Tuesday, September 23, 2008

They Can't Be Grandmas. Or Mommies.

Earlier this week at o'dark hundred, I was getting ready for a 7:30 am (yes, 7:30 AM) meeting for work, when the Boss quietly crept into my room.

"Mommy, there's something yucky in my bed."

From the look and smell of her, I just knew what the "something yucky" was. Sure enough, she had gotten sick in the middle of the night, all over her bed, and then promptly fell back asleep. She didn't remember the episode at all, and even tried to deny it. But she couldn't escape the evidence -- she was covered in it. I immediately kicked into mommy mode, stripping her and her bed. I started running the tub when I suddenly remembered my work commitment. I woke Hubby up and enlisted his help with the bath.

I went back to getting ready and when the bath was over, Hubby sent the Boss back to me for a quick hair comb and blow dry. As I combed through her wet hair, I encountered a wonderful surprise -- vomit chunks still in her hair and dried puke on the side of her face and neck.

You probably know where I'm going with this. Now, when I've written posts like this in the past, pointing out Hubby's lack of parental finesse, I've been accused by some readers of being too hard on him -- that I'm a control freak who insists on doing things my way. But here's where I get confused. Should removing vomit chunks from a kid's hair and face be a basic minimum requirement of the bath or is it "my way"?

Ever since I got skewered by this guy and these folks for having major control issues (which actually wasn't all bad because it generated all kinds of traffic to my blog), I've been thinking ALOT about this equally shared parenting thing. For 7 months I've been contemplating whether truly equal parenting was possible or if it's all a very lovely and naive pipe dream.

I've decided it's the latter.

There's no question I have control issues that have been clearly documented by a nifty personality test that I recently took for work. I was impressed by how many diplomatic ways there are to say "Amy is a total control freak." ("Amy is seen as a natural leader with a hearty and frank style, who tends to take charge of any situation in which she finds herself...Amy is a good organizer and seeks to control the world around her with structure and discipline.") But I've also come to appreciate -- through this puke incident and others like it -- that Daddies aren't really cut out to be Mommies.

Dr. Karen Enberg, author of my new favorite book, "It's Not the Glass Ceiling, It's the Sticky Floor," says it best in the opening of her chapter titled "Fathers are Different from Mothers:"

"Mothers who embraced feminism and envisioned their lives on par with their husbands made the enormous assumption that all the work of making money and raising a family would be shared equally. There have, it turns out, been several problems with putting this supposition into practice: men didn't make the same assumption; men and women are fundamentally different in many ways; and it takes generations to change culturally established roles."

Sing it, sister.

Men and women are different and to fight pure biology just seems like too much of an uphill battle. Hubby will never notice the vomit chunks. He won't think to plan the birthday parties, keep on top of the school fundraisers or remember to nudge Angel about her science project. He won't ever see the big picture while keeping on top of all the little details, nor does he want to. While he can accomplish any task or cover any responsibility assigned to him, the fact that he can't proactively identify the task or responsibility that needs to get done in the first place, naturally makes him the helper instead of the true partner.

At the same time, I'm no Daddy. I won't ever breeze out the door to work without giving the kids a second thought. I'll never be able to come home from work and then just chill out for the rest of the night without the running list of the 100 things that have to get done cycling through my head. I'll always feel a little bit guilty if I have to stay late at work and alot guilty when I get the rare opportunity to go out and play. There's just something about a mom's inner wiring that makes her much more emotionally connected to her kids.

Being the Mommy doesn't diminish my stature in our relationship. And Hubby brings alot to the parenting table that I don't. Things have come a long way since I grew up. Hubby does alot more than my father did both around the house and in my kids' everyday lives. Maybe by the time my girls are married with children, things will have changed even more. In the meantime, I've given up trying to fight Mother Nature.

If you're not familiar with Free to Be You and Me, listen to the song that inspired the title of this post (Play#5 "Parents are People").


Damselfly said...

It's tough. Sing it, sister, indeed.

Anissa Mayhew said...

There was a really earthshattering understanding that happened when my husband took a job that moved him to a different state. He was so disturbed to realize that while we missed him as a person, our lives hardly hiccuped with him gone physically from our lives. He works harder to make sure that when he's here, he has an impact on their lives, because no one wants to think that their greatest contribution to their children's lives is health insurance and a ride to soccer practice.

Amy@UWM said...

Should have mentioned in my post that Avi Spivak, token Daddy blogger at Work It, Mom!, wrote a couple of great posts about this same subject from a Dad's perspective. I'm sure Hubby would relate.

Go check it out:


Anonymous said...

So true, although I'm not sure it is just 100 things that cycle through the mind - I think it is more like 1,000 or even 1,000,000 for moms. And dads, for the most part, seem to have no clue. Despite the fact that my husband is much more involved than my dad ever was, he just isn't aware of the daily "to do" list. He'll do it if asked, but he just doesn't keep track of it.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of getting a *#@^storm of rocks thrown at me, I will confess to having one of those rare husbands who "gets it". However, having said that, there are still things he misses (like he can't fold laundry to save his life, he doesn't see the crumbs on the counter, the debris left in the sink or the stuff still left on the "clean" dishes drying in the drainer...), and I completely sympathize with what you're saying because I hear it from my friends all the time, too. It all goes back to the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus concept (and the Free to Be Me and You album!). We are who we are, and for the most part, we're not going to change.

Hang in there. He doesn't mean to leave the chunks in there. He just doesn't see them... ;-)

Anonymous said...

I read your post with interest.

I have an equally shared relationship - my husband and I are at home with the kids 50% of the time.

We have had the same argument multiple times in the 10 years that we have been married - it was the cause of our very first Big Fight :)

It's only now, after multiple attempts at negotiating this and trying to understand each others' viewpoints, I think we have largely come to a happy place :)

There are lots of things that I could share, but I think that the most important piece for me was to stop generalizing specific failures into a general presumption of incompetence.

To address your specific case, you are absolutely right that vomit in hair is a health and safety issue and he was wrong to have missed it. But why was your reaction not just to tell him to clean the hair? Why did you immediately assume that he was incapable of seeing it because of his gender? Are we moms always perfect in the way we handle every situation?

For example, consider the recent poster on svmoms who forgot to pick up her son from kindergarten. The responses to the post were uniformly sympathetic and said that they could understand how it happened. Nobody said that she was incapable of picking up her kids or should delegate that duty to her husband in the future.

Of course, this assumes that your spouse is really committed to an equally shared relationship and not just using "mistakes" as an excuse to get out of the grunt work.

For us, it took a lot of work by my spouse to show me that he would and could carry half of the load. It helped a lot that he was physically at home and in charge of the kids half the day and got to do things at his pace and in his way without my stepping in and taking charge.

Finally, you should really check out the Equally Shared Parenting blog and book. We were interviewed for it, but I'm not sure if we made the cut to be included in the hard copy. I'll have to buy a copy and see if we did :)


Household management is known to be a hot button issue in shared parenting. However, for our particular relationship, we would not have been happy if we had not worked through it, even though it took a LOT of time and effort. YMMV.

Good luck!