More on Free but not cheap

[It's been eleven years. Every year I think I won't feel the grief and sadness, and every year I do. Ambulances still startle me, bagpipes still make me weep. I am so thankful for the beautiful new tower in the gaping hole, and still so sad for everyone and everything we lost.]

Wow, what an amazing response to my "Free but not cheap" piece on the relationship vs. the jobs! Thank you so much for your kind, sweet, moving comments, on this site and everywhere else. Here are two more big insights I had in the process of talking about the piece:

1. In the comments, epeepunk (who is a father, and married to longtime frequent commenter hedra) said:

"I've been trying to figure out why the recent discussions about motherhood and having it all were bugging me. One was the omission of the concept that dads could fill any of the roles that are traditionally mom's. But the other was that it seems that women (in broad general terms) develop the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who are developing the relationship without doing the 'work'.

And this is another reason (I do have them listed out) that I love hedra. Because we've always been very clear about how we're sharing the *jobs*. And that leaves us free to develop the relationships on our terms and in our ways."

YES. "It seems that women (in broad general terms) develop the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who are developing the relationship without doing the 'work'." YES. I never begrudged my kids' dad his relationship with the kids, even though I was doing the vast majority of the jobs involved with them, except when I resented him for it. Which I did, a lot. And a lot of that was because I didn't like doing those jobs, and envied that he got to have all of the relationship and nowhere near as many of the jobs I had.

We resolved that problem by getting a divorce (I'm not really joking--I don't think there was any way to resolve that or most of our other problems and still stay together, given the fact that our relationship was largely a facade) and that equalized the jobs more (50/50 custody) and also completely separated the relationships.(And our kids got older. See #2 below.)

I can't recommend divorce for everyone. I can recommend epeepunk and hedra's very explicit decisionmaking and delineating jobs. I can recommend any deliberate and conscious method of making everyone happy with their own jobs ratio.

2. When you have very little (toddler and under) children, sometimes the only tangible evidence of the relationship can be the job. Think about back before your child started smiling: There was no positive feedback whatsoever for any of the jobs you were doing. The only way you knew you were someone's mother was because of the jobs. And even after the smiling starts, there's still not a lot of relationship there that you can actually touch. Think about the number of times you thought things like "He only loves me for my milk" or you made special food for your 20-month-old and when your kid rejected it you felt personallly hurt, like it was *you* your kid was rejecting.

I think that is the number two reason (number one being sleep deprivation and other stress) that women with little little kids are so much more adamant and defensive but simultaneously confused and unhappy about what jobs they spend their days doing. If you're doing all the kid jobs, it's easy to feel like that's evidence that you have a great relationship. But IT IS HARD, so you have to tell yourself there's some big payoff that women who go do other jobs during the day don't have. And women who go do non-kid jobs during the day can worry that that means they don't/won't have the relationships with their children that the women who do kid jobs all day do. So they have to come up with some way of consoling themselves about that. And it all gets defensive and posturing and angry and the next thing you know we're all on the cover of Time magazine.

It's a big cluster. And that makes the jobs seem even more high stakes. Who can win, ever?

Parents of older kids (6 or 7 and up, I'd say) can see much more clearly that the jobs are only sometimes connected to the relationship, depending on the relationship and the jobs. Who cares who does the laundry or supervises homework or packs lunch? (If you have older kids, can you think of a job that you feel is important for you to do because it has some relationship resonance with you, but that your kids may or may not care about because for them it's just a job? For me it's making birthday cakes. I would feel like I was letting my kids down by not making them the cake they wanted, but my kids don't care who made the cake.)

Have you ever seen people interviewed and they say something like, "My mom worked four jobs to support us but I always knew I was the most important thing to her"? Kids get it. But they can't always verbalize every aspect of it while it's happening, so we end up with a lot of feeling like we should be doing something we're not doing, and there's a lot of job misallotment and misallocation.

I'd argue that that's life. And that if we're focused on the relationship we have a lot of space and time and conversation to get it right. Any one job isn't going to make or break things. Any thousand jobs isn't going to make or break things by the time your kid is an adult.

 

Second round of thinking about this: What's hitting you about your relationship with your own parents? Your relationship with your own kids? Your relationship with jobs?