When my husband comes home every night, I’m already upstairs with our 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. They’ve been fed a healthy meal cooked by moi (most of the time, I’ve bought the groceries, too). They’ve been bathed (guess who again?). And now they’re in their pajamas and I’m doing the silly thing I do when I brush and floss their teeth. One at a time, I pull each onto my lap, turn them to the side and then lay them flat — using my legs as a “dentist chair” — and then I ask, “What sort of teeth am I brushing tonight?” The answers range anywhere from “alligator!” to “unicorn!” and then I get to work on those alligator or unicorn teeth, singing a silly little ditty I made up about the “dentist chair.”
From the outside, this touching scene looks pretty traditional, right? Father coming home from work to a warm meal while the doting mother tends to the kids. If you peeled back the roof of our townhouse and peeked in every evening around 7:30 to see this moment, you might guess that I’m a stay-at-home mom. But you’d be guessing wrong — in my two-income home, I’m both the primary breadwinner and the primary caregiver.
I’ll spare you the tedious, mind-numbing list of what an average day looks like for me (a list I initially wrote out only to find that it spanned over a page and was excruciatingly boring) but suffice it to say I do pretty much everything around here. Not only do I bring home the proverbial bacon (he’s Muslim, I’m Jewish so there’s no actual pork products in our home), but I cook it, too. My job provides more than half of our monthly income and it gives us benefits like health care and dental insurance. But I also do almost all of the child care and grocery shopping and cooking and laundry and cleaning. And all the administrative ands that come along with managing a household. And the birthday party planning. And the play date booking.
An endless list of ands.
Most evenings, after we put the kids to sleep, I’ll head back downstairs and return to my desk so I can put in a few more hours of work — quitting time comes when I can no longer see straight. My husband, in the meantime, will saunter into the kitchen to see what meal awaits him, fastidiously ignoring the pile of dishes flowing out of the sink as he makes himself a plate. (This is what I get for marrying a secular Muslim — as it turns out religious men do more housework).
After my husband is done eating the meal I’ve both paid for and prepared, he’ll lounge on the couch while I sit at my desk. (Did I mention I’m still working?) Sometimes I pause to load the dishwasher or to carry a load of laundry up the stairs. Or both.
This is all amazing for our relationship, let me tell you.
Seriously, I’m not mad at my husband. (OK, maybe a little.) But, what I’m really angry about is that we women have been sold a lie — the lie that we can have it all or that we should have it all.
I consider myself a feminist and, yet, the impossible daily grind of wearing both the pants and the skirt — like a growing number of women these days — is leading me to one conclusion: feminism has failed me. And I can’t escape the feeling that some good ol’ fashioned gender roles are called for. Or, at the very least, some defined ideals about the proper division of labor.
But not only did second- and third-wave feminism (what wave are we in now, anyhoo?) fail us. While the demands on women have shifted to include the expectation that we pursue meaningful and fulfilling careers, the mores haven’t: although wives are the primary breadwinners in 29% of married heterosexual households, we are still expected to do the bulk of the child care and housework.
And make no mistake, housework is work.
But no one is paying us for this second shift, as it’s known, and the government certainly isn’t putting into Social Security for our contributions at home. Feminism has failed us and policies have, too. Cost of living is high, wages are stagnant, making it challenging for lower-income and middle-class families to make it on one salary alone. Something has to give. Maybe it starts with the expectations placed upon women, policies, the workplace or all three. Otherwise, this breadwinning mama might be baring some alligator teeth of her own.