I have a friend whose husband is nervous about bathing their child – so she does it. He doesn’t have a single child-specific task that is just his. She plans and prepares the food (even on the days he stays at home and she works), cleans the house, and generally bears the weight of parental responsibility.
I have another friend who moved in with her boyfriend. They planned to always have one person cook and the other wash up, but when she cooked there were only a few dishes, neatly placed by the sink, and everything else was put away. When he cooked, the kitchen was left in chaos. One thing led to another, and now she cooks and washes up almost every night.
I have another friend whose partner does no chores – his job is earning a living, and doing the gardening. Nothing else. They have several children. When he comes home, he is at rest. She is never off duty – ever. They made this agreement before moving in together, and it is satisfactory to both parties.
When CJ and I first married, I felt the urge to create a 50s-style fantasy world where our home was always beautiful and peaceful and he never had to see and solve the dirty side of running a household. I resisted. I made sure our division of labour was (to my mind at least) fair, partly so I didn’t feel like CJ’s servant (it is difficult to respect someone when you pick up their dirty washing from the floor, place it in a basket three feet away, then wash it, dry it, and put it away for them), and partly so CJ didn’t ever get the impression that while he was out working hard, I was lounging about in a perpetually clean and happy fantasy. When a man cleans a house – even a little – it helps him to understand that there is more than one type of work. It also helps a woman to feel that she is married to an adult, not a child. To me, this is literally the most important element of a happy marriage.
When a child is born, everything changes. CJ and I are lucky: we live a very simple, introverted life that fits a baby comparatively well. My own work is writing (which is extremely flexible) and tutoring (a few hours in an afternoon, often from home – and I already know my remaining student’s parents are fine with Louisette being in the house during lessons). It was never very impressive financially (sidebar: if I’d been able to, I’d have worked more so I could contribute more money). The choice of who stays at home with the baby was never in doubt, and neither of us would want to switch places anyway.
Would you want to spend your day in an office, or with her?
I’m sure many of you WOULD rather work in an office than look after a baby, but luckily I feel differently. VERY luckily, since nature tends to defy feminism to a certain extent.
Louisette is taking a lot less formula now (to be specific, we’re giving her less formula, and seeing how she goes), which is extremely encouraging but also means she’s spending more time breastfeeding. There was a four-hour period today when she was breastfeeding for a total of two hours. It’s an unfortunate fact that everything about motherhood so far involves physical pain, illness, or both. Right now all my girl parts are aching.
To be fair, fatherhood so far mostly involves a whole lot of extra chores, two months of nausea (miraculously gone once Louisette was born, as CJ and I both suspected would happen), and a whole lot of poo and getting screamed at.
We’ve developed a pretty good system under the circumstances – I deal with nappies at night, so CJ can sleep, but he deals with almost all of them during the day. He also handles Louisette when she’s unhappy – and I often sleep during those times (particularly between dinner and midnight, which seems to be her worst time). Even when I’m having some awake time, grumpy Louisette is CJ’s Louisette just as hungry Louisette is mine.
CJ is doing more physical chores – dishes, grocery shopping – while I’m continuing to do most of the administrative jobs of the household – which at the moment are greater than usual, as we (I) deal with a multitude of forms. But the forms are nearly done and my physical pain is lessening. Parenthood is both extremely exciting and extremely draining at the moment. When I get tired I get jealous of CJ, who spends hours surfing the net and playing a computer game, while I have to carefully herd my spare time into the longest possible periods of sleep so I don’t go mad. On the other hand, breastfeeding is not difficult – I spend the time reading and eating lollies to stay cheerful/awake.
There is no doubt in my mind that being pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding are all difficult things and they all fall on the mother. I am lucky enough to have a husband who really does do everything I ask of him and more.
Nature has trapped us into our roles – I am physically bound to Louisette, and CJ bears the financial weight of three people virtually alone – but the woman’s role is the one I prefer (CJ’s ideal life is a job with a certain amount of flexibility, which he has). It is too great a priviledge for the physical cost to change my mind. I’ve always felt that way, and I still do.