I'm going to go ahead and say something heretical. Something very antiquated and anti-feminist. Something that might make Betty Friedan turn angrily in her grave. You ready? Here I go: Staying at home with my kids has been good for my marriage.
At times, I'm not sure it's been so great for me. Sure, I sincerely cherish the increased time with my babies and enjoy all those "firsts" I regretted missing when I was working. At the same time, being a stay at home mom can be isolating and mind-numbing. And no one is there to value or appreciate any of your triumphant mom moments. (Isn't that why we have to blog about them?) Your children, far from cheering you on, spend a good part of the day pissing (figuratively and, bless them, literally) on your plans, which exist solely for them in the first place. My sister summed up this dynamic perfectly when she told me that her son came up and bit her on the leg as she was making him lunch.
But, what you do have as a stay at home mom, is a lot less of a time crunch than when you're working. My day might be dull or chaotic or frustrating. I can't pee with the door closed and I might eat lunch over the sink. But at some point in the day, I make dinner. And that, as they say, has made all of the difference.
When both of us were working, we'd rush home and have a mountain of tasks to complete in the hour or two before we collapsed into bed. It was like running a race: play with the boy, make dinner, do the dishes, read some goodnight books, put the boy to bed, open the laptop to answer emails, play "not it" when cries emerge from the bedroom, pat the boy to bed again, eat therapeutic chocolate and fall into bed. Wading through our post-work domestic tasks, both of us felt aggrieved that we were taking on more than our fair share. I felt I did most of the cooking. And most of the dishes. But unhappily.
In fairness to my husband, his job was a lot more demanding, with nighttime and weekend work a necessity. And he did some things, like keeping up with our finances and locking up at night, that I didn't. But still, I resented that with both of us working, I was still the one doing the heavy lifting in the traditional female roles.
The problem is that modern women, myself included, have an expectation that we'll be entering a 50-50 domestic partnership. And unless you are dividing up profits, "50-50" is a subjective experience totally dependent on each person's perspective. Maybe one of us (ahem...) has a different tolerance for how clean the house should be, and my making it cleaner than that was like creating more work and then complaining about doing it. But both of us of course felt that we were pulling our fair and equal share. Our exhaustion proved it.
Still, I resented my husband. He resented me resenting him. In order to quantify my martyrdom and prove my point, I would bitterly catalog all the extra work I did - how many more days I made dinner, how many more dishes I did. Colin would accuse me of "keeping score." I was. I felt I was winning, but there was no prize.
But now that I'm at home, I'm happy to make dinner. I have time and it's kind of my job now. And, given the backdrop of our experience, Colin all the more appreciates my efforts. Our nights are no longer a bitter, exhausted race. When he comes home there's simply less to do. And since I've been with the kids during the day I'm more happy to let him play with them while I finish dinner.
But I can hear your protests all the way here in Kenya. I'm not saying women should stay at home in order to have a happy marriage. I'm only saying that the division of labor has been more predictable and easier to negotiate for us, with one of us (and it could have been either of us) more solidly in the domestic domain.
Maybe other couples have this "second shift" of domestic labor figured out. Maybe they order take out and hire a maid. Maybe one of them doesn't expect that much help in the first place and is less disappointed as a result. Maybe their talents and preferences for chores fall neatly into mutually exclusive camps. It didn't work that way for us.
I'm not going to stay at home forever, and I look forward to going back to work. But I don't look forward to having the the household responsibilities squeezed again and pointing accusing fingers at one another. Maybe by then we'll have a better plan. Maybe by then we can put some of the kids to work for us...