Can't I be the "dad"?
October 24, 2012 8:37 PM   Subscribe

My SO wants kids and would make a great dad. The trick is, I don't want to be "the mom."

While I've always recoiled at the notion of having children, I realized recently that what I actually recoil at is the notion of being "the mom" -- the primary caretaker, the default "school wardrobe" shopper, the doctor-appointment scheduler, the discipline enforcer. In short, I fear becoming the unhappy overworked person that my mother was when I was growing up. I feel resentful of my SO just thinking about this prospective future. (Totally insane, I know. I don't act on it, I promise!)

A a friend gently pointed out recently, maybe my resistance to having children is shaped by the fact that my mom WAS so unhappy being the primary caretaker. This friend asked me, "What if you woke up tomorrow as a man?" My answer surprised me, I realized I would be totally enthusiastic to have the traditional dad role. To help out a great deal, but not to be THE main caretaker, the one responsible for all the little details.

Unfortunately, I am a woman. And while my partner is progressive, he was also raised in a household where parenting roles hewed pretty close to the social norm (even though his mom and mine are both career women). And although SO and I are both smart, sensitive people who communicate extremely well, I worry that we'd slip into the examples of our parents, not least because those examples are constantly reinforced by society at large.

Did any other Mefites have similar reservations when it came time to consider spawning? How did you work through them? Did you involve your partner in your efforts to reenvision what childrearing would mean? Have you and your partner succeeded in ensuring that you approach childraising in an egalitarian way -- or in a way that puts the role of "primary caretaker" on the man? If so, how did you do this? What groundwork do you recommend??

I apologize if the question seems open-ended. I'm starting to feel a great deal of internal pressure about this. I know that if I decide never to have kids, I should end this relationship, because it wouldn't be fair to him otherwise. But it has become clear to me that it's not kids I dread, but traditional American motherhood. And so I'm looking to hear from women who maybe understand that fear, and have found ways to address and work through everything that it entails.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you only want female responses, but two datapoints here from a guy: I have 2 kids, soon to be 3. My wife loves staying at home. I love going to work and coming home to see my family at lunch and after work. One of my best friends has 4 kids. His wife works full time, and he stays at home full time with the kids. They've managed to make it work really well. So there's nothing stopping you guys from making the decision to have him stay at home and you work, if that's what you both want.
posted by Happydaz at 8:44 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have similar concerns about being "the dad". I want to be as involved as my partner is with looking after my kids emotional well-being, and I don't want to be in the position of having to be the sole breadwinner, especially not having a job which means I have very limited time to spend with the kids.

It's something we've talked a lot about, and will continue to talk about as we get closer to being in a position to actually have kids.

I think you're going about this the right way - talking to your partner, and making it very clear what you both want out of your parental roles is absolutely the right thing to do.

You're right that the way US society is structured makes this more difficult. Other countries with longer parental leave, more balanced parental leave, and better social support structures for healthcare and education have less issues with this, I think.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:44 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have two sisters who are traditional and conservative, who married traditional, conservative men, yet both convinced their husbands to take on the primary care role. A huge factor is that everyone involved believed in having a stay-at-home parent and for various reasons (financial and otherwise), in both marriages, it made more sense for the dad to be the stay-at-home parent. So, I think it's certainly possible for you. But if you're not planning on having one stay-at-home parent, I think some blurring of the lines will occur and it could be more difficult.
posted by zanni at 8:48 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Breastfeeding aside, I think that there are some things women tend to do better than men - multitask, nurture, worry...

So while yes, a man can be the stay-at-home parent, even amongst my very progressive friends, a lot falls on mom. This includes my own home.
posted by k8t at 8:56 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have the exact same concerns you do. My decision is it remain child free, potentially becoming a foster parent when things are more stable if the desire to parent over takes me.

Of the people close to me that have kids, it appears almost impossible to not take on a higher percentage of child care as a woman. It starts with being the only one who can breast feed (if you go that route), which tends to mean the child demands you over the father simply from viewing you as the comforter.

The only relationships I know of where the father takes even half of the work load is when he's the stay at home Dad, and the mother has returned to full time work within a few months of giving birth.

And, as mentioned above, if your SO died you'd be doing 100 percent of the parenting. Another reason I won't be giving birth, I am actively interested in never being a single mom. Kids deserve someone who would move mountains for them, not resentful adults who don't want to put the child's physical and emotional health before their own.
posted by Dynex at 8:58 PM on October 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

I have two friends that are stay at home dads. The couples both spouses had good paying jobs, but in both cases for different reasons, they chose to have the female keep working and the dad take the traditional stay at home mom role. Both fathers cooked meals, shopped for food and clothing, went to parent-teacher meetings, drove car pools to soccer practice, etc. Both now have high schooler or older.

Both couples and all four children are the most well adjusted people in town. I have no idea how it worked internally within the marriage, but I never heard a complaint about their roles from any of the four.

With my family, I either was able to get home reasonably early or worked from home. I gladly took on many of the duties of what would be considered the traditional US stay at home mom. It turns out that for many issues we split along gender lines. It is much easier for me to shop for clothes for my boys than for or with my daughter. Even things like watching TV or movies often split along gender lines as they got older. My boys wanted to watch cars and shoot 'em up while my daughter, not so much. But, as they became teens, it swung back to group activities.

As infants, as the young rope-rider points out, I was at a disadvantage because they were breast fed for around 8 months each. However, when not feeding, I would, on weekends and from the time I came home, change diapers, take them for strolls, pack em in the car and take them to relatives ' houses and run errands.

Fwiw, when my ex and I got divorced, we split custody and habitation time 50-50. I had the kids for a week then she had em for a week, etc.

My point is that it can be done. What I think is most important is clearly deciding the plan well in advance of having the kid. And, recognize that once little anonymouse is born, your wants and desires may change. Kids change your life and perspective in so many unexpected and unexplained ways.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:02 PM on October 24, 2012

You can't fathom the responsibility until you have one, and this crazy mothering instinct kicks in, and suddenly, you WANT to make the doctor appointments and go clothes shopping and take care of them because you're the only one who can do it right! But the good news is that dads can have that instinct too, it just kicks in a little later (newborns are mom hogs). I don't love staying a home, but I don't hate it either, because I love my kid. I get a lot of breaks and "me" time, which is VERY important. Being a mom now a days isn't really as all or nothing as it used to be. You can be the breadwinner and your hubby can stay home, or you can work part time, or you can stay home and have other hobbies. You and your SO can write whatever family plan you want!
posted by katypickle at 9:03 PM on October 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

a friend suggests that you might find this academic book interesting - it "is about how couples fall into traditional gender roles when they have kids, and which couples don't and why that is. It's an academic book, not a self-help book, but they may be able to take some insights that could help them couple consider if they're likely to fall into traditional gender roles, and what sorts of things they can do to avoid it."
posted by jb at 9:21 PM on October 24, 2012 [22 favorites]

In short, I fear becoming the unhappy overworked person that my mother was when I was growing up.

This is a reasonable fear. I don't think what you're proposing will allay your fears.

Women start at a disadvantage. You are the kid's primary caretaker in utero, full stop. Do you think your husband will be scheduling your OB appointments and buying new maternity outfits? Then there's birth and breastfeeding, god help you if you pump at work. Will your husband be packing your work bags for you to make sure you got pump, horns, etc? Motherhood is full of these million little items. I really think it is difficult to negotiate your way out of this.

However, I contend that it is possible to take on some primary caregiving without becoming unhappy and overworked. Keys are the following:
* one child only
* teamwork - my non-negotiable item is "she who drops off, does not pick up"
* get help with scut work - hire out cleaning
* get a good, reliable babysitter early, use often
* don't be afraid to send your kid to play with family and friends
* go away on trips without your child
* lower your standards on achievement - kids don't need ballet at age 5, you need a peaceful evening
* take time for yourself - workout, haircuts, lunches, socializing, etc

If you look at the above list, it's all about attitude. Refuse to be held hostage to your kid's schedule. Put less on your child's plate. Even if you wind up in charge, delegate things off your plate. Own your life and make active choices every day to do what it is that you want to be doing. If you are master of your own fate, you can be busy as hell but still happy.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:36 PM on October 24, 2012 [40 favorites]

This thread on equal parenting from a few months ago might be of interest (though I understand this is not exactly what you're asking).

The other thing I'd note here is that in very real ways, it's not about the tasks themselves, but rather the lack of parity and negotiation in assigning those tasks. I'm a single mom - all of the tasks are mine - but on some level it's easier this way than feeling resentful of a partner who is expecting me to do those tasks and not doing any of them. There are just things that my family needs, and I am the only adult in my family, so I do them. I would resent this much more if I was not the only adult in my family but somehow got saddled with all of the scut work.
posted by judith at 9:40 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

My 6 month old is asleep in the room next to me while I'm writing this.

While I try to be as great a dad as I can be, there are certain facts of biology that keep it from being entirely egalitarian.

If you breastfeed to a year (and you really, really should: it's shocking how much more resilient the breastfed kids are vs. the formula kids), you're going to be on the hook for feeding while you're home, and pumping while you're at work. It's a pretty huge commitment.
posted by Oktober at 9:42 PM on October 24, 2012

I think this is a totally reasonable fear and one of the reasons I'm not planning to have children. One of the most worrying things for me is the social pressures the young rope-rider alludes to above. Women face different expectations as parents than men do. If your child doesn't bring a card and gift to a friend's birthday party, it will probably be your parenting that is found wanting, not your male partner's. Moms are usually the ones expected to pitch in around the school and manage the social calendar. Even if your SO steps up and does all these things superbly, you may still be judged for being a woman that doesn't do them.

Not that that isn't total bullshit. But I think this would be difficult to cope with, especially because you might find yourself excluded from your peer group of parents.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 9:45 PM on October 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I feel EXACTLY the same as you do, and I've accepted the fact that I'll only have kids if Dad stays home with them. I have a great career, so I'd definitely be able to support family on my salray. I feel like a guy who really loved me and really wanted to be a dad would make that sacrifice.
posted by genmonster at 9:47 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, my experience is that having the dad be the stay-at-home parent really does make a huge difference. Since I work full time, I am definitely doing less of the heavy lifting as a parent.

Though that first year was pretty hectic, with the breastfeeding and pumping and cosleeping. But I think infants are just a lot of work, period.

I do have to agree with the young rope-rider, though, that every parent should be willing to parent 100%.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:56 PM on October 24, 2012

So ... I have a friend who has these exact same feelings. So much so that I am wondering if you are her! What strikes me about my friend, and also about your post, is that she has all these negative feelings toward her mother as a parent, but none toward her father. And like you, she gives very little mention to her dad's failings as a co-parent to her mom and a parent to her. She assumes that her dad was entitled to not help, to be distant, to come in to do "fun dad stuff" now and then. She actually has a pretty troubled relationship with her dad, even though she likes him more than her mother. From my perspective, he basically abandoned her to the whims of a crazy lady for many years. You talk about your mom being unhappy as the primary caregiver, but where was your dad in all of this? (You don't have to answer - it just may be something that you consider as you explore these ideas.)

I think for those of us who didn't grow up with involved, emotionally available parents who had decent-if-imperfect coping skills, it's hard to envision what a more healthy balance looks like. Maybe parenting isn't for you, but maybe you have assumptions you need to check.

Which isn't to say that parenting isn't hard, or that the drudgery of it isn't overwhelming, because it totally is. (I endorse the young rope-rider's remark, too.)
posted by stowaway at 10:01 PM on October 24, 2012 [31 favorites]

One good indicator would be how much does he step up now? How "genderfied" are the household chores for examples? If you already do most of the cooking and the cleaning and the worrying, then that's probably a bad sign.
posted by kjs4 at 10:02 PM on October 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

Colonel_Chappy has it right. I was the working parent while my partner stayed home and I still copped the brunt of questions, expectations to plan, expectations to organise, expectations to know AND my partner was never expected to know or do any of those things. Combined with the way men are never really expected to know the intricacies of child-rearing/household management and you get a perfect storm of gendered bullshit.

We 'only' have one child and that suits me fine. My partner would love more, love to stay at home with them, but I just couldn't face the grind of it any more. Not just working a shit job with a shit boss who exacerbated the existing mental issues I have to breaking point, but the grinding expectations of everyone around us. I was always asked about our plans (even when it was during the week and there was no way I could go). a comment was always made about that. As much as I want to let it roll off my back, I also felt bad about the amount of time I spent away from home and how utterly defeated I was when I got there.

Chances are your partner isn't even thinking about paediatrician's appointments, school shopping, playgroups, daycares, schools, baby-proofing. He might be but even the stay at home dads I have known forget these kinds of things because none of our social awareness of them are aimed at parents - the ads are for women, the articles are for women, the advice columns are for women, the interminable conversations are with women. Men are conspicuously absent from the majority of parenting discussions/media and it does have an effect on them and the way they engage with parenting. It takes a concious effort to overcome the gendered assumptions, internal and external, that are endemic to every single thing about parenting.

Put it this way: three months into the stay at home gig with our then 15 month old, my partner still hadn't found a playgroup and had not even considered that as a thing that a parent does. He was happy enough just taking her shopping, staying at home and visiting relatives. He has had no exposure to the reams and reams of literature about children's development because it is utterly non-existent within the media he consumes. He made a concious effort to be a stay at home dad and do things with our daughter but there are/were so many gaps in the implicit knowledge that I had developed growing up female and consuming 'female' media. Gaps that just kept growing post-child because it still gets segregated by gender.

Add into this that 18 months into the stay at home gig his sisters still refused to believe he knew anything about our daughter's preferences, or be trusted to know what she eats, what she likes, how much she eats, if she needs to go to the toilet and blahblahblah. They would hunt me down each and every time, while we stood there dumbfounded and gently pointing out that not only was my husband an engaged parent he was her primary carer. Which always led to a comment about how weird we were and didn't I feel bad? And so on and so forth until we were both sick of it.

It has led to this weird twilight where I can't possibly know the trials of a working parent (because I'm female) but I also don't really know about stay at home parenting (even though I was primary carer for 12 months) AND my partner doesn't really know about parenting at all (because he's a dad and they're all bumbling, but well-meaning, idiots) but he also doesn't know anything about working (because he's a slacker who has refused to work and sat on his arse for two years). We have had pretty much every single one of our values and choices systematically ignored and devalued by everyone, in one way or another, to varying degrees. Sometimes it's just working from false assumptions, sometimes it's forgetting the real situation, sometimes it's part of a wider pattern of 'stop being weird you weirdos'. It sucks, it affects our choices and our relationship and the way people relate to our child.


I have a child who has never held a strong preference for either parent - occasional favouritism but I have never balked at leaving her, he has never balked at leaving her, and she is utterly secure when either of us went to work. She is just starting to evidence some understanding of gender and none of it is about skills or habits or rules - people are people and mummies work and daddies work and so on and so forth. We have both stayed at home, we both know the work that goes into it, and we both work as a team. We are secure in our relationship and neither of us feel devalued, under-appreciated or at risk/beholden to the other. We have a lot more flexibility and security than most of the other families we know specifically because we can both sub in for the other. I'm recovering from the aforementioned breaking point so my partner is going back to work. We will probably switch again in a few years time. If one of us is sick the house still runs, the child is still looked after appropriately (aka none of the 'ice-cream for dinner, TV for six hours, screaming arguments about bed' BS I can remember/see in other families at other times).

But, more than anything, I am living in line with my values. That cannot be overvalued. It is important to everything you do. Some values might change focus, or method (particularly the work thing - it's very easy to say you highly value work when your family life runs pretty smoothly without much from you so you CAN focus on it and not impact much on family but when family suddenly requires a lot of energy/time that is being sent to work instead it can change how you perceive those values). I've stopped work because I value my health and my presence with my family more than my work - but work is not my value. I am still working towards those goals, those values, just in a different way now.

This can all be done without a stay at home dad, or without a specific primary carer (both working PT). But it's really really hard work and chances are that work is primarily going to be done by you.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:17 PM on October 24, 2012 [54 favorites]

Before we had our daughter, my wife was worried I wouldn't spend enough time with family. Boy was she ever wrong. It turns out I'm actually by far the main caretaker of our daughter. Maybe your husband will surprise you too. I actually love doing all those things that you seem to describe as burdens. I have always enjoyed every moment and every thing I do with my daughter, whether shopping, reading books, playing, talking, or working together to clean up a mess she has made. For someone who loves parenting, I don't think those are thought of as chores or burdens. They are precious moments, labors of love, thankful opportunities. I think you and your husband should have a discussion about how you see parenting, and the one who sees it this way should naturally be the primary caretaker.
posted by Dansaman at 10:47 PM on October 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think this is just really hard. My partner and I are both feminists raised by hippies in relatively gender-egalitarian households. And I still, after we had our kid, found it pretty amazing how easily we dropped into certain roles.

Part of that, I think, is what others have mentioned. Biology is destiny. You bear the baby, you birth the baby, you feed the baby from your own body. It is part of your own flesh in a way that is not true for your male partner.

And part of it is something my husband and I dubbed "He Who Cares Less, Wins". When it came time to research car seats, my husband was basically like "Let's go to Target and buy the cheapest one" and of course I was like "I have to read four hundred pages worth of information by possibly-crazy women on a car seat forum and then figure out the objectively safest option, because this is a high-stakes issue!". So who wins? The guy who is cool buying the first thing he sees at Target, because then his crazy wife will just throw up her hands and take over the whole process, be the one who learns to install the car seat, etc.

(I am STILL the person who knows how to install the car seat. That never changed. It will never change. I am the keeper of the car seat temple. As are almost all women.)

This is, I think, a really hard thing to overcome. REALLY hard. Women research the pediatrician, parenting books, preschools, etc, and there is an unfortunate feedback loop where because the woman is willing to do it, the dad won't do it, and then the woman feels like, well, shit, nobody else is going to do this, I have to or it won't get done, or will get done in some kind of slapdash, substandard way, and then the dad never does it, because hey! It's obviously this lady's hobby.

My husband was the SAHD for a year, which I think made a pretty big difference. Before that, I really felt like we were sliding into this space I found very uncomfortable, where I was always the default Baby Authority. And that year helped even that out a lot more.

However, I don't think we've been able to get away from it entirely. And I really feel like we are trying hard to get away from it, and are pretty conscious, and talk about issues of privilege and gender quite a bit. And my husband is a really excellent person. It's hard for me to imagine someone giving this equal-parenting thing more of a serious try.

But. But but but.

Ultimately, I do feel like there is an element of biology-as-destiny you just can't escape. He Who Cares Less, Wins, and you are the one who made this kid out of your own flesh and blood. You will never be the person who cares less, even as it's driving you totally bananas that you are, yet again, the person calling the nurse line to find out if this rash is something to worry about or not.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:53 PM on October 24, 2012 [51 favorites]

If you have friends who have a primary male caretaker or LGBT parent friends, ask them if they will answer your questions and give you advice from their experience, especially the practical details and extended family/work pressure.

Breastfeeding is a major time investment, but you can choose to go to formula or supplement with formula fairly early on if that makes you happier parents with minimal impact on your child's health. My youngest kid for various reasons went to daytime formula, night nursing pretty early on, and so feeding her can be done by anyone in the family.

How do you split housework now? What about bills? What about social activities? If there's already a strong gender split, I would in your shoes insist on talking a long time and fixing that first before having a child.

I absolutely agree with you about being cautious here. It is miserable to feel burdened with the sole responsibility of childcare while the other parent gets to just be the "fun parent". Especially with men who get a lot of social praise for doing what is considered the minimum for women. I can remember early arguments about cooking and the sheer relief when I finally said no, I will not do the cooking, you want healthy meals three times a day, you organise the shopping and meal planning and cook the damn things. Otherwise the kids eat healthy takeaway.

Talk to him. List out all the different tasks - who will do the shopping, who will bathe the baby, who will skip work for pediatrician's appointments, who will do laundry, who will do bedtime book reading, who will go to playgroup, who will find a good kindergarten, etc. etc.

If it helps, my husband and I do spheres - he handles the medical and school stuff, cooks and pays bills. I handle kids' homework and keep track of the kids' schedules and friends, and organise the housework. We sat down early on in our marriage to decide who did what, and when one of us is unhappy (frequently! every couple of months we need to adjust depending on work schedules), we will renegotiate - an hour or two of talking, occasionally screaming, and we find a balance that's fair to both of us.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:30 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re: biology is destiny - my first four children were adopted, my fifth is a happy biological accident. I have found the same arguments over which parent is responsible with my adopted parent friends. There are definitely the crazy new mom hormones for the first few months, but biology I think is being blended here with years of upbringing and social modelling where the mother is the primary caretaker, not the father. Neither my husband nor I have any biological link to our adopted kids, but we have had the same fierce arguments over who has to do what as we have with the biological baby. The only major issue was breastfeeding, which I held as a trump card to delegate a heap of work to him because I was by default putting 4-5 hours a day into the baby's feeding.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:34 AM on October 25, 2012 [13 favorites]

This is a great question, and you are getting great responses.

I decided not to have children for this exact reason. I would've been delighted to have been the dad (in the conventional gender role sense) but had no interest in being a primary caretaker. All my serious relationships have been with egalitarian people who were fine with e.g. us moving across the country for my work. But I was terrified that once a child came along, for reasons of cultural expectations, physiology or whatever, we would revert to conventional gender roles. I saw it happen to other people, and was not willing to risk it happening to me.

More anecdata --- some women I know who planned to split child-rearing equally with their progressive, child-interested partners:

1) Civil servant married to a freelance designer. She left him five years after the birth of their second child because although he was great with the kids and spent a lot of time with them, she ended up doing all the neverending tedious support work of packing lunches and washing dishes and shopping for clothes and arranging play-dates and tracking school stuff. Also his extended (gender-traditional) family expected her and the kids to spend a lot of time with them, which she loathed.

2) Two academics. Four years after the birth of their second child, she's a SAHM and says his life is pretty much unchanged -- he is still travelling, working whatever hours he wants, going out with friends, etc. She did not plan to stay at home and doesn't really want to, but found it difficult to balance child-rearing with a career that was starting to suffer from being a low priority. She tells me she's amazed by how powerfully affected they've been by other people's assumptions and expectations, and that her husband seems unable to challenge or even recognize it.

3) Super-ambitious career-obsessed executive with civil servant husband. She says his gender worldview did a 180 after the kids were born four years ago. He used to throw dinner parties and garden and putter around the house -- now, she says, he's likelier to work late or go out with friends. His career is improving and hers is stalling. She says he's willing to do assigned tasks when he's available, but the children are clearly her responsibility -- she does all the researching of schools, managing of health information, reading of parenting books, etc. She is bitter and furious.

(A side note: It sounds like stowaway is wondering if women who don't want to take on a primary caregiver role may have been turned off it by their parents' unequal, unhappy relationship. FWIW that's not my experience. My parents were unusually involved and excellent, particularly my father. Friend #1's mom was unhappy, but her dad was present and ordinary. Friend #2 was raised in a commune and had lots of supportive people around, including her parents. Friend #3 had a neurotic mom, but a challenging, very engaged father. So I am not sure there's a family-of-origin pattern here anywhere.)

Good luck OP, whatever you decide. It's a tough one.
posted by Susan PG at 12:43 AM on October 25, 2012 [22 favorites]

I wrote a whole big thing and deleted it.

My mother was awful. I can't find the link now, but I once wrote here on AsMe about my childhood, and it got a lot of favorites because it was so raw and terrible.


My son is 18 months old. I never would have had him if not for the fact that my husband (and now father of my son) is AWESOME.


Don't base your decision on your past. Base it on your present.

If your partner will be a great parent, and you can match that in whatever form - YES.

That's it.
posted by jbenben at 12:53 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Talk to people who've been through the whole trajectory -- not just people with babies and toddlers (there's a reason that nature made them so cute!). Talk to SINGLE PARENTS. I know that single parenting is not your plan, but it wasn't the plan for me or the vast number of single parents that I've known. Talk to parents of kids with special needs -- after all, your kid might have them too! Then decide. You are not being insane at all. What's insane is the assumption that everybody should have children.
posted by summer sock at 1:15 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

My answer surprised me, I realized I would be totally enthusiastic to have the traditional dad role. To help out a great deal, but not to be THE main caretaker, the one responsible for all the little details.

It absolutely can be that way, if you and your partner want it enough and are prepared to work for it. But - as already alluded to above - it can be very challenging because for better and for worse we live in a society were femininity is closely linked to motherhood. This is especially true if you live in America where the parental leave options are truly bullshit.

But it's much more than what's legally available. And it also cuts both ways: there is pressure on you to be a "mother", but as a man with a 1 year old girl, there is also pressure on me to be a "father". Ignoring that pressure, subverting it, redirecting is, is very challenging. It's a constant challenge. An illustration: The first time I took my daughter out for some groceries while her mother was away, she - as babies are wont to do - promptly lost her shit and started bawling. People were staring at me, lots of people. One old lady literally tsk tsked me and shook her head; another younger lady said to me in a huffy, aggreived tone, "Where's her mother???"; another asked me, "can't you give her anything?"; yet another, "why is she crying? Don't you know?" (cue the suggestions). The shock and not outrage per se, more dismissal was palpable. I am not lying here, people were very down on my with a crying baby; you'd have thought I was beating her or something.

I am resilient - kinda. But one the amount of sleep I had been getting at the time, it was a fucking horrible experience, and I certainly was not encouraged to leave the house and go to busy places alone again, no indeed.

However.... You know what? My partner had similar, equally excruciating exchanges (though no one asked her where I was), when she was out. She found it very hard, befuddling, hurtful etc. Truth is, whatever role you take, having a baby can be pretty frigging tough - especially in the first six months, especially in the first three months. Maybe the wounds are too raw for me. It was a vulnerable time for everyone.

the traditional dad role. To help out a great deal, but not to be THE main caretaker, the one responsible for all the little details.

Let me say, on the above, for parents everywhere: that role is bullshit. I have fallen into it, other couples fall into it, my partner has in turn both resented and also fostered it because it's a very embedded cultural norm. We are betrayed through our society (sidenote: great illustration of how "the patriarchy" plays out in practice if you never need an example; we both hate it, we both do it). But for all that, it's bullshit.

Jbenben has a real point that you shouldn't let your own parents' roles overly influence your decisions and assumptions as a parent. My parents hit me - just spanking, I don't think it did me any harm - but I will never, ever, ever visit any kind of physical violence on my own child. Never. You can control your destiny as a parent, and also I think it's very important to remember that it's a fluid state. If you're unhappy about something, you can change it. When you are very fatigued, not sleeping properly, emotionally fragile etc, it can be easy to forget that, because habits are easy to slip into, and making decisions can be hard and tiring, but our roles as parents and carers have evolved and developed so much over the last twelve months it's unbelievable to me. They've changed more than the baby has, even, we've changed. You and your partner can change, too.

I guess in summary this is a legitimate and justified fear. No, it does not have to be that way, and it definitely shouldn't be that way. Like most kind of women's rights, the struggle for equality is never-ending and constant; you will find opponents and allies alike in unexpected places; and it's a struggle that will take place inside an individual as well as in the broader world. And, it's a worthy struggle, that can be achieved, for some, and additionally will help make our world a more equal and just place.

One last thing; I really think we should eschew - if we can - traditional ideas of "the mother" and "the father". It's a binary, and an unproductive one that is not ameliorated by switching necessarily. You need Parenting is a heavy load to bear at times; those traditional binaries make an unbalanced load, and they are the hardest to carry.

Rather than asking the question, "How can I be the dad?", maybe think about rephrasing it perhaps as "How are we going to parent our child?". That's a better question, for you, your partner, your child, and the world.
posted by smoke at 2:58 AM on October 25, 2012 [12 favorites]

This is very similar to our situation. I think you need to discuss this with your partner this is the only way. put it all out there BEFORE. Voice your concerns about gender roles and not being saddled with the Mother Role before you have a kid.

My girlfriend basically said that we can have kids but I, the father, would have to be the primary caregiver and I think that has really made me think about it more realistically. You have to make him realise that he can't just think that in the end you will be the "Mother".

And I do think that its how it ends up in most relationships. That there is a primary caregiver and its usually the woman.

You really need to discuss this with your partner.
posted by mary8nne at 3:29 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like we have a pretty even split in our house. We take turns going to school events if we can't go together, we take turns taking her to the doctor's or dentist. We take turns being the person who stays at work for the important meeting, being the person who misses the important meeting, and being the person who stays home when she is sick. We are flexible and prioritize on occasion for each other's needs--like if a meeting is sort of professionally key, the other person steps up.

Basically we do as much together as we can, and take turns on everything else. This was true even when she was an infant, because I was a big breastfeeding failure and we went to formula somewhere around week 1 or 2, which made it easier. We carried her everywhere in a Bjorn for the first year or so, and we'd take turns doing that.

It didn't really seem weird to us but I think it did to others, and certainly my mother who's mentioned like five times over the years that Mr. Llama 'certainly is a hands-on father!' which I find so extraordinarily weird. Of course he is.

I do agree with the point above that people sort of should be *capable* of shouldering it all if you had to, and nothing is ever perfectly even, and you don't want to waste your time thinking too much about this stuff on a day to day basis, it's still true that it's possible to have a really good solid split.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:43 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did you have siblings?

I just wanted to throw out there that having ONE child is incredibly different from having more than one. Easier to caretake, do fun things with later, etc.

Also, I am absolutely NOT a kid person. At all. But when I had mine the fact that they WERE mine did make a big difference.

Maybe you can think about exactly what it was that made your own mother's experience so difficult. It could have been more about lack of help from her husband, or other things. If you do decide to have a child or children it is not necessarily written that you have to have as hard a time as she did. Just food for thought.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:52 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

thehmsbeagle has a great comment, and it's something you really have to consider. She's talking about something called "The Principle of Least Interest" from sociology. This crops up in ways that you might not expect, but that absolutely fundamentally shape the contours of responsibility and effort in parenting. Some things can be negotiated to equal interest, and should be, but others are just what they are. As long as the lack of interest isn't a pose put on to get the other partner to do the work, it's hard to argue with someone that they need to care about every little thing as much as you do.
posted by OmieWise at 5:10 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

I spent a long time worrying about such things, and realized it wasn't a fear of being "the mom" so much as losing my identity as a person that scared me. Negotiate with your partner - a few things that are wholly yours and not associated with the kidlet might help you not feel as if all you are is "the mom."

Disclaimer: I don't have kids, and part of the reason (well, one of many) I ended up divorced was due to realizing my husband at the time would never allow me to step outside the mom role if we had kids.
posted by skittlekicks at 5:27 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not a parent, but I find this website really interesting: Equally Shared Parenting. It's about how to make conscious choices to keep things equal.
posted by cider at 5:47 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a mom of a three year old with one on the way. I think my husband and I, most of the time, share almost equally in child rearing. I stayed home for 18 weeks. Then he stayed home for 6 months (did he get funny looks? Sure. Did people ask if I was jealous? Yes. Did we care? No, a fuck was not given.) after that, we worked similar hours on different days so we could split the parenting time and responsibilities.

Things that made this work include: discussing it a lot; being flexible when necessary; having relatively flexible jobs; and a high income that afforded us the ability to work part time or take unpaid leave when necessary, to hire people to clean the house and baby sit, and to have food delivered. In other words: out sourcing.

Even with those advantages, we will not have more than two kids, even though I love big families. It would not work for us. It would mean, I think, that suddenly I'd be the primary care giver in the way you describe, and I'd resent my husband. No matter how hard he tried.

So it can be done, if you are willing to do it.

In my experience though, lots if people aren't - women put pressure on themselves to do it all, try, are worn out, and resent their partners even though they were trying to help but got shut out. If you cannot ask for what you want - from your job or spouse - and expect your mind to be read, this won't work.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:42 AM on October 25, 2012

You don't get to be a parent on your own terms. If you're thinking, "I'll be a parent, but I have conditions", it's not really going to work. Recoiling at the thought of being "a mom" is the same thing as not wanting kids. I know you're talking about a stereotypical "mom" role, but what if for some reason that's your only option? Best laid plans and negotiations with your partner are great, but ultimately, this kid is going to be completely dependent on someone.
posted by spaltavian at 6:47 AM on October 25, 2012 [12 favorites]

Is he going to be okay with doing more than half, and being responsible for all the little details? And: are you going to be okay with letting go of them? Do you want to feel in control or are you fine with handing over control to others in other parts of your life? Is he okay with being your children's prime caretaker?

It's really hard to predict how this will work out (divorce, children with special needs, unemployment), and because of that, you can't divide all the tasks up front, even though communicating about this now is essential. Please realise though, that if you end up resenting doing stuff for/with your kids, they'll know. They'll feel it. It'll hurt them and it'll hurt your relationship with your partner.

Also: please remember it's okay not to have kids (yet) if you aren't sure you want to (as long as you're completely honest about that with your partner).
posted by Ms. Next at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2012

My husband stays home with our daughter and I work full time, but I still feel quite mom-ish when I'm at home.


But I don't mind it, personally.

I think if you breastfeed, it's going to be hard to take on a "dad" type role at first. But later on it is probably more possible as long as he's really up for it and you're both pretty clear on it going in.
posted by mgogol at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The unhappy overworked person that my mother was point stood out to me. You have to fight this as a stay at home parent.

I've discovered that being the stay at home parent means living a very homogenized life. Little ones need consistency and regularity. You have to fight the power and get out of the house on walks and such otherwise you feel like you are a fixture which came with the house you live in. Socializing becomes hard as the friends you have without children don't really get it and the friends you have that do are just as overworked as you are. I try to be as personable and interactive with the people I meet incidentally every day to compensate for the lack of socializing.

It can't be all about children's things. Approach it like they are along for the ride in your adult life. Do the things you would ordinarily do to entertain and make yourself happy, just bring the children along while you're doing it.
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:22 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing that resonated for me is that the root of your concern is your mother's unhappiness in that role. I had some baggage around that, too. For one example, my mom believed very strongly that it was her job to put a hot meal cooked from scratch on the dinner table every night, complete with putting the food in serving dishes. But she didn't really like cooking, and my brother and I were not very satisfying to cook for (I, in particular, was a profoundly picky eater and didn't like anything). So her resentment of this job she had to do, which wasn't appreciated, just radiated from her, and I really picked up on that. It made figuring out how to manage my own familiy's meals that much trickier, because I imbibed the idea that hot homemade dinners were the Thing You Had To Do, and yet at the same time the idea that it was very stressful and unsatisfying to do that day after day.

After much trial and error, my own family's dinner style is very different from my mother's. We do a lot of hot dinners from scratch, but we almost always fill our plates in the kitchen, directly from the pans. We also do a fair bit of convenience foods--frozen meals that are easy to cook. We eat pancakes or eggs for dinner because that's easy; we have what we call "foraging nights" where everybody eats what they want from what's available; and we get take-out once a week, or even more if cash flow is good. Everybody gets fed, and we're free from the drama and conflict that characterized dinners in my house growing up.

My point is: you can be a parent and do it very differently from how your mom did it. Lots of families have no stay-at-home parent; as far as I can tell, their kids are doing fine. Lots of families hire help--nannies, housecleaners, a babysitter for a weekly date night. I have a friend who always knew she wanted to be a mom but not a stay-at-home mom. She got some flack from people who thought that if she didn't want to be with her kids full-time she didn't really want to be a mom. But she did! She did it on her own terms, and it has worked out just fine.

You and your partner may have to do a lot of clear negotiating. If you don't want to be the only one who knows the pediatrician's name, then there has to be a conversation about him being responsible for keeping track of the schedule, making the appointments, taking the kid to the doctor for check-ups.

As folks have said, you'll be swimming upstream as you try to negotiate this. And some of it will be unpredictable. And you'll probably get it wrong some of the time--I know I had to made some adjustments in my parenting style over the last couple of years as I realized that what I was doing wasn't working for me as well as it was working for the kids. As folks have said, the problem is that by the time you know for sure whether it was the right thing to do, you've made an irrevocable commitment. I guess you have to decide whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about how you think things will work out.

Best of luck to you and your partner.
posted by not that girl at 7:35 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

When we had our first (and so far only) one, I for various reasons ended up being the stay at home dad for the first year or so; she had the better job, I could work from home, etc.

The single biggest factor that formed our parenting roles in the first year was however the fact that he was bottlefed only (the other option was not available). That meant that there was no reason for her to be the one who got up 3 times a night to feed him, and since I am the more efficient sleeper, I did all the night feeding.

The interesting result was that he attached to me as the mama figure, quite strikingly so. Now that he's a little older, he's equally attached to the two of us. But his natural center of gravity is at least as close to me if not a bit more.

Despite that I can't cook worth a damn, which means she gets stuck with that part, everything else is almost unconsciously evenly divided. Diapers, cleanup, feeding, playtime etc all falls pretty equally.

I really credit not breastfeeding with defining our parenting roles in an equal way. Much as it pains me to say it, since I generally don't hold much with artificial stuff like baby formula. If you do have a go at this, I'd say just tell your partner it's going to be baby formula only from day one.
posted by jackbrown at 9:36 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you don't like the idea of nurturing children, it sounds like you don't like the idea of dealing with the day-to-day grind of running a household.

Luckily, if you have enough money, there's an app for that.

1. Hire a housekeeper to do the cleaning.
2. Hire a nanny for daily care giving.
3. Laundry can be sent out, or you can have the housekeeper do it.
4. You can arrange meals either through a delivery service, or take out from the grocery store (gotta love those rotisserie chickens).
5. Personal Shoppers can do the back-to-school, and holiday shopping.

If you're affluent enough, there's no need for the stuff you're not interested in, to interfere with the stuff you'll enjoy.

I'm childless myself and that was the right answer for me, but think about the child-oriented stuff you want to be involved in and separate it out from the grunt work, and see if that doesn't shift your perspective.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had similar reservations to a point, but my gut trusted my SO would pitch in enough to make me feel OK about it. Now that I have a kid... one day I stress that I'm the only one making sure the kid has the next size of clothes. The next day I'll feel bad that I never ever remember to check his nails to cut them. Dad takes care of that. One day I'll be frustrated that I don't get help feeding the kiddo breakfast/baby food. Dad starts doing that, has to run out the door without lunch. So now I put together Dad's lunch and he feeds the kid. Point being it's a a big ecosystem of responsabilities. Since he leaves early, he gets home earlier and can start dinner, but it also means I have to do all day care drops.

And here's also where I admit...for some things, I just don't know how to do it well (it'd take me 2 hours to mow the lawn, I swear!), so we end up going the more traditional split.
posted by ejaned8 at 11:01 AM on October 25, 2012

So you're willing to assume the traditional dad's role. Think very carefully about your perception of that role. Rather than an equal partnership, you'd like to negotiate an arrangement where your partner handles most of the tedious work of raising your child. Even if your partner is willing to do that, there will be tons of grunt work even if you can afford hired help. It's hard to overestimate the amount of never-ending work that a baby creates. Unless you're willing to enthusiastically embrace both the work and the fun as an equal partner (at least), then no.
posted by MelissaSimon at 11:12 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need to have this conversation with him. It should be involved. Questions to ask: what do you think the role of the mother and father are? How did your parents raise children? If your mom was a SAHM, was she happy? If your father was the distant breadwinner, was he happy? What would you do differently than your parents? What would you try to emulate? For you: What's your situation now? Are you the household task-master and social calendar maker? Do you split chores and domestic duties fairly equally or is it a slog? If it's already unbalanced then having children may make it more so.

Other thoughts --

The truth is, there is no "traditional American motherhood." I mean, not when it comes down to real people and real families. There are trends, to be sure, but you can run your household however you want. Now we have more freedoms to pursue egalitarian splits of both breadwinning and childrearing. But it takes a little work to fight the trends. If you and your partner are clear with each other from the get-go, you'll have a better chance of working it out when the child comes.

I had very similar feelings before I had my child (who is almost 2 now) and my husband and I talked about it in the time before I got pregnant. One thing which I did from Day 1 is hang back. Let my husband figure things out himself, let him do things his own way with the baby. If something needed doing and I couldn't do it, I got him to do it. Sometimes this is really easy to do, sometimes I have to sit on my hands or remind myself to do it. I also leave! And I don't make food for them or arrange things to be super easy. It's sink-or-swim time and you know what? They always make it. And he has to do things his own way. I think women often take too much of this burden on by virtue of how they are raised and socialized. And sometimes men just cannot SEE what needs to be done until they are faced with it head-on. Just don't make that part your job and you'll feel good about things.

Now, due to the economy and my husband's continuing job success (yay), we have ended up with the good old, wife and mom stays at home while husband brings home the bacon. However, my daughter is in daycare 3 days/week and I have managed to secure freelance work that mostly keeps me busy during that time. In a good week, I work more than that, too, in evenings and on weekends. But I still pick up almost all the slack around the house. Because I want it to be a net win for me to be working out of the home. Anyway, for me this is pretty balanced. I mean, I could go on and on about the nuances of our situation but on the whole, things feel good. My husband is a close and engaged father and I can walk out of this house without a backward glance and know that things are taken care of. Also, occasionally, when there's a doctor's appointment or some other child things that must happen, I will throw that on Dad. Yes, I could arrange my schedule but so can he. I feel it's important for him to share the burden. He is a working father.

Lastly, you are not your mom. Your partner is not your dad. You can choose how to parent. I actually love parenting and, frankly, so far I feel like I'm doing a better job of it than my parents. First off, I chose a better husband than my mom did. She didn't know that her dream guy would turn into an alcoholic with depression and rage issues, but there you go. I'm so far ahead of the game. I don't know that we can provide the same lifestyle that my parents did (who can, these days?) but we are doing pretty well. My husband will never be like the Dad I had. It's just not possible. You will also find that the good parts of parenting are amazing and the bad parts are intense. You'll get new perspective on what your mom was going through. And you'll think, 'wow, she did a great job with that' and also 'holy crap, she really did this part wrong.' It's the nature of the beast.

So, talk to your partner. Do not hold back. Speak plainly. Take time. Multiple conversations. Either way, good luck!
posted by amanda at 11:12 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

Parent of a twelve year old girl whose father cooks and does laundry, and whose mother does household tech support and plays hardball with car salespeople. We divide parenting tasks by proximity, and proficiency. I help with Language Arts homework, he helps with math. There's external confusion (are we divorced and sharing custody?) and I've taken heat for my kid's soccer team snacks when her dad was the one who picked them out. But most of the time, no one in my family cares, and everything sorts out just fine. So very much is about attitude. That cannot be stressed enough.

Something I wish I had known earlier than I did: You don't know what the future will actually hold, especially if both of you intend to remain in the working world to any degree. Over the last 12+ years, thanks to the economy and its shifting workforce needs, I have been a breadwinner and a primary caretaker, a couple of times over. And along with proximity/proficiency, our daughter has had different needs at different ages -- something that's extremely difficult to predict when your primary initial concerns are diapers, naps, and feedings. My husband just returned to work after over a year of unemployment, and this has resulted in seismic shifts in our family's life -- ones that I think we were better prepared for, because the whole notion of "you be This Person and I be That Person" is fluid. We are who we are, and the world marches on.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:24 AM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's the end of the work day, so unfortunately I don't have time to read through the rest of the thread. But, a male perspective based on what my wife told me.

She was terrified of having children for the same reasons as you. She thought she would be a terrible caregiver, and that she would hate it. She never liked cooking, she absolutely despised cleaning, and she has leftover baggage from her parents.

For her, everything changed when the baby was born. She actually said to me the other day, "You know, I really enjoy doing the dishes at night and making the house nice for our family." I asked her what she did with my girlfriend from college, because she had obviously been swapped out in the recent past. She's an incredible caretaker and I can't imagine raising our boy without her. Obviously I support her as much as possible, and do as much as possible (usually, I cook and she cleans up after dinner, for example, but we swap roles regularly) - I don't know if she mentally changed, or if her hormones physically changed - but she's the same person, and completely different at the same time, since the baby was born. We do have some traditional roles (she's in charge of picking out the boy's clothes in the morning, because she keeps up on the weather and cares about how he looks, and I mow the lawn because she absolutely despises it) but as long as you're both willing to swap roles *when it makes sense* you should be good.

I think as long as you and your SO are a team, and are willing to work together (whatever that ends up meaning), things will fall into place as you go. Just keep the lines of communication open, because that is without a doubt the most important thing, as cliche as it sounds. Talk everything out so you both know what the other expects, wants, and needs (which will be ever changing).
posted by bender b rodriguez at 2:36 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do an honest evaluation of your husband's contributions toward domestic duties in your present lives. I also think that this is a good predictor.

Also speak to your husband about your concerns and find out what he has in mind when it comes to specifics of child-rearing and division of labor.

It's just another data point, but a couple I know had a child after husband assured wife that he was a 50/50 co-parent kind of guy despite not having taken much of an initiative with pre-child domestic duties. Both parents are professionals and make good money. So, childcare, housekeeping services, etc are not an issue, which makes many things much easier. Husband was VERY enthusiastic about being a Dad and promised lots of co-parenting. But, when kiddo came, the burdens fell on her, disproportionately. She tried repeatedly to readjust their duties, but he'd slip back into his old role. When Dad started wanting another child, she reminded him about the divide in responsibilities and his broken promises to change (he'd pitch in more for a week or two, and then back to the old pattern). She told him that she'd consider having another child if he could keep up a more equal division of labor with their current child for 2 months. This was 5 years ago. They still have one child.

I think that the best predictor of how well you two can divide labor with kids is how well you do it now with other chores and responsibilities.
posted by quince at 3:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think overall I have to agree with the "biology is destiny" thing. I have the same problem that you do in that I'd rather be a dad than a mom, but in general/overall I don't think it is all that possible.

(a) you're the one whose life is utterly demolished/changed because you have to give birth.
(b) you're the one who's forced to breastfeed, because godforfuckingbid you not breastfeed and the other moms will stone you to death if you don't.
(c) It is extremely hard to have an egalitarian relationship when you are still dealing with (a) and (b) for years on end as long as the kid needs constant care.
(d) In the meantime, during those years where you HAVE to be primary parent for those reasons alone (assuming your feelings don't change and you suddenly become obsessed with mommying), you both get entrenched in you being the primary parent. It just seems easier for you to do all or most of the work because that's how it had to be for so long. That pattern could last the rest of the kid's childhood.

Sure, you could not be the SAH parent, have a nanny, daycare, whatever. That could help. If you're the one with the more highpaying job (assuming you don't lose that job) so that you don't end up becoming the SAHP by default because you're paid lower and it's easier if you stay home, that could help. But it seems to me that fighting biology is a losing battle. The only ways I can think of you getting out of primary parent duty altogether are if you were with another woman and had her be the one who gave birth, or if you and your man agreed to adopt a much older kid and didn't raise them from scratch, or if you became desperately ill and your man had to do all of the work by default because you were unable to at all. I'm guessing those aren't too likely of options for you.

And what everyone else said about "what happens if you get stuck single parenting" is certainly true as well.

I don't think it's really an option for us. Sorry :( Wish it was.
*grumbles about why wasn't I born a man one more time...*
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:49 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm shocked by how much people in this thread care two whits what anyone thinks outside of themselves and their partner. Who cares of other moms think you should breastfeed, or work, or not work, or cook. As long as you can say "this is what works for us" then screw them. If you are going to measure your success by other peoples attitudes and expectations, then wow what a long life. And that would, I think, make having kids really really hard.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:04 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with dpx.mpx. Sure, some people might judge you but so what? Also, I think women are quicker to assume the judgment when that may not be the case. That's due, surely, in no small part to all the media out there targeted at women to tell them how to live their lives "more perfectly."

I was only able to breastfeed a little the first three months and then I gave up. Formula the rest of the way (she's a hale and hearty girl who walked first and is early talking in my mom's group so...whatever). All my mom's group are champion breastfeeders. And maybe they judged me but I never got a single snide comment or perceived any side-eye. I did get the occasional inquiry but it felt more along the line of curiousity. And, frankly, sometimes I got a sense of jealousy.

Anyway, you have to fight that crap off. It's everywhere but I think it can be avoided, too.
posted by amanda at 6:54 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess I'm shocked by how much people in this thread care two whits what anyone thinks outside of themselves and their partner. Who cares of other moms think you should breastfeed, or work, or not work, or cook. As long as you can say "this is what works for us" then screw them.

My experience as a parent is that this is a lot easier to say than it is to feel. When you have had months of less than 5 hours of sleep a night, have a small person screaming at you for hours, have jobs, friends, and other family all competing for your attention, and mindshare, and the house is a mess, clothes need to be washed etc etc et-bloody-c, the opprobrium and judgment you will receive and perceive from strangers and friends & family alike will hurt. It will anger, upset, irritate. It will make sadden and isolate. And it will leave you feeling insecure because the fact is you will have internalised a lot of that judgment yourself - at least with your first child - because you aren't confident, you don't know what you're doing, you are part of the society that forms those judgments and - mostly - you are just so, so damned tired.

Mad props to parents who don't feel that way, at least at times, and can just say, "Screw it, I do what I feel and I know best!", and mean it 100%. Neither me, my partner, nor any of our parent friends that we've spoken with about this have felt wholly that way when confronted with the cutting remarks, dismissive judgments, and unspoken assumptions of cluelessness.

I don't think positing a hurt response as oversensitive or illogical is especially helpful, to be honest. It invalidates the feelings a lot - maybe even a majority - of parents experience, and becomes yet another thing to feel guilty about, and there's so much you can feel guilty about as a new parent. Those feelings are common, expected and understandable. For us, anyway, they are definitely a part of the parenting experience and downplaying them risks disappointing new parents, when they discover all those rules and ideas they had before the baby arrived are much harder to bring into reality than anticipated.
posted by smoke at 3:02 PM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Smoke, that's totally valid. And I get it - it isn't that I don't have moments where I feel like I'm doing it all wrong because some parent or book or tv show says something different. But if that is truly the stick being used, I'm truly confused how anyone gets through the day. Parents are bombarded with that crap all the time. So for me, I have to shut it down and turn to my partner and get support for our way being the best for us. It helps to have supportive community outside my partner.

I don't mean to say those feelings aren't valid (feelings are feelings). But if you are the kind of person who finds that kind of judgement compelling and overwhelming, I don't know that there is any way out of feeling the way the OP is saying she feels. If you can get past the "others" and work out a process with your partner, I think you can.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:43 PM on October 26, 2012

I guess I'm shocked by how much people in this thread care two whits what anyone thinks outside of themselves and their partner. Who cares of other moms think you should breastfeed, or work, or not work, or cook. As long as you can say "this is what works for us" then screw them. If you are going to measure your success by other peoples attitudes and expectations, then wow what a long life. And that would, I think, make having kids really really hard. - dpx.mpx

As long as those people aren't your actual support network. As long as their judgement doesn't affect their actions. As long as their judgement doesn't extend to otherwise neutral players and affect their actions as well.

It's nice to say ignore it, but it's bullshit. It absolutely affects every part of parenting to be surrounded by people who judge you, or at least do not get it. The world is set up for women to stay at home/be primary caretaker and it isn't about 'judging' as much as it is about lack of support, lack of empathy and lack of fair treatment. When you are struggling to find the strength you need to do things the way you think is the right way, the best way, and even the most supportive people still forget that you are the sole breadwinner, or that you aren't there all day, or that your partner isn't an idiot, it can be really really difficult to continue. Even though you know it's the right thing for you, their judgement actively puts roadblocks in the way of your actions - and that's not even including a lack of support, that's actively making it more difficult.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:51 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, yeah, if your "support network" involves no support, then of course it's hard. That's hard for anyone, period, let alone anyone with kids, let alone anyone who is trying to do something outside the "norm". So if that's the situation someone is in, then they need to evaluate whether creating the situation they want is possible. I still think that with a combination of attitude, support, communication, and disposable income, it is. The necessary combination varies wildly. I've got a partner and a family and a flexible work environment that means I can do everything I want. I also have an attitude where I dont care if the house is a mess or my nails are done or if my kid ever eats a meal cooked my be. If I cared about those things, it wouldn't work.

I feel like I'm not describing things very well. I just think that of the OP thinks she might want kids, but not the stereotypical mom role, that might be ok. But not if,in the end, she hates herself or her kid because of how other people feel.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:29 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

the young rope-rider: "Really, I don't think anyone should create a person unless they're 100% willing to be completely responsible for that person. Male or female. If you couldn't handle parenting if your partner disappeared, it's probably better to not have a child. No one knows what the future brings and it's not fair to bring a child into the world if you're not willing to ensure that they're completely taken care of, which might mean doing the little boring unfun mom things."

Hmmm... three things (these are in response to the young rope rider but addressed to OP).

First, even two parents is sometimes barely enough for a child. It's why we used to live in larger multi-generational families. I think one of the things the modern world *definitely* doesn't do right is keeping parents from feeling constantly overwhelmed. So even if your husband takes nearly all of the mom-ly duties, there are still going to be times when you feel like there's a lot on your plate.

Second, if you do choose breastfeeding, that's pretty much putting mothering on your plate. There's no way around that. As some people have mentioned above, it can present challenges. That said, some people find it incredible special and empowering. Hard as it may be, the closeness you will feel with your son or daughter might outweigh the work of it.

Finally, despite what I said in point one, what happens when you have a kid is you just power through all of it. Despite being overwhelmed, despite having a lot on your plate, despite being forced into this or that role. You just find yourself dealing with it and pushing through it. I think for most people having a child profoundly affects the way that their brain thinks and how they behave. A lot of things that really really mattered before you had a kid suddenly do not matter anymore.

Case in point, prior to my sons birth I found the thought of changing diapers to be really really distasteful. Not like "Oh it's gross, it smells" but more like "I don't even like that we have guts and I seriously will not be able to deal with this at all." And yet, the first time my son needed his diaper changed I just did it, because it had to happen.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:37 PM on October 28, 2012

it sounds like you don't like the idea of dealing with the day-to-day grind of running a household.

Luckily, if you have enough money, there's an app for that.

1. Hire a housekeeper to do the cleaning.
2. Hire a nanny for daily care giving.
3. Laundry can be sent out, or you can have the housekeeper do it.
4. You can arrange meals either through a delivery service, or take out from the grocery store (gotta love those rotisserie chickens).
5. Personal Shoppers can do the back-to-school, and holiday shopping.

I think this helps, but there's a limit to how much. Like, if having a child adds 100 units of "household tasks" to every week, maybe 80 of them can be outsourced if you've got the money, but the act of outsourcing will itself add let's say 15 units of management and coordination. So you're not down 100 units, but you're still down 35.

I see this with my careerist friend. The act of researching, recruiting, on-boarding, performance-managing and communicating with and coordinating all the service providers who support her family is itself a lot of work. And what is interesting (and she didn't expect) is that she is the sole boss of it. She is the one thinking about where to find a decent nanny, what's the right amount to pay for overnight babysitting, why the cleaner seems to be slacking off lately, who needs to know about the kid's banana allergy, does the kid's rash warrant a trip to the doctor, who will backfill for the nanny when she's on holiday, what to do when the back-up sitter goes off to college in three months, and even (LOL) who gets a Christmas present and what the hell is it.

For my friend this has been a whole new world, and because it's her kid she wants to handle it well, which means doing a lot of research and developing a network of friendships with other mothers in her neighbourhood. This pushes her even further into the domestic sphere --- when she's alone she's researching car seats not work stuff, and when she's with other people they're not talking about work, but instead party planners and play groups and date nights. She finds it, as I said before, completely horrifying.
posted by Susan PG at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I made my husband agree to let me have less of the traditional mom role, too. I felt just like you do. But when we adopted my daughter, my feelings magically changed. I don't even think I was aware they were changing. Looking back, I think I worried that I would not love her enough to want to be her mom. There are still stereotypical "mom" things I don't like doing, and my husband being the man he is, those things get shared - usually. I don't know that you would change your mind about things the way I did - but that is my story.
posted by cherrybounce at 9:39 PM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you both end up deciding "no kids," make sure that your husband at least gets a dog. Strange, I know, but the right temperment/breed can be a companion like unexplainable. That feeling of love and is priceless. Not the same as kids exactly. But before I had kids, I would have never really known that. Best of luck.
posted by boots77 at 1:02 AM on November 2, 2012

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