The Wages of Work: Learning What You Miss at Home

By Troy Flint

Parenthood is illuminating for any number of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the child. It shines a light on the parents’ personalities, on the nature of their relationship (if two partners are involved), and on the culture of their society. I reflected on all of the above during a recent two-week paternity leave but kept coming back to the role of families in this culture.

I should preface the following remarks by acknowledging that – in the American context – I was fortunate to get any paternity leave at all. At the same time, two weeks home with our newborn son (our second child) redefined bittersweet. Two weeks was just long enough to acclimate to the rhythms of family life that elude me when I’m working during the week. It also gave me an even greater appreciation for the volume of work my wife does as the primary caregiver as well as its various nuances. Experiencing the daily routine for even that short amount of time left me with a severe (and deserved) case of survivor’s guilt when I returned to work.

I make a point of trying to avoid gendered roles in the home (to the extent possible for someone who is gone during the day) and do a proportionate share of the chores. But, as my paternity leave reinforced, there’s no substitute for being present minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day after day, and performing the emotional labor involved with planning, errand running, multitasking, and schedule juggling – to say nothing of interacting with, playing with, pleading with (and sometimes yelling at) a child. This time around, with a “high-spirited” toddler in the mix along with a newborn, the feeling of being stretched thin was even more profound. This is the life in which my wife is immersed 24-7. She moves through this world of barely controlled chaos in admirable fashion but it’s clear that more support would be a blessing.

It’s also apparent that the children, particularly our three-year old, benefit when two partners are available to tag-team the situation. It was fascinating to watch the intense dynamic of a mother and daughter who have been attached at the hip for 99 percent of the child’s life. Observing their interaction and working at my daughter’s parent participation preschool gave me a window into a side of her daily life I don’t see regularly enough.

The whole two weeks underscored that parenthood is more than reading the popular books, doing a certain number of chores, taking your kid to the right events, more than anything, it’s about being present for the subtle and often mundane developments of day-to-day life. It also left me with a resolve to make changes to afford more of that time – and to help make my wife’s life a little bit easier. Getting up an hour earlier, cutting the lunch break short, forgoing a workout (or shower), doing more meal planning, knocking off a couple midweek shopping trips, scrolling through Facebook 22 times a day instead of 23 – small sacrifices that hopefully add up to a significant difference. Until we have a society that appropriately values the work of raising a family and creates an infrastructure and safety net to support that, I’ll keep searching for these small margins and learning more along the way.

Photo by Luis Quintero