The Division of Labor

Often times when I'm around other women, there is a lot of complaining about how their partners "don't do" certain things.  Clean up after dinner, cook, give baths, do bedtime, school pickups, sweep floors, fold laundry, the list goes on and on.  It's hard for me to commiserate with them because that's not how our household operates.  Sure, there are certain things that I don't do (lawn care) and that he typically doesn't (bathrooms), but that's not to say either of us wouldn't do those things. If I asked him he'd do it because that's how we work.

It's hard to say when exactly we started running our household the way we do.  I think that part of it is because I worked odd hours in retail management, and my hours were usually longer than Mark's.  He had to help out or things wouldn't get done.  If my kids waited around for me to give them baths, they'd be pretty smelly.  The other part is that we both grew up in a household with a more typical division of labor, when most the household stuff fell to our Moms, and I at least knew I didn't want to live with resentment I saw our mothers had.

There were also things that I didn't enjoy doing that were typical "wifely" duties. There was a long time that our friends and family thought that I couldn't cook because I never did.  The truth is Mark enjoys cooking much more than I do, so I let him take the wheel there.  It's not that I can't, it's that I'd rather not.  And why deprive him of what he enjoys? As the years have gone on, things have had a sort of ebb and flow to them, I recently have been doing more of the cooking, but maybe in a month, six months, a year that will change.

I feel that it's important for our kids to see that both of us take an equal part in the things that are needed around the house.  I want to raise the boys especially to be productive members of society.  You won't find me doing their laundry through their college years.  I am not going to perpetuate the stigma that men can't or won't do these things.  The same goes for our girls, they won't be depending on a man to unclog a toilet or fix their flat tires.  Eventually, I'd like to see each them able to live on their own and function as adults with minimal help from us.

This division of labor hasn't changed as much as I thought it would since I have become a stay at home mom three years ago.  I know that at least I was envisioning that I was going to be doing more of the house chores since I was now home all day.  The reality is that we still take a pretty equal part.  I've come to find out that somehow my days are eaten up and I often feel pulled in a million different directions.  When I look back on our week there are times I can't figure out what the heck we did all week.  Maybe that's life with four kids?  Maybe I need to be better at managing my time? I'm not sure.

One of the things that I love about our relationship is that even if I don't get all the typical duties done during the day when I'm home Mark never questions it.  He doesn't walk through the door and ask "what I did all day".   Possibly that is because he was on his own with the kids a fair amount of times when I was working weekends. Whatever it is, it works for us.

Everything Changes

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This is what I always thought I would be doing when I grew up (not really)

People say everything changes after you have kids. “Oh you’ll find out.” they’ll say. They’ll tell you that you won’t get to go out with friends anymore. They’ll tell you that you have to give up your hobbies. They’ll tell you that you just can’t have fun anymore. They’ll tell you your life is over.

This is mostly bullshit.

As long as you can let go of the idea that nothing in your life will ever change, you should be just fine.

I’m not going to lie to you here, you won’t have as much free time after you have kids. Crystal and I had worked full time most of our lives, but we always had plenty of free time. We had time to read, watch movies, and in my case, work on nerdy side projects. After we had kids, this time started to disappear. Kids are a lot of work, and they take up a lot of your time, but that just means you need to change your priorities.

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Over time my kids became one of my highest priorities, but I didn’t realize that while it was happening. Suddenly I didn’t have time to think about learning to play the guitar, writing the next great American novel, or developing the next killer mobile app. It was frustrating. I had all of these big ideas but no time (or energy) to do anything about it.

Crystal’s ThoughtsMark has always been full of big ideas.  I don’t want to say kids have stifled those, but they have changed over time.  Instead of writing that novel (true story, he was working on it.) His ideas are more centered around backyard forts and home remodels)

Then I realized that all of these “important” ideas and goals weren’t really important to me, if they were I would have made the time to work on them. Since then I have worked to try to get rid of any side projects or hobbies that suck up a lot of time but don’t really bring me any joy. I have “decluttered” my free time. I can’t tell you how to do this for yourself. But next time you go to do something “fun”, ask yourself if it’s really something you want to spend your time on.

Time with friends, or just time outside of the house, can be tricky after you have kids. I think this is a time when you find out who your friends are. You will probably find a core group of friends that still want to spend time with you, and then rest will fade away. That’s not to say your time out with friends is gone. It’s just something else you need to make time for.

Crystal’s Thoughts You will find that as you grow and change you will find friends that either grow with you or you drift apart.  Some friends will not be willing to come hang out and have a night in while your kids sleep and want to go out to a swanky bar instead.  I’m a firm believer that there are relationships you just outgrow over time.

Don’t feel guilty getting a babysitter so you can have an adult night out. Also don’t feel like you have to get a babysitter to have a meal out of the house. If you start taking your kids out when they are young, they will know how to behave in public. Sure you might want to start at Red Robin or some other family friendly (read: screaming and crying friendly) restaurant, but after they know how to behave there are few places you can’t take them.

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Having less time can also affect your relationship with your partner. Maintaining a relationship is hard work, having kids is hard work, and maintaining a relationship after you have kids is even harder work. With that said, our marriage is stronger now than it has ever been. I know it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. I know some couples don’t last after they have kids. But we did, and it comes down to communication.

When we first got married we were terrible at communicating. We rarely told each other how we felt about anything. We loved each other, without a doubt, but I don’t know how much we really knew each other. That kind of stuff takes time, and like I mentioned, hard work. Having kids has a way of speeding things up though, it’s a trial by fire.

After we had kids we had to operate as a team or nobody was going to be happy, and the only way we could get there is if we started talking more. For us it happened naturally, it wasn’t like we had a moment where we sat down and talked about our feelings and then everything was amazing. It’s an ongoing process, it’s not something that’s ever “done”, and something we still work on (read more about how we stay connected here).

Crystal’s ThoughtsI feel like we say this over and over again. COMMUNICATION. It’s imperative. Neither of us are mind readers, it is not productive for either of us to get upset when we can’t anticipate the others wants/needs.  You need to communicate with your team to be able to run smoothly. 

We’ve talked about keeping your relationship with your partner strong, but what about keeping you strong? As a new parent, it’s easy to take the role of “parent” and make that your entire identity. Your life revolves around your children. You volunteer for all the school events, go to all the birthday parties, and spend every waking hour trying to make sure your kids are safe and happy. Somewhere in the middle of this, you start to lose yourself.

It’s different for everyone I’m sure, but I stopped doing much of anything. I took up running, which I really enjoyed, but I still didn’t have much of an identity. For me, I really found myself the first time I went to the local SQL Server user group in Detroit. I found “my people” there. That was the big difference when compared to running. Running was something I did alone, this was something I could do with other people.

I think it was my second meeting when I heard about a free full-day training event coming up, and they needed speakers. I had never spoken in front a group of people before, but I thought I would submit a talk and see what happened. To my surprise, I was chosen to speak and it changed my life. If it weren’t for this opportunity I wouldn’t have found how much I like to teach. I also wouldn’t have gotten my current job. My employer was impressed with the fact that I spent my spare time teaching and writing about database administration.

Crystal’s ThoughtsOne of the big phrases in the mom circles right now is “self-care” and as much as I usually hate to jump on the band wagon, it is really important.   As parents, we often lose ourselves and become drained.  You can’t pour from an empty cup.  You need to find that thing that fills your cup, for Mark it’s teaching in the SQL community.  For me, it’s doing things like getting a massage, getting a manicure, reconnecting with other mom friends who are just as drained as I am. I am a better mom and wife when I get that time.  It’s not selfish, it is addressing my needs as a human.

When you have kids it’s important to remember that you are still a person with needs. It’s also important that you don’t think of taking time for yourself as “selfish”. If you aren’t happy there is no way you’ll be able to keep up a relationship or provide any sort of role model for your children.  Of course, things are going to change, life would be pretty boring and stagnant if it didn’t.  The important thing is to embrace that change and go with it.

Staying Connected

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On date night, being serious, as usual

Once you get into a routine it can be hard to change. You go to work, come home, eat dinner, veg out in front of the TV, and go to bed. Throw in kid shenanigans and a very occasional night out and you had our life. I can’t say we were drifting apart, but we certainly weren’t as close as we are now. Things don’t get like this right away, and if this is your typical day/week/month you might not ever see anything wrong with it.

Before we moved to Raleigh, Crystal and I had never really taken time for us. Every once in a while Crystal’s parents would take the kids and we would go out with friends, or maybe just the two of us would go out to eat, but it was never a regular thing. We lived close to friends who could watch our kids, and close to restaurants that we both enjoyed, but we just never made the time. We had three kids to worry about and probably weren’t getting divorced any time soon, why would we worry about spending time away from the kids? We had the time between when they went to bed and before we went to bed. Isn’t that enough? I can tell you now that it’s not.

When we lived in Michigan we both worked. I worked a typical 8-5 on weekdays and she worked a mix of weekdays with longer shifts on weekends. When Crystal wasn’t working she did volunteer work as a CPST; she is very passionate about child safety and it got her out of the house. Even though she worked on weekdays she took at least some of the kids with her, so volunteering on the weekends was her only real “adult time” out of the house. Because of our busy schedule we never took the time to spend time with each other. We could have. We could have planned it out and Crystal could have gotten a shift covered, and we could have dropped the kids off at a friends house but we just never did.

In the last few years Crystal and I made a decision to start focusing a little more on us. We decided to start trying to go on a regular “date night”. It isn’t anything fancy, a t-shirt and jeans would be more than welcome at most of the restaurants we go to, but we get out of the house all the same. We’ve found that we are too lame to go out on Friday nights (we are both practically falling asleep by 9pm), so we usually go out on Saturdays. Our typical date night consists of booking our regular sitter, calling a Lyft, having a long leisurely dinner and a few drinks, and then calling another Lyft and heading home. Sometimes we’re home by 10pm, but getting out counts all the same.

Besides our nights out, we have started doing “Date Night In” as well. Sometimes spending money on dinner and a babysitter isn’t in the budget, and sometimes we are just tired and need to relax, but whatever the reason is, a night in to connect can be a good option. Every weekend we try to watch a movie together, typically something we haven’t seen, and sometimes we’ll just opt for an old standby if we can’t find anything (without shame I can say we both enjoy Julie and Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, and Eat, Pray, Love ). Other nights we might eat a light dinner with the kids and then share a “fancy” cheese plate after the kids go to sleep. The point is that we make specific time to do something together.

I’m not going to lie and say that it’s always some magical connecting experience when we have a night in/out. Sometimes one of us (or both of us) aren’t really into it, sometimes on “movie night” we can’t figure out what to watch, and sometimes we just have a lapse and go for a while without taking some time to connect. But we try, and I think thats what makes it work. I feel like nobody talks about how a marriage isn’t just some static thing, it takes work to maintain it, and it’s always changing.

It can be super easy to take a marriage for granted, especially easy when you have kids. Suddenly all of your time is dedicated to making sure your kids are getting what they need, and making sure they are happy, but what about you and your spouse? Are you happy? Take some time with your spouse. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money and have a night out on the town, the only thing you need to spend is time. Set some time aside and just sit and talk, work on being together. We made that choice and our marriage is stronger than it has ever been.