Here’s a story about a realization I had lately. It hit me pretty hard, and I still don’t know how I feel about it.
Ready for it?
I’m not my daughter’s primary parent.
Yes, I’m her mother.
Yes, I carried her around for 9 months.
Yes… I birthed her, unintentionally without medication.
Yes, I stayed home with her for 15 months after she was born (thanks, Canada).
But, when my daughter (now 5) falls and hurts herself? It’s Dad. When she cries when one of us leaves? It’s Dad. The one she loves fiercely, beyond comprehension? It’s Dad, too (although I know she loves me… it’s just, different).
I say all this as a staunch feminist, and as someone who wishes traditional gender roles didn’t exist… yet, I can’t help but feel sort of strange about the realization that I’ve somehow assumed the role typically held by (in most heterosexual, monogamous relationships, anyway) the Dad.
Except I’m not the “fun” parent — you know, the one who starts a wrestling match at 10 minutes before bedtime, or the one who sneaks her an extra cookie after dinner?
I’m still the naggy mother who worries about her intake of vegetables and makes her brush her teeth a second time whilst also being the (sort of) absentee parent.
How did all of this happen?
When my daughter was two years old, I decided to go back and complete my second year of law school. I completed two years of grueling law school (which is much harder when you are recovering from postpartum depression/anxiety and also have a serious case of foggy, I’ve been out of the workforce and the education of law for two years), followed by an extended articling period (two years instead of one because I thought it would be less grueling that way… I think I was wrong). And as of this week, I started a new (temporary) job that — while I love it — is going to keep me away from her for even longer stretches of time.
My spouse, on the other hand, has maintained the same career for 12 years, is amazing and highly competent at it, and has secured a position that allows him to take way more time off than I can.
Which is exactly why he’s the one who stays home with her on sick days. And he’s the one who drops her off at school, because I’m already at work. And, he’s the one who picks her up from school, because I work long into the night, sometimes not even seeing her before she goes to bed. He handles her appointments, he picks her up when she comes home sick from school, and he spends a lot of time with her on the weekends while I’m — you guessed it! — still working.
Part of it, I’ve realized, is because I’m a bit disadvantaged by the way my career has progressed. Most lawyers, by the time they have kids, have already put in a few good years of practice, and have already proven their worth. So, when it comes time to take a year off for maternity leave, it’s no big deal — it may even be expected by the other partners in the firm.
There are quite a few “new” or younger lawyers who have kids, but they’re men. And it’s not the same. I’m not even a lawyer yet and I already have a five year old. I’m a gamble, professionally. And I get it. I wish it wasn’t this way, but I get it.
And let’s not even think about the fact that I’m 35 and may (or may not) want to have another baby. Leaving the workforce all over again, before I’ve even started?
It’s a career killer.
So, I have to bust my ass to prove myself.
Which means I’m working way too much. I haven’t had a break since 2017. We haven’t gone on a vacation (aside from the odd weekend away) since 2012. I haven’t taken more than one day off of work since 2017.
All of this makes me an absentee parent, a shitty partner (our relationship is suffering for it, hugely), and an exhausted and basically non-existent friend. I’m not taking care of my body, my mind or my soul.
I’m on a hamster wheel. And the worst part of it all is, I think I like the hamster wheel. I think I like the work I’m doing, I’m just doing too much of it and there’s no balance.
And of course, there’s the guilt when you’re the mom who isn’t really a mom as per your typical family standards. The guilt that I’m putting too much on my partner. The guilt that my daughter isn’t going to ever bond with me. The guilt that she’ll only ever think of me as “working.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve said, even at home, “I just need to do a little bit of work.”
On Valentine’s Day, I rushed out of the office at 6:30 to meet my family at a pizza place for dinner. I could have stayed much longer, but I wanted to see them. I didn’t give my husband a card, and he was the one who went out and bought our daughter a present and card (she’s bonkers about Valentine’s Day). I felt terrible. After dinner was over, she turned to me and said, “I’m going to be a doctor and a Mommy. And the Daddy is going to take care of the babies.”
On the one hand I was proud that maybe I’m raising a girl who doesn’t expect that she’s going to have to be the “primary” parent.
On the other hand, I felt so awful. And still do.
(Ty also got me a card, flowers and new earrings — and I got him NOTHING).
Work-life balance is hard enough as a Mom. For any Mom. Add in the fact that I haven’t even started my career yet — at age 34 — and I might want another baby, which would put me out of the workforce for another 6-12 months, and I may as well just give up now.
Never mind my personal physical and mental health, the health of our relationship, and the strength of the bond between my daughter and me.
I love her more than life, and while I do carve out as much quality time as possible to spend with her, I can’t help but feel guilty. All of the time.
I talk a lot about work/life balance, but I have a hard time practicing it myself, mostly because I’m at such a unique point in my career. I can’t ask for a break. I can’t have a breakdown. I can’t ask for a do-over.
I’m just a (very) junior articling student who is anything but junior in age.
I feel like I’m in survival mode 24/7. And I spend a lot of nights up worrying about how it is going to impact my daughter.
On the one hand, she has the most amazing relationship with her Dad. And I’m beyond lucky to have the most amazing parenting partner in history (seriously, he keeps my life together).
Feminism is a funny thing. Traditional gender roles are something I rail against, but when push comes to shove and the roles are truly reversed, I’m bothered.
Things would be more 50/50 around here if I didn’t have to prove myself so much at the workplace. I wish that I didn’t love the work I’m doing, but I do. I just miss my daughter terribly. And I’m always on the verge of a meltdown. And I need a break. And my relationship is suffering.
But I love my work.
I still don’t know how I feel about the fact that I’m not my daughter’s primary parent.