The nature of a unbalanced balance.

When I started this blog a few years ago, I had a hard time coming up with a title.   It was during the eye of my anxiety storm, a period in my life when I felt emotionally unbalanced and perhaps a little frail.  And so the idea of a playing on the word “unbalanced” life appealed to me.  Since then, my life has progressed a bit beyond the panic attacks (though I have accepted that anxiety will always be a part of my life) and into a new chapter of frantic parenting and general exhaustion.  The unbalanced nature of my life is now something entirely new.  That is to say: it’s not the anxiety that is kicking my ass anymore – it’s the constant struggle of my work/life/family balance.  It’s the elephant in the room each time Matt and I discuss who goes to work and who doesn’t.  It’s the age old, I-can’t-believe-we-are-still-discussing-this conversation of working moms everywhere: how come I work double duty?

When what has been dubbed “second wave” feminism found its wings in the 70s, the idea of “equal pay” and working moms was just being born.  The gains we have seen in the last 30 years surrounding the discourse of mothering and working have been substantial: it isn’t deemed taboo anymore to suggest a woman can have a career AND a family.  And that’s no small feat.  Changing the general attitudes about women who work outside the home was certainly a win for feminism

But what we all soon discovered was that while it’s fine for mama to work from 9-5, she continues to come home to her second job each night.  Her second job that requires thankless invisible hours of work.   And I’m not just talking basic chores here, like laundry and dishes and bedtime stories and baths.  It’s the un-categorized work of searches for childcare, planning family outings, figuring out who is staying home when the baby is sick, sorting through the mail, making sure my 5 year old has a lunch for camp the next day, budgeting the family finances, buying presents for birthday parties, organizing play dates, etc etc. 

And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding.  I’m a card carrying b-feeder, it’s true.  But sweet Jesus, do I get frustrated with the fact that it’s another one of my responsibilities.  It’s something else only I can do.   I get frustrated when certain people say “oh, I think he’s hungry!” in that sing-song voice that tells me it’s my time to take over again.  And all I can think sometimes is “gee, that’s convenient for you, isn’t it?”

I have a great partner in parenting.  Matt is hands down, a hands-on parent.  Who is involved in the management of our household in more ways than many fathers and husbands are.  But while I am thankful for my team member, I still l feel like I’m the last one running in the relay race. The one who has to bring it all home for the team, and make up for any lost time.   And it’s not even Matt’s fault, really.  It’s both of us.  When Alice is sick, we BOTH assume that I would be the one who stays home.  When birthday party invites are given to Alice, it’s me who physically takes the invite to file away in my brain.  It’s my hand that reaches out first.  I need to hold back more, to let him hold out his hand perhaps.

When Matt and I were first living together, I was a fast and furious feminist card-carrying member.  I was fresh out of Women’s Studies and tutorials about creating equal spaces for women.  And so, when the reality of our domestic life slapped me in the face, (he never cleaned up, nor did his laundry back then), I did what I assumed was the logical thing:  I handed him an invoice.  For domestic work hours rendered while co-habiting.  And my argument was that if we were going to start sharing our money (and that was just around the corner), then I should receive a larger portion of what we called “free” money each week.  I was obviously doing more work, and so if there was a profit coming home it should go to me.

Of course, this was before I learned the fragile nuances of being in a relationship, and how best to communicate with your partner.  We had some wicked fights back then about who did what, and why I was pissed off that the the kitchen was a holy mess.  Again. 

Fast forward to current days, and we are much more of a partnership.  We respect what each other brings to the team, and the obvious domestic duties are far more equitable.  But it’s those invisible tasks that I mentioned before that drive me round the bend.   Why have I backed myself into this corner?  How have I changed my own attitudes of what was expected over the years?  Why is it my job that comes second when time is an issue?

I love my family, but GOD I need a break.

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11 Comments »

  1. Oh honey. You’ve expressed yourself so eloquently. I am in a position of the WAHM, and it’s also a struggle over here. Finding the divide between home and life is very hard. I’ve been ironing while talking to clients on the phone, arms deep in butter and flour, in the garden with a shovel of dirt.

    I also question why it is that I’m the one who packs all the lunches and cleans the kitchen three times a day etc etc etc. As you said, it’s probably because our hands that have reached out for it first and then the habit is set. I am trying to be more accepting of my role doing all the invisible things you mentioned, which include some things that I find really annoying, like writing all the Christmas cards. Fer chrissakes! But but but, my husband is the one who’s responsible for repairing our broken dryer and keeping the car tuned up (among other things). He also does all the financial stuff, which I hate even more. So maybe doing the Christmas cards is okay… hmm.

    Maybe the best thing to do is:

    a) get a giant calendar so we’re not the only ones who need to remember the birthday parties. Some day your kids will help you in this area too.
    b) make sure the chores are divided in a way that makes everyone happy (as happy as you CAN be anyway) and (most importantly)
    c) find support and take time FOR YOU whenever you can. Because when mummy’s not happy, no one is happy.

  2. “I get frustrated when certain people say “oh, I think he’s hungry!” in that sing-song voice that tells me it’s my time to take over again.” – If I had punched out the people that said that to me back in the BF days with Gigi, there would be many, MANY black eyes and sore jaws (MIL and my mom included). Mostly because it was always my job. Always. That is so overwhelming.

    The balance or I should say lack of, in our family has been a big slap in the face for me (us actually). I’m the matriarch. Period. Almost everything comes down to me and I feel like I’m drowning some (most) days. It’s doesn’t happen without thanks and praise and offers of help from my partner in parenting crime but the way it unfolded, without me having the chance to pick from the “sign-up sheet” of duties is what burns most days. Burns like a untreated UTI – and just as annoying. Bleck. This isn’t what I signed up for – or is it? At least I’m miles ahead of where my momma was at this same stopover in life.

  3. Lisa b said

    you say it so well. It comes down to it just is not fair and there is nothing we can do about it.
    great huh?

  4. landismom said

    Great post.

  5. Renee said

    Well put and it definitely hit home with me.

  6. elizabeth said

    I hear you. When I want to go out, I basically have to ask my husband to look after the kids as a favour. He he wants to go out, he just tells me he’s going out and assumes I’ll be there to take care of the kids. And I’m with you on the b-feeding: it’s a joy and I’m so glad I can provide it for my baby, but man, what I would give for a few days off.

    Great post. I’m glad I found your blog.

  7. kgirl said

    you have completely described our household. it’s hard not to allow things to dissolve into a competition, but the truth is, regardless of how awesome a husband/partner/father he is (and he is), i still feel like he leaves all the planning – even a lot of the thinking – to me.
    the thing is that even the very best father isn’t that great of a mother.

  8. “the thing is that even the very best father isn’t that great of a mother.”

    Nice kgirl. That’s totally it. I can die now.

    But I’d like to believe if this possible third wave of feminism that’s being dictated by moms works out, our daughters will get a more even playing field. If my son and daughter see my busting my ass to tell their father what I expect of him, it’s huge. Because growing up in a middle eastern household all I saw was what wasn’t expected of men due to their gender.

    It’s a big job. It’s changing centuries of societally and biologically ingrained patterns. I might die trying, but if that means my daughter won’t have to have the same arguments in the future, it’s worth it.

  9. adina said

    Nicely said!

    Sometimes I find myself leaning on certain traditional roles, just so that I can feel equality of tasks – eg: I’ll plan the meals and social calendar and assemble our “out of the house kit” if you do the heavy lifting, all the driving, and (sadly for our once-white towels) most of the laundry.

    The worst part about the mothership is all the cliche. It’s kind of embarassing.

  10. Miche said

    “I love my family, but GOD I need a break.”

    Amen.

  11. kittenpie said

    We do pretty well with the splitting, but there are always those tasks that seem to just “naturally,” unspokenly, fall to me. Like pretty much all shopping except for groceries, including all gifts unless otherwise specified, writing of Christmas cards, and so on. Even the ones that are rooted in common sense – I stay home with a sick child because I actually have days built in for Family Medical Leave and the library can spare me more easily than the classroom of JKs can spare him – feel irritating at times, say in the winter, when it has happened four times in as many months. We all need a break sometimes!

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