Back home again, weathering that odd shift from one time zone, place and job to another. It always throws me for a loop- a rapid change in expectations and pace. The first day home from a trip is almost always a complete loss. I get up at the wrong time, I’m hungry at the wrong times, and I feel oddly out of place in my own home. Joe and the girls have always come up with their own systems while I’m gone, and while I’m mostly over it (if by "over it" you understand that I mean that I spend the day turning the upside-down coffee cups in the cupboard the right way around again) it still shocks me when I get home, open the fridge and discover that we’re keeping the cranberry juice on another shelf now.
(Why, yes. I am resistant to change? What tipped you off?)
I find it so hard, this one day, the day I come back and start unpacking, I always feel a little like I’m in no-mans land. Some weird limbo where nothing is sorted away or home, and I do the laundry, and turn cups around, and put the cranberry juice back where we keep it, sort out the mail and find out what I missed while I was gone, and struggle with the guilt. Today it was triggered by someone who asked me, straight out, if it bothers Joe that I go away like I do, leaving him with all the work.
It’s the curse of a mother I think, that if I don’t earn a living I would feel guilty- but if I leave the house to do it I feel guilty. Sensing a theme? I used to think that this guilt was self imposed, that it came from within me, and that if I could stop spreading it on my own toast that it would stop being true. I did a lot of work on myself to put my guilt in the right place. I reminded myself that although I do travel a lot, I’m home a lot. When I’m not travelling I work from home, make breakfast and dinner, am here when people come home from school… participate at least as much, if not more than I would be able to if I had a 9-5 job and was out of the house every day.
Over the last year, I’ve realized something. It’s not me. Well, more accurately, since I have some issues remaining, it’s not ALL me. Society at large does still have different standards for mothers and fathers. Joe travels for work, and nobody’s ever suggested to him that he not do it, or that as a father, it’s inappropriate that he does. Nobody ever asks him if he feels guilty or bad about being away, and there’s something to that question isn’t there? If you’re asked if it bothers you to be away, isn’t the insinuation that it should? How about if someone says "I could never be away from my kids" doesn’t that imply somehow that the fact that you do it means that you’re a little dead inside?
I think a lot about the things I hear and see around me. The way that people think Joe’s an absolute rock star for managing the family while I’m away, but have never complimented me on my ability to manage that same family without him… The way that people tell me that their husband/friend/father is fantastic because he "helps with the kids so much" or is great about helping them with the housework. (Implication being, of course, that childcare and housework belongs to the female partner, and that the male’s just a peach for assisting.) I hear my friends and neighbours talk about how great it is that their male partner is "going to try to do more"… and just a few weeks ago I heard a father I know say that he couldn’t go out for a beer because he had to "babysit."
(You can imagine my shock when it turned out that he hadn’t taken a wee job to pick up some extra cash providing caregiving… but was in fact referring to HIS OWN CHILDREN. His wife was going out and he was staying in. Apparently that’s babysitting, not parenting. Feel free to imagine my reaction.)
In any case, I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to say that it annoys me a bit. My absences seem to be constantly viewed with skepticism, and weighed in the cosmic balance sheet of whether or not I’m a good mum, with no apparent points granted for having been a stay-at-home parent for years and years and years, or no credit given for the choices I made about how much money this family would have when the girls were little so that they would have a full time parent instead. My girls are big, I’ve waited a long time to have a career, and I have an excellent spouse who has loads of absences himself, including wicked long hours worked when I am home to spell him. We both work hard. We’re both good parents, our children are pretty grown up, and our system is pretty equal, all things considered – so why is the public view so often that he’s rocking it out, and I’m self serving – or more properly, why is it so much easier to be a dad than a mum, or a man in the workforce than a woman? Why do people still go into a home and decide, if there just so happens to be roaming dust bison or a mystery smell emanating from the fridge, that the adult family member who doesn’t have a penis might want to get it together? Why- in my whole life have I never seen anyone walk into a messy home and decide in their hearts that maybe the husband needs to keep the sink a little shinier, rather than passing judgment on the wife?
These are old arguments, and old complaints, and really I’m not sure why I’m still bothered by it. You’d think that at this point in my life I’d be used to people frowning when dads do their fair share while mums do theirs, but apparently I’m not quite over it. You’d think I’d have accepted by now that the way we view mums and dads is essentially skewed.
I guess my point is that it’s a bad day to tell me that your husband is going to babysit your own children, or that he’s pretty good about helping with the housework, or that mums who sacrificed at least a decade of career to raise children and are now working their bums off to provide the bulk of their families income while being a parent and doing a whole lot of laundry still aren’t doing enough to get the credit a dad gets just for breathing right.
To answer the original question, do I think it bothers Joe that I go away and leave him with all the work? No. I think he’s grateful, and that he think things are even, and that he and I and I are modelling for our daughters the way things can go in a family if people accept that dads are worth as much as mums (and the other way around) and that I’m as responsible for this families bottom line as Joe is the sink and kids orthodontist appointments. Do we wish that was possible without anybody travelling for anything? Yup- but we’re all here when it matters, and we’re a team.