‘Fessing up to melting down

(Yes, I wrote this for my very public Today’s Parent blog, where it first appeared. Yes, it was tough to admit to. Yes, I hope we’re not alone.)

Stay-at-homes versus the-working-ones. Who gets the better end of the deal? It’s a big question in our house right now, because we’re already wading into those waters, three months before our babies even arrive. It’s turning out to be frosty, lonely and challenging terrain for the both of us.

I launched my own business last year specifically so I could have a flexible work schedule. My husband, meanwhile, ditched his commute to a big city job and dived into a new career much closer to home.

Equal risk, equal rewards, right? Turns out, maybe not. Who gives up what, and how that impacts each person, is an issue that New York Times columnist Michael Winerip tackled this week, and it came to a head for us on Monday night.

It all happened as I settled into bed after a truly exhausting day. Lying there like a beached whale, I was suddenly ugly-crying (you know, the kind that only gets worse when you try to hide it). Between sobs, it all spewed out: All the sacrifices, it feels, are on my side of the ledger. While I’m meant to be pursuing gainful self employment, the fact that I work from home means I’m also the point person for household maintenance, baby prep, renovation logistics, chores and the rest. I am stressed, overwhelmed and beset by pressure. How come my career was paying the price for the one thing — parenthood — that is truly a joint effort?

At least, that’s how it seemed to me. My husband quickly lashed back. Pressure? Try working full time, completing what renovations he can, organizing contractors to do the ones he can’t, while co-parenting grown sons, and picking up the additional chores that I’m no longer physically able to perform. All while knowing that his is the only regular paycheque coming into the house.

After the fumes and the furies wafted from the air, we lay there in silence. “He’s right,” I thought. “She’s right,” he thought. Somehow, we had so deeply dug into the steaming heap of work that needs to be done that we ended up in long, lonely tunnels of solitude. And now we were pointing fingers and trying to work out how we could both end up feeling so alone.

So we’ve turned the situation on its head. Instead of working out who is doing more of what, or gazing enviously at each other’s day-lives, we just look at what needs to be done, divide what we can, and share what we can’t. When either one of us feels the walls closing in, we’ve agreed to call out for help.

Who knows if this approach will work? I’ll still envy his networking lunches and after-work mandatory schmooze fests. He’ll still envy the fact I can still be wearing pyjamas as he leaves for the bus. But, while we’re beavering away in our own little work silos, at least we’ll know we’re alone in this, together.

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My beautiful man, working hard at home.

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