“I know that. You don’t think I know that? I’m trying. You just need to tell me what you need. We will balance it out.” His laptop is open on the kitchen counter, and he’s typing responses to his team in between slicing apples for our preschooler.
The toaster pops. I hand him the butter dish and leave the room—baby still on my hip—to hunt down my own laptop. I know I have a meeting coming up, and I have to get to my urgent emails before I’m trapped on calls for the afternoon.
“Right now, I feel like there is NO balance for me. Maybe there is for you. But definitely NOT for me!” I call out over my shoulder as I come back for my coffee cup and leave again, baby yelling alongside me.
We had been living the full-time, working-from-home with four young kids life for a month or two. We were trying, we were really trying, but we had hit a wall.
I was exhausted from not sleeping, with a teething baby who wanted to nurse all night. And helping to run a parenting brand—I’m an Executive Editor for Scary Mommy—while also parenting 24/7. My parenting ran parallel to my working—there really wasn’t a break from either of those things at any given time. I was up early to work. I was staying up late to work. I was cooking, cleaning, bathing, reading and playing with kids in whatever scraps of time I could steal throughout the work day.
I love my job. I love my kids. (That goes without saying, I hope.) But, I was feeling the emotional and mental load from all sides, and I was D-O-N-E.
My husband, an IT executive, was doing the same. He was doling out snacks, acting as referee of sibling disputes, throwing towels in the dryer while heating up his lunch.
We were both trying, though it’s easier for me to see that now than it was on that particular day, but I couldn’t articulate how HEAVY it all felt to me.
He had his meetings laid out, and when they would come up, he would go in an empty room, set up his laptop and headphones, and tune in. He did this because he knew that I would make sure our kids were fed, safe, and reasonably entertained. Then, he would come out a couple hours later, look around and casually ask “What’s going on? What can I do?”
Well, I sat through/led/contributed to two meetings, responded to a dozen emails, made lunch, changed a diaper, edited three essays, coordinated our social media scheduling, read a book about turtles, found a missing plush raccoon, responded to urgent direct messages, analyzed site traffic data, signed off on new content proposals, wiped a butt, located a missing Croc, and supervised scooter riding in the driveway while finalizing tomorrow’s headlines.
“What’s going on? What can I do?” Are you fucking kidding me right now, dude?
I know it isn’t a competition, but Mom-1, Dad-0.
I felt like my progressive, “gender roles are stupid AF” and “Dads are parents, not babysitters” partner had totally gone off the rails. I didn’t have time to handhold and life coach him through this. We were already in the thick of it, and he needed to figure it out. And soon.
So, that morning, it all came to a head. We both had a meeting at the same time, both of equal importance, and I was envisioning him just waltzing into his bedroom, hot coffee in hand, to sit down at his makeshift desk and tune in. He’d probably turn the fan on to drown out some of the kid noise. He would start the meeting making a joke about how “you’ll probably hear one of my MANY children because, you know, quarantine life” and everyone would do that fake obligatory chuckle.
And I swear to God, if I had to hear that fake chuckling one more time, while I whisper-yelled at my oldest two children to “PLEASE. STOP. FIGHTING. FOR. TWO. DAMN. SECONDS.” so I could articulate a clear thought, I was going to snap. I could feel the anger bubbling inside of my chest. I was growing more impatient. More resentful. More anxious.
So, after that meeting, I let him have it. I explained what a “quarantine” workday looked like for me. Down to the most minute details—from finding a lost shoe, slathering sunscreen on little faces while using my shoulder to keep my phone pressed to my ear, to burning my fingers because I forgot to put on a damn oven mitt when I pulled tater tots out of the oven because I was distracted by a Zoom meeting.
At the end, I said “Please explain to me what a quarantine work day looks like for YOU now.” His expression was a doppelgänger for the wide-eyed emoji.
Listen, I know that his job is intense and high-stakes. I know that coming from his office setting to our home, with all of our kids home all day, navigating distance learning, and the general chaos of having a big family while trying to balance his workload was a huge adjustment. I know there’s still a large amount of sexism present in even the most progressive companies, where the powers that be expect the mom to cater to kids so the menfolk can do “very important business.” So, he had a lot to wade through when coming to terms with what our “new normal” would look like.
But he’d had enough time, and now he needed to figure it out. Just like I did.
I reminded him that while he helps with the kids and the chores, he also appeared to be taking advantage of the luxury of turning that off while he tuned into his work. That doesn’t fly when your spouse is also working full-time and your four kids are at home indefinitely.
He recognized that he would need to prioritize his meetings, and reschedule some others so that I could attend some of mine without having kids hanging on my legs (or boobs). He said it would be easier for him to know where I found his help the most valuable so that he could make a conscious effort to make that happen each day.
He started to actually block out his lunch hour (as much as possible) on his calendar so that he can play outside with the kids during that time. This helps them burn energy and also gives them some quality time together. Win, win.
It’s still messy, literally and figuratively, around here. We still get on each other’s nerves, especially when we are under the stress of deadlines and end of quarter bullshit. I still feel that I’m carrying the proverbial mental load and it’s really heavy, but much of that is anxiety and worry that I can’t turn off, nor can I pass it on.
This is going to be an ongoing conversation. We don’t know when life will return to normal again, or what school will look like in the Fall, so we are going to have to keep chipping away at this to figure out what works.
But knowing that he’s in the trenches with me, trying to navigate this pandemic madness, while parenting these four wild, awesome kids, helps immensely. Immensely. I feel seen (most of the time), validated, and like I have a true partner who values me, my work, and my contributions to our family.
“We’ve got to make it work, “ I said.
I called him out, and he listened. And we are both doing the best we can.
He also started making me coffee every morning, and delivering it to my night stand while I nursed the baby. He’s a smart man. Start the day off right, and she might forgive you for being a dolt later.
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