“Thank you. Thank you for going away. It was really nice for me to be able to spend so much time with the girls. We had a great time.”
My husband said those words to me last week, as we were discussing the week before, when I had been away for four and a half days on a mindfulness retreat. I had thanked him several times for postponing a business trip and working from home so I could go away. It never occurred to me that I was doing him a favor.
The night before I was supposed to leave, I decided I wasn’t going to go. There were so many reasons. We had just made it through a dizzying few weeks of one final summer vacation, Labor Day, the High Holidays, and the start of preschool. Things were just starting to settle down, and I didn’t want to shake them up again. We had just put up our sukkah, and I didn’t want to miss even one day of my favorite holiday. Most importantly, though, I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from the girls. Children need their mothers, right?
With my husband’s encouragement, I went anyway. I dropped the girls off at preschool on a Monday morning, making sure that every teacher knew that I was going to be gone all week. I went home and emailed our daycare provider with the details. I wrote little notes in each of the shiny princess cards I had purchased for them to open while I was gone, and I left little post-it notes with hearts and smiley faces on their bedside tables. I folded their laundry and felt the nostalgia wash over me as I sorted their Dora underwear and polka dot pants. You’d think I was leaving for four months rather than four days.
Finally, at the last possible moment, I packed my bags and got in the car.
It was a good week, and a hard week. I learned a lot, I spent time in a beautiful environment, and I made new friends. And yet I missed my family tremendously. I wanted to be home, celebrating Sukkot outside with friends and neighbors each night. I wanted to be the one getting the girls up in the morning, getting them ready for school and daycare. I wanted to be the one picking them up each afternoon, checking in with their teachers about how the day had gone. I wanted to be the one tucking them in each night, singing the Sh’ma, and sitting in their room in the dark for a few minutes until they were ready for me to leave. It’s not that I didn’t want my husband to do it, it’s that I wanted to do it instead. Or at least with him.
I’ve always thought I was doing my husband a favor by taking on the brunt of the childcare, by postponing my work or missing my deadlines so I could take the girls to a doctor’s appointment or to buy new shoes. After all, he has a full-time job and he brings in the money. He works hard, he travels a lot, and when he is home in the evenings and weekends, he is fully present with the family–whether it’s going to family minyan before Hebrew school, taking the girls to ballet, or just hanging out with friends or family. I didn’t want to burden him with more. Besides, seeing as how I don’t have a full-time office job, I felt like the kid-related obligations should be all my responsibility.
It never really occurred to me that by doing so, I might be depriving my husband of some of the best experiences of parenting. It’s tempting to see drop-off and pick-up, doctor’s appointments and shoe-shopping, as mere errands, something to get through so we can get on with the real work of parenting. It can certainly feel that way. But there is also something pretty amazing about the level of intimacy that develops when you spend that much time with your children. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child run across the playground or classroom and into your arms at the end of a long day. The conversations from the backseat, the disagreements over which pants to buy, the comforting snuggles after a painful immunization–these are all opportunities to build and strengthen relationships in small but important ways.
I am so grateful that I have a husband who understands this and is more than willing to step in and take over when I ask him to. (I am also incredibly grateful that he has the flexibility to work from home when he isn’t traveling). Not only is it a gift to me in that I get to pursue personal and professional interests (this retreat was both), but he is teaching me that I am doing us both a disservice every time I draw the lines of responsibility so starkly.
We have chosen this particular division of labor, and we are generally happy with it. But perhaps a little more flexibility on my part, whenever possible, might serve us all well.