I grew up as a feminist in a really conservative neighborhood. At some point, I started wishing (okay, fantasizing) that my wife would want to have a job and that I’d be at home, taking care of the kids, writing stories in between nappy-changings. I’m a writer, right? So I can basically do anything.
Now we have two kids under the age of 3, we’re stuck in the middle of a harsh reality: One of us has to be at home full-time, and one of us has to work. It’s like that Star Wars scene where Luke and Leia and the robots are stuck in a trash compactor and the walls are closing in and there’s some sort of monster in the water: You’ve got financial pressure on one side, and you-need-to-take-care-of-the-kids pressure on the other.
Some people get a nanny, and that’s great, but that presupposes that your job is paying you enough money to cover your own expenses as well as somebody else’s. It also presupposes that you think that your time is best used with your clients or you bosses or your email account, and not with this miniature human which you have brought into the world.
So, yeah. It kills me to sit at the desk where I’m sitting now, staring at pictures of squirming babies and not having them squirming up to me. But I know it’s also killing my wife. Our older kid is in creche (you’d call it daycare, but she’s from Australia) four hours a day, from 9:00-1:00. Which still leaves one baby at home full-time, and a hell of a lot of hours with my wife alone with both kids.
To put it another way: She’s got way too much time with them. And I’ve got way too little time.
There are solutions, of course. We could both get part-time jobs (unlikely, since you sort of need to be full-time to make health care affordable…plus, uh, I really like my job and my bosses are reading this, um, hi bosses!). We could switch off day-jobbing, which doesn’t work for most people in the 2011 workforce. Or we could keep things going the way it is: Where I’m the fiscal provider, and I leave home every morning and come back just before bedtime, giving baths and reading stories and being just a ghost in the house for most of the rest of the time.
One more thing. Weirdly, I started writing this post exactly the way it reads now, with one extra word: I mentioned that I was Hasidic. I was nervous about posting this. I imagined all of Internetland rolling their collective eyes, saying to themselves: There he goes, one more misogynist freakin’ workaholic himbo who thinks that all mothers should be barefoot at home while he does all the working. And then, when I started actually being a Hasidic father, realizing that every family goes through this. As someone who didn’t grow up religious, I would go into these households, see the woman taking care of kids, see the man not there, and automatically assume it was sexist. I still think that sometimes. And then I’ll be hanging at some of our progressive friends’ houses, in Williamsburg* or Park Slope, and I’ll see the same arrangement (husband in absentia, wife in loco parentis) and I’ll think: Wow, how quaint! or It’s so cool how some couples manage to split the division of labor. I think I’m suffering from having a Progressive Double Standard, which is weird, because, in the example, I’d be the non-progressive person.
OK, now my head is spinning. I’ll leave you with that — I can’t think about it anymore. I have to get back to work.
* — That’s tweed Williamsburg, not fur Williamsburg.