Like most people, I drowned when the pandemic began. Trapped inside my house 24 hours a day with my adorable yet exuberant children in our own never-ending version of “Groundhog Day,” I felt isolated, defeated, and deflated. Homeschooling. Trying to keep the house clean when my little bundles of joy never left. Folding laundry that always seemed to be found crumbled on the floor of some child’s room. Sometimes even my own room. Everyone wanted to be fed all the time. Answering a constant stream of questions centering around food: What’s for breakfast? What’s for snack? What’s for lunch? What’s for snack (yes, again)? What’s for dinner? The children were winning. I was losing.
And it wasn’t just the children. My husband also wanted to be fed constantly, and would leave dishes scattered throughout the house. My couch had a permanent indentation from where he sat each night watching TV, the pillows and blankets constantly unfluffed and unfolded. Shortly after turning forty, as I was enjoying a bowl of cereal while sitting on the floor of my closet ignoring the screaming and yelling on the other side of the door, I said enough is enough. But how could I snap out of this funk? Things had to be done or chaos would ensue.
It was about this time that I read an article on Scary Mommy where a mom said that newly divorced, she found herself spending less time on chores and more time on herself. The article noted that on average married women did more work and had less time for themselves because they have to do stuff not only for their children and themselves, but also for their husbands. Well, that wasn’t going to be me anymore. I could not carry all this by myself, but divorcing seemed drastic just to have less housework. I do like my husband.
I realized the opposite: I needed to get my husband to do more. Grounded from business travel for the first time in the nine years since we had children, he’d been sitting there for months unused, collecting dust (and creating dust actually) — but with the right programming I thought I might be able to get him to work (literally).
When he traveled, certainly I did more. I did it all most days and nights (and yes, I say nights because I have a type 1 son and waking to treat low blood sugars happens almost nightly). A big part of my not formally working was because he traveled, and we felt it best to have one parent home because our kids were young. But with my husband home, why was I still doing it all?
So, one night in bed, because that’s the best place to ask a man for anything, I said to him, “You want to start rotating monitoring [our son’s] diabetes alarms?” I was prepared to pull out statistics to buttress my request if he resisted, but he just said, “Sure.” For the first time in years, I was actually sleeping some nights.
Later that week when I was making lunch every hour for a different child in between folding seven loads of laundry, I said, “You want to make us sandwiches while I make their lunches?” He said, “Okay.” I know, right? Who would have thought it? My husband was capable of making lunch too.
The next day, after cooking dinner, I said, “Can you do the dishes while I bathe the kids?” And he did them! He also just started doing laundry on his own. And not just his laundry—my laundry too. (And we started having the kids do their own laundry. So, score!)
For the first time in nine years, I had an equal partner in parenting, and I ran with it. And he let me. I know it’s so condescending to say “he let me,” but that’s how the world still views it. He’s the breadwinner, and I’m a stay-at-home mom. I should be so grateful that he treats me like an equal partner and helps raise the very children he helped make. I hear it all the time. “You’re so lucky he’s so helpful with the kids!” says a random lady at the park when she sees my husband pushing one of our kids, while I stand next to him also pushing one of our kids. And I think, “Well, no one gives me accolades for taking care of my own kids. Shouldn’t he be helping? Aren’t they his kids too?”
Suddenly, with his help with the child-rearing and domestic chores, my whole dynamic changed. I finally had moments to myself. I started doing “self-care.” I had read about it. I had heard the rumors, but with three kids, one of which has type 1 diabetes, I thought it was a myth. Moms having time for self-care? Crazy talk!
But it wasn’t a myth. I started walking every morning and every night, clocking in a seven mile a day average. I felt amazing. But I still felt like I needed something more. My darling husband said, “You are somewhat funny, why don’t you write a book?” So, I began writing every day as if it was a job, and we juggled helping the kids’ virtual school together.
One day, I was typing in my makeshift office (i.e. a folding table and chair in my bedroom), when I heard my son knocking at the door screaming for me to print something for him. Just as I was about to get up, I heard my husband say, “What do you need? Mommy’s working. I can help you.” The comment took me back. I have made not one cent from my writing, but he still called it work. How validating is that?
With his encouragement, I also started a part-time lawyer job — my first paid work in twelve years. And although I don’t think I’m lucky that my husband helps me (that should be the standard), I’m lucky because he believes in me. He supports me wanting to set and achieve goals. He never discourages me. He’s read and proofread my novel twice. My children, especially my two sons, will grow up knowing what a supportive, loving and balanced relationship should look like. (Well, hopefully; we do still scream and yell at each other when it comes to making the bed. Neither of us want to do that). They will know to model this behavior in their own relationships.
Because we have a partnership, it’s only fair my husband has time for himself as well. So, now he walks in the morning and at night too. We also started rotating putting the kids to bed, and sleep-in days on the weekends. On Father’s Day, I took the kids to my mom’s house and let him float in the pool alone all day. Unconventional, yes, but he has spent one year with our children virtual schooling and barely leaving the house — he needs self-care too!
Don’t get me wrong, my husband can be a complete Richard sometimes. He always wants to selfie on his best side with his dimple showing, which is also coincidentally my best side. Horrible, right? He always begs me to eat dessert with him. He thinks cleaning should be optional, and just wants me to cuddle instead of scrubbing the toilets. He always begs me to get take-out for dinner because he doesn’t want me to have to cook. Really, I know he just doesn’t want to clean up, but just go with it. I got him socks for Valentine’s Day and he was happy AF. Who’s happy with socks?
The list goes on and on, but having him as an equal partner has been how I made it through this pandemic. I know everyone’s circumstances are different. All relationships have their own dynamic. But asking for help saved me — and despite so much evidence to the contrary, not all husbands are Richards.