My friend Kim wrote an amazing essay today about the ridiculous practice of asking women how they balance professional life and motherhood. It was great to read. I emailed her an all-to-long thank you. She told me to publish it. I cleaned it up a little and here it is.
I was writing you an email in my head while doing dishes. Which is a thing I want. Not Google Glass or anything dumb. Just a thing that lets me talk into my window to send email. I’d be a productivity machine. Except I like dishes because they don’t let you do any of that. No paper. No electronics. Soap up and wash dishes, motherfucker. It’s the best thinking you’ll do all day.
Children are hard. And they’re expensive. I realized we’ve been spending something like $20k/year on the kids and that’s apparently under the average. And time? Holy shit. I’m up by 7:45AM every day no matter what. We all rush around to get Violet out to school, Taryn the captain of the team, then Clem and I hang out until 9:30AM or 10AM while Taryn’s at school drop-off. I generally work pretty solidly from 10AM until 2PM while Taryn hangs with Clem, then we start mixing it all up until Taryn leaves to get Violet at 2:30PM. Clem and I hang out some days, others she goes with Taryn. Depends on the day. Either way, the kids are playing by 3:15 or 3:30 and Taryn and I talk a little, I work, then around 5PM we start dinner. This is effectively dinner and bedtime. It’s a three or four hour gauntlet — food, baths, stories, and I put the girls to bed around 7:45. Usually I’m done by 8:30PM or so. Then email. Then dishes. Maybe a little work in bed. Taryn and I hang out for a bit and she falls asleep. I get up around 11:15PM after she’s asleep and work until midnight or so. For deadlines 2AM is my cutoff. Then sleep and 7:45AM all over again.
Putting it in detail because it’s constant and unchanging. Yet somehow we’ve fallen into this weird shape where I “work” and Taryn is a “stay at home mom.” Both are total bullshit roles thrown on us but they’re hard to escape. We both work insanely hard. We both stay at home.
Frankly it’s hurt our relationship. There’s really no time to talk about things like adults. We have a four room house — hard to listen to music loud, yell at movies, make out, drink, sing, dance, or even talk about art. You fight against fading into nothing, waiting for both girls to be old enough for the dynamic to change, or at least for a chance to earn more money so our bank account doesn’t go negative every month. The dream of a bigger apartment or even saving for a home of our own.
And with all of that, the thing hurting us isn’t the time, the space, the kids — it’s the stereotypes.
Taryn’s not some “stay at home mom” — she was a gallery manager when I met her. She’s brilliant, and the glimmer in her eye when she reaches into her encyclopedic knowledge of modern art is what made me fall in love with her. Gallery manager is a hard job to find without connections or an art history degree. She lost her job and we were young and newly married and who cared about those things.
Then she got pregnant. That (literally) bankrupted us and it turns out I could earn more money with computers, daycare is crazy expensive, so we focused me on work and she cared for our daughter. We were the first of our friends with kids, and people around us disappeared. I don’t blame them, but it happened. So I worked, she watched the kids, we talked about art, all was fine.
My job ultimately became my insane quest for a better world. Improving life slowly through nonprofit and open resources for musicians. Why did I do that? We were mostly okay before. It started as a job. My other design work disappeared and I had no resume. It felt like the only choice. It was my “career” and I refused to cater to a career that didn’t help people. Refused. Fuck that. But suddenly I was in a “career” and Taryn was a “stay at home mother.” We talk about it and neither of us know exactly when that started.
She got a job as a personal assistant. It was amazing. Everything was fixed overnight. Actually. We both felt we had a purpose, it felt even, and really there was light in our relationship for the first time in years.
But the job was unfairly demanding, despite clear ground rules and communication about what was needed. I don’t want to go into details but I feel like the person she was helping wanted a lackey, not an assistant. I saw Taryn treated less like someone helping organize a small company and more like a gopher sent on errand after errand.
In the end Taryn quit, and was told she was being fired anyway, because…wait for it…because she was just a mom and couldn’t handle it.
She’s just a mom. I’m just a career.
And that’s actually the way people want things, apparently. Not me. We’re still looking for something Taryn can do that’s as flexible as my weird job. I’m still turning down “real” jobs so I can be at home, be with my family, and not compromise my own morality.
I’ve seen people overlook the brilliance in Taryn because she’s a mother. I’ve felt the pressure to build “my career” even if that meant hurting my role as a father and husband.
Talking about women and their balancing act diminishes them where they need to be lifted up. And ignoring the balancing act men face diminishes them where they need to be lifted up. And on top of all that it ignores the most important part of everything I just talked about: that it’s just one option of countless many. People take care of their partners, they create art, they toil and dream around their choices and make individual sacrifices every day, children or no.
We all know Henry Darger’s name. We don’t talk about his career as a janitor but about the art he created in a lifetime of solitude. We all know Ada Lovelace’s name. We don’t talk about her family life but of the math she did outshining all the early fathers of computing.
Stereotypes are meant to be broken. Let’s set out today and smash them all.