I have a pretty equal marriage in terms of housework and childcare. As equal as it can be, anyway, with my husband being a middle school teacher with a set schedule and me being a freelance writer whose schedule (and paycheck) is a lot more variable. But no matter how much my husband does—and he does a lot—I'm always going to be the primary, default, go-to parent. And this won’t ever change unless I literally die. Dramatic, yes, but it’s true—and most mamas know it.
Women are the default parent, regardless of how many hours we work or how much money we make. We are the primary parent because we are expected to keep the memories, remember the necessities and manage the lives of our children.
I don’t usually mind being the primary parent, but there are times when I want to hand off the duties and, more than that, the mental labor. Is my husband self-centered because there are times throughout the day when he is 100 percent focused on his job or his interests? He’ll say he’s always thinking about his kids, and I believe him, but I’m the one who always has one eye on my phone if I’m away from my children.
Even if I’m with my husband on a date night, I’m the one with my phone on the restaurant table or in my hand at the movie theater. One night, my husband and I were seeing a movie and I missed a call from our babysitter. She then called my husband, who didn’t recognize the number because he’s never called the babysitter and he didn’t have her number saved in his phone. It’s a small thing, but it reinforces the difference between primary parent and secondary parent. And I have a hundred examples just like it. Most moms do.
I can't shut off my brain at night because I'm thinking about all the parenting things I have to do—and I just don't know how to get my husband to see it from my perspective.
For example, he took my oldest son for a haircut. I was supposed to be working while he did this parenting chore, but I texted to see if he had the picture of the haircut my very picky son wanted. Of course he didn't. Even though he had done the work of taking my son to get the haircut, he didn't have a photo of the haircut because it hadn’t crossed his mind to plan for something like a kid’s haircut.
My husband would do—and has done—these things if I ask him, but sometimes I resent even having to ask, you know?
While it wasn’t a big deal for me to do a little bit of labor in texting him the picture, it'‘s just one way in which I'm the one expected to know, remember and be prepared for everything, even when my husband is the one “in charge” of the kids at the moment.
And who spends months planning our family vacations so that everything goes smoothly? It's not him. On one level, he knows there’s work that goes into the planning of a vacation, but on another level, I think he believes I do it all because I enjoy it, not because it’s a necessity.
Yes, maybe I do enjoy some aspects of planning some things, but there are just as many things I don’t enjoy planning or executing. I’d happily pass off the responsibility of kids’ birthday parties, after-school activities and summer camp research. Why should it be assumed I’ll buy the Valentine's Day cards and work with the kids to get them written? Why is there no conversation of who will do it and when?
My husband would do—and has done—these things if I ask him but sometimes I resent even having to ask, you know?
I know my husband works hard to fight gender stereotypes in parenting. But he doesn’t notice when people ask him how work is going, but ask me how the kids are doing in school. He doesn’t see that as far as everyone else is concerned, his primary job is teacher and my primary job is parent.
I’m working to undo the stereotypes in our house through ongoing conversations with my husband and our sons. I’m calling attention to the imbalances as they occur and explaining why a particular situation is frustrating or what I need from my husband or my kids. The irony, of course, is that I'm the one doing the work, which itself is an imbalance. But the alternative is being quiet and complacent, and doing the kind of parenting I grew up with—and that's still reinforced every time we step outside the door.
My husband isn't helpless or clueless, my kids don't expect Mom to do everything for them and, in fact, my husband is the go-to parent for middle-of-the night wake-ups. So, we’re getting there. Sometimes progress is frustratingly slow, but we’re getting there.