Wednesday, November 08, 2006

We didn't just break the mold, we threw it away

Tonight, while I sit here sipping tea and reading blogs, Marcel is at the parent council meeting at school. He's their new treasurer. Everybody loves him for volunteering. I love him for volunteering. It gets me off the hook. At least SOMEONE in our family is doing their part.

He's a rare commodity - a father who's willing to volunteer on parent council. Even though we've come a long way, baby, there are still some things that are traditionally mom's roles. Volunteering at school is one of them. But I'm quite happy to let him have this role. I'm not very good at the whole "mommy volunteering to make this world a better place" thing. I'm happy to go on the occasional field trip, but I'd rather not hand out pizza on hot lunch days, cut out hundreds of pig faces for kindergarten crafts, or listen to kids read in the hallway.

For the most part, Marcel and I have managed to live our married life outside of the "rules" of a traditional marriage. For the past 4 years, he's been the primary caregiver and stay-at-home parent (while he went to university). He's been to more doctor's and dentist's appointments than me lately, he volunteers at school, coaches soccer, nags the girls about homework after school, signs agendas, packs lunches, makes supper, serves pizza on hot lunch day at school, takes Maddie to story time at library, etc., etc. It works for us. It some ways, I think it suits us better than if we'd done things the other way around.

It's not like we sat down one day and decided "hey - let's be radical and kick tradition in the butt". Mostly, we've tried to make each decision in a way that worked for our own marriage, rather than in a way that lined up with traditional expectations of our roles. For a long time, we both worked and, back then, we shared the roles. We took turns with things like meals, volunteering, transporting to doctor's appointments, etc. Then one day we arrived at a crossroads where I was advancing in my career, he was stagnating in his, I was making enough money for us to survive, he wanted to go to university, and we wanted one of us to be at home for the girls more. It just seemed like the right choice for him to stay home with the girls and go to school (mostly in the evenings at first).

The transition wasn't without its road-bumps. At the beginning, I probably had unrealistic expectations of what he would take responsibility for. At the same time, he occasionally felt that I was taking him for granted. Sometimes, I have to admit, I found myself feeling little twinges of jealousy when he knew more about the girls' schooling than I did, knew more of the other parents than I did, and got to spend more time with the girls. And I'm pretty sure sometimes he was a little jealous that I got to spend more time in the company of adults than he did. But we got used to our new roles, and soon found that it worked quite well for us.

In the future, we might make decisions differently. When he's back to work, for example, I hope to spend more time at home, and then I'll take over more of the responsibilities around here. Nothing is forever, and neither of us is afraid to take one type of role or another. We just find what works for us. This year, since he's in school almost full time, we're back to sharing most of the household and parenting tasks.

I remember sitting on a farm in Africa talking to the owner of the farm who was a well respected community leader and politician. We were waiting for the meal that his wife (or wives - can't remember which) and the other women of the village were preparing. He was quite puzzled when I told him that I had small children who were at home with their dad. When I explained that my husband was the primary caregiver who cooked most of the meals and looked after the children when I worked, he looked at me with shock and probably a bit of horror. He couldn't quite fathom what I'd just told him. I'm pretty sure he was hopeful that I wouldn't have a chance to chat with his wife. I have to admit, it gave me some measure of pleasure to see the look on his face.

I am grateful that I live in a culture where it is not particularly surprising anymore that we've chosen the roles that we have. I am grateful that I'm married to a man who's comfortable with this arrangement (or any other we might want to try). I am grateful that my daughters won't grow up with any preconceived notions about what roles a man or a woman should or shouldn't fill.

Tomorrow, I leave for Alberta on another business trip. While I am gone, I never have to worry that the kids won't be well cared for or that the house will fall apart. Homework will get done, lunches will get made, dishes will be washed, and my absence will barely have an impact. Chances are, there would be more chaos around here if Marcel went away for a few days than when I do. (Fortunately, though, I will still be missed.)


Anvilcloud said...

Well, I think that you should let him have another wife who would take care of all of that other stuff for him. Then, that African guy would be able to relate to you better, which would be good. Or don't you think so? Hmmm?

tlawwife said...

My husband certainly doesn't do all of that but he would be happy to if I could make as much as he did. However he did make a good "roommother" one year and would get VERY angry if I said he was "babysitting". He said it wasn't babysitting if I did it and it wasn't if he did it either.

Kristin said...

Cheers to the both of you! That's so great. I'll be so curious to see what kinds of roles your daughters take on in adult life. What an exciting time to be alive!

Pamela said...

mine was a firefighter with a strange schedule that put him home with the kids when I had to be to work @7:30 on many a morning.

Even now, when they call on the phone, it is often a trembling voice ..."can I talk to dad."

so chopped liver hands the phone over

Gina said...

You will be missed by us, too!

Have a good trip!

Linda said...

Marcel's a great guy. There are many good reasons why you married him and I bet that even though you didn't talk about a lot of these details before you were married, you knew that he'd be just as willing as you are to do what had to be done. Traditional roles be damned.

Vicki said...

"I'm pretty sure he was hopeful that I wouldn't have a chance to chat with his wife. I have to admit, it gave me some measure of pleasure to see the look on his face." That made me giggle.

I really enjoy reading your posts. From the outside looking in you have a clarity of mind that I am looking for. Maybe it's age? I'm 33 and things are shifting, perhaps you are slightly older than me and your writing from the perspective of where I feel I must be going.

andrea said...

Marcel's one of the poeple I would gravitate to on the schoolground when picking up my kids from school. I actually started to suffer severe anxiety if I had to face waiting with a group of gossiping mothers comparing kids, trashing teachers and crowing about achievements. My avoidance techniques became somewhat elabortae. As a result I did get to know the four or five dads who were also there. We'd talk soccer or about our dogs and other non-threatening types of topics.

Anonymous said...

Marcel sounds a lot like Cory. We never sat down and decided on roles either, it's just the way we are. I remember my grandmother's words about this: "I can milk a cow as well as he can, and he can change a diaper just as well as I can."

I remember when my son was in second grade and Cory was deployed - I spent an afternoon supervising glitter at the Christmas ornament craft table. I know I couldn't dish out the pizza at school.

I think part of being a family is making things work for the people you love.

I agree with Kristen, what an exciting time to be alive!

Hope said...

My husband was the stay at home parent for 18 months. He was the school parent, learned to cook and had the foresight to hire a housekeeper. It wasn't as smooth as your shift, but I think alot of that was me giving over control. That's tough for me.

Erin said...

Heather I think its great that you and Marcel parent your children this way! You both are wonderful people and your children seem to be very well behaved happy children! Good job!!!