What I didn’t see coming

family birthday squareI left my job three years ago because our life was simply untenable — two demanding jobs, two kids, running a business. It was just too much, and something had to give. And I wanted that something to be my job. I wanted my turn at home.

When our older son was three, my husband was laid off. Having been with the company ten years, he had a decent severance package. He wanted to explore new career ideas. We had a son starting half-day preschool and we wondered how we’d manage that schedule. These stars aligned and Scott became a stay-at-home dad — exploring options in real estate investing while Owen was at preschool; shopping, cooking, cleaning, and playing when Owen was home.

If you are a working mom, a househusband is the absolute bomb, especially one as good as mine was. I became responsible for only myself for many hours a day. I hustled no one in the morning and walked in the door to dinner. I didn’t clean, I didn’t shop, I didn’t run errands. I never touched the washing machine. Sometimes I called him midday to see if he’d bring me lunch. It was a wonderful, happy, and peaceful two years.

Except that he got something I didn’t. And I wanted it, badly.

Owen went to kindergarten, Scott went back to work, and we set about trying to have more children. The plan was that after the second child, I’d stay home. But when Noah came along I couldn’t leave — yet. We’d bought a business (see above, real estate investing), the economy plummeted, and my job was the most stable thing we had. I waited and we planned and saved. I got sad. I worried I would be bitter, that someday I’d resent Scott for having the chance to be home. I was afraid I’d miss mine.

So when Noah was three, we made it happen. We both have a considerably high risk tolerance (see above, real estate investing), so we took the leap, convinced it would save our family from the crazy train we were on, and that everyone would be healthier, happier, more at peace.

And it has been all those things: more fun, more time, more flexibility, more peace, more options. I’m so glad I did it, I love my time with my boys, and I know I’ll look back on these years as some of the best with my children.

But here’s what I didn’t see coming: No matter how much better this arrangement was on so many levels, I think it might be that the best thing for Scott and me — as a couple, as a team — is for both of us to work.

I remember my first day at home. I hardly knew what to do with myself and I was grieving what I’d left behind — an amazing team, an established career, and identity as someone with authority, influence, impact. I said something like this to Scott before he left for work (him in his tie, me in my pjs):

“I hope you don’t expect a housewife out of this deal, because that’s not why I did it.”

Possibly, this might have been a sign.

But over the weeks and months I got my feet under me and I did take on the work of the home and family — kids, shopping, cooking, cleaning (though that took awhile), laundry, planning, activity-registering, driving, lunch-making, permission-slip signing, doctor-taking, classroom-volunteering, practice-nagging. Scott became responsible for no one but himself for many hours a day. Like I once did, he began coming home to dinner on the table.

I didn’t mind. In fact, I liked it. It was like ten years of homemaking all bottled up and released at once. I organized closets and the basement. I redecorated rooms. I tried all kinds of new projects and recipes. I mean, I sewed things, for goodness sake. I made my own laundry detergent. Noah and I started seeds in the windowsill. We let the hours drift by at the zoo, the greenhouse, the pool.

Then I suggested that my time at home was the best chance for Scott to finish his MBA, begun years ago and put on hiatus when he was laid off.  And it was me who encouraged him to study abroad last summer, since he didn’t do that during his undergrad years and always regretted it. And me who agreed that to make something new happen in his career he needed to start going to work earlier, traveling more, putting in the hours, and taking more risks.

So it was me, alone, in the crazy-train mornings, and me, alone, in the after-school-dinner-music-lessons-homework rush. Me, alone, on sick child duty, no matter how long the duration. Me, alone, on lice patrol. And me, alone, in the first days of preschool and just three weeks post-heart-attack, adjusting (poorly) to new meds and single-parenting while he was away.

And with irony so thick you could cut it with the proverbial knife, I began to miss the way we were. I had what I wanted, I know how fortunate I am to have the chance to stay home, and it was indeed better in so many ways. Better in almost every way, except for this one:

I liked us better when we were a team.

I think I actually liked us better when we had to negotiate every sick-child day, sometimes splitting them around meetings or presentations. When we both went back to work at our his-and-hers-desks in our home office each night after the kids were asleep. When we were both exhausted on a Sunday night (the aforementioned real estate business is a weekend gig), but we were out of groceries and the laundry had to be done so we did it. Together, as a team.

Maybe I’d even prefer the arguments about whose meeting was more or less negotiable when a kid woke up with a fever to this slow separation of family and work. In these three years, work has become his domain; family and home mine. We’ve taken divide-and-conquer too far, and I don’t think that’s good for us as a couple. I’m not even sure that’s good for our family.

My little Noah, my sidekick for these three years, will be a first-grader in just three months and Owen will start junior high. They are moving on, and I am protesting in barely-conscious ways: meals are less planned, the laundry piles up, and Scott’s actually getting groceries right now, at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday.

Maybe it’s time for me to go back to work. Because something has to give.

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Comments

  1. Aaron Tinklenberg says:

    Wow. Great writing and very relatable (not a real word, I think). Best of luck with any impending life changes.

    • Thank you Aaron! What a nice compliment. I’m very slowly job searching . . . only time will tell where I end up next.

      Jen

  2. Emerald Gratz says:

    This is lovely – and so true.

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