Women: Share the Second Shift and Come Out to Play

Lately I am seriously struggling with balancing all the roles I play — specifically being a mother to Piers and Wallace, a partner to Gil, and a working person.

Additionally, I’m craving adult time but not necessarily with my husband.

My emotions are all over the place, and I really need to get it together.

It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’m feeling resentful — not only towards Gil but men in general.  This is where I feel compelled to qualify and apologize to my male readers.  Please,  if you’ve made it this far, keep reading.  I would love to open up a dialogue.  I absolutely don’t want to come off as a man-hater, and I have no interest in turning this conversation into a beat-up-on-men discussion.  I sincerely believe that women play as much of a role in what I’m about to discuss as men.  Stay with me.  I’m looking for solutions.

I’m having a hard time understanding the women in my life who seem incapable of expecting more from their partners.  Many seem to have accepted that regardless of the equality of their roles, they must still be responsible for the bulk of the childcare, housekeeping, and meal preparation — tasks that were once considered “women’s work.”

In other words, SO many of my female friends work a full-time job but still come home and handle the majority of the cooking, cleaning, and managing of their children’s schedules — hence the term “the second shift.”

A couple of weeks ago I hosted book club at my house.  This group of women has been meeting monthly for the past two years.  Currently there are fifteen local members.  We usually have five to ten people at each meeting, and there were six of us this time — a good group but fewer than half.  Plus I invited three other people who have shown interest in joining, but none were able to make it.

For the most part we’re a light-hearted bunch.  We pick the books for the year and select one for each month.  Most finish the book before the meeting, but many do not.  We usually meet from 7-10ish and spend thirty minutes or so discussing the book.  The rest of the time is spent eating, drinking, and socializing.

We range in age from late twenties to mid-forties with most being in their thirties.  All of us have children — most of the kids are in elementary school (K-5), a few younger and a few older.

We have a few full-time, stay-home moms, but most have either full-time or part-time jobs in addition to parenting.  Several are re-entering the workforce after staying home while their kids were little.

So this past meeting the six of us were sitting at the table and the discussion turned to why so many weren’t able to make it.  We had four people who had confirmed but had to cancel the day of for one reason or another.  Really, it’s not a big deal.  Like I said we try to keep it light and low-pressure, but scheduling conflicts seem to be happening more frequently and the talk turned to possibly switching to a weekend night instead of during the week with the hopes of accommodating more people.  We all would prefer to keep it on a weeknight. We’ve also gone back and forth about the best time to begin.  I’m flexible but would prefer to start earlier — 6:15 or 6:30 and go until 9:30.  I’m just spent if we stay any later.  I said this and a couple of people agreed, but three of the women flat-out said that would not work for them and they’d still have to come around seven but would prefer 7:30.

One of the women voting for an earlier start asked why, and all three said that before coming they had to make dinner and get their kids ready for bed.

Um, hello.  Are your spouses incapable of handling those tasks ONCE A MONTH?

I asked this question and tried to phrase it kindly, so as not to imply that their spouses were incompetent nitwits.  They’re not — I know these men, and I see them as involved dads who could certainly feed the kids and get them tucked in — ONCE A MONTH.

“Oh, it simply would not work.”

“Yeah, if I want my kids to eat a happy meal and stay up til ten.”

They also went on to say that they are wiped out by the time they get to book club and at times it almost feels like the amount of work that goes into getting there outweighs the enjoyment.  I certainly relate to this.  I feel that way about most adult activities — things that I would have jumped at prior to having children but now seem more like added work.  I also don’t like this about myself and would like to change it, but maybe that’s just me.

I also get what they are saying about the trouble with the dads handling the evening duties.  On the night of this particular book club, Gil rolled in from work at 6:45, just before people started arriving.  He took the kids out for pizza and then they went to the local bowling alley/arcade.  It was nearly 9 before they got home and yes, I was annoyed.  Ideally they need to be in bed between 7:30 and eight.  But you know what — it’s good for Gil to have to handle the entire evening routine.  And he does.  Had I not been hosting he would have made dinner at home and they would have been in bed earlier.  Would it have been done the exact way that I do it?  NO.  But I’m not willing to give up extended adult company and conversation, something that I’m learning is essential to my well-being, because of this.

I have to let go of my expectations and let Gil do it his way from time to time.  He and I had a conversation about it later, and he agreed that the kids needed to be in bed earlier.  He lost track of time, but that’s certainly not the first time.

I don’t know.  I have just been frustrated lately with my women friends who can never do anything because they are almost afraid to leave the kids with THEIR DAD — the OTHER PARENT.  And don’t even get me started on women who say that their husband is “babysitting.”

It’s not babysitting when it’s HIS KID!!

I feel like I’m being judgmental and I guess I am.  I just know so many women who talk about being spread thin and exhausted and unhappy and unfulfilled and stressed at work and concerned that they’re not being good-enough parents.  It just goes on and on.  It makes me sad, and I want to help — them as well as myself.  I certainly don’t see men beating themselves up for not balancing it all — granted I talk to more women than I do men, but still.  If Gil laments anything it has more to do with the fact that his heavy workload prevents him from spending more time with the kids.  He also admits that he doesn’t always use his time as wisely as he could.

I definitely agree that a lot of men need to step it up with the childcare and household tasks, but we have to give them the opportunity.  We can’t just allow ourselves to believe that they are incapable and will never do it right.  I guarantee you they will not do it just like you, but that’s okay.

Something positive that came out of our unresolved discussion at book club was that I was forced to recognize how amazing Gil is with our kids.  There is no doubt in my mind that if something happened to me and he had to be a single parent that he would figure it out.

Honestly I’m just muddling through life trying to figure it all out as I go.  So I totally recognize that I’m frustrated with my friends because they’re having the same struggles as I am, and no one seems to have any definite solutions.

I’m frustrated that since I’ve started back working that I can’t get all of my work done while the kids are at school, or I try only to see that nothing else has been done — dinner, cleaning, errands, laundry, etc.  I’m frustrated that because I work from home, my work and family life often collide and no one (including Gil) understands that I actually have to get work done.  I’m frustrated that because I make significantly less money than Gil that he takes my job less seriously, though he vows this is in my head — perhaps it is.

Gil can very much be a check-it-off-your-list kind of guy and that works fine with his job.  It doesn’t work for mine.  I need space for creativity.  Sometimes I have to walk away from what I’m doing and other times I have to sit and think.  It’s all part of the process for me.  This often comes across to Gil that I’m wasting the time that I do have.  Sometimes I do waste time, but I’m trying to get back in a groove and it’s all an adjustment.

I just become disenchanted when I talk to other couples and no one is particularly happy with their arrangement — especially women.

It also seems to be the same regardless of income variability between partners.  I recently had a conversation with a friend who is a tenured professor.  So is her spouse.  They have two children ages 6 and three.  I have always admired this couple.  Both are career-driven but extremely hands-on parents.  They set their schedules so that one teaches Monday and Wednesday while the other teaches Tuesday and Thursday and they can split the parenting duties.  On the outside it appears to run flawlessly.  She recently confessed to me that she was secretly beginning to wonder if families with traditional gender roles ran better.  I consider her husband a progressive, highly-evolved male who grocery shops while wearing their youngest in an Ergo Carrier.  She said that she felt like things were fine when one or the other was in charge of the kids, but they just returned from a family vacation that “was so disastrous” that they may never take another one.

So what is the solution?  My gut tells me that there is no one thing that’s going to work for everyone.  I guess I want a rule book.

I think for Gil and me I have to understand that we’re transitioning and in time we will work out the best solution for our family and adapt accordingly.  I also have to focus on how much he does and not get mad at him when I see other guys not pulling their weight at home.  He has no control over them, and he really is trying.

What do you guys think?  I’d love to hear from men and women.  Do you have (or did you if your kids are grown) these same struggles?  How did your parents handle division of household labor when you were growing up?

How do you and your significant other split responsibilities, particularly when one spouse makes more than the other?  Should this matter?   

 

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9 thoughts on “Women: Share the Second Shift and Come Out to Play

  1. Great post. I think these are things every couple with children faces. One thing I suspect is that a lot of women (I’m including myself here) can be very controlling without realizing that we are disabling our partners by doing too much all the time and not giving them the chance to figure it out. My solution has been to take some weekends away from home – to go to retreats or writing conferences or to visit family, and NOT leave all meals prepared. That way my husband is free to run the household in his own way and I’m not there to criticize. So far, it’s worked great!

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    • Yes!!! Such good advice about taking weekends away and NOT leaving everything prepared. I’m good about leaving him for an evening or a day but I haven’t spent many weekends away since having kids — a few but I definitely need to plan more. It’s great for the kids to see that we can do things differently and the world keeps spinning. Thanks for stopping by.

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      • I challenge you to try it! Plan a weekend away to do something fun – you deserve it, right? Even if it’s just to go away to get some alone time. I’ve done that, too! And when you’re tempted to bake several loaves of pumpkin bread or make an extra lasagna and then leave an extensive list on where things are or what to do, don’t. 🙂 One other added bonus – it helps the kids create a better relationship with dad.

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  2. Of course we had those issues. It’s was survival mode, baby. I had a friend who made pop corn for supper one night she was so exhausted. You know what might be interesting, pretend to let Gil guest post. See what he writes. Just thought of that. Not original. But now I think it would be very interesting!!

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    • I’ve begged Gil to blog. I could pretend but it would be even better if he’d do it. Good idea. Nothing wrong with popcorn for dinner. Recently I found myself thinking — Do they really have to eat EVERY night? I tend to alleviate my guilt by throwing a broccoli floret on the plate and some apple slices with whatever I serve (popcorn, sandwich, deli meat – horrors!). Thanks for reading — it always helps to hear from someone who has been there and survived it!

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  3. Hmmm. . . this made me think (a dangerous pasttime for the sleep deprived, you know haha!) So, my husband and I have always split things 50/50, even though he might make a bit more than me. But he does freelance, so we are on my benefits from my job which does not have nearly the flexibility his job has. He is the primary caregiver in a lot of ways because he gets the kids off to school and then gets them home and feeds them and gets them in jammies before I get home at night. But I think that by the time I get home, and also on the weekends, we both kind of freak out at the idea of doing the bed routine solo– partially because both of our kids are very indulged at bed time and my toddler still nurses at bed and cries for me if i go out which I can’t stand. So, we are both feeling a bit trapped. I would love to take a yoga class, or join a book club (that sounds great!) but it just isn’t in the cards at the moment. I guess I accept it at times and then at other times I feel resentful and stressed about it because zumba also sounds great. . . I know that doesn’t really answer your question, but I think having young kids in this day and age is just difficult all around. Oh, and also, my husband occasionally gives our kids happy meals and I’m also reconciled with that. Sigh…

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    • I think you’re right that having young kids today is difficult all around. After writing this yesterday I felt a bit snarky and judgmental which was certainly not my intent. I also think it’s harder when the kids are younger — such a difference now that my youngest is five. I think I felt so trapped for so many years because mine were so close in age and now admittedly I feel a bit entitled to some adult time — selfish, but true. Ugh!! Thanks for sharing how you guys do things. Hang in there. When I had a 2yo, I was a hot mess. I think you’re doing an amazing job.

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