Alternate Family ArrangementsBabiesPoly Families

Be Glad Your Housespouse Isn’t Union

About a month ago, Renee went back to work.

I’ve taken on 20 hours a week of being the stay at home “dad” to Tom on top of most of my housekeeping duties. I really like my mornings with Tom. Even when he’s being completely inconsolable, filling diapers so quickly I’m not sure how he doesn’t look like a squeezed toothpaste tube, or just sleeping the whole time like a limp rag, I enjoy that bit of time that’s just us. However, I also know part of the reason I love our time so much is that it ends after five hours. I get to hand him back when Renee gets home from work and trundle upstairs to do some writing, take a nap, or just save a galaxy far, far away from those Sith jerkfaces.

I’ve already written about our family’s arrangement, how I’m the househusband, and how we keep track of things because I lack some of the benefits like health insurance or a retirement plan that I would be co-building as a legally married househusband. From the moment Renee discovered she was pregnant, we knew that the kid was going to have some pretty profound effects on the delicate equilibrium we’d established. Even if Renee didn’t want to go back to work, I would be working harder and longer to keep things clean. My daily patrols now include play mats, tiny socks, more silicone than a Good Vibrations outlet and even the occasional dirty diaper forgotten in a moment of some horrible panic.

It’s almost like kids can be messy or something.

Even though we’ve long since given up on tracking hours to the minute or totaling up grocery shopping receipts, in favor of that sense that we’re all just family, when we dropped 20 hours of babysitting into the mix, everybody kind of knew we should at least have a rough sense of how many hours I was going over that balance point. And one of the things Renee wanted to keep a careful eye on was the “Forty Hour” Rubicon. She knows I write and teach and might like to play a video game or read a book once in a while, and she doesn’t want to take advantage of my willingness to help.

“A full time job is enough,” she said. “Beyond that we’re taking advantage of you.”

I’ve been the househusband for my family for nine years. I’ve felt all the clichés of under appreciation. William and Renee have wondered why it takes me so long to clean up, and I’ve been in their face that fairies don’t flit into the living room and clean up their abandoned dishes and discarded socks. There’s a reason the unappreciated housewife is a cliché of TV and movies.

I still had no fucking CLUE how fast 40 hours would come and go once kids were in the mix. Some weeks we hit it by Thursday. I often have to stop doing housekeeping chores by the weekend so I have a couple of “banked” hours in case Renee and William need an emergency babysitting session. Dishes have sat in the sink for days because I hit my limit early on Friday. I often warn them as soon as Wednesday that I’m already getting close.

The kicker is, I don’t even watch Tom all that much. Five hours a day for four days a week while Renee is at work is all that’s certain. I’m often tapped to help out in the case of a social engagement or just an “hour of solitude,” but I get to give him back. I don’t have midnight feedings or dawn changing or colicky nights. I don’t put the baby down for a nap and then rush to try to clean all the things before he wakes up or strap him into his bouncer with some toys and ignore him unless he’s really screaming because I just have to get some dishes done. If I were a full-time stay-at-home parent who also cooked and cleaned, I’d be cruising up around 100+ hours a week without even breaking a sweat—well, okay, I’d probably break quite a few sweats, but hitting that many hours would be easy.

The claims that “motherhood is a noble (even sacred) job” are oft repeated despite all evidence to the contrary. Devaluing jobs traditionally held by women isn’t anything new in our society, but there is still a sense that a family’s bread winner is doing the “real” work. It is a sobering experience to realize just how much devaluing has gone on when it comes to child rearing. While most families find a way to divide the labor without ever feeling the need to track hours, because of my family’s quirky circumstance, we inadvertently attached that inequity to actual numbers.

And those numbers are shocking.

What I discovered is so starkly imbalanced, that the absurdity of “traditional” roles is breathtaking. A traditional father putting his feet up and refusing to pitch in because he “worked all day” should probably be aware, according to US labor laws, his wife should be getting about 60 hours of overtime.

Per week.

So while a modern family is more likely to flip gender roles, share responsibilities, and approach equity, it might still be worth looking at the clock…just to check.

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chrisbrecheen

chrisbrecheen

Chris lives with his girlfriend and her husband in a polyamorous family. On Friday Dec 6th, 2013, the married couple had a darling boy. Not "dad" but so much more than "Uncle Chris" he spends much of his time either trying to figure out the boundaries between parent/not-parent or navigating a world ill equipped to deal with non traditional families. When he's not trying to be a grounded parent, he teaches English as a second language and maintains his own blog about writing (chrisbrecheen.blogspot.com).

7 Comments

  1. May 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm —

    It’s crazy isn’t it? With a childminder, a cleaner, barely any cooking to do, and a dishwasher (how much more advantaged can you get?) and not too high standards I still spend several hours each weekday on housework (more on weekends). Plus there is admin and all the other to-do that would require one or two extra hours per day. I never imagined this amount of housework can exist! And I intentionally didn’t include actual childcare.

    • May 22, 2014 at 6:16 am —

      By the way does this arrangement mean you are becoming an official co-parent? If so, that’s great news 🙂

      • May 22, 2014 at 1:56 pm —

        Unfortunately the current arrangement is a bit of stop gap. We’re not sure where things are going from there. I would personally prefer to have retirement funds and health insurance taken care of and not worry about going over forty hours, but for now we codify those transactions.

  2. May 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm —

    I love this post! As a SAHM, the only thing more annoying than being asked, “what do you *do* all day?” is the fact that my brain can never come up with an answer. I don’t know…I wake up and do stuff and all of the sudden it’s bedtime and then I wake up and do it all again. The only way I can keep doing what I do is that my husband never asks me that question, and appreciates all that I do (even if the only thing that gets done is that the kids are still alive at the end of the day).

    • May 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm —

      Sometimes I swear Renee JUST left a few minutes ago when she comes home from work. And the kids not dying is a bigger accomplishment than most people appreciate.

    • May 25, 2014 at 2:01 am —

      I agree! I can never answer that either. I think my second most annoying SAHM mom comment is “why don’t you. . .you have time” because apparently I have tons of extra time to do all this extra stuff because I’m not clocking in somewhere.

  3. May 25, 2014 at 2:07 am —

    “It’s almost like kids can be messy or something.” A year and a half into our whole having kids thing, we are only JUST getting the hang of this. It turns out that kids at home cause messes in the house that kids in daycares don’t–or at least I don’t have the daycare’s night time cleaning crew on staff to clean up after them. You’d think this would have been an easy concept, but it caused so much friction until at some point a flip switched and my husband just started walking in from work and picking up toys as he worked his way through the house. Since that tacit acknowledgment that we’re in this tidying up after toddlers thing together, things have been better.

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