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Parenting against type

Categories: time management, working from home


My husband is a spontaneous, adaptable good sport who shines under pressure and thrives on improvisation. And since every yin must have its yang (or is he the yang and I’m the yin?), I’m his other half, the one who depends on structure and consistency and all the pieces of my life fitting together just so or else THE WORLD IS ENDING AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIIIE. For the most part we’ve found a way to make this work in our relationship, but unfortunately we don’t always get along with our jobs as well as we do with each other: He works regular hours in a building across town, and I work eight a.m. to whenever, and wherever, depending on what day it is and who needs me. I’m the one on call for sick days and holidays, I’m the one playing chauffeur, and I’m the one working late into the night because my nine-to-five was interrupted at 10:30 by a toddler spouting volcanos of vomit all over daycare.

When it happens–when I’m called away from my job as employee to my job as mom–it’s hard not to feel like my career and out-of-the-house responsibilities have been deemed less important than my husband’s, since he has to be at work between certain hours and he is relied on to be reliable for an entire company, and although it feels unfair, there’s really no sense in trying to negotiate for anything different, at least not right now, and so instead I’m working on genuine acceptance. No one’s job is more important than the other’s, they just come with different rules.

Besides, when you look at the big picture, the disparity isn’t actually unfair, it’s fortunate. How fortunate that one of us has a flexible job. How fortunate that we’re both employed when not so long ago we weren’t. How fortunate that I can work from home most days. How fortunate that it takes me five minutes to retrieve my son from daycare in an emergency whereas it would take his father closer to an hour if the traffic’s light and the wind’s blowing the right direction. How fortunate.

And yet.

When I’m always the one postponing and rearranging and Plan B-ing to accommodate sick days and travel days and special events, it’s hard not to feel put-upon, like I’m the only one making the sacrifices. But of course that isn’t true either. We’ve both accepted positions that force us to parent against type (he’s as uncomfortable with a rigid workday as I am an amorphous one), and we’re both doing what we can to make the best of the situation. This isn’t about whose job gets more respect (or which one of us gets more respect) but whose job is, by nature, more flexible than the other, and instead of looking at that as burden, I’m working hard to see it for what it is: a fortunate benefit. We could be two parents with inflexible jobs. We could be two parents with only one job. We could be two parents with zero jobs.

It’s great when we can work together by assuming complimentary tasks that agree with our individual dispositions–I like to take the dishes out of the dishwasher and stack them neatly where they belong; he likes to load the dishwasher, revelling in the challenge of finding a place for everything, using a new configuration each time–but sometimes we can’t choose our roles and in that case our best move is to find a way to make peace with what we’re dealt. For me that means instead of reacting to every change of plans as if it’s a major upheaval, I’m trying to treat it like what it is: just a change of plans. Instead of feeling like my work as an employee is being downplayed, I’m embracing how valuable I am in my role as a mother. A mother who can always take solace in putting the clean dishes back just so.

Do your parenting responsibilities line up with your personality? If not, do you and your partner each parent against type equally, or is one of you sacrificing more than the other? If you’re a single parent, how have you stepped up to the challenge of filling all roles, all the time?

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3 comments so far...

  • My wife and I are in the exact same situation you are! I have an inflexible job, and she has a super flexible job, and we are both suited for the opposite! She feels put-upon when she has to be the flexible one, and I feel totally strapped-in and trapped when I have to stay the daily course and answer to a strict schedule.

    Oh wait…

    simon  |  November 17th, 2010 at 8:21 am

  • Wow, did you get married?

    Kate  |  November 17th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

  • He’s been calling me “wife” for ages. I knew calling him “husband” back would make him smile. :)

    Leah K  |  November 17th, 2010 at 1:04 pm