My husband and I have had some difficult talks lately, and things between us are getting better. I think he’s really starting to see the disparities in our contributions to the family and he’s not only stepping up to do more, but he’s not bitching about it. In fact, I haven’t heard one prolonged, overly dramatic sigh in the past few weeks.
But I’m realizing that it he will never do so much that our contributions are equal, and that he’ll always have fewer responsibilities, less stress and more time to dedicate to his own personal pursuits. These disparities are written into the expectations of men and women in our society, and I just know that we will never be able to shake those deeply held, but often unrecognized beliefs. Just like there will never be an article written about the challenges of being a working father, my husband will never be our family’s default parent. He will never even understand the weight I carry as the default parent, or comprehend how torn I feel between the contrasting obligations of my job and my family. He is just never going to get it.
And I’m so envious of him for that.
It’s the little things, but they add up to something massive. He would argue that he doesn’t make certain assumptions but it’s clear that he does. Like how it’s assumed that I will be home in the evenings, probably because I pick up the kids, so I’m there before he is. He never thinks twice about leaving work late or stopping for a drink or staying out for a concert. When we both have something we want to do I’m left scrambling for coverage–and while he’ll sometimes offer to cancel his own plans so I can go out, it’s clear he feels he’s doing me a favor. I get to work later than I want to and have to leave earlier than I want to, and when I need to take time on the weekends to catch up, it ends up feeling like some favor he’s doing me. It feels like his time is his, first and foremost, and my time is mine only after everyone’s needs have been met.
It is there, in the fact that he’s never taken the kids to a doctor’s appointment without me, or held them when they’ve gotten a shot, or taken them for a hair cut, or attended a parent conference. I am the one who has to figure out how to make those things happen, even though I work during the hours they usually have to take place.
Yesterday, to take my daughter to vision therapy (there were no appointments available this past Saturday and next Saturday so I had to make one on a Tuesday) I had to ask for multiple favors at work to orchestrate an insane patchwork of coverage so that I could get part of one period covered, all of another period covered and someone to dial me into a Google HangOut so I can “attend” the staff meeting at home after the therapy appointment. Sure, my husband says he can “help” with these kinds of appointments if I “give him enough time to move things around,” but that never seems to be the case when one of the kids actually needs to be somewhere. It always ends up falling on me.
He has so much more time and space to dedicate to his own interests, while I struggle just to manage the tasks that are absolutely necessary. I try to put aside time for the things that are important to me, but at the end of the day I just don’t have the time, energy or space to dedicate to them.
If I’m going to be away from home I need to prepare things before I leave and manage the fallout when I return. I wonder the whole time if things are going well and what kind of mood my husband will be in when I get back. He never announces that he’s just taking the kids somewhere, to the zoo or to meet up with a friend. I’ve never been offered time alone at the house, or an afternoon to myself. He gets those things all the time, because moms meet up with their kids. But dads don’t. (At least the dad in my family doesn’t.)
It’s just hard to manage this life, and it’s even harder when I see my partner having a fundamentally easier time of it. It’s even harder when I feel like he doesn’t even recognize that he has it easier than I do, because he has so little comprehension of what it all entails. I honestly don’t think you can truly appreciate what someone is going through if you haven’t experienced it yourself. You just can’t. I couldn’t appreciate what my mother sacrificed raising us until I understood the subtle intricacies of the contrasting obligations of moms who work outside the home. Sure I had a vague sense of how much she did for us and how challenging it must have been, but I couldn’t really appreciate it until I was living it for myself.* And I believe the same is true for my husband–he just can’t understand the unfairness I perceive, and the envy and resentment I sometimes feel, when he has never been positioned in the less privileged circumstance.
The reality is my husband belongs to the most privileged demographic on this planet, and no amount of education, empathy or enlightenment can correct for that kind of distorted perception.
Growing up, I didn’t think much about gender norms or appreciate how hard women had to work in altering them. If anything, there was a part of me that believed women should accept the roles they’d been occupying since the birth of humanity–what is so bad about creating and nurturing life? Now I am frustrated that by the simple fact that girls are taught to sacrifice their own wellbeing to provide for others, while men are taught to expect their needs will be met (or at least that they will be able to meet those needs). These messages are subtle and yet so ingrained, it’s almost impossible to remain cognizant enough of them to alter one’s expectations.
I know I’m not the only woman out there who is so completely disillusioned by the realities of being a woman and mother today. I don’t know which is worse, how far we still have to go, or the fact that as a society we’re actively taking steps backwards.
And where does that leave me? Riling against a reality I cannot change? Being angry, envious and resentful isn’t the answer–it’s not my husband’s fault that we think this way–but I’m honestly not sure what is. Again, I’m left doing the hard work of figuring out what I should work to change, and determining what I need to accept. While my husband just needs to not stay out too late at an event that is personally fulfilling for him.
At least I didn’t do his dishes.
*I’m not trying to invalidate anyone’s experience, and I know there are so many experience that I, myself can’t appreciate for lack of living it. I also recognize my own privilege (second only to my husband’s) and realize that so many people have it so much harder than I do as a direct lack of that privilege. Right now I am only trying to comment on my marriage and what I perceive as an inability on my husband’s part to understand my experience.