The Mommy Wars At Home
I’ve read so many of your blog entries and advice entries and have constantly thought, YES! THIS! when reading them that I hope you can help me with a problem I’m having.
After quite a bit of trouble with infertility, my husband and I finally had a beautiful little boy this past December. We both love him to death. (Gee, this is a problem? Yes.)
If you do the math, you can see that it’s now been a little over three months since his birth, which means I have now returned to work. My employers have been great, and *very* supportive, and have even adjusted my hours for this spring so that I can go in late and stay late. My husband made arrangements with his to go in early and leave early. Thus the kiddo is only in daycare for half-days (from 10am until 2pm.) But as supportive as my employer is, they still have a business to run and they need me back to a regular schedule in the summer. So the arrangement is only temporary for the next three months.
The problem is that my husband is violently against having the kiddo in daycare. It’s not that our daycare is bad (it’s not, it’s great, relatively cheap, and we both love the teachers) or that the kiddo hates it (he’s never unhappy or crying when we pick him up, and in fact, is always all smiles.) He just hates the idea of it. (He thinks parents or family should do the day to day caring, which is great in theory, not so much in practice.)
He knew going into the pregnancy that I always intended to return to work. Not necessarily that my job means so much to me, but because I actually need it for my mental sanity. I’m extremely introverted, have trouble making friends, and quite honestly need regular daily interaction with other adults to keep me on an even keel. Even while I loved being with my kiddo while on maternity leave, the longer I was home, the less patient I became with the kiddo and the more resentful I became of my husband for getting to go to work each day. (There were some weeks I went days without showering because why bother? I wasn’t going to be seeing anyone.)
Somehow, though, my husband missed the memo. He wants me to stay home full time. (Actually, he’d love it if HE could stay home full time. Unfortunately, while my job is optional – it helps with extras but isn’t needed – his isn’t.) I guess he thought I’d change my mind once the kiddo was here. (Also, I don’t think he fully understands what staying at home all day with an infant or toddler entails.)
I’d love it if I could find a part time job or if my current job would accommodate part time hours, but it’s not an option. We live in a rural area with not many employment opportunities nearby. (I laugh when I see in your column about choosing a pediatrician, a daycare or a hospital, because in order to have a choice, I’d have to drive over 40 miles from my home – so not an option!) We also don’t live near any family, so using family as daycare also is not an option.
Anyhow… my husband and I have been going round and round on this *constantly* and it’s giving me a headache. And to top it all off, the other day, my husband had the audacity to utter the words that I never thought I’d hear him say. “My mom stayed home, yours did. Why can’t you? They only had five TV channels and no internet. You’ve got 200+ channels, your laptop, and your online friends.” I honestly don’t know how I restrained myself from choking him right there and then. (Perhaps it was the sleeping baby not ten feet away? Whatever the reason, he should count himself lucky.)
Do you or your readers have any advice on how to handle this? I don’t want to have the same argument over and over for the next four years. And short of having my two best mom friends (who live clear across the country!) come out and kick his butt, I just can’t see a solution. (Or even a compromise.)
(Queen of parentheses)
Here’s a little scoop on the behind-the-scenes goings-on here at Ye Olde Advice Smackdown: Most of the time I read a life-dilemma-related question and write my answer almost immediately, since I’ve found that my gut-reaction answer seems to USUALLY be the best one, or at least the best one I’m capable of coming up with. Sometimes, though, I’ll read a question and opt not to answer it right then, preferring to let it marinate in my brain a bit, or play Devil’s Advocate with myself to make sure I’ve looked at it from all angles.
Confession: I read your question a couple weeks ago. My gut reaction was to give your husband a verbal smackdown into the next Millennium. I decided to maybe take a little time instead. And a walk. Outside. While gesturing furiously with my hands while preaching an imaginary sermon until my neighbors called the authorities.
So here we are. I have thought about your question and had a very nice state-mandated rest at that hospital where they gave me lollipops without the stick. And…I still just want to sit here and point out all the million zillion things that he is TOTALLY WRONG ABOUT.
Look. I stay home. I had pretty much the opposite experience as you: my weeks of maternity leave advanced with increasing dread of having to go back. As soon as I returned, I was essentially plotting my exit. I also had a husband who wanted me to work, who had no problem with daycare, who was deeply nervous about the prospect of being the primary breadwinner and worried about my future earnings and career path and all of that.
So we made compromises (I didn’t quit until I had X amount of steady freelance work coming in [including this very column, huzzah!], and we’d figured out how to reduce our monthly expenses by X amount) and made it work. Because ultimately: IT WAS WHAT I WANTED. Both as a mother and as a wanna-be fledgling writer-type person. I’m not saying we as women get to make these decisions completely on our own and independent of our partner’s wishes, but…you know…we are adults who deserve some autonomy in our own major life decisions. And choosing to exit the workforce is a major life decision that can affect the rest of your life, even when we’re talking about a job that’s “optional” and only provides money for “extras.”
And while we’re on that subject: STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR JOB THAT WAY. Don’t let anyone talk about your job that way. Your incomes are both important, and it’s total crap to assign one paycheck randomly as “extra.” No. Your household earns what it earns, together. So you have a certain amount of disposable income. That’s awesome! Why should the person who earns less automatically get their contribution assigned to that column of the budget spreadsheet?
(Whew. Sorry. Just as someone who chose to enter a lower-paying field [publishing] than her husband [software development] despite having the exact same level of education, this sort of household math makes me very twitchy.)
Okay. I’m flying all over the place with this answer, but let’s just roll with it: Yes, you are exactly right when you say that your husband doesn’t seem to have a real grasp on the realities of staying home with a small child. The fact that he brought up how many TV CHANNELS you get is proof of that. Um. I don’t even really know what to say to that, or how to point out how many levels of wrong that is. You know who stays home and watches TV all day? DEPRESSED PEOPLE. Not healthy, vibrant and effective stay-at-home mothers.
It’s great that he wants to stay home — and let me interrupt myself for probably the hundredth time already to interject that I am rebuking your husband’s naivete about SAHMomming and not HIM, because really, he sounds like a loving, devoted father and we shall have no OP-husband-bashing in the comments, chickens — but it’s interesting that he clearly realizes that’s not a good fit for your family, financially speaking. What he NEEDS to realize there is so, soo, sooooo much more to this question than finances or whether you can afford to stay home. His heart is in the right place, but…yeah.
Let’s try looking at it this way: I’m sure he looks at his job as more than a paycheck. For many of us, it’s a social outlet, a confidence booster, a place where we can gain some bit of emotional satisfaction and pride in our own self-worth, especially when you can get yourself a raise or promotion or even just a “hey, good job” from a boss. I’m thinking that maybe your own short-selling of your own job (it doesn’t “mean that much” to you, it’s “optional”) is contributing to his idea that this simply about money and the “right thing to do.” If your job doesn’t mean that much to you, clearly YOUR BABY does, so…
But I can tell that actually, your job DOES mean a lot to you, for reasons beyond the paycheck, for reasons that your husband probably values his own job too. The intangibles like…other adults, conversation, of accomplishing finite things each day — all things you do give up to some degree to stay home with a baby. (Not to say that there aren’t plenty of new intangible benefits that come with being the primary caregiver, but I seriously could not imagine doing this if I hadn’t wholeheartedly chosen it. ResentfulUnappreciatedville, man.)
I feel like there’s no sense in even addressing his preconceived notions about who is “supposed” to care for children Monday through Friday, 9 -5. I mean, welcome to 2010, dude. There isn’t one right answer or perfect one-size-fits-all situation. Plenty of perfectly wonderful, functional children are being raised by mothers and/or fathers who work outside of the home full-time, part-time, at home, on the road, or deployed overseas, You name it, somebody is making it work with probably not much thought about the decisions their parents made 30 years ago, because you know? Not them. Not now.
I’m sorry this column turned into more of a rant than a practical solution-type thing. It’s…hard to change someone’s mind about this topic, male or female. Choosing to stay home does not automatically make you a good mother. Choosing to work does not automatically make you a bad mother. Or even a slightly less-good mother. Childcare — full-time, part-time, by family or “strangers” — is not outsourcing motherhood or letting other people “raise” your children. Fathers who work full-time still get to take credit for how well their children turn out, right?
My advice would be to drastically change the way you view (or at least TALK ABOUT) your job. Stop selling it short. It’s not a hobby or a distraction. It’s important to you. Create some new columns in your household budget — college fund, Disneyworld, preschool, loss-of-husband’s-job-or-income-because-oh-my-heavens-it-happens fund — and start putting your income there. (I know you mentioned very limited childcare options in your area but…I don’t know…maybe a nanny would make your husband happier than a daycare center, if it’s at all possible to find one? I only suggest that because ours is like a member of our family already, and honestly more patient and qualified than any actual family member.)
But…yep. I’m all for marital compromise and trying to find solutions that make everybody happy, but I’m siding with you on this one. Tell your husband that you will continue to keep an eye and ear out for a more flexible part-time job (if that’s what you want, truly) but in the meantime this discussion is over. You need to work, and he needs to respect that need. And you both definitely need to stop fighting about it. You both love your son and want to be the best parents you can be. Daycare is absolutely no big thing, but parents who can’t work out differences of opinion without wanting to throttle each other kind of IS.