Like a lot of us modern moms, I was intentionally late to the child-bearing party. I established my career before having kids. I waited to find the right man to marry. At the right time.
Then from age 33 to 38 I had three babies. Perhaps understandably, the only thing I had not completely established before motherhood was a strong, balanced marriage. Hey, you can’t get everything right, right? By the time we made it to our fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I had three kids. We felt like our relationship had been hit by a Mack truck.
Of course I did not realize the stress work and motherhood put on our marriage at the time. I was too busy. Working, changing diapers, making sure deadlines were met at work and no one fell into an open toilet at home. I never slept more than three hours straight. I rarely saw my husband.
I was too overwhelmed to grasp that he was even more overwhelmed by the demands of work and kids than I was. Reflection and introspection don’t flow naturally to him. He tried to deal with the massive changes in responsibility by excelling at work and basically pretending everything in our life was exactly the same as before we had children.
Which, as I’m sure some of you moms understand all too well, really pissed me off.
My beloved husband slept through all the midnight to 2 am feedings and fevers and vomitoriums that go along with three kids in five years. He blithely went on business trips without clouding his mind with petty concerns such as who might stay home when a child (or two) got ill in his absence. My Harvard Law School negotiations cheatsheet was required to get him to make pickup at the daycare center so I could occasionally work past 5 p.m. or prepare for a critical meeting. He asked me to leave behind my comfy, family-friendly career to support his family-unfriendly career without even realizing what a sacrifice he was demanding.
Now our kids are 12, 10 and 7. My career is an unrecognizable squiggly line – 12 years ago I was a marketing executive at Johnson & Johnson with a promising future, stock options and international travel two weeks every month. Now I’m a work-at-home writer, speaker and consultant with the flexibility to be my children’s primary childcare provider.
My husband’s career has been — and remains — a straight line on a graph. But at some point along the way, long after I gave up nagging and fuming, he realized it wasn’t fair to himself, me or our kids to put work first as if he were still single and childless. Bit by bit, he’s done more and more to manage the household and wrangle our kids.
The transformation was especially obvious during this summer’s family holiday. To my amazement he let me sleep in every morning while he took the kids to the beach. He did every bit of menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking. I emptied the dishwasher and made our bed. Now that is what I call a vacation.
I wish my husband experienced this daddyhood renovation while our kids were little and motherhood was my 24/7 solo highwire act. I could have used his help with the diaper duty, endless trips to the pediatrician, and the nonstop vigilance it took to keep three sets of little fingers out of the electric sockets. He acknowledges all this. “You were much more mature when we first had kids,” he told me recently. “Juggling came naturally to you. But I’m catching up.”
And I’m slowing down to let him.