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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Motherhood After Tenure: Switching Roles, or, How I Turned into Archie Bunker
April 29, 2010 - 8:24am

As I have mentioned before, my husband quit his job in January, making me the official “breadwinner” and reversing the traditional gender roles in our household. Although I welcomed the challenge of living on less and providing our daughter with a less conventional model of marriage, the transition has been more frustrating and, well … humbling than I had imagined.

When my husband and I were both working full-time, my flexible academic schedule meant that I took on more of the childcare and housework. Of course, as we all know, being a professor is (at least) a full time job, so I was constantly playing catch up and feeling guilty that I wasn’t accomplishing more. Part of that is the nature of academic work: teaching and scholarship projects are never really “done” and academics never feel that they are off the clock. And of course, the more time you spend with a child/at home, the more “expert” you become and therefore the more indispensible. My daughter wanted me after a bad dream and my husband constantly asked me where her mittens were in the morning. I felt stretched and resentful at times, but my husband was working hard and “helped out” as much as he could, so I took anti-anxiety medication and counted my blessings that we both had jobs.

When my husband quit his job I was nervous, but mostly thrilled. I was tired of the demands of his job, of him coming home drained. Finally, I thought, he won’t be giving all of his energy and time to his job! I also assumed that the balance of housework and childcare would shift, and I would have the luxury of devoting myself to my career. Growing up in the 70s, I remember the professor-dads whose wives managed households and children, leaving them free to focus on their important projects. Strangely, although they taught less than I do today, no one called their schedules “flexible” and I don’t remember many of them picking up kids after school. They were always in their studies and we kids were told to keep our noise down and not bother them. When I was a kid, I thought these professor dads were boring and crabby. Now I want to be one. Leave me alone while I do my important work and have my dinner on the table.

However, -- surprise, surprise -- my fantasies of having a househusband who’d cheerfully manage all of the mundane tasks did not jibe with my husband’s desire to throw himself into his new-found passion for photography and start his own business. What we had was a problem in communication and some unexamined expectations on both sides. I had fallen into the trap of assuming that since I was making the money, I was the only one working.

My husband did not quit his job because he wanted to do more housework or even spend more time with our daughter; his priority was his new venture and he seemed to spend more time working than when he was employed. While he occasionally admired the well-run, beautiful homes of some of our SAHM friends, I’m not sure my husband really understood the labor involved in creating and maintaining them. I guess I was hoping he would turn into one of them.

Unfortunately, we let resentments simmer until the inevitable explosion occurred. I don’t think he had any idea how much I’d been doing all these years. I didn’t know how much my support for his new career meant to him. And I guess neither one of us wants to be a housewife.

So now we’re back to forging a partnership, one in which each of us does meaningful work and no one waters the plants. I can live with that.

 

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