The Primary Carer(s)

dinner
Dinner, and a special place set for a working mama by her daughter.

It’s 6am. I’ve just left home for a 12 hour shift, my third shift in four days. It’s a Saturday, which means the big kids have soccer. Since this is the one weekend out of five that I will be at work all day, Murphy’s law dictates that both kids will have games at the same time. At different fields. Fields so far away from each other that it is impossible to even drop Phoebe at her game before speeding off to Daniel’s game.

I’ve worked most of the week, and Joe has worked all of it. In between work, I have taken the kids to specialist appointments, social engagements, training sessions. There has been limited time for things like housework, so our dirty clothes hamper is filled to the brim. The school holidays have just ended, so we are light on groceries, too: I have been waiting for a child-free day, because three children fighting and begging for sugary snacks in Aldi is a special kind of torture.

Toys litter the house from front to back. No matter how many times I attempt to enforce a ‘toys should only be in the toy room’ rule, it never works. Phoebe’s latest art project clutters the dining table. Jared’s enduring obsession with pirates means that there are discarded pirate ships everywhere – he spent last night “sailing the seven seas”. For two kids, there are only three soccer socks. Daniel will end up wearing one of Joe’s black business socks, the heel flapping against his calf while he runs.

This is what a busy household looks like. This is three kids, two cats, two parents, two full time jobs. This is sharing the load.

sailing
The captain and his ship, sailing the seven seas.

Our life would not be possible, if both of us were not committed to sharing the parenting load equally. Sometimes it feels like it barely works when we do. A colleague asks me, ‘Who is babysitting the kids? Your husband?’ I say ‘No, my husband is not babysitting the kids. He’s parenting them.’ Because they are his responsibility, too. She laughs when I say this. ‘Yeah, but they never do as good a job, do they?’ She walks away before I can disagree.

The truth is, some things I do better than Joe. Some parts of parenting come more naturally to me, not due to my gender, but due to my personality. But Joe is better at parenting than me in plenty of areas, too.

I never considered the option that I would be the only parent who ‘parented’ in our family. It never occurred to me that men in some households really do ‘babysit’ their kids, rather than take an equal role in parenting. Before I had kids, I assumed that this was an outdated idea, or at least a rare one, in a world where more and more families have two working parents. In our house, if you are the person there, you are the person who does. If a book needs to be read, you read it. If the kids have to go to a party, you take them. If a nappy needs changing, you bloody well change it.

joe+me
Two parents. Equal responsibility.

If Joe ever had thoughts that he would not be required to parent our kids equally, he never voiced them. I doubt that he did. It has never been something that required discussion in our relationship. We have always been pretty equally balanced, so it was logical to me that our parenting roles would be, too. We are surrounded by families and friends who parent equally. It seems normal to me.

I’m lucky, apparently. Lucky, because I am not expected to go home after 12 hours of work, and cook dinner for the family. Lucky, because I am ‘allowed’ to go out socially. Lucky, because I can rely on Joe to wash dishes without being asked, or put clothes on the line, or take the kids to swimming lessons, or do their homework.

I tell them that it’s not luck. That it is the way it should be.

It’s 7pm. I’m home from work, earlier than usual, thanks to the good fortune of a 20 minute early mark, and a fabulously traffic-free motorway. There are still toys littering the floor, however the house is tidier. I can see wet clothes hanging on the line, and even more on clothes airers in the living room. The house smells like slow cooked lamb stew. Phoebe has set the table. The kids run to me, crowd me, cuddle me.

We eat, and while Joe stacks the dishwasher, I ladle the leftovers into plastic containers. I let the kids stay up late, so that I can spend just one more hour playing with them. I am a pirate, and we are sailing the seven seas, looking for treasure. We are racing car drivers, about to win the cup. They tell me about their soccer games, show me drawings. They fight me when I ask them to tidy their toys. We read books, brush teeth, bribe them to go to bed. We sprawl on the couch together, exhausted, when they finally succumb to sleep.

sleeping
They have separate beds, proper doonas, the works, yet this is how they end up most nights.

Today, it was Joe’s turn to be the primary parent. Today, it all fell on him. It will again, on countless occasions, until our kids are grown. It will be my turn again soon.

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