I had the most interesting of conversations today and needed to share. And I want you to weigh in, too.
For those in the know, the cool kid way to refer to a stay at home mom is to call her a SAHM (sounds like SAM). I was a SAHM for four years, and not by choice. When my girl was born, I made arrangements to move to a part-time schedule. I was lucky and knew it. It completely worked for me, as if felt like a good balance between home and work.
When Donna was diagnosed, out of necessity, I left my job, which was actually a career. It was one of the victims of cancer, but compared to the loss of Donna, the loss of my career was peanuts. It made me sad, but if I ever talked about it out loud, I would stop myself, as I worried it sounded HORRIBLE. Here I was mourning the loss of a career and identity when I had lost something so much more. I was very conflicted. And jealous. That’s right. Jealous of Mary Tyler Dad who, from my grieved = warped POV, “got to” go back to work after a couple of weeks of mourning.
I found myself lost, alone, overwhelmed, and with a ten month old to care for. I was a SAHM without the duties of a Cancer Mom, which made me a SAHM. It was me and Mary Tyler Son. It was lonely. Lonely with a capital “L” Lonely. In retrospect, I am utterly grateful for the time. Celebrating my one year anniversary of returning to work this week, it is clear that I was in no place to return to work so soon.
Today’s conversation brought up the realm of the SAHD (sounds like SAD, ironically). I spent some time today with a couple where Mom works outside the home and Dad works inside the home. Both were incredibly open about the challenges of this arrangement. Dad was very honest about believing the natural order was reversed. He wished to be out providing for his family instead of being the primary caregiver for their gorgeous (and I do mean gorgeous) toddler.
Mom was honest about the challenges. For her, being a stay at home parent meant caring for child, home, food, and the details that make the family run smoothly. She described what I would call a domestic engineer — a do it all kind of manager that handled all things home related. Christmas cards, invitations, gift buying — the kind of home manager I aspire to me, but fail miserably. Sigh.
I didn’t disagree with her. When I woke up one day, six months into my grief of losing Donna, I realized that Mary Tyler Dad came home from the office every day around 6 or 6:30 and cooked dinner. Oops. I was ashamed. I believe that if you have the gig of a stay at home parent, it means you are responsible for kids, home, food. I was managing the kid and home, as I like a clean and tidy home, but was failing miserably at the food. When we both worked, it didn’t bother me so much that Mary Tyler Dad did the cooking. Now that I wasn’t working outside the home or caring for a child with cancer, seeing him come home from work and immediately get to the other work of cooking, I felt like a total and complete failure.
In the spring of 2010, I made a concerted effort to learn how to cook. Nothing gourmet, nothing fancy. I grew up with canned vegetables and iceburg lettuce, so my vision and skill set were both lacking inspiration. I just wanted to cook something delicious and nutritious for my man. Shockingly, I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it, but I began to understand food as an expression of love.
Long story short, I went back to work last year and we’re scrambling again, Mary Tyler Dad and I, to get the food on the table at a reasonable time. He is doing a bit more, I am doing a bit less, and I have the guilt to prove it.
My point is, though, that this couple were very aware that with the traditional roles reversed, they each had a different idea of what the responsibilities of a stay at home parent entailed. I’ve got to agree with Mom on the child, home (including laundry), and food front. I would say that those three basics would cover it. But there is Dad, and I can’t discount his POV. He is doing a great job with kids, but doesn’t see home or food as part of the deal.
I would argue that SAHDs might agree with this Dad whole heartedly, esp. if I keep my pulse on the musings on facebook or amongst my friends. The dads I know and interact with, almost to a fault, including Mary Tyler Dad, do a bang up job with the kids. They are hands on, involved, supportive, loving. But all that other stuff seems not to register with them. They don’t see the dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter. The dust bunnies are invisible to them. That growing mass of fabric in the corner of the room is just another place for the kiddo to play, not something that is to be sorted, laundered, folded, and put away.
I would also argue that SAHDs have to deal with a hell of a lot more mental muck when they are the ones staying at home with the wee ones while their wives trot off to the office or hospital or factory. While I don’t necessarily support a SAHD’s neglect of the home and food fronts, I have more empathy for his position. Is that terrible and a double standard? Yep. Is it sexist? Probably.
When the roles are reversed, when it is the dad at home with the kids, do the same rules apply to them? Talk to your Mary Tyler Mom — tell me what you think.