For 9 years I was the primary caregiver for our kids, while my husband was the main income earner. These were the parenting roles we defined for ourselves. During this time it was understood that if the kids were sick, I would stay home. If cupcakes needed to be baked, or school projects needed to be completed, I was the go-to person to get it done. His limited “family” time was reserved for family fun.
It was the deal we made when I stopped worked. While we didn’t state the expectations out loud, we did acknowledge that I would take on the family responsibilities while he carried the weight of bringing in income.
I am not sure if this situation was what led to our desperation to change our lifestyle, but I know as a woman, always putting my needs second (or third) became tiring. Over time, always having to stop and drop what I was doing, no matter how wonderful or filled with potential, started to create in me a feeling that I was unable to succeed.
For years I truly believed that I couldn’t achieve something I wanted. I wouldn’t even consider the chance of success. How could I put time and effort into something other than my kids?
It is summed up perfectly in our home every morning in fact.
The first thing I think about doing each morning is feeding the kids. I know hungry kids are a nightmare, and to get this one thing out of the way, to care for my kids, is of primary importance.
My husband, he feeds himself first.
As the morning progresses, and the kids are sent off to school, I will finally sit down, sometimes hours later, and start to think about getting myself a bite to eat.
And that is wrong.
My husband, although perhaps initially his actions seem selfish, actually lives the concept of “putting on your oxygen mask first”. His instincts are to care for his own personal needs first, while mine are based in self sacrifice, and often leave me hungry, moody and woozy by 9am.
When we made our move 3 years ago, our slate of expectations was wiped clean. There was no more “his role” or “her role” and we were both starting from point zero to build our life.
At the beginning, our habits and routines started to pop up again. It took time to remove past habits, and remind ourselves that we were both in this together.
And I want to reinforce that one concept, “remind ourselves”. It wasn’t that my husband was stepping back in parenting, it was that I was constantly stepping forward. Both of us needed to be reminded to change our ways, and allow a balance to exist.
It took a long time for me to have the confidence in my own abilities outside the “family” to be able to say that my work was more important than driving the kids to soccer. It took years for me to, without guilt, let my husband step into these roles.
I still battle with myself, feeling like I should be taking care of all of the family duties, the “motherly” roles, but am so grateful we were given this opportunity to reset our parenting roles, and allow my husband to step in beside me, not behind me.
When my husband chooses to run our son’s birthday party, while I take our daughter to her soccer game, I see that this opportunity has opened both of our worlds. I also see that when I only put my family first, I am not giving him the opportunity to do that, and that is bad for both of us.
As a woman, and a mother, I felt it was my role to take all of this on. To remove “irritations” from my husband when he was the primary breadwinner. Even when I started to more than contribute to our family income, I STILL felt it was my responsibility. It was a harder experience for me to LET him take the reigns than anything else. To allow him to cook for our family, pack lunches and get to know his kids in the intimate ways that I did.
Sharing the role as parents was all I ever thought I wanted, although I didn’t know what a challenge it would be to get there. How the unfounded guilt of not being there for my kids would wear on me, or the fear that all of this “parenting” stuff was so beyond my husband. I did us both a disfavour by holding on so tightly.
So, moms. We can have it all, as long as we allow the people around us to step into their roles.
I hoarded my family, I held that role as mother tight to my chest. I felt I was special because only I knew the chocolate chip cookie recipe.
My husband, over the past years, has patiently allowed me to expand my skills and abilities and create a business I love, and in return… well, I showed him my recipe book, and gave him the chance to bounce on the trampoline and lie in bed at night reading his kids to sleep.
There can be balance in all things, as long as we allow ourselves to let go of the things we hold so tightly.
I look back now at our life 9 years ago and see how much my husband missed out on. Today he knows how each of our kids like their lunches, and who needs extra help with math. He is as capable and able a care giver as I am, and I am as capable an income earner as he is. Neither of us would have had this opportunity to explore these roles without the support of the other.
So moms, it is okay to put yourself first sometimes, it really is. It is okay to miss a softball game or gymnastics lesson, especially if that means your partner can be there instead. Allow yourself the opportunity to let other priorities come into your life, be confident that with focus and commitment, you can have success. Don’t hide behind a role because you think it is what you need to do.
Make toast for yourself tomorrow morning, before you worry about anyone else’s breakfast, and see what happens.