Friday, May 25, 2007

Do you CHOOSE your life?

Five years, 5 months and 21 days ago I made a decision that continues to rule my life. I don't know that I'd go back and change it, but knowing what I know now, I definitely would've given it more thought.

I chose to be the sole night time parent to my newborn child.
That's it. Pretty simple choice. I simply decided that I would not wake my husband in the night or expect him to wake to help me in the night with our newborn. Every other woman in my family had made the same choice. It's what I knew. It's what felt right. My husband was working outside the home. He had an important job. I was breastfeeding. My baby seemed to truly need me and only me in those first few weeks, or rather months, or um years... I didn't want to disturb him. I was pretty sure I couldn't ask him to get up with her by himself and let me sleep through some of her nightime wakings (which were many), so really, what was the point of us BOTH being awake? And on and on my rationale went.
But I think it was that simple choice that has influenced so much of my life now, in ways I didn't know it would. What I was saying to myself, my husband and even to my child, was that my husband needed more sleep to do his daytime job than I needed to do mine. Which sort of said that his job was more important, needed more concentration, more focus. It sort of told my husband that this whole parenting thing was more my job than his. It sort of gave him permission to be free-er right from the start than I was. It let him off the hook in so many ways.
It's not like it was ALL I knew. My wise sister-in-law had her first baby 2 weeks earlier and she wasn't making the same choice. This was THEIR baby and THEY were going to care for him. I sort of thought her a bit selfish, a bit silly. Why should they BOTH be up in the night? Why not let the one who could sleep sleep?
Well, 5 years, 5 months and 21 days later, the dynamics in that house are very different than the ones in this house. My husband works outside the home A LOT. It's not unusual for him to be gone 10 or 11, sometimes 12 hours a day. And it's not by my choice. He doesn't include me when planning his weekly schedule. He's the breadwinner. This is just what happens, isn't it? Didn't I have 2 choices? To be alone at home with my children OR to work outside the home and leave my children with someone else most of the day?
He pops home unexpectedly in the day and when my excitement plummets upon realization that he's not actually staying, he says things like "well, would it be better if I didn't come home at all then?"
This isn't the life I thought I was choosing that night. I chose to be the primary parent for attachment, but I didn't realize I was choosing years and years of not mattering when it came to actually CHOOSING how I spend my week. Oh, I wouldn't choose to work outside the home. I wouldn't choose to be away from my children. But I WOULD choose for my husband to share the responsibility of household chores, to be home more, to be more in a co-parenting role. I think I thought that choice would expire in, what about 6 months when she started sleeping through the night (LOL!!!) or a year at the most...
We moved out to the Okanagan in pursuit of a simpler life. My husband's job in the big city was demanding too much of him, pulling him away from us on weekends and he didn't feel like he was able to CHOOSE his life. We wanted to be together more. He wanted to be a more involved dad. We were giving up money and prestige in favour of a simpler life.
But did anything really change? He has an 'important' job. It demands long hours and lots of his energy and focus. He chooses to continue in his job. I, by default, am alone a lot with our children. I, because I'm home alone with our children, do all of the laundry, all of the cooking, all of the cleaning (not that there's a whole lot of that that's getting done these days!), all of the food buying and growing, all of the planting, all of the preparation for celebrations, all of the gift-buying/making, and on and on the list goes. Do I CHOOSE this? Well, I guess I do. It all needs to be done and I'm here so I do it. Mostly with joy. Sometimes with resentment. I definitely choose to homeschool our kids. I definitely choose to garden (my life's passion). I definitely choose much of what I do with my time and how I spend my life. But the one thing that seems beyond my control, out of my reach for choosing, is with whom I do all of this. I wouldn't choose to do it alone, as I am now. I would choose to have a co-parent. I would choose to have my own thing on the side, something I can do from home, something I'm passionate about, something that's all mine. I would choose for my husband to work from home as well, at something he's passionate about too. But nobody's asking. Hell, I'm not waiting to be ASKED, I'm sharing my desires/needs/wants but nobody's listening.
And I'm frustrated. Empty too much of the time. Because this most-important job in all the world is truly NOT meant to be done alone. Mothering is meant to be done in a tribe, surrounded by other adults, sharing chores, sharing jobs, sharing passions, having time to oneself as others fill in the gaps, taking up the slack when others need time to themselves... Connection. We are MEANT to be connected. To our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, our children, our HUSBANDS, for &%#@ sake. We are not meant to be disconnected for hours each day. What is the result of disconnection? I think it's monotony. Resentment. Depression. Disconnection takes what should be done in joy and turns it on its head.
It's not the life I choose. Plain and simple. What's to be done about it? In this culture, how do we choose otherwise? Being 'successful' means such a different thing to me than it used to. How do we choose connection in a disconnected culture? How do you do it? Do you feel a true partnership with your husband? How do you manage it? I'd love to hear...


Nicola said...

Phew - much food for thought. When I started reading your post, I found myself agreeing with you about getting up in the night with the baby - after all, you are the one with the breasts! With my first child, I'd sit up in bed, breastfeeding in the middle of the night, tearfully looking at the clock and thinking how much sleep I was missing out on. With the second and third children, they were in our bed from the start and nursing them was simple and we quickly fell asleep again. When they were older and didn't need nursing, it was usually still me who dealt with any night-time sickness. Now, our boys are older and rarely need us during the night, but if they did it would probably be my husband who'd hear them because he's a light sleeper and has super-sharp hearing!

I do feel like my husband and I have a true partnership but this doesn't mean that we share every job. Not so long ago, he surprised me with a rare expression of his feelings around his relationship with the children. He felt like he wasn't needed, wasn't appreciated - I was stunned to hear him say that, and I realised that it's not just women who have these feelings, it's just that we have our sisters or friends with whom we can let it all out and men often don't have that outlet.

Sometimes I feel like I'm taken for granted when I'm doing the dishes or cleaning up another mess, especially when it's evening and the kids might head off outside to play after dinner, and husband has gone off to read his emails. But then I remember that while he has been at work for 10 hours I may have been enjoying a few hours at the park, talking to my friends while the kids play, or I may have done some knitting and been drinking tea while he was driving in heavy traffic to get to his next job, and I realise I don't have it so bad after all.

I am glad that he is earning enough that I don't feel that I have to go out to work. I have a mature, responsible, hardworking husband with whom I have a loving, humorous, teasing relationship, and I remind myself that he's been able to put up with me for the last 20 years, and g*d knows I'm not perfect!!! :o)

I don't feel disconnected. Having the friendship and support of like-minded women, who are really my extended family now, with my own family being thousands of miles away, has been my lifesaver.

Yes, I sometimes feel like it would be really nice to have a family home-based business that all of us could contribute to, and my husband would probably prefer not be an employee with only 2 weeks vacation time a year, and one day I might like to run a yarn store or something, but right now we divide up the chores according to our skills and we have food on the table and a roof over our heads and life really is good.

Wow, you really got me going there. Writing this has made me count my blessings. Thanks for your thoughtful post, Mary Sue.

Andrea said...

Hey, dear friend, sometimes it is hard with young children. It really is. Wonderful and all that but really completely demanding a lot of the time. So, my tribal sister, lets BE a tribe. Really. More than talking. You are tribe to me, let me be tribe to you!