Good-bye, June and Ward
What does it mean to be a mother or a father in today’s world? Being a mother used to mean you maintained the home and looked after the kids, while being a father meant that you went to work and earned the money. And when we look back at television shows or movies from that time, everything seemed so easy. Everyone knew what their “job” was – job in the sense of work and in the sense of role.
It is a fairly new shift in thinking to consider not only outside employment, but also maintaining a home and raising children as “work.” Psychologically, it can be tricky to navigate. Without role models who understand and have lived through the same realities we are coping with, we’re left essentially to figure things out on our own. Often, what this means is that mom carries the brunt of the load. Researchers have discovered that most working mothers are also largely responsible for home care, in addition to their employment. The term Second Shift refers to working outside the home for a full day, then coming home to another eight hours filled with meal preparation, housework, and laundry.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. In a way, we really are on our own here, as there has been no generation before us to pave the way and share their secrets. We need to each work in partnership with our partners to arrive at our own solutions.
Remember that equal does not mean the same. If you are a stay-at-home parent, your contribution to the functioning of your family is equal to that of your working-outside-the-home partner, even if it’s not the same. A marriage is based on feelings of equality, not sameness. As long as you are both in agreement that what you are contributing is as equally important as your partner’s contributions, the details are not important.
Problems can arise when one parent feels as though his/her efforts are not recognized or appreciated, since everyone values hearing how their actions have made someone else’s life easier. So don’t hesitate to share with your partner how much you value what s/he is doing, whether that’s commuting long hours to a job or making sure that shirts are clean, pressed, and hanging where they’re easy to find in the wee hours of the morning.
Communication is, as usual, the cornerstone of creating a balanced home life. Talk with your partner about what really matters to you, and create a list (literally or figuratively) of your priorities. If family dinners really matter to both of you, then perhaps some of the other things that have been crowding them out need to be adjusted or removed. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to do what you think you “should.” If it works for you, if everyone is happier for it, then it’s the right answer. Let that be your benchmark.
Now that you are in agreement as to what your priorities are, create a list of everything that needs to be done on a weekly or monthly basis. If there’s more on the list than can be realistically done each week, cut back to only your priorities. If you can afford it, don’t hesitate to hire someone to help you. Our mothers may never have had a housecleaner, but they also didn’t have email and 50-hour workweeks. Surrender the fantasy that if you just worked a little harder, you could make it all fit “like mom did” or like “everyone” else does.
Keeping your marriage strong is also of critical importance. With everything else rushing in to fill any free moment, it can be tempting to assume that there will be time “later” to focus on the two of you. But as with anything, we can neglect our marriage only for so long before the damage becomes more work to repair than it was to avoid in the first place. Start by telling your partner how much you appreciate the work s/he is already doing. Then work together as a team to let your family priorities determine how you spend your time. And remember: in 2013, vacuuming in pumps is optional.