- The Prayer for All Single Parents (downloadable)