A few weeks ago, I stood in my kitchen sobbing my eyes out while making my husband’s lunch.
“You just … don’t understand … !” I squeezed out between cries.
My husband sat silently at the table, wisely (or maybe unwisely), saying nothing.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering through the “breastfeeding blues.” For about two weeks I dealt with mood swings, rage, and an overall sense of despair. And in the depths of my emotional turmoil, every last stressor that I had as a working mom came to a head — and I exploded.
Of course, all that pent-up anger and frustration landed on my husband.
It was as if every struggle came to an ugly head, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I tried so hard to explain to my husband how I was feeling, but I’m not sure I got my point across through the incoherent babbling.
And then I read this article, which put into words what I couldn’t. The article explains how even though women are still doing more physically, in terms of work and household responsibilities and childcare, there is still a huge emotional disconnect in the workloads between partners.
“One of them — usually the mother — is more alive to the emotional undercurrents of the household. As a result, this more intuitive parent feels that the other parent — usually the father — is not doing his fair share, while the father feels that his wife is excessively emotional and wretchedly inefficient. But what really may be going on is that the couple is experiencing time differently, because each person is paying attention to different things,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “Complicating matters, mothers assume a disproportionate number of time-sensitive domestic tasks, whether it’s getting their toddlers dressed for school or their 12-year-olds off to swim practice. Their daily routine is speckled with what sociologists Annette Lareau and Elliot Weininger call ‘pressure points,’ or nonnegotiable demands that make their lives, as the authors put it, ‘more frenetic.’ “
For me, it’s not the physical parts of being a parent of four young kids and handling the majority of our home-life responsibilities and work that gets to me, it’s the emotional burden of carrying our entire lives on my shoulders. I know that I’m the only one who will: remember when the oil needs to be changed, make a decision about a surgery our daughter needs, take the kids shopping for winter boots, pay the credit card bill, keep a running list of our household supplies, know the small hurts and slights our girls suffer with their friends, and have all childcare completely under my realm, feels like a lonely, exhausting, and completely overwhelming gig.
I fully appreciate that my husband is a hands-on, active father who takes on bath time every single day and gets up with the kids at night. I am grateful he is so involved.
But I still want more. I want a partner in the emotional burden of parenthood. Like many women, it sometimes feels like I’m the one who takes the lead in our family life. And it feels like modern-day fathers and husbands are given a “free pass” and a pat on the back if they lend a cheerful helping hand.
But that’s the problem. They’re still just helping. I don’t want a helper. I don’t want another person I have to direct and oversee.
I feel like my life is one constant rush to stay ahead of everything before it all falls apart before my eyes because there’s no real “break” for me. If I get a sitter and do work, the housework doesn’t get done. If I go away on a work trip, everything piles up for me to deal with when I get back. My time is a constant trade-off.
“It also creates a feeling of urgency — a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there’s always a pot somewhere that’s about to boil over,” The WSJ explained. And that’s it. That’s exactly it. I don’t think my husband feels that same kind of pressure that I constantly do, because he just doesn’t see everything that needs to be done.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m a horrible person and wife. Most women would kill for a husband who can cook dinner or thinks nothing of putting kids to bed, right? But why should we accept that the best we can ask for is a husband who “helps” us? Why is it too much to ask for to have a truly equal partner in parenting? Someone who can keep up with the kids’ schedules just as well as we can and and who can schedule a sitter without us asking or who runs to the store without us sending a pre-made list?
Maybe I’m focusing too much on what my husband doesn’t do instead of what he does, but just because I’m a woman, a wife, and a working mother, it doesn’t mean I’m OK with “having it all” if it means I’m the only one doing it all.
Since that day I cried into my husband’s sandwich, we’ve both been slowly changing our ways, dancing an awkward and painful new dance as we transition into yet another stage in our marriage. For my part, I’m working hard to be open and honest about the specifics of what I need. I don’t want to be the kind of wife that keeps score, and I think I need to focus more on the strengths we each bring to our marriage, instead of wanting everything split 50/50 down the line.
And for my husband’s part, he is tentatively offering up small ways to be more involved. He took the kids away for a Saturday morning this weekend to allow me to work, he sorted out his closet (a task I mentioned months ago and never thought he’d actually do), he checks in constantly about schedules, and is even taking some work days off to attend field trips.
Our marriage will never be perfect, but in a way, I’m glad my little breakdown forced me to come face-to-face with the fact that something needed to change. We are growing and changing together, and something tells me that will be a never-ending dance in the years to come.
Which is not a bad thing after all.