When I Was (Briefly) The Husband

A job change and a role change.


May 24, 2016

A little more than two years ago, I decided that our family had had enough. We moved, I started a new job.

I made my own life and happiness a priority. And, inadvertently, I became a husband.

Mary Churchill has written before about needing a wife, more specifically a faculty wife, in order to take care of all of the other things and leave space for necessarily deep and undistracted thought. While Mary praised her partner, she also noted the imperfection of the organization of responsibilities:

He is not me because he is not simultaneously attempting to make grocery lists, read the latest book from Hardt and Negri, write up research, prepare for meetings, finish conference papers, respond to urgent emails, unpack and wash the laundry from vacation, decide what to make for dinner, and have engaging conversations with his son on topics ranging from volcanoes and the rules of chess to the Spanish names of fruit and why we should use our words rather than our fists.

I was, for so long, the wife, and more specifically, the trailing spouse. This was my choice, or rather, our choice, our compromise, our decision. But it came with consequences for my career and for my role in the family. I was not on the tenure-track, and so the priority was for the person who was; this is the goal, and we all worked in tandem to get there.

The move corresponded with the filing of the tenure portfolio. My career change led to a more inflexible work schedule, and so much of the running around with and for the kids shifted. Plus, I was now, for the first time, making more money, too. I became the back-up parent, rather than the default parent.

I didn’t stop being mom, but I was able to let go of a lot of the stress that came with coordinating schedules and ensuring they were where they needed to be when they needed to be there with what they needed to be there with. I was working with great people, provided space for collaboration, on top of the mental and emotional space to do the work I most wanted to do.

Fast-forward to today. Another move, another new job, another readjustment to the roles and responsibilities. I’m back to being wife and mother, primary caregiver, because of the demands of his job and a long commute. I’m finding the transition difficult, because, honestly, it was such a relief to occupy the “traditional” space of husband.

This transition, admittedly, has been hard on everyone, with my kids being upended and taken out of school half-way through the year, a mere 18 months after their last move. There has been the stress of my spouse finding a new job, and then starting said job outside of academia. And my own career transition has been rockier than anticipated, as all major life changes are.

We’ve been working to take care of each other and support one another. I read Mary’s conclusion:

Perhaps it is neither the end of men nor the end of deep thinking. Instead, perhaps it is the end of privileging a narrow masculinist way of acting and thinking. Perhaps the focus has switched from an extremely competitive version of individualism focused on winning at all costs to a multi-tasking collaborative version of teamwork, focused on developing creative solutions.

However, perhaps it is the end of “man and wife.”

It’s not the end of man and wife, unfortunately. While I don’t long for a wife, momentarily, in my weaker moments, I wish I could go back to being the husband. I’ve been seduced by a narrow masculinist way of acting and thinking.

But how seductive it was.



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