I want to tell you how bittersweet it is that we live in a time when the roles of men and women, of mothers and fathers, have become blurred and intermingled.
More and more I find stay at home dads at the park with their kids, while mom is off at work. I have a number of friend who live that scenario. I lived that scenario. I still do, though it is a bit more complicated than my wife, Madhavi, going off to work while I stay home with our 18 month old Anjali (but more on that in a minute).
Why do I think this role shifting is bittersweet?
The sweet part is that we stay at home papas get more time with our kids than the typical working dad. That means more connection and involvement. For me it has allowed me to tap deeply into my nurturing side, which I knew I had, but maybe didn’t realize how deep. Somehow I think it’s the role I always knew I would fill.
The bitter part is that, especially in the early years, a sacred and beautiful bond is being broken, at least partially. It is my strongest belief that, at least in the first year, babies have a biological, an emotional and a physical need to be with their mothers. Mom, after all, grew this baby for nine months and birthed her. They were physically connected for all of that time. I am reminded of this time and time again seeing Anjali’s reaction when she sees Madhavi, or when she is nursing. I am reminded of this every time Madhavi goes to work, even though she’s only going to the room on our third floor.
A Little Back Story
The short story is that Madhavi earns more than me, and therefore is the main earner in our family.
The longer story goes a little like this. I am a musician, composer and producer. I earn my living mainly from gigs and some teaching, but also from licensing, producing and CD sales. We own some rental properties, so I oversee everything related to that, including financing, bookkeeping, maintenence, etc.
My wife is a Physician…But no longer practicing clinically. She left her job as a Headache Specialist in March in part because she no longer enjoyed clinical practice (and especially disliked being on call, which is really tough for a nursing mama), because she always wanted to work at home and most certainly to have more time with Anjali.
Since Anjali’s birth, she worked part time at her practice. But it became clear to her that it was time to take the plunge. She plunged and immediately found a job using her skills that allowed her to work part time and to be at home. She is given a few nursing breaks throughout her day, so she was able to ditch the pump.
So now, Madhavi and I are both work-from-home parents. Plus, we recently launched the Birth Relaxation Kit which is a downloadable hypnosis for childbirth program, also including affirmations mp3s, music recordings and guide book. Also, Madhavi has a thriving website atmavigupta.com, about headache relief, and where conventional and holistic medicine intersect.
Ultimately, something has to give. Especially if a mother is working full time, either the quantity of time she spends with her kids suffers, or the quantity of her personal time suffers.
Sometimes it’s not even a choice. On the one day of the week Madhavi works a full day, from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, she gets very little time with Anjali. Often these days, Anjali is napping when Madhavi has her lunch break. And recently Anjali started going to sleep at 7:30 pm.
Also, Madhavi is breastfeeding, and plans to continue as long as Anjali wants/needs. This makes co-sleeping at night the best option. That means on difficult nights, when Anjali wakes a lot, Madhavi’s sleep suffers (she probably hasn’t had a straight 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep for 18 months!). That compounds by the fact that she has to get up and work the next day.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where food, housing, insurance and the basic cost of living is expensive. We also live in a culture where moms are now expected, or at least encouraged, to work very shortly after giving birth.
Three months is considered a long maternity leave. Madhavi was given 6 weeks, and used vacation, sick and personal days to make up the difference.
What affect is this having on children. What affect is this having on our society in general?
Jon Kabat-Zinn says in the book Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, “It is considered perfectly acceptable for people to give one hundred percent to their careers…but not to their children.”
One acquaintance of ours is reluctantly resorting to letting her baby cry it out to go to sleep at night in preparation for her return to full time work. She is in a situation where she is the main earner in her family, and she knows she cannot function well after long nights of nursing and many wake ups.
I see how Madhavi struggles with sleep. Even working part time, she feels like her brain is just being stretched. Madhavi chooses, however, to sacrifice her own sleep and her own time in order to provide our daughter with the love and nurturing she deserves. That means some rocky nights. It means putting some personal and business goals on the back burner, or letting them brew slower than we would like.
It’s All About Balance
Today, on one of Madhavi’s days off, I took Anjali to our friends’ party. This gave Madhavi a good chunk of time to reconnect with herself, to work on some of her goals, and even to start sewing a doll for Anjali, a project she has been wanting to get to but hasn’t had time. She said it felt good and it was much needed. Still, she was torn because it meant limited time with Anjali and me.
A friend of mine from college used to say, “It’s all about balance.”
This is one of the many times I hear that phrase echoing in my head. Everything we do as parents is about balance. I think it is a prerequisite, as a parent, to sacrifice at least piece of ourselves, and usually more. It is a balancing act to give so much of ourselves, and yet maintain our individuality.
I am so grateful for the sacrifices, among many other things, that Madhavi has given for her family. I am grateful that we have struck a kind of balance, though we strive for an even better one (that’s a whole other post in itself!).
I wonder how things would have been different if Madhavi was able to take a full year of maternity leave, as is possible in Canada and many other countries. What would it have been like if she didn’t have to go back at all?
I’m curious how many of the Eco Child’s Play readers are stay at home moms, work at home moms, working part time or working full time. What is your take on this?
Jeremy Dyen is a musician, father and husband who blogs at Stay at Home Papa. He and his wife Madhavi are advocates of hypnosis and affirmations for mindset shifts about birth. They recently launched the Birth Relaxation Kit, and they even offer a free hypnobirthing mp3.