In my search for accurate descriptors of my role in my family’s life, I have settled on this one (for now): primary parental unit.
It is clear and descriptive. I am a father, a parent, but without the traditional absentee breadwinner connotation that ‘father’ holds. While my wife backs me up as a co-parent, I am the primary lead on most of the home-making and child-rearing stuff. On the home-making side, you have the big four: cleaning, laundry, cooking and shopping. On the child-rearing side, you have stuff like:
- school – delivery to and from, plus attendance at all important assemblies and concerts;
- social – playdates and social coordination among school friends and their families;
- medical – coordinate appointments for doctors, dentists, optometrists, etc.;
- arts and skills – seek out and coordinate participation in after-school programs to enhance life skills (swimming and skating) and artistic development (piano lessons and daily practicing).
Am I missing anything? Oh yeah, there’s also the part about just being there. Amidst all this home-making and child-rearing, one needs to stop and just listen. Sit down and play with Lego blocks together or a make-believe game. That’s when the day’s most cherished moments reveal themselves.
So that’s what the primary parental unit does. In many contemporary households, I think the home-making is more evenly shared between mothers and fathers today than ever before. In some homes, the home-making tasks are outsourced to nannies, even grocery delivery services. But the child-rearing generally still falls on the shoulders of the mother, even in situations where the mother is working too.
As important a role as we all might agree home-making and child-rearing is, it is devalued somehow. I have felt this devaluation and not necessarily coming from what people say to me, but from what I hear in my own head. I have a deep-seated lack of respect for home-making and child-rearing and that feeling confuses me. When asked what I do (as all professional men and women will eventually ask in social situations), I hesitate to say clearly what it is that I do. Partly it’s a lack of terminology, but more and more I realize its a lack of respect for the role. Though I should qualify this. Women typically understand how important this work is (obviously, because it traditionally falls to them) so they seem to give some added respect to a man in a primary parental role. But men don’t understand the work and tend to look down on the work as woman’s work. No matter what they say, most men have a hard time concealing this lack of respect.
My discomfort comes from this internalized feeling that it is woman’s work I am doing and somehow not worthy of respect in a professional context. But I am confused by this feeling because I really want to be doing this work now. I want the intimacy in the relationships with my kids that comes from being there. Generally, I love being around them. I like their personalities and learn things about myself by being with them so much. And I like the lifestyle and the work style. It fits with my general approach to work – which is to be flexible and fit it in around the important moments in a day. Things can get done when the kids are at school or in the evenings, so that all the other kid stuff happens when it needs to.
In the end, this feels like the right path for me. I was never career-obsessed. I’ve always made decisions to spend my time working at things that felt important and interesting to me: advocacy for ecological change, development of the internet, my own evolution as a corporate manager, financial planning for the future and now parenthood. Yet, even now as I wax eloquent about home-making and child-rearing, I am dipping my toe in the waters of new work opportunities in Edmonton. So as my kids grow and become more independent from me, so do I need to start to re-establish my independence from them.