In my marriage, I’ve been the social organizer, trip planner, and the one generally in charge of our calendar; you know, the stuff wives typically do – yes, I’m kind of a woman (my friends will confirm that). If you knew my wife, you’d understand why I’ve been put in charge of this. She has no internal clock like the rest of her family who is notorious for being late to the point some people tell them the party starts two hours before it actually does and they’re still late. When I say no internal clock, I mean she has no internal clock and for some reason the idea of looking at the time eludes her. I gave up on figuring that years ago because otherwise I’d lose my mind: “Just look at the clock or put on an alarm!” This, of course, was all screamed inside my head (I’m not only kind of a woman; I’m also kind of a wuss). Since I married her, this was something I had to accept. Fortunately, it works out because I love being in control of our schedule and she’s great at the details that I couldn’t care less about like when we have friends over she makes sure we have napkins, plates, cutlery, and more than water to drink. Because of me, we see friends, and because of my wife, we have friends who will see us. We each have our role and together we are stronger. That’s the great thing about having a role – we both matter. When we know our role, it’s also easier not to be jealous or insecure – we are just doing our roles. We don’t need to feel inferior or guilty. We are doing what we are supposed to do, which in turn, makes it easier to do that well while appreciating what the other person does. Understanding roles is very helpful.
This idea is very important to keep in mind when you have your first child – both parents have a role. When my first daughter was born, my wife and I faced a typical struggle of many modern couples. Being on maternity leave, my wife was with our daughter all day while I was away from home the majority of the week for work. By the time I came home, my wife was worn out (with good reason). Add the fact that I usually worked afternoon shifts and didn’t get home until 940ish and she was particularly done, but so was I. It’s amazing how a baby pushes couples to new levels of frustration because you’re both worn out, and just as you’re absolutely ready for a break, that’s when the baby starts to cry making you want to lose your mind and potentially fight with your partner for who gets up to deal with it.
On top of the usual issues new parents go through, my wife was used to me being the leader in most things. Not only was I the time keeper and social organizer in our relationship, she generally relies on me to fix everything and take the lead on things like getting rid of bugs (she used to collect snakes as a kid, but is now scared of bugs… I don’t get it). Our dynamic worked… before kids. Now, she had to be the leader of the home and baby because that was her role. Not only was she nursing the baby (an ability that baffles me… milk comes out of skin? Can milk be absorbed in the same way?), being at home more meant she developed her own routines and put things where she wanted (often places I wouldn’t have put them). In some ways she was great at creating her own calendar and being out of the house visiting someone almost every day, but she would get frustrated with me for being so passive with the baby when I was home. I tried explaining to her that she was like the manager while I was her assistant, but it was hard for her to accept that because I had always been the leader and this just seemed like an excuse for me being incompetent. Trust me, I did not want to be incompetent (if you believe me, you’re not like my wife), but… I was. I didn’t have the same bond with my daughter because I didn’t carry her for nine months in my stomach (I’m fat for other reasons… or one reason – cookies) and I wasn’t nursing her, which also creates a bond. Plus, I was home for a fraction of the time, which meant I was out of the loop. I didn’t know where things were or what was going on. I was also new to the baby thing, so I was lost in general – why does the baby wear a cloth bib when she’s not eating? (Parents will know the answer to that one). I was not only her assistant, I was a trainee. While my wife’s ability and knowledge was growing at an incredible rate by being with our daughter all day, I was getting further and further behind, and my wife had a hard time not resenting me for it. Add the fact that my wife had a very traumatic c-section, which meant she was emotionally and physically in a bad spot for months after the birth without the added normal worn out-ness from a lack of sleep (having a baby is fun… eventually). Fortunately, over time my wife started to appreciate her role more and how close she was able to be with our daughter while I worked at being less incompetent, but it was a tough go for most of the first year.
This dynamic has been very different for our second baby thanks to Covid – thank you Covid. I’m very fortunate to be able to work from home, which means I’m around a lot more to help. My wife also finds knowing I’m in the basement gives her a sense of security. Because of this new dynamic, (and the fact that I’m not completely baby-dumb like I was the first time) it feels more like I’ve been promoted to her assistant manager. If I wasn’t home, our dynamic would be more like the first round, but this time I get to be more of a leader, which feels more natural for us.
My other suspicion is with our first baby my wife suffered what many moms face: resentment that I had more freedom than her because I couldn’t nurse. Add in the struggle of her body being severely damaged from pregnancy and birth and the fear of mom shaming (another benefit of being dad) and it makes sense she had a struggle. For our second baby, my guess is it helps my wife feel better knowing that I don’t have more freedom because while she’s nursing I’m with our two year old. Add in she’s more used to her body being this way and mom shaming doesn’t matter as much and it’s been a lot better. The downside is I’m no longer as flexible to do extra little things while my wife is nursing like cutting grass and running to the store. Everything has its ups and downs.
In the therapy office, I’ve explained this idea that when one parent is at home they’re the manager while the other who works is like the assistant, and it’s been helpful for a number of new families. Sometimes the partner upset was the one like my wife and other times it was the person in my position who needed to realize they were now the assistant when they were used to being the leader. They needed to relinquish some control and be the support person. It’s like how giving birth is primarily all on the one person while the support person is left trying to figure out how to best support them. The bottom line is we need to know our role and appreciate it while appreciating what our partner brings (unless they’re being a jerk and not stepping up). If we can’t value what our partner is doing either we don’t see what they do or they suck, which is usually because they’re don’t realize they suck, they’re selfish, they have an addiction, or they’re lazy. If this is your situation, hopefully it’s simply not knowing because that’s an easy fix.
Please Note: This dynamic also points out that women have more power in a household than many believe. People who think women are weak are badly mistaken. The person at home can easily end up with more power at home because they have better connection with the family and know where everything is and what’s needed like groceries while the other person is trying to catch up.
This week may you better appreciate your role.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)