A few weeks back I was able to attend a conference for women – with some of my favorite women! It was a full weekend, and my motherhood, wifehood, and personhood cups were all filled. However, it definitely didn’t start out that way. After my little family kissed me goodbye at the airport, I arrived at my gate, checked my phone, and saw that my youngest had puked in the car before they had even left the airport from dropping me off. When they got home, my oldest followed suit. What’s more, when I got back, I came home to a totally put-together house, hardly any fighting from my kids, and a husband who told me that he felt closer to each of the kids after having that much uninterrupted time with them.
So, this is the part where the mom-guilt at leaving my husband for days on end could swoop in and take the show. I could feel terrible that, though I’d had this trip planned months in advance, it also happened to coincide with a major work project that my husband was leading out on, causing some extra stress for taking days off. I could feel horrible that he also had to deal with sick kids who were up in the night the first night I was gone. Knowing that my husband isn’t the lightest of sleepers, who knows how long the kids had to cry out before someone came to help. I could feel like I’m failing somehow because my husband was able to keep the house put together while I was gone, when sometimes it takes me weeks just to get a batch of laundry folded and put away properly. I could feel unqualified because of how much more the kids fight when I’m around, versus when dad is around. I could feel all kinds of things, but there are a handful of other things that I choose to feel instead…
I feel so grateful that I’m not a single mom who is playing both the mother and father roles the best she can, that a weekend away with friends is nothing more than a distant dream. I feel humbled that my partner loves me enough to face the work stress and take the days off, even though it would serve him much better not to. I feel in awe that the few days I was away could generate a deeper relationship between father and child. I feel eager to understand how my husband navigates the squabbles and arguments such that the home feels more peaceful as a whole.
Variations of this same situation have repeated themselves over time as our family has grown. Our first child being born very prematurely meant that I spent a lot of time at the hospital and learned the details of his needs and the special care that he required. Then he came home and I had to teach those things to my husband, trusting that he was as capable as I was to do what needed doing. He proved himself to be those things and then some, allowing me room to breathe when I needed it. We’ve moved across the country, added kids to the crew, went through grad school and mental illness, and all the while learned to lean on each other.
And even as I write this, I feel myself fighting back the ‘shoulds’ again as I wonder if there is more I should be doing to support him. But that isn’t the point. The point is to fill the needs where they exist. It isn’t about keeping score or weighing a balance of powers or fairness. It’s about both sides giving and filling and loving.
You see, when we truly share the responsibility of parenthood and partnership, we gain perspective, appreciation, unity, and love. The opposite is also true; if we stay within our comfort zone, then less learning is likely to happen, tunnel vision sets in, and the relationship will slowly fizzle away. We both took the weekend I was away to stretch. We both gained what we needed. For me it was a renewal and recentering as well as a fresh appreciation for my family. For him it strengthened relationships and increased appreciation for what I do for the family. There is so much to be gained when partners can really back each other up and step in to work together. When we share the responsibility, we share the growth.
Lead photo credit: Ioann Mark Kuznietsov via Unsplash