I should start this by giving credit where credit is due; my husband, Ian, is the main caregiver in our household. It’s hard for me to acknowledge that, but it’s true. And he’s good at it. If I’m being honest, I should also admit that he’s better at it than me.
Being a public school teacher has allowed my husband to care for our boys in ways that many parents wish they could. He is home full time with them for holidays, spring breaks and summers. I remain in a constant state of gratitude for the gift of not panicking about summer camps, baby sitters or reduced work schedules when they are out of school.
Each year, the summer of Dad brings with it an exercise for me in releasing control and letting my husband run the household in the way that is best for him. We’re ten years into this, and I’ve come to notice a distinct cycle to our summer.
In the first weeks of summer, we see so much potential to accomplish a long list of dreams now that Ian is home full time. I am happy to be able to leave for work as early as I want and not be compromised by the bus being late or lunch boxes left behind. The weeks ahead seem full of possibility as I think of all the doctor and dentist appointments we can schedule that won’t require me to miss work. Ian and the boys are also full of energy and dreaming up their summer plans. There’s a schedule, there are chores, and some years there’s even a binder with lesson plans and fun names of the week like “Make it Monday” where they build something and “Take a Trip Tuesday” where they go somewhere fun. And every summer, we are definitely going to make them math prodigies so that they go back to school a grade ahead.
There comes a point each summer when I realize I’ve been demoted. The boys want Dad. All decisions come with “But Dad said we could!” I no longer have a say in the rules because Dad is in charge and the boys know how to work the system. But in the early stages of my demotion, I gladly hand over the torch and leave for work to enjoy my coffee and a quiet drive. I willingly play second fiddle and revel in a moment of less parenting pressure.
I’m not second fiddle material. By mid-summer, I start to get jealous as I sit at dinner and hear stories about their day. I fight the busy schedule by protesting that the boys should not be in two activities each. Why? Because it doesn’t leave time for me. Because every day I come home from work and rush off to a baseball game or swim meet. I’m being cheated of a spontaneous summer because all the fun stuff happens while I’m at work. I’M FUN TOO YOU KNOW!! No one seems to hear me.
Something flips and I go on summer vacation in my mind. The house is so quiet. No one is getting up early anymore. Does anyone want to get up and have coffee with Mommy? No? Ok, I’ll wait a while to see if anyone wakes up. The clock edges past the time I usually leave and I find myself unloading the dishwasher. Fifteen minutes past my usual departure time and I’m making pancakes for the sleeping bunch hoping the sound of pots and pans will wake someone up. I’ve adopted their slow speed because I want a summer too. My habitually early self has turned into a chronically late product of the summer of Dad.
There’s only so much one household can take. By early August we are all starting to feel the effects of the summer. The binders are collecting dust, and the dreams of making the boys math prodigies have been crushed as we realize we are probably sending them back to school dumber than they left. We still need to get them to the dentist but memories of how busy the school year feels encourages us to sleep in just that much longer. I start craving companions that have some urgency in their day and have somewhere to go. The boys start complaining about me going to work because they see me leaving every day. They used to leave before me, but now the fact that Mom leaves and Dad doesn’t is front and center. I’m an outlier to the summer of Dad and I want to get back to normal so I fit in again. We’ve all surrendered to the summer as we realize we cannot sustain this unstructured lifestyle. When does school start?
The dynamic of my husband being the main caregiver for our children has become the foundation of our family. His willingness to get them off the bus every day, start their homework, put dinner on the table and care for them full time on breaks has given me opportunities to develop my career in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. My friend pointed out the other day that I have the privilege of not feeling guilty for working because of the type of partner I have. She’s totally right.
Having a reliable partner in the caregiving of our children is a non-negotiable for working moms. A spouse, a family member, a friend – regardless of who it is, it’s a piece of the puzzle that needs to be in place in order to make life work. There is also power in the women around us who are trying to balance their lives around parenting. Our hope here at MotherBoard is that we can cultivate another channel of support so that every woman has the ability to thrive both personally and professionally…and make it through the summer.