On Wearing the PantsPosted: 04.17.2012
So I thought I’d take a departure from our adventures and talk a little bit about how we Maddens get through the day-to-day. If you don’t know us in person, you may not know that I work full time at an 8-5 office job and Jim works part time, goes to school part time, and stays home with Rachel the majority of the time. People ask me all the time what it’s like to be the primary earner in our family but I never talk about that here. I do refer to our tag-team lifestyle from time to time, but those have just been hints of what our home-life is like.
We’ve had this setup (give or take the extra caregivers) for all of Rachel’s life, and it has definitely been a challenging dynamic. I often wish I had more time with Rachel and Jim often wishes he had more time at work. I have now gotten to the point where I sometimes just wish that I had more time in my home. I feel (whether it’s true or not) like I’m the person who spends the least amount of time there, and I fight the frequent primal urge to be the queen of our hive, the keeper of our nest. It’s not a feeling that I ever expected to feel, so there must be something biological at work.
When I was a teenager, I was known for being tough. I was a pretty good athlete with really tough coaches and sometimes I would push back on them as hard as they would push me. One day one of them said to me, “Whatever man ends up with you better have a big pair of pants,” and just remembering that comeback stings a little bit. What was he saying? That I’m tyrannical, control hungry, not easily tamed. But also that women need masters, someone to control them, that no matter how tough I was, I would still someday rely on a man. So much distortion tied up in that quip…
Needless to say I never wanted to wear the pants, or bring home the bacon, or whatever the f expression you want to use. Eight years ago I met a man and I fell in love with him and I wasn’t thinking about any of that. Eight years ago I had the mindset of any college-bound kid our age: that I could do anything…and then I made some bad decisions, and then the economy went to crap. I never thought of a career. I never thought of earning potential. I don’t really think that Jim did either.
Then we became parents, which changes everything for sure, and I think one of the number one things that it changed in our household was the dynamic of who is responsible for what. Who does the cooking, who does the chores. (It’s not all about who brings home the bacon, when you get right down to it. It’s also about who tends to the nest.)
I think about how my parents ran our household growing up. Mom took care of everything inside the house; dad took care of everything outside it. Arguably there are more “inside” duties to be done, but that’s why they had three little girls, my dad would remind us. My mother was in no way a slave to the household chores. She was a master delegator. Everything inside that house was her domain. She was the queen.
It was so typical. And society’s commitment to these roles is a tale as old as time.
Then I think about how my current household runs: we don’t own a home yet so there aren’t really any outside chores (though I very chauvinistically suggested to Jim that taking out the trash was a man’s job.) At this point, everything that needs to be maintained inside the house is maintained by both of us. When Jim’s home, he cooks; when I’m home, I cook; but to be completely honest, when we’re both home Jim does most of the cooking. We both do the laundry. Jim does most of the washing/drying; I do all of the folding. Jim takes the lead on handling the mail, giving me the items that I need to follow up on. We would probably both say that we do the dishes more often than the other. We both pick up the clutter. Neither of us ever dusts. We could both improve/do more in many arenas, but when it comes to running a household there’s always something more that can be done, isn’t there?? We honestly do not follow any sort of housekeeping routine or schedule. We both keep our versions of to-do lists, but by and large we just go with the flow and get things done.
It was definitely a long road to here. With Jim suddenly spending the most time inside the home, I think he was forced to learn a lot of things very quickly. None of that stuff is hard (technically speaking), mind you. Housekeeping is menial, mindless work (amen to those who do it with dignity, and shame on us for not paying those more who do this professionally), but you still have to know how to do it. The hard part of it is wearing the role.
During all of this time, I’ve had times where I’ve felt like I’ve done more than my fair share and times I’ve felt like I haven’t done enough. A cycle of resentment and guilt. I’ve felt like I have no authority within my own home, anger that the house isn’t orderly enough, that the laundry isn’t in the right place. (Ridiculousness!) At the worst I felt like I’d be better off doing everything myself. A dream of an alternate universe in which I was only responsible for myself and my space and did not need to coordinate with anyone else.
That’s a selfish and ungrateful place to be.
Amidst the clashing and negative emotions I acknowledge a few things that seem too true to ignore:
1. We did not set out to buck some trend. We did not choose to challenge gender roles or seek to conduct some experiment.
2. We never desired a traditional household. The roles society expects of us do not match what we expect of each other. We are known to dream of and do things that are unorthodox and the way we run our house has ended up being one of those things.
We’ve always questioned what equality looks like in a marriage, and tried to cultivate it, acknowledging that it might constantly change for us and will require constant effort. We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we work really hard. We try to have harmony. I think we do pretty well. When I stop to really think about it, I feel swept up with gratitude. All that I have, that we have as a family, is unique and wonderful and a blessing. It’s not what we planned but it is what we wanted. And yet, it’s all fleeting, isn’t it? A few years from now Jim will be a lawyer, and who knows what I’ll be doing, and Rachel will be in pre-school. I’ll miss my husband, who’ll be working long hours, and I’ll probably always wish I had more time with Rachel. And frankly, who gives a shit if the laundry is in the right place. When Jim comes home from a long day at the office and sees a messy kitchen he’ll probably cringe but he won’t wonder why I didn’t clean it. He’ll never make me feel like he’s wearing the pants in the family, because let’s be honest: there are no pants here.