Friday, May 4, 2012

It Takes Two, Baby

I had an interesting conversation in the comments of my last article, one that I didn't think of - the difference, or possibly lack thereof, between the experiences of men and women when it comes to balancing the various aspects of our lives.

I guess we've been programmed to think that women have it harder when it comes to juggling life's flaming pins. But what if that's all in our heads?

For the last couple of years, I've been comfortable holding off having a child not only because I wanted to wait until I was in a job with more flexibility and a higher salary, but also for a more selfish reason: because I wanted to be the "#1" parent. I wanted to be the parent to whom the baby always goes, the parent physically there for every scrape and every milestone.

But I'm realizing that's not possible. And probably doesn't exist. 

As Mahwish said in a comment on the last article, "Some weeks you're going to focus more on your career than on your family and other weeks it will be the reverse." I agree, because I do want a successful career, and I think it will make me a more fulfilled person and a better parent.

And having two fully engaged, well-rounded parents--who bring unique strengths and methods--will raise a stronger child.

Which means BOTH the Secret Asian Man and I will be making decisions on how we spend our time, decisions we'll make jointly and some we'll make on our own. And there's a lot of recent polling that shows parents in households that will look like mine are splitting the work pretty evenly. Both parents are feeling pressure on how best to balance everything.

What does this come down to, then? I think part of it is the pressure women put on themselves to be the "#1" parent. It's the game many of us have played since college, a battle of who is the busiest and most stressed. It's a destructive game for our mental health. It's also a way to feel in control--if you're the lead parent, it also means you're making more of the decisions, which I think we can all admit has an attraction.

I don't like to overgeneralize--but from personal anecdotes, it seems as though men live more "in the moment." If they're at work, they're focused on their work. If they're reading to their child, they're enjoying reading to their child. It's not that men aren't concerned about the time they're spending at work vs. at home, or about the fact that the house is messy, but they decide when to sit and think about those issues. And many of them still have a particular worry that pings around their head for much of the day, even if they don't show it.

I think women's brains--again, overgeneralizing--run a mile a minute trying to "figure everything out" in their heads. YES there's not enough time in the day. YES the house isn't clean enough, and maybe you could pitch in with that more if you know your husband does more of that (welcome to the Nguyen household). But because to some extent you're choosing to worry about those things while reading to your child, it doesn't make you more burdened than your husband/partner, if in fact both parents are splitting the work evenly.

I tell this to people when they begin wedding planning: many brides-to-be who stress out about their fiances not helping enough with the wedding planning are full of it, if along with the work they also had to split the decisions. My Secret Asian Man was VERY involved in the wedding planning process, and it made me a better person for it. We each used our strengths to work on various tasks, decisions were made by both of us by compromising, and the final product was one that truly came from the both of us.

These future brides want an assistant, not a partner--and isn't a partnership what a marriage and a family are all about?


  1. Great post. And yes it takes both partners to pitch in. It will never be 50/50, but it can come pretty close if the mother just lets go of the control (something we all have issues with!)

    As for the desire to be the #1 parent, I can completely agree with that. It drives me crazy how much she yells out of excitement when my husband comes home but could care less if I'm in the room. It also makes me sad when the nanny or grandma know more about her bowel movements than I do.

    But when she's sick or in pain, all she wants is Mommy. In the middle of the night when she's had a nightmare, all she wants is Mommy. When she falls down and hurts herself, all she wants is Mommy. And that's enough to keep me feeling like parent #1!

    1. It really does come down to control! The Secret Asian Man and I both definitely love to have things done our way (or as we would say, the "right" way), so I know this will be our challenge once we start parenting together. We already have glimpses of it when it comes to the doggies :)

  2. Awesome post! Patrick and I were just talking last night about this. Right now I'm the milk lady, so when he's fussy and he's with me, all he wants to do is nurse. It takes me a long time to calm him down if I'm not in a good place to feed him. But Patrick can just pick him up and bounce him a little and he settles right down. Drives me crazy! But I'm queen of bedtime. Patrick for his life can't get him to sleep anywhere but in his arms. All I have to do is nurse him a little and he's out for 4-5 hours. So we both have our strengths right now. Thank god neither of us has to do it alone!

    1. I LOVE that you're blogging too. Love love love.

      Yes I like the focus on being grateful that there are two parents in the home. I will be a nice mantra for me when I get frustrated - having to give up a little of control is worth it for having a partner in parenting and in life.