Early last year, I abandoned my children and returned to my first love. Ok, not really. There was no abandonment. But I did return to my first love for the first time since having kids—the stage. Yes it’s true. At one time in my life, I was a woman with dreams and ambitions. Those were set aside while I was a human milk machine, but I felt the pull to return to the stage after several years, and I finally did it.
Of course, I had forgotten how grueling being on stage can be. We were at the theater rehearsing six nights a week. It was hard—just like it was hard in my pre-kid days. But my post-kid days on stage consisted of soaking up every available second with my children during the day, pre-making a dinner (that I wouldn’t eat until 11pm) so my husband could pop it into the oven when he got home from the office just as I was dashing out the door. I was also attempting to memorize lines and music and practicing dance numbers in front of my audience of two (a bored four-year-old and confused two-year-old). Needless to say, I was exhausted.
I was surprised when I discussed all this with friends. They were all like, “You’re gone six nights a week? Your poor husband…” and “My husband can’t believe how selfless your husband is…” and “That must be so exhausting for Lance!” and “You’re so lucky to have Lance…” And my favorite, the grand slam of well-meaning comments: “Wow, Lance is so great to let you do that.” <RECORD SCRATCH> Ex-squeeze me? My husband LET me do that? LET me pursue my life-long passion for two months out of the year while I do naught but raise his children the other ten?
Let me back up.
I AM lucky. My husband IS great. He IS selfless. Which is why I went back to him and we laughed at these comments. “Me?” he said incredulously. “All I do is bathe them and put them in the bed. YOU’RE the one who’s working your tail off!” In fact, his attitude towards everyone thinking he was so great was one of the reasons I felt (and still feel) so lucky to have him. So please recognize how much I appreciate this man. I know I got one of the good ones, and I do not take him for granted. (At least, not all the time.)
It was slightly disturbing to me to hear everyone talk about how great he was for letting me do something other than be a wife and mother. Lance doesn’t frequently hear (read: he NEVER hears) how amazing and selfless I am for staying home with our kids. His friends don’t shake their heads in wonder that he doesn’t have to pay for childcare. He MIGHT hear that he’s lucky I’m a good cook when he brings leftover homemade enchiladas to work for lunch one day, but he doesn’t hear how lucky he is that I cook dinner almost every night after taking care of our children and keeping our house neat and organized all day. So why is my husband not hearing how lucky he is that I LET him go to work all day while I stay home with the kids? Why am I the “lucky” one? Why on EARTH do people think my husband LET me do anything at all? As though he gets to tell me what I may or may not do in my non-mothering career?!
The conclusion I came to was that after all our progress, we’re still stuck in the 1950s. It’s not entirely unfounded. Once—much to our horror—our two-year-old daughter told us that “Dads don’t sweep. Only mommies sweep.” Several of my mom friends (and certainly I, myself) live a sort of post-feminist 50’s stereotype, and our family is maybe worse than most. Lance takes out the garbage, grills, is in charge of all plumbing and construction repair, and takes care of our car. When I see a bug, I scream, and he comes over with a shoe—the burly man rescuing his damsel in distress. I cook, clean, fold laundry, and take care of the kids. I may or may not wear heels, pearls, and a toothy grin as I do so. We didn’t really talk about these things (well, ok, I did tell him in pre-marital counseling that he was in charge of all the bug-killing), we just naturally fell into stereotypical roles. These aren’t hard and fast. If the floor needs to be swept, Lance doesn’t yell for me; he just does it. If the garbage is overflowing, I take it out. I like cooking, and my husband is bad at it, so our arrangement is really a win-win situation, honestly. But from the outside, I can certainly see how our lives look like some warped episode of Leave it to Beaver. It might appear that I’m the average housewife, greeting my husband with a pot roast on the table and well-behaved, bathed children at the end of a long, hard, day at the office. Would June Cleaver ever abandon her housewife duties to do her own thing in the evenings? Probably not. And if she ever tried, well, her friends would probably think quite highly of Mr. Cleaver.
Here’s the thing, though—we’re not in the 1950s. I have as much right to a life outside of our home as my husband does. It bothers me when people act like I’m lucky I married a man who will “allow” me to be myself—ironically, the very woman I was when he fell in love with me. We mothers work hard, and so often society doesn’t value the work we do. The image of stay-at-home moms wavers somewhere between Mrs. Cleaver—finding sheer joy and delight in the vacuum cleaner—and the bon-bon eating, telephone-gabbing, soap-opera-watching neglectful mom. (Now that I think about it…where did THAT image even come from?!) On top of that, we’re judged by that same society for anything we might pursue outside our homes. We mothers can’t catch a break—we’re either useless members of society for “just” being moms, or we’re selfish and neglectful for choosing a career “over” our children—as if that was even possible.
What we need is a shift in our collective perspective. (Hey, that rhymes!) When even other mothers think our husbands are amazing for not being complete jerks and trying to stop us from pursuing our passions, we need to take a long, hard look at how low we rate ourselves on the societal totem pole. Because at the end of the day? Yes, my husband is great. Yes, I’m lucky. But not because he’s stepping up to the plate and doing his fair share, and DEFINITELY not because he’s being a father to his own children. And certainly not because he’s “letting” me…be me. I’m not lucky because my husband isn’t stopping me from leaving the house, pursuing my passions, and following my dreams. No one has the right to do that. I’m lucky to have my husband because he would never try. And that’s one aspect of his personality that I DO take for granted.