I had a wealth of fears about becoming a new mom when I was pregnant.
Would the baby be healthy? Would I be able to make her happy? How would my life change? How would my relationship change? What if..? How, how how?
What I didn’t expect was how isolating it can feel.
See, we’re one of the first in our friend group to have a baby. And though that comes with a wealth of benefits – our friends come to us, they have more attention for Adeline – it’s still nice to have friends who are going through what you’re going through.
So Marco and I began to expand our social engagements to meet other parents. That’s how we found ourselves at an odd but not unpleasant dinner with some acquaintances and their 2-year-old, with the father explaining to us the ways of the world. Or, err, his world.
“Because let’s get real Marco, we’re just the dad. We’re never going to be the one the kid is searching out. And it makes sense,” he continued. “I mean it’s the mom who feeds him and changes him. She does everything, am I right?!”
Marco and I glanced at each other… How to answer our particular truth — that this acquaintance’s description was absolutely not the case for us — without emasculating Marco and making me seem like a degenerate mom?
Because it’s not like that for us. Because in our household we both take care of the emotional labor.
Hold your hate mail: I’m not saying we’re perfect. What I am saying is that Marco is as involved and present in childrearing and managing the household as I am and that Adeline seeks him out as much as she seeks me.
If I go out with friends for an evening, I’m not fretting the entire time because my husband doesn’t know his daughter’s bedtime routine or because she has a slight fever and absolutely needs me. I know he can handle it all just as much as I can, because he does.
And why shouldn’t it be that way? We both work outside of the house so we both work inside of it as well.
… But we can’t seem to find any other parent friends who can say the same thing….
In one way or another, all I see is women doing the vast majority of the childcare work.
Listen, I’m only speaking from my personal, and extremely limited, experience. If anyone actually ever commented on this blog I’m sure there would be someone who could say “that’s not true in my case!” or “you’re an idiot!” but my sense of isolation comes from the fact that this is true for me.
And I’m probably not the only one.
The female employment rate in Italy has grown – nearly 50% of Italian women work outside the home – but it is still the second lowest rate in all of Europe, and women in Italy with children are still doing over an hour more of work per day than her partner.
“All this comes at a cost to women’s well-being, as mothers forgo leisure time, professional ambitions and sleep,” reports a New York Times article on modern day motherhood and “good dads”.
And I believe it.
Marco’s support was the only thing that held me together during the wee hours of infant care, and yet. And yet. “Do you feel exceptional?!” I leveled at him post-play date. “Do all these lazy dads make you feel exceptional?!”
Poor guy, he didn’t see it coming. But I’m not sorry.
See, if I raise my daughter, if I make her a special meal then give her a bath and change her and clean her nose and cut her nails and read her a book and rock her to sleep then go back and do the dishes I’m not considered exceptional. I don’t get a special mention in conversation.
I’m just considered a mom.
And yet so many new fathers can get a pass because their own fathers never cooked a meal in their life or changed a diaper or talked to their kids until they hit puberty. “Look!” they say, “just look how much better we are than the last generation!”
After a play date with a new friend, Marco and I both lamented the fact that in the end we weren’t able to talk with the other mom at all. She was busy with her child the entire time (though we tried to help) and the conversation was stunted.
Whether women are doing more because it’s expected of them, because they want the control, even subconsciously, or because there is no other option, I seem to be the only mom who is able to sit down at times because my husband takes turns with me.
It’s impossible not to notice how many other fathers do so, so much less childrearing.
It’s not a polemic, but a simple observation, a modern day conversation, a necessary thing to notice for progressive parents.
“I know I want kids one day,” a close friend told me, “I just can’t imagine taking the leap to actually having them and all the extra work that goes along with that.”
That’s because the only examples we’ve ever had show how difficult being a mother is for a working woman.