The one thing that has been the most mind blowing for me in the past four years of marriage and children, is the impossibly low expectations of men in marriage and child rearing. I myself have always had high expectations of men. I grew up in a household where my father was played a very active role in raising myself and my siblings. While I can’t speak completely to his role in the household, I can say that he clipped coupons, analyzed grocery store fliers and went grocery shopping every week, and is a slightly better cook than my mother.
Thus, what I was not as prepared for in marriage and since having children is the reaction that the world has to men who simply participate in the process. As a wife, I don’t recall a time when I got a round of applause cleaning the house, doing laundry, picking up dry cleaning or even tasks seen as more masculine like servicing the car or taking out trash. The sight of my husband making his own plate, however, garners a reaction of “oohs and ahhs” from an entire room. I often comment that before I was married, I had several women give me unsolicited advice on the endless requirements to “keep a husband.” To my surprise, when I asked my husband what advice he’d been given on how to keep me, he said none. In marriage, I realized that it was because people didn’t expect men to do anything to “keep” a woman, and that played out in several instances. Other women’s positive reaction to the fact that my husband even came home at night was disturbing, considering they knew that I was home every night.
Having children has heightened my awareness in the differing levels of expectations for myself and my husband. I’ve had people see my husband bring me a bowl of cereal after I stayed up all night breastfeeding, battling mastisis, changing diapers, cleaning washing etc. and tell me that “I got a good one.” I worked through two pregnancies, one where I couldn’t eat anything other than grapes for five months, birthed two babies, one void of medication, breastfed for a total of 24 months and counting, and numerous other tasks which required complete sacrifice of my mind, body and I would say soul, and watched my husband receive the equivalent of a round of applause or hi-five for changing A diaper.
For me this was a very serious issue, that bred incessant jealousy. I was jealous that I couldn’t just sleep, jealous that I couldn’t just shower, jealous that I couldn’t leave the house without preparing 3-5 bags of items. Yet, I was barely out of the hospital with a newborn baby before people were asking me how my husband was doing with the transition, again pushing the standard that everything I was doing was simply women’s work and my lack of availability due to this increase workload may be negatively affecting my husband.
This mindset definitely had me feeling like I was going crazy, because I didn’t “feel” like I had a lot of “help.” I think this laid the groundwork for a few years of struggle on the idea of “help” versus “responsibility.” People congratulated me on receiving “help” from my husband, when any task they had seen him execute was actually a partner’s responsibility. Our collective struggle then became one of defining responsibility. For me, there is no way you can help with your own children or household. In a household with two adults, and for a child with two parents, there are always two responsible parties.
A husband cannot help by cooking dinner that he will eat.
A husband cannot help by washing clothes that he will wear.
A husband cannot help by changing a baby that he produced.
In developing our version of partnership, which is still in progress, I’ve found that it takes a constant rejection and/or redefining of the society’s expectations. If I would’ve taken in what the world was giving, I would be in a constant state of self-sacrifice, jealous of a husband with what I viewed as unending freedom and praise. Resetting expectations in both marriage and motherhood for me has involved pushing back against a lot of what I am told about husbands and seeking behaviors more aligned with that of a partner. I want to be a partner and have a partner, I am not sure I could survive being a wife to a husband.