My husband and I have been working on, though we have not mastered, the division of labor between two career parents. On occasion, when I know he has had a particularly long day or rough week, I take out the garbage or recycling, but as a routine, that’s his job. Similarly, when the laundry has piled to the point of empty sock drawers, he will throw in a load and even fold it, but only after I have separated the colors. We have our roles, and for the most part, we accept them.
As the kids grow, the routine inevitably changes, and currently we are still working out the kinks of car-share. We have two cars with car seats, one of which is reserved for the babysitter to use while we are both at work. When I have to go to the city after dropping the kids at school, I drive my husband’s car, the second with car seats, so that the SUV remains at home for our babysitter to collect the kids. On these days my husband takes my car, which doesn’t have car seats. Neither of us has perfected the ability to think ahead, to be considerate, and to routinely park a car with a filled gas tank in the garage. Somehow the empty gas light in my husband's car always seems to taunt me on days when I don’t have time to stop at a gas station before dropping the kids at school, which is every day I drive them, and there is not a convenient station on my way to the city. Last week my DH left my car on empty, and the dreaded orange light evoked curse words as I climbed behind the wheel before dawn, realizing that no gas station would be open that early in the morning.
So we have bumps in the road as two working parents, but I feel lucky that I have a man who is willing to shoulder some of the burden. My friend recently blogged her frustration about her husband who does not understand the work of being a mom. She posted a list of things she does each Thursday morning in order to get her preschooler out the door and suggested that she take a mini-vacation so that her husband could empathize with the stresses of being a mom. Understanding these stresses completely, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that my own husband does know what it takes to get the kids ready and out the door. He does it at least once, and sometimes twice, a week, managing to get himself showered, shaved, and dressed in his suit as well! In fact, I am currently away at a conference, trusting my husband to take care of the kids and get them to school two days in a row. I have no doubt that he will succeed.
Even so, I can’t help but feel jealous that my husband gets, and deserves, props for being Mr. Mom when the work is simply expected of me. I felt utterly ashamed when my daughter’s teacher did not find her library book in her backpack and when I forgot to grab her stuffed bear for hibernation day. I apologized in advance to both sets of teachers for anything that my husband forgot while I was away. I made sure to RSVP for the Father’s Day program before I left, knowing my husband would not read the invitation that asked us to do so. In short, if something does not get done for school, if my children are not dressed appropriately, I know it will reflect on me, the mother. Dads get more breaks in life, I think. The expectations simply aren't as high for them.
Perhaps this is why I felt such a stab when I helped my son’s class prepare for the Father’s Day program. Each year the preschool holds a Mother’s Day program during a school day close to the holiday. To be fair to dads, whose holiday comes after the end of the school year, the preschool plans a Father’s Day celebration in March. They hold this celebration on a Saturday, perhaps because they assume that dads who work during the week would not be able to attend a weekday event.
As I interviewed children in the three-year-old class for the Father’s Day program, documenting their ideas about their dads, I smiled time and again at their responses, and I wondered if they would do a similar activity for the Mother’s Day program. I would love to see how my own children answered these questions about me! While my thoughts were on the joy of the Mother's Day program, a time when all the expectations would be worth the honor bestowed by the children, a terrible thought filled me. What if I had to work? What if I had to miss the Mother’s Day program? I had already missed the Halloween celebration and had to take a day off to see the Christmas program. Missing the Mother’s Day program would depress me – big time. I want that honor. I want that special day. My envy threatened to suffocate my heart.
I know I am not the only mom at the preschool that works, and I wondered about those other moms whose jobs might be even less flexible than mine. Why were dads given the opportunity to visit on the weekend? Why couldn’t Mother’s Day be held on a Saturday too? It seems an inconsistency considering moms shoulder the majority of the parenting responsibilities. Wouldn’t it be nice to allow all moms, even moms who work, the chance to attend this special program without having to take a day's vacation?
I applaud my husband, and those like him, who work stressful jobs and still play Mr. Mom when they are called on to do so. I am glad that the preschool honors dads by holding a program on a Saturday so that they can attend with their kids. Yet I wonder if there are working moms, like me, who would like the same recognition. Or should we be content that “having it all” requires this kind of sacrifice?