For much of our marriage Howard and I split the family work load along very traditional lines. Howard worked at a corporate job, I tended house and children. I sometimes felt self-conscious about this. I knew our decisions were right for our family, but a part of me felt bad that I had been given so many opportunities by the generations of women before me who struggled for equality, and I was using my freedom to choose changing diapers. I felt a subtle need to justify my choices, to explain. There was also a large part of me that didn’t like following the beaten path, and staying home with the kids is a wide and well-traveled path for women. There are good reasons for this. Those good reasons are exactly why I chose it for so long. But it isn’t surprising that I eventually found myself wandering around in the brush off to the side of the well traveled road.
When Howard and I first began to have conversations which included building a family together, neither of us expected to take on traditional roles. Howard wanted to be a musician. He intended to work from home. We pictured me having a job out of the house. But then he landed a job doing tech support and it paid a princely sum to our college student eyes. It made no sense for me struggle doing both school and a part time job. So I quit. Letting go of the meager additional income was no struggle, but I felt the loss of independence. I felt the same loss when we merged our bank accounts. I had just begun to discover who I was as an adult, when my focus shifted to discovering who I was as part of this new married entity that Howard and I were creating together. The creation was lovely and filled with potential. Melding our independence was a necessary step. Each step was necessary, each decision carefully considered. And we ended up in a very traditional place without exactly intending to go there.
I find it very interesting to listen to myself when I talk about these traditional years. I sometimes say that I lost my self in motherhood, that I forgot who I was and had to spend effort to find myself again. Other times I say that it was a wonderful time and I was completely fulfilled and happy while staying at home with the kids. These two versions of my life contradict each other, and yet they are both true. I was both lost and found during those years. I sometimes hope that I can help friends, who have the young family years ahead of them, to find the fulfillment while skipping the loss of self. Except I wonder if the loss of self is part of the fulfillment, if one is necessary to the other. Regardless of whether it is avoidable, I do not regret any of it. It was right at the time, just as my current choices are right for now.
I can’t point at the place when our roles stopped following the traditional pattern. It was not when Howard quit his corporate job to take on full-time cartooning. He still scrambled to bring in money. I still scrambled to manage home and family on next to nothing. But somehow, as we figured out how to make the cartooning business pay the bills, more of the business tasks ended up in my pile and more of the household tasks ended up in Howard’s. There was no fanfare, not even much discussion. We had never divided the work according to gender, just according to personality and logical time-management. There was no ego to overcome in rearranging the tasks. Piece by piece we went from a stay-at-home mother with a working husband to a pair of work-from-home business partners.
Our current lifestyle is far more modern than traditional. This appeases that part of my self which used to explain my choices. But appearances aside, Howard and I have not really changed the way we assign chores. We still consider all of the tasks to belong to both of us. The dishes are ours even if I am the one washing them today. The fact that some chores consistently are assigned to one person is an indicator of skill. Howard is better at cleaning kitchen. I am better at laundry. Also hidden from outside perception are the invisible ways that I have earned far more confidence and independence than that which I relinquished as a newlywed. It has been a long and winding path, but the journey continues to be a good one. I wonder what unexpected place we will travel to next.