Wednesday, March 17, 2010

you should thank your husband

I've been a mother for a very long time. More time than I care to tell people. I had the oldest child so long that people start doing math in their head immediately... For the first eleven years, I was a single parent with three children. If wanted to do anything, go anywhere, work or go to school, I needed a babysitter or day care or school hours.
I barely left the house for the first two years of my oldest son's life. I lived with my parents who were out of town a significant amount of time and it was announced to me by my mother when I brought the child home from the hospital "You can live here but I am not your personal babysitter."
Which pissed me off because why would she think that of me? But I'm glad she said it and it toughened me up a lot. I also watched other young moms regularly dump their kids on the mom they thought had no life. That was not my mom. That ultimately was not me.
My mother has helped me and stood by me more than any one in my life has but she pushed me to become an adult- and she did not coddle me when I needed to be standing on my own. She always let me know I could do it myself. And sometimes it was downright unpleasant. Once I was begging her to just give me twenty minutes in the shower and she said to me- 'when I wanted a shower, I had to take the baby in with me and strap him in his seat. Otherwise, wait for him to take a nap.'
So, I learned to do it. Does that sound mean to you? I thought so at the time but I learned to be less helpless- and more resourceful. She knew she could cripple me or teach me to do this on my own.
So, after eleven years and three disappointing and abusive relationships, I was a single mom giving birth to my fourth child in a relationship that was very promising and has turned out to be very fulfilling and wonderful but from the beginning- he has been hands on with his daughter. I had to learn to share responsibility. What? You can watch her while I take a shower?
We can go 50/50 on the chores and the child care? I can go out with my friends and I don't have to arrange a sitter? It was hard for me to learn to share, I was so used to doing it all. He used to get one night out a week and I used to get one night out a week and one night was ours together at home-But nowadays, neither one of us goes out as much- I go out for work or events but most nights we stay home.
I like to travel, some for work, some for pleasure- he does not always want to go or he can't go as he has to work. So it's usually a combination of my fantastic babysitter and my wonderful husband.
In the early days of this, he used to argue with me about it, he didn't want me to leave but he has become accustomed to it and now understands that if I need to go, I need to go. He has gone out of town a couple times without me- but I do it more frequently for sure.
Without fail, every time I go out for the evening for pleasure, or go out of town, someone will ask me "who is watching your children?"
Most times, I say, my husband, their father... and people will say "you should thank your husband"
Men and women say this. And I am always thinking- do they think I need a reminder? Do I appear ungrateful?
First of all, I am grateful for him in my life. He is a wonderful and loving human being and the best father on the planet, okay?
I don't have to fall on my knees and thank him every time he does his job! I don't expect him to do that for me! Do I expect him to thank me every time he goes to work for caring for his children? Do I expect him to thank me if he wants to go to the baseball game with his friends? No, it's implicit- we are grateful for one another and what HE does is no more extraordinary that what I do.
If anyone thinks after eleven years of single parenting that I am not very thankful to have some help, you don't know me. But he is just doing what he should be doing, parenting his children. I should really not be scolded for his excellent parenting- and that is what it is. I get accused of being spoiled, entitled and ungrateful. You should thank your husband is code for 'you realize you are a woman and should not have such privileges as being able to go out of town by yourself for five days, why are you so lucky?'
I guess this would not bother me so much if it didn't happen every time and I find myself having the same discussion over and over. And then I appear ungrateful. But hello, people, no one ever asks him to be grateful to me for doing my job parenting my children and being kind enough to allow him to be a human being and go out with his friends and have a life and have a job and get to interact with adults.
So for the last time, yes, I know how lucky I am to have a plugged in husband who thinks his children and wife are a priority- YOU don't need to remind me.
I actually take all the children on long trips and he gets to stay here by himself and go out with his friends and have some quiet time- should he fall on his knees when I take the kids to Florida for spring break?
So- knock it off, people. In case you didn't know, it's sexist when you say it. It's sexist when you assume he should be the one going out of town and that I am extra lucky when my husband is just being a father. It's offensive and it's sexist- it's sexist when people are shocked at our non traditional 50/50 relationship and people presume that I am not taking on my role as a mother.
But I forgive you all for that because maybe this is a little surprising to you- you are used to women NOT doing these things and NOT taking on these roles and NOT exercising independence. Before I was married, I had a fantastic babysitter who watched my kids while I worked and went out of town and NO ONE ever suggested to me that I should thank her (and believe me, I did) but no one ever suggested this to me because it was her job to watch my children. I paid her to do it- the love she gave them was free- and the most priceless thing in the Universe but no one ever said to me "you should thank your babysitter."
People often said "you must have a really wonderful babysitter." to which I replied- why yes, I do, she is the best in the world and I am ever so lucky to have her in my life and she loves my children as if they were her very own. She's more than a babysitter, she is family to me and I love her more than you will ever know.
And I would say the same about my husband.


Contra Yogini said...

Well said.

I would also add that folks aren't used to seeing men step up and take responsibility for their fatherly duties (short of the financial ones and sometimes not even those).

So many men can't be bothered to share in the domestic work and child rearing. They can't be seen doing "women's work" or they feign incompetence to get out of it. (Yes, even today--check out the statistics if you don't believe me!)

So, I think some women (in particular) are saying you should thank your husband - not out of judgment of you, but out of envy.

VanessaMRR said...

Yes, I agree, some of it is out of envy and I know this to be true- and I understand that even in this day and age equal partnerships are rare-
But this is our fault if we don't step up and demand equality. We are complicit. And I don't think guys should get a medal for stepping up.
I watched my mother do things because my dad took too long- and if she had said "I guess this isn't getting done until you do what you said you would do" things would get done. Course being in an abusive and controlling relationship tends to thwart equality- But I refused REFUSED to have that and if it meant being alone- that is what it meant. I would not settle for less than equal.
But trust me when I say judgement comes with the envy- 'how dare you' comes with it- especially from the churchy crowd. But I live unapologeticly this way.
From men comes the extra surprise and the extra fear of the unknown that they might have to step it up if some other guy was.
It becomes tiresome to be asked to apologize for living my life the way I do, it becomes tiresome to be asked to be more grateful for that which I am already grateful for-
It becomes tiresome to have to explain my choice to not be a traditional mother and wife- when I spend huge amounts of time with my kids and I am setting a grand example of independence for my daughters- it just wears on me.

Contra Yogini said...

Oh, Vanessa! I totally totally agree with you. You shouldn't have to deal w/ any of that. I wasn't trying to dissuade you in your position at all. I was just adding another layer to the issue. That's it! :)

birrie said...

Right on.