I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Who's watching the kids?

"Who's watching the kids?" Oh, how often I get this question. 99% of the time is when I am at work. The other 1% of the time is when I am talking about work. Who watches the kids? How could it be anyone but their mother?

We live in a society that is coming along in assumed equality. Gregory and I share a very equal household (my Libra senses would explode otherwise). Most of my friends who are parents operate in the same way. I hear stories of how both the mother and father share responsibilities, adjust work schedules, change diapers, etc. It isn't her job or his job or well, this is how everyone does it. We are making choices now about what is logical as opposed to following the traditional gender roles. Who makes more money? (Gasp! It's NOT the man??) Who would be happier spending more time in the home and away from a social network? Who has the potential to be more successful in the workforce?

Even thirty years ago, couples like us would have been the rarity. No one would ask a pregnant woman, "Will you return to work part-time" or even "What are your work plans?" It was assumed. You will have this baby, stay home from the beginning and probably churn out a few more children right away. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Work-at-home-moms are amazing and shouldn't be made to feel like losers for it. What I'm talking about here is the choice.

So when people continually ask me, Who's watching the kids?, I begin to feel like there is still a strong latent bias that I shouldn't be anywhere other than watching the kids. Reason being, no one asks Gregory this question. Seriously - no one asks him. It may be worded differently, "Your wife is home with the kids? Your mother-in-law watches the kids?" The sentiment is the same. We feel like women should have the option to work, but we just shouldn't take it?

I know that people are often only asking to be polite or find out how we are handling our childcare. I'm never quick enough to just say, "Oh my god - I don't know. And I don't care." when the question arises. I just explain that the other person who helped create them is spending time with them.

I know I'm lucky to have a husband who makes these decisions with me. Gregory took a 3 month "paternity leave" with Ayla when I returned to my job when she was 3 months old. We could afford to do it and it helped ease the anxiety of leaving her for 40-plus hours a week. I'm not unemotional about it either. I cried leaving her the first time, as I drove and listened to Stevie Wonder.

He would have stayed home permanently if that had made sense for us. But the fact is, during the childbearing years, it doesn't make sense for us if I decide to be breadwinner. Let's just subtract 3 months pay every time we decide to increase the family - plus the denied promotions, etc. (I was denied a promotion after taking my FMLA leave for Ayla and my boss tried to include it in my review. SO illegal.)

The current solution is working. Gregory and I work opposite shifts most days of the week. We occasionally need a babysitter on Saturday nights. It's all about the balance - time together with the kids, time alone with the kids, time to relax, time to get out of the house and work a little. We both contribute financially (although stay-at-home moms should be paid out at least $60k a year!!!) and I think that does wonders for equity in a relationship.

But I'm not saying we're perfect. I think some women would be miserable in my situation. I didn't like being away from my kids as much when I hated my job. But I see the reward in it now - as Ayla approaches her third birthday and Jackson just starting to walk. Before she was born, I envisioned a time when I wouldn't have to go to work, I could stay home with her and live an idyllic domestic life. Now that I am completely entrenched in diapers and cleaning and laundry and wonderful trips to the park and being there when they wake up most days of the week.... well, it's just so different than whatI expected. Amazing, for sure, but challenging too.

So what's the point of my story? Please don't ask moms who's watching their kids. Re-phrase it. Think about how she feels getting the same question every day. She knows where they are and she may not like it that someone else is feeding them dinner... but this is the modern world. Moms are allowed out of the house for extended periods of time. Thank you breast pumps and post-modern men!

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