A good friend of ours has always been ambitious. For years he worked in high-tech, was very successful, made a lot of money, started his own business, etc. After a disagreement with his partners he decided to leave the company and took the summer off. His wife kept working so he became Mr. Mom. He was dedicated to it and took great care of his kids, and he adores his little girls. But he admitted to Dave that he really just didn’t feel fulfilled. He was happy to be with his kids but at some point he felt like saying, Just leave me alone!
Now when a father says this type of stuff, we agree with him. Naturally, he’s made for more and has ambitions that can’t be fulfilled staying home with the kids. Hmm. What happens when a mom feels this way?
I told Dave the fact is a great deal of child care is grunt work. No one wants to cook, clean, feed, pick up after, wash, and generally meet the constant needs of small tyrants. But still, that work is left to moms because, well, why? We bear them? Because dads’ roles in life are so much more important than ours? Because it is man’s work to be out providing for us? Because they need – and somehow deserve – something more in order to feel fulfilled?
Maybe it’s because a woman is better able to tolerate squashing her feelings and needs down somewhere in the pit of her stomach until her children are grown (or she forgets they’re there). Or we simply won’t accept a lower standard of care for our kids. When I told Pam I was afraid that if something happened to me that Dave wouldn’t be able to do it all, she calmly said, “They’d be fine. They’d be wild boys running around with dirty hair and ripped-up clothes, but they’d be fine.”
I remember when I first went back to work after having kids and was struggling with the balancing act. How I felt like I did most of the work most of the time, but what I heard from friends and relatives was, “What a great dad Dave is! He does SO much!” Really? So howcome I’m not a GREAT mom because I do SO much!?
As usual I called Pam for help. What she said was so true that I wrote it on a scrap of paper (and it was exactly where I’d left it the last time I went to look at it). She said, “There is an acceptance of dad for who he is – mom doesn’t get that.” Meaning, acceptance for who she is. What if she hates cooking and cleaning too?
So it’s OK for dad to say “Just leave me alone!” when he comes home from being out at work all day. Let me be clear, I’m not bashing my husband or dads in general. I adore my husband and he is a wonderful man, father, and partner.
What I’m getting at is this: it’s assumed that mom will do most of the child care and if she doesn’t she’s negligent. While if dad occasionally folds the laundry on top of his quest for personal fulfillment outside the home, he’s seen as a Really Great SuperDad.
And I hope that the dads may understand why, when they come home looking for a little love and attention, that after a long day of being alone with the kids, their wife might say…
…wait for it…
“Just leave me alone!”