J and I went to a Remembrance Day ceremony in his neighbourhood yesterday. His neighbourhood is “cool” and I was absolutely struck by the number of children running about in a park in the middle of the city. Where had they all been hiding? (J’s astute observation: “They’re like fleas on a corpse!”).
The couple in front of us stood, each holding an identically clothed baby. Twins fascinate me and I’ll admit that I spent a significant amount of time watching the babies rather than the ceremony. Here’s how it went:
- Baby one pukes down Dad’s arm. Mom cleans it up.
- Baby two pukes down Mom’s arm. Dad cleans it up.
- (Repeat several times)
- Mom and Dad realize that they have run out of things to wipe the puke up with. Puke begins to accumulate on their clothing.
- Baby two begins to cry. (He seemed like a bit of an ass anyways).
- Baby one decides this seems like a good idea and joins in.
- Mom and Dad smile good naturedly and push their mammoth stroller through the crowd, wailing babies silencing as the movement lulls them, heading home to, I hope though doubt, wash off all that puke.
It was an exhausting scene that, while I’ll admit I felt a tug towards, made me thankful to be there without children.
Children are hard work.
I am currently reading Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter and, barely into the book, came across the following statement:
This is the dirty little secret that women leaders who come together in places like Fortune magazine’s annual Most Powerful Women Summit don’t talk about: the necessity of a primary caregiver spouse.
I think it is interesting and refreshing to see this fact acknowledged in such a blatant way. The idea that family requires sacrifice and time isn’t an idea that is comfortable for many of us.
Women have generally been expected to take on this unacknowledged role.
Isn’t that what we have seen for generations and generations of men? Watching the recent Canadian elections I was struck by the wives standing next to our party leaders – coiffed, suited and smiling they provided the backdrop to his success. I experienced a momentary discomfort watching these women. Did their lives simply revolve around him and his career?
As we see more and more women in our parliament (26% is still seems low, does it not?) will we see an increasing number of men standing behind these women?
Will we see the man behind the woman? (And will he be wearing a perfect Jackie O style suit?).
Slaughter is saying that one partner needs to be the primary caregiver not that the female partner needs to be that person.
We want to “have it all” but careers are fickle. If you both need to work 15 hour days to climb up the ladder you so want to climb… Who picks up puking kids from school, shop-lifting teens from the police station, takes out a bullied kid for lunch so that they can have a break from their peers?
Someone needs to.
And as much as we can hire away some of this (if we are in the lucky income bracket where that is possible), children need their parents.
I’ll also acknowledge here that some people seem to make this work. I wouldn’t be able to so I’m speaking for me and people like me.
As much as we want to “have it all” sometimes someone has to make the sacrifice so that the other can follow their path. Two people can only make it work if they are willing to grow with one another. This doesn’t mean that everyone always gets everything that they want.
I never doubted that I would be the primary caregiver in whatever family I eventually created. Having kids seemed like fun, like I would enjoy it. It was expected that I would have kids but my desire for them goes beyond that. I want kids. This reality, however, was ever present in my choices as a young adult. I constantly self-monitored my education and career decisions with the question: “how will this work with a family?”.
I’m lucky. I love my job and, while I may have landed somewhere different had I self-monitored in a different way, I am happy with where I am.
While I can’t ignore the fact that my expectations, my “I should”, had a massive impact but I’m not sure that it matters.
I’ll continue in a career that I love, a career that will work with a family. I will write in my spare time. I will sing a little bit. I’ve got some pretty simple needs.
If my needs become bigger I’ll hope that I have a partner who is willing to sacrifice for me.
Can’t we plan to say: “I’ll take on the bulk of this so you can do that”?
We take a leap of faith when we choose a partner that growing together is going to be possible. We hopefully know and accept that both people will change. That we will have to roll with some punches. That we will have to give something of ourselves up.
It is dangerous to think we don’t have to, or shouldn’t have to, sacrifice something to have a family.
It is dangerous to think of sacrifice as something that is inherently bad?