The Paradox of Equal Parenting, to a Child of Unequal Parents

29 Nov

I was raised in a home with a detached and self-involved father, and a stay-at-home mother who made me her whole world, and still does to this day.

At the age of 6, I declared that I want to have a career and liked my first boy because he wanted to be either “an astronaut or a house husband”.

I liked him because of the latter. Well – that and the fact he shared his astronaut ice cream with me.

But mostly the “house husband” thing.

These two facts are important to note because they provide the context to throw my internal struggle into brighter relief. Some of you may read this and declare that I’m ungrateful. I am not. Or you may decide that I think stay at home moms don’t have a life outside of mothering. I don’t think that. I am eternally grateful for what I have. I understand that my upbringing was an anomaly and not that norm. But that doesn’t make things simple. Far from it.

Shmerson and I made the decision to move closer to our office (we work at the same company, in drastically different departments with no overlap) a year ago. In July, we finally pulled the trigger and moved a 10 minute walk away from it.

What was once a 4 hour-a-day commute for Shmerson, and a work-from-home most days situation for me, was transformed into something completely different. My schedule didn’t change by much, but being in the thick of things made me reorder priorities, remember that meetings, networking, heels, make-up, and business trips exist. It brought me back to a very ambitious, career-minded place.

This is something I hadn’t truly felt in almost a decade (pretty much since finishing grad school tired and disillusioned).

Shmerson’s schedule changed drastically as well. Instead of coming home at 9pm long after bedtime, he gets home just in time for Bunny’s dinner and bath. Instead of dropping her off quickly at day care each morning so he can catch a train, he usually takes her in her stroller, and literally has time to stop and smell the flowers. He spends the morning with her and drops her off, I pick her up and spend the afternoons with her.

When once I was the dinner-bath-bedtime officer during the week, we now rotate. We split weekends into time where we each have Bunny separately while the other sleeps, rotating chores, and quality family time.

In short – we’re 50/50 parents. As in – we really are. Yes. For reals.

Sure there are discrepancies. I’m usually the one to make and take Bunny to doc appointments. Shmerson is the one who gets her up and ready each morning. I cook and in general plan meals. He clears the table, does dishes and most of the laundry. I do the grocery shopping, he deals with anything involving paperwork, and running morning errands like going to the post office and bank.

In the 15 (!) months since Bunny was born, and especially in the last 4, we have fought, negotiated, and compromised our way into equilibrium. We both have quality time with Bunny, manage to push forward our careers, and even grab some quality time for the two of us, and with friends.

Granted, we don’t sleep much. But we’re pretty much “in the zone.”

We fought hard to reach this place. I’ve wanted it for as long as I can remember. Before I even knew him. This is what I wanted.

Now that I have it – I’m scared out of my mind.

There are days she clearly wants him to comfort her over me.

There are days I have to work late and I barely see her for an hour.

There are mornings I choose sleep and miss something adorable she’s done. Or a new word she said.

There are things he knows about her that I don’t.

Of course, the same thing can be said of him. Of course there are nights he works late. There are words he misses. There are things I know that he doesn’t.

But –

And I’m just going to go right ahead and say this, my women’s studies minor be damned.

But I’m her mother. I’m not supposed to miss things. She’s not supposed to go to anyone but me for comfort. I should be the one putting her hair in pigtails each morning, and in PJs each night.

This is what a mother does. A mother gives everything to her daughter.

This is the only world that I know.

And now I’m living in one where that isn’t true.

I know I’m modeling a wonderful, respectful and balanced relationship for her.

I know I’m demonstrating ambition, and being a strong independant woman and all that good stuff.

I know that making myself happy is critical to keeping her happy.

I know having two parents that are involved is GOOD FOR HER.

But it goes against what I experienced. It goes against what I grew up on. My mother is my whole world because she was always there, and still is.

Will Bunny feel the same way about me? I want her to more than anything else. And I’m deathly afraid that she won’t.

Every day, logic and experience are in a constant tug of war.

Of course she’ll always love me. I’m her mother, and I’m a good mother.

But I’m not there 24/7. I’m not always her soft place to fall.

That’s good. That means she has multiple soft places to fall.

But I want it to be ME. That’s the way it’s SUPPOSED TO BE.

No. It’s just what you were raised on. It can and should be different, and for her – it is different.

What if she hates me because I’m not always there?

She will always love you, you are her mother.

Yes, but I’ve chosen to be other things as well.


At the age of six, I thought I knew what being an ambitious woman with no desire to stay at home meant.

At the age of 34, I’m starting to realize that it isn’t as simple as I thought it would be.

8 Responses to “The Paradox of Equal Parenting, to a Child of Unequal Parents”

  1. Steph Mignon November 29, 2014 at 06:55 #

    I too have struggled with these same issues… only my daughter is 7-months old, and I have only been at my job for 4 months now. After some serious back and forth, I recently decided to quit said job, or drastically alleviate my involvement so that I’m only available from home and for emergency projects. In the meantime, I’ll work on my unfinished novel and be that “stay-at-home” mommy I never thought I’d want to be. When we looked at our finances and realized that I don’t have to work right now for us to make ends meet, the guilt and sadness of missing out on those moments versus the gratification I get from spending most of my time outside of the home, left me with an easy choice. I want to be home. And I can be. At least until we can’t afford it anymore or until she begins kindergarten. Will it still bother me that my husband is left footing the bill of my student loan debt? That I’m not putting my graduate education to work at full throttle? That I’m not able to mindlessly spend on things like shoes and bags and Pilates? I’m sure I’ll have my moments, but this is only temporary (because if all goes as planned, little girls grow up!). And I’ll get small projects here and there for extra cash, with forays into fiction writing to keep me mentally stimulated. Because when I look back at my life, I know I’ll regret it if I make any other choice. I have lost sleep over this. I have talked ad nasium with hubby about this. And I have cried about this. But I am finally at peace with, and so very excited about, my decision to be home with my baby girl as much as possible. SORRY FOR THE RANT! This just hits so close to home right now.

    I don’t know what your financial situation is etc., but honestly, it sounds like you guys have a very awesome thing going! (My job had wildly unpredictable hours that just weren’t working for us). And I love how you put it – that Bunny has many soft places to land – that’s beautiful and so precious. Nothing, however, can change the fact that you are Bunny’s one and only mama. She will love you unconditionally no matter what because you are you!

  2. findmynewnormal November 29, 2014 at 17:03 #

    That’s Mommy guilt for you. Hang in there, you’re doing a great job.

  3. Ms. Future PharmD November 29, 2014 at 19:41 #

    Mommy guilt is the pits. My spouse and I are similarly pretty equal in household operations overall but my spouse is far in the lead in terms of hours of childcare so I get blown off by the girls reasonably often when they want comforting. I remember my elder kid needing an x-ray and we were both there and my spouse just carried her off to get it done. I had the worst time letting go of my need to be her security person, but I did and it has gotten easier over the last 5 years since then. I keep reminding myself that it is my programming talking and that I am actively trying to reprogram my life so it will keep being a series of choices I need to make to keep things equal. Good work you for making the effort even when it’s hard!

    • Mo November 29, 2014 at 19:49 #

      Thanks for this. I feel so much better knowing I’m not alone. 🙂

  4. robin November 30, 2014 at 22:53 #

    I am a stay at home mom and I’d say, when both parents are home, 95% of the time they want comfort from my husband and not me. It hurts but there it is. I am with them all day and all night, there is hardly a minute away from me (though now they are in school for 6 hours a week, so there is some time away). I kiss every boo boo, hug hug hug all day, tickles, snuggles, and I put them to bed for every nap and bedtime. And yet they go to my husband when he’s around, sometimes shoving me away and crying in my face. Supposedly this is a phase, or I don’t know what. But being a stay at home mom doesn’t guarantee the kind of relationship you are describing, being the only one for comfort. We all have the guilt, you are doing a good job. 🙂

  5. pjsarecomfyn December 1, 2014 at 05:30 #

    I think every mother struggles with something. No matter if you stay at home or work. We love to torture ourselves with worry if we are around too little or smother them too much, etc. I like to dumb it down to the basic human level: am I keeping them alive to continue the human race? Chances are that everything beyond that isn’t that big of a deal in the long run 🙂 you love her and care for her and that is what matters.

  6. TeeJay December 2, 2014 at 17:03 #

    In my opinion, it seems like Bunny IS your everything and therefore you will be her everything. Every decision you have made and everything you do is for HER. Even if it is in a round-about way, it’s for HER. Mommy Guilt is real and it’s the worst. You have a good thing going and I truly believe that Bunny will be a very well rounded and well adjusted adult because of the time and attention she gets from both of her parents. I understand your feelings because I’m a working mom, too. Daycare gets the best hours of my child’s life and I miss everything. It sucks. Work is a necessary evil and I plan on letting my daughter know just how I feel about going to work instead of spending time with her. You are doing a great job of balancing work and caring for your child. Try not to let the guilt overwhelm you.

  7. fromheretomotherhood December 16, 2014 at 22:46 #

    Although your thoughts are very normal, I can tell you that I grew up with a mother who is also a doctor. She was a wonderful mother, but she couldn’t always be available when I wanted her to be. I grew up realizing that women can be professionals. I looked up to my mother for her job. As I got older, I also realized that she is a phenomenal mother and I hoped I could pull it off, both motherhood and career, as well as she did. I don’t think I could love my mother more. I’m sure that Bunny will hold you as her hero as well.

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