When one parent works outside the home, and one parent stays at home with multiple kids (or even just one kid) there are bound to be disagreements. My family is no exception. While it has been a struggle financially, we've been able to make it work, though. Inevitably, when you and your parenting partner are each coming from different perspectives, you'll end up having the fights every couple has when only one parent works.
It was very important to my partner and I that one of us stay home with the kids instead of earning a salary that barely pays for daycare. Since I was the one with the brand new graduate degree burning a hole in my pocket when we welcomed our first child, we decided my partner would stay home. This worked well for us but, of course, there were positives and negatives to the arrangement. The stay-at-home-parent will inevitably have times they feel the working parent doesn't take their fair share of the housework or child-rearing duties. On the other hand, the working parent will inevitably have times when they feel the stay-at-home parent doesn't appreciate the struggle of being on all the time, in a cycle of work to parent to work that never ends.
For my partner and I, "fights" are not brawls. We generally don't even yell. Our fights are more "conflicts" between two stubborn stalwarts. They fester and boil until they seep into every communication we share, no matter how small. If you are thinking about setting up an arrangement which one parent stays a home while the other parent works outside the home, I'd recommend understanding your fighting style and preparing a self-care/crisis management plan to handle the inevitable conflict. You'd also best prepare yourselves for the most common arguments when one parent works, including the following:
The "But I Always Cook" Fight
It can be daunting coming home after being gone all day at work, only to be expected to cook dinner. Equally daunting, however, is spending all day at home with three children, only to be expected to somehow get dinner on the table for everyone, too.
This one, thankfully, has been pretty easy for us. My partner is the cook in the house. That was established way before we had kids and he started staying at home. Of course I fix food for my kids for snacks and all other meals, but when it comes to dinner that's my partner's domain. In fact he's so particular about food prep that when I do throw my chef's hat in the ring his directing generally leads to a takeover (or a different fight altogether).
The "But I Always Clean The Bathrooms" Fight
Are you starting to see a pattern here? When one person works and one person stays at home it's common to start feeling like you do the same stuff all the time. It's harder to see while you're doing your chores your partner is also doing theirs, so the resentment of being stuck in the same toilet cleaning role can start to fester.
The "How Come You Don't Have Any Energy Left For Me?" Fight
This was a primary fight we kept coming back to. As the working parent, I'd get home and immediately be on mom duty. My partner would either cook dinner or take a much needed break. When you have three kids, of course, a "break" might look like pooping alone for once.
It's easy to get stuck in this utilitarian routine of doing just what is necessary to parent. There's often no time left to think of yourself, let alone your partner's needs or wants as an autonomous person. For example, I need human touch, sweet smiles, and outwardly expressed affection. My partner? He needs headphones, music, solitude, and darkness.
This is where that old, often scoffed at, idea of setting up date nights comes from. People, you need to keep your partnership alive and in whatever way you choose. If you don't, you'll look at each other one day and realize you're only roommates.
The "No, It's Your Turn" Fight
On just about anything. All the time. Ad infinitum.
The "Are The Kids Really Watching TV Again?" Fight
If I'm honest, parenting is nothing like I thought it would be. I thought I'd have a TV-free household until elementary school, even then it would only be carefully selected PBS shows that my quiet children watched for 22 minutes a day. Ha. Reality changes you.
It's totally reasonable, and recommended, to put age appropriate limits on screen time. However, I've learned to cut my partner (and myself) some slack when we have to use the TV as a babysitter in order to get the baby enough quiet time to take a nap.
The "It's My Turn To Sleep In" Fight
Holy sh*t, you guys. This fight is the closest to my heart. It's best if you can avoid this fight altogether by setting up a sleep-in schedule and writing down whose turn it is on the family calendar. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. It's hard enough to remember where I put my glasses in my chronically sleep deprived state, so do you really think I'm going to remember it's your turn to sleep in? Nope. I'm far more likely to think it's my turn. Just like it was last weekend, and the weekend before.
The "We Never Have Sex" Fight
Who has time or energy for sex with so much going on, right? Not to mention, when one of us feels under-appreciated it's pretty hard to get in the mood to canoodle. But, invariably, if sex was an important part of your pre-children relationship you will have this fight when you start to feel the effects of having zero time, zero energy, and zero libido can have on your once thriving sex life.
The "Our Budget Is So Tight So Please Ask Before You Spend Our Money" Fight
If the working parent handles the bills and the stay-at-home parent does the shopping (and you're not independently wealthy) expect to have this particular argument over and over and over again.
The "I'm Trying To Work Here" Fight
Particularly when the working parent is working from home, the question of necessary volume comes into effect. How loud do you really need to be (or let the children be) right outside of my office door?
The understandable response from the stay-at-home parent usually is, "Have you ever tried to get our children to be quiet?! It's an impossible feat! And I just got the baby to sleep! Better they're outside your office door than waking the baby up!"
You've got a point there.
The "But When Do I Get A Break?" Fight
Inevitably, there will come a time where the stay-at-home parent will see themselves as trod upon and taken for granted. Raising kids, whether full time or while working, is all the time. No one ever feels like they get a break.
Your self-care/crisis management plan needs to make individual breaks, and couple breaks, a priority. No. Matter. What.
The "You Don't Appreciate Everything I Do For This Family" Fight
All of these fights usually center around the fact that each parent feels they are not understood or appreciated for their contributions. At least this is the case in our family.
I certainly don't have all the answers about how to avoid these arguments. However, what I can tell you is when my partner and I are each taking the time to see what the other does and verbalize appreciation on an ongoing basis the following happens:
- the house runs smoother;
- the kids are happier and listen better; and,
- our relationship feels more like a loving team-partnership and less like a battle of opposing forces.
Now, as we embark on a new chapter where both of us work numerous jobs, this flexibility and constant practice of gratitude will be even more vital to our family's continued happiness.