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.)