This week, I had a freak-out, and I think I need to write about it.
This year has been a very busy one for Econo Boy – he’s been job-hunting and teaching a fairly heavy course load. As a result, I’ve been taking on a larger share of the household chores every now and then. More of the meal planning, more of the shopping, more of the cleaning, and almost all of the cooking. I was happy to do it – he was busy and I wanted to support him, since the outcome of his job hunt was huge for us as a couple.
But this week, as Econo Boy buried himself in a giant pile of final exams to grade and I buried myself in a stack of dirty dishes, I started to wonder if this was a pattern, if I had inadvertently become the “little woman,” cooking and cleaning and being sweetly non-demanding because her man has big important work-type things to do. All of this built up to a panic attack, in which I saw myself in 20 years, earning $2000 a course in a crappy part-time adjunct position that I’d accepted in order to be the one responsible for doing all the cooking and shopping and chauffeuring the kids to and from school, piano lessons, and sports practice, while Econo Boy basked in his tenured glory, came home at 6:30 to dinner on the table, and never noticed that I was pulling the day-to-day weight of keeping the family fed and organized. In other words, the same pattern from my parents’ marriage (although my mom actually did like her job) – the pattern that led my father to idiotically declare that my mom "never did anything to help this family" because her job wasn't a major source of income. (I know. Don’t even get me started. That’s a whole other post.)
That scenario terrifies me, and not just because my parents' marriage ended in a very bitter divorce. I like my work and I think I’m good at it, and I want to be in a job where the work I do is valued and compensated appropriately (i.e. not adjunct teaching). I’m willing to make career sacrifices, or even change jobs for our relationship and for our family, but I’m not willing to give up working, or to take a job that makes me miserable just because that’s easier for everyone else in the family. Whatever my future career and future household responsibilities look like, I want my role to be a choice I made, a choice I was happy to make, rather than something I slowly slid into without even realizing it until I resented it.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one having a bit of a freak-out about marriage and the future at the two-month mark (Meg, thanks for another spot-on post!), which makes me feel much less crazy. And I’ve talked to Econo Boy about my frustrations and we’ve both talked about how to avoid falling into gender traps in our relationship. Unfortunately I think it’s really easy for even the most driven women in heterosexual relationships to accidentally find themselves taking the supporting role, because that was the model a lot of us grew up with, the model that Western society still sells us, ever so subtly, every day.
I don’t have any easy answers for how to avoid it, except this: avoid it. Every single day, avoid it. Pay attention to the choices we make, and make them deliberately and consciously, knowing the implications for our careers, our family, and our future happiness. Appreciate each others' contributions, no matter how day-to-day and mundane. And above all, avoid becoming my parents!