There is no education in gender role conditioning like the one you get upon giving birth to a girl. And I’m not talking pink or princesses, though that’s a part of it. I’m talking about mom, or me as mother, or what the role of me as mother conjures up in expectations and in reenactments, and the constant struggle to understand that nature versus nurture divide. Is it natural instinct, or is it unintentional education? Chemical reaction or pavlovian response?
We are conditioned to believe that the mother is intended by nature to be the primary parent. Care-giver, bread-cooker, tear-wiper, diaper-changer, kitchen-cleaner, milk-maker, cake-baker. No matter how many things she might be outside of the domestic sphere, the mother is still the mother.
This is how it was even in my house, even in this lab of experimental equality and topsy turvy flipflopping gender roles my husband and I keep trying to create. Or this is how it was for the most part, for a while, anyway.
For as much as I love my new job (have I mentioned lately that I love my new job?), there have been downsides. Minor downside: decreased sleep. Somewhat less minor downside: increased stress. Major, massive, monstrously big downside: sharp decline of my mothering skills. I leave earlier and come home later. I work on weekends. I talk about each workday through the duration of every family dinner. I rush through bedtime so I can get back to my emails. If we combine the physical and the emotional, I’m probably about half as present as I was before (and that’s probably a generous estimate).
So my husband has picked up the slack. He’s a freelancer, which on good days, means more freedom. He’s free to adjust his morning schedule and has used this flexibility to incorporate lunch packing, toddler dressing, breakfast making, and when there’s time, living room sofa snuggle time book reading – something I barely get even on the weekends anymore. He’s also free to adjust his afternoon schedule on some days, and lately has used this freedom to develop super duper daddy day on Fridays, when he picks her up early from school, takes her for giant ice cream sundaes and secret adventures in the woods.
I am grateful for the help. And I am grateful that she is happy and having fun. But for crying out loud – they read books in trees and chase white tailed bunny rabbits through bushes of wild rosemary and sage. How can I compete with this?
I know, it’s not a competition. But packing her lunch, brushing her hair, helping her get dressed – this is supposed to be my job. Just like it’s supposed to be my job to stand at the school entrance and smile as she sprints to me with a smile as wide as the mountains at the end of her school day. Just like it’s my job to treat her to ice cream and shopping and special mama/baby adventures.
(None of which I’ve got the time for, anymore, of course.)
I watch the joy my husband generates and am reminded of the bliss I used to spin. I hear the stories of their escapades and am reminded of how rarely she and I even read stories together anymore, let alone create them. I feel I am failing her. I am failing her in this moment, as I stay up later than I should, working on a post I have no time to write, for a blog that feels perpetually to be losing its direction. I am failing her in the mornings, as I rush around after my run that I can’t function without but that cuts into those precious few mommy moments before we go running off into our days. I fail her again at night, after work, when I tell her I’ll read a book after I change my clothes but get distracted instead into another email or another concern, then again at bathtime and at bedtime, when I am less than present, or at storytime when I fall asleep before she does. I fail her in every opportunity I miss to connect or to share or to just be next to her for a few seconds every so often with no other thoughts in my head.
But for all of the times that I now fail, my husband now succeeds. And I am so happy for his success. I am so happy for her happiness. I am so happy for their wellbeing, but it can be hard to not feel a little sad for my own little losses, like the very first time when my daughter insisted upon daddy cuddling her to sleep instead of me.
I understand that we all can’t help but fail. It’s part of our job as parents to be less than perfect, so we can teach our children that it’s okay for them to be less than perfect too. But I am so relieved that there is someone there to fill in for my failings, so thankful to have a partner that can fill in those gaps, lest they become sinkholes.
So this one goes out to Moonbear. To a good dad and a good husband and a pretty mean lasagna maker (and his movies aren’t too bad either). Because man/woman/child don’t really apply anymore. Only family. And I’m oh so lucky to have the one I’ve got.