Even in families in which both parents work full-time, there's usually that "go-to" parent who's the first to punch in when it's homework, dinner, or bed time. Even the most communicative, "we work as a team" couple can't split everything down the middle, 50/50, all the time. When time spent at home has even the slightest imbalance to it, emotions can run high between parenting couples. So what happens when one parent spends more time with the kids? In a word: complications. Complications happen, which is why communication is key.
I know that not every family has such a traditional situation as mine (super boring, I know), where I am the parent who works part-time and is home with the kids way more, while my partner is the Big Office Guy who works around the clock and is home way less. And as with damn near everything involved with parenting, I think it's important that I draw largely from my own experiences while simultaneously recognizing that other families have different ones. After all, there's more than one way to have one parent be the "at-home" parent and one parent be the "working parent." So, as with anything else, I acknowledge that my situation is mine and mine alone.
But even though parenthood looks different to different people, there are a few universal truths we can all rely on and find comfort in. Even when things are hard, we're not alone, and any feeling of parent-related imbalance has a way of leading to resentment. So, with that in mind, here's what will probably happen when one parent spends more time with the kids:
Resentment Over The Other Person's Time Away From The Kids
Even though I know my partner is not off playing golf or relaxing at a spa when he's not home with our kids, there's an uncontrollable part of me that churns up resentment during the more challenging nights at home. Because even in the worst work moments I imagine my partner could be having — like when you get that pit-in-your-stomach feeling from having screwed up something beyond belief, or when you have a terrible meeting with your boss — they still seem like a picnic compared to, say, cleaning diarrhea out of a full bath.
Jealousy About The Bond That The Parent Who Is With The Kids More Has With The Kids
Sometimes, when I tell my partner about the really fun day the kids and I have had together, I can tell my partner gets a little envious. This is, of course, a rare occasion — like when it is one of those miracle days when none of my kids called me "unfair" or "mean" and (gasp) maybe one child has even said I was "the best mom ever." You know, those kinds of days. Just like I can sometimes wish that I was the parent who was spending less time at home, my partner sometimes wishes he was the one going on day trips to faraway water parks and museums, making memories that the kids and I will talk about for months to come.
Occasional Fights About Who Deserves A Break More
I think I can easily say that most couples with children engage in the not-so-occasional pissing contest over who is more deserving of some "me" time. When my partner and I argue about it in the passive aggressive way we like to do, I can almost hear an announcer's voice as if my partner and I were in some weird reality parenting show, saying something like:
"In one corner, we've got mom: a woman pulled in a million directions, but multitasking like a damn boss. She's figuring out a dozen meals, answering work emails, planning playdates, scheduling classes for her kids, and coordinating with babysitters, all while wiping her preschooler's rear end with her other hand. Our other contender is dad. He hasn't gotten up from his ergonomic office chair for the past eight hours and could really use a sip of water, if only he had time to make it to the water cooler. Only one parent will qualify for 10 uninterrupted minutes on the toilet tonight. Who will be the winner? You decide."
Respect For The Parent Who Is Home Most Of The Time
Most of the time, (I have to be honest here), I feel like my partner respects the fact that I do a lot of the at-home stuff with the kids. He appreciates the energy that goes into taming our two whirling dervish boys into docile creatures, eager to take in a storybook at my lap at the end of every night. This is one of the nice things that couples have, when one parent spends more time with the kids: the good moments, I mean. And thank goodness for those, or I'd go crazy.
Respect For The Parent Who Is At Work Most Of The Time
I like the fact that I get to be with my kids more than I have to be at work. I consider myself really, really lucky. Sure, my children wear me out and sometimes I think they're plotting my demise, but for the most part, we're cool. Also, every day is kind of different for me when I'm with my kids. Our scenery changes often, we're not that heavily scheduled, and we get to spend time outdoors.
That's why I have mad respect for my partner, who is stuck inside of an overly air-conditioned office day-in and day-out; who has to stare at the same walls for hours on end. Also, he has to use the same part of his brain most of the day, whereas I get to don all kinds of different hats. When I'm with the kids, sometimes I'm a mermaid, sometimes I'm an evil sorcerer, sometimes I'm just mom, and sometimes I'm a reading tutor. I don't think my partner gets those same opportunities.
Inquiries As To Why Certain Household Chores Were Not Accomplished
Once in a blue moon, my partner will come home and find that the apartment is not up to its usual "white glove service" standards of cleanliness and order. This will lead him to wonder why his partner, who has been with the kids most of the day, was not able to tackle the unmade bed in our bedroom. What follows is a nasty fight that usually isn't about the unmade bed, but about something else much deeper.
Perceived Failings On The Part Of The At-Home Parent By The Other Parent
In this same vein, when one of the children starts acting bratty or doing something uncool, the parent who spends less time with them can easily take a few steps back and be all like, "Whoa. Whoa. Let's talk about your parenting skills for a minute." And they'll have the perfect excuse because they've been largely out of the picture while you've been the one basically raising the kids. Any issues the kids have must be your fault, then! Right? Um. No.
Perceived Shortcomings On The Part Of The Less At-Home Parent By The At-Home Parent
Conversely, the parent who is with the kids more can feel like they're not getting the support they need when it comes to co-parenting since their partner is not with them and the kids as much. So when one of the children starts acting bratty or doing something uncool, the parent who spends more time at home with the kids will look at the other parent and be like, "It's because you're never here that they're acting this way."
Basically, you can't really win in the parenting wars, especially within a family. In a perfect world, each parent would divide things 50/50 all day, every damn day. But would that be so perfect? I'm not so sure. The kinds of things that parents feel regarding who spends more time with the children forces them to have conversations, together, about how they can be better people and better parents. At least that's how it seems to be going for me and my partner. It's not always pleasant to butt heads, or feel like one person is doing the lion's share, but once everyone's said their peace, I realize that we've done some good work here. Maybe not great parenting, but good work, between us, as a couple. And that goes a long way towards our family life, doesn't it?
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