My relationship with my husband has given me lots of opportunities for insecurity about my identity as a woman and a wife. He’s the neat freak; I’m the messy, clumsy one. We’re both introverts, but he forms relationships fairly easily; I tend to be more task-oriented and aloof. Though we both know our way around the kitchen, he’s definitely the baker extraordinaire and brunch expert. When we show up to a gathering with baked goods, people will reflexively compliment me – but odds are, he made them.
When it comes to old-fashioned gender roles and expectations, we don’t quite fit the mold. But if I thought I had insecurities on this front before, they’re nothing compared to the ones I’m dealing with now, as my husband and I navigate married life with a new baby.
I wanted to believe, when my baby came, that I could stay at a job I loved and somehow find a way to care for her at the same time. I had friends who had successfully reworked their schedules to do just that. But deep inside, I suspected that I would have to leave my work behind when I became a mom.
After our daughter arrived, though, there came a new development that turned all my expectations upside down. I was approached with a new job opportunity in my field with circumstances that allowed my husband to stay home as a full-time dad to care for our baby.
We’ve been in our new arrangement for several months now, and in many ways it feels almost too good to be true. I spend my days doing work that challenges and fulfills me, and spend weekends and evenings with my beautiful baby. As I’m working during the day, I can hear the wonderful sound of my daughter squealing with laughter and delight as my husband plays with her. He’s a natural dad, and seems never to tire of keeping her company.
Still, there’s a judgmental voice in my head that won’t go away. It harps on my fears that we were wrong to embark on this non-traditional arrangement. It tells me that I’m wrong to be working when most of the moms I know are home with their kids full-time. It nags that I’m failing as a homemaker when my husband steps in to do much of the household cleaning. It repeatedly whispers my deepest-held anxiety: that my daughter will grow up believing that her mother had no time for her.
There’s also a bit of wounded pride when I look around the house and realize it’s probably cleaner now than it was when I was at home full-time on maternity leave. My husband, with his orderly nature and love of cleanliness, is far better at juggling housework and baby than I am. He has even worked out a system for cleaning the bathrooms with a baby in the house, something I had decided was impossible.
It’s a daily challenge to put these doubts in perspective by reminding myself of the truth. Though my husband is the stay-at-home parent right now, it doesn’t make him any less the pillar of strength that holds our family together and the leader I trust and respect. I may be the breadwinner, but my daughter and I still share a special mother-child bond that I can see reflected in her sparkling eyes and contented snuggles when we’re together. My husband makes clear every day that he doesn’t resent me; we are living out the choice we made together as the best one for our family.
Ultimately, the jobs we do during the day are only a small part of our identity; we are much more than the hats we wear. Those roles might change, but our constant roles as husband and wife and mother and father will not. We’re both committed to each other and passionate about nurturing our marriage and giving our baby all the love and care we can.
And parenting aside, there are some things about ourselves we can’t change. Ben will always be the more organized of the two of us; I’ll always be the more ambitious, strong-willed one. We might not always look like other couples. But we chose each other. Our marriage is strongest when we invest in each other, instead of comparing ourselves to others and trying to be someone else’s idea of “normal.”
Knowing that doesn’t make all those anxieties and niggling fears disappear, but it does help me to see the larger picture. And that’s enough for now.
Flickr/ Tom Magliery