I was doing the daily school pick up last week and found myself chatting to one of the alpha dads. He’d finished work at the steel mill early that day so that he could “babysit” his kids for the afternoon. The conversation turned towards the upcoming Mothers Day and our respective plans. Knowing that I am a SAHD, this pinhead asked whether my kids would be doing anything special for me on Mothers Day.
I spent a moment visualising this muppet’s slow and painful death at my own hands, and then waited for the red mist to subside. I then explained to him, very slowly, carefully and with more than a hint of sarcasm, that although I’m responsible for the domestic aspects of our family, I am still in fact, a father and not a mother. Therefore, Mothers Day doesn’t apply to me or other SAHDs. I was proud of my restraint. Not always my strong suit.
I am not a mother. Clearly. I don’t have the physical or maternal attributes. I don’t have the intuition that tells me that something is wrong with one of my offspring. Nor do I have the in-built ability to find ‘lost’ toys that no one else can find. What I do have however, is a slightly different perspective, based on my own experiences as a SAHD and husband, on what defines a mother.
For me, what defines a mother and sets her apart from dads (other than the obvious of course) isn’t the tasks that she performs, which I believe most dads can do just as well if they apply themselves. It is the sacrifices that she makes.
When you think about it, mothers sacrifice constantly. When they first fall pregnant they sacrifice their bodies and hand them over to this little alien inside of them. Once the baby is born a lot of them sacrifice careers (and often their sanity) to be at home with the baby. The ones that don’t stay home with child are also sacrificing. Sacrificing time with their offspring to maintain their careers. This is often through absolute financial necessity and for no other reason. As the children get older the sacrifices change, but are still there. Mums either sacrifice making a financial contribution to ensure a presence at home during the school years, or they sacrifice being involved in their children’s schooling to build or maintain a career. There are of course many that manage to juggle the domestic role and the job / career. I suspect that even though they’re actually doing an amazing job, they feel like they’re struggling to juggle both a lot of the time. And that leads to my next observation. With sacrifice comes an element of guilt, and it’s unavoidable.
Guilt is a mother’s burden. It’s the lasting residue of the initial sacrifice. Dads don’t seem to carry the same guilt, irrespective of their role within the family. I think it’s because we don’t sacrifice as much to begin with.
Mrs Dadding Every Day, my beautiful, amazing and exceptionally talented wife, is the first to admit that she carries her guilt around with her every single day. She has done ever since our first little focker was born 5 years ago.
To begin with, it was the guilt of feeling inadequate as a mother because our son was a challenging baby, coupled with the regret of not having achieved everything she had wanted to in her career before the baby arrived. As time went by and Mrs D-E-D went back to work part time, the guilt manifested. She felt like she was a sub-standard mother for being away from her child (and later – children) some days, and she felt like she wasn’t able to give her job her full and undivided attention either. Of course it was totally unwarranted. Her career thrived, and so did our children, because she doesn’t know how to fail. That’s just the type of person that she is.
As her career continued to build momentum and work became more demanding, we made the decision for her to go back to work full time, which, incidentally is how I came to be a SAHD, and where we find ourselves now. The guilt is still there for her, but it has morphed again. The work associated guilt has reduced (but not disappeared) and now there is guilt around the very limited amount of time she has to spend with our children due to the many demands of her career. The guilt is always there.
Irrespective of the constant burden of her guilt, she is a truly exceptional mother. No matter how torrid her day has been, she exhibits patience and tolerance with our little fockers that always leaves me wishing I had tried harder myself. Despite pulling 60+ hours of work most weeks, she still finds time to talk to the kids individually and take a genuine interest in what they’ve been up to every day. She is the one that they want to read them their books at bedtime. She is the one that they call out for when they wake in the night. She is the one that they choose to cuddle up to on the couch when they’re not feeling their best. She is a lesson in compassion, patience, dignity and wholeheartedness, and I can already see these same traits blossoming in our children.
So to Mrs D-E-D. You’ve probably figured by now that this piece, in a slightly off-beat kind of way, is really a tribute to you. I want to let you know that you can lower that burden of guilt that you carry. Set it down on the ground and leave it behind once and for all. Your sacrifice and the emotion that goes with it is deeply appreciated, and you’re doing a f*cking amazing job as a mother, as a career woman, and as a human being. Most importantly, you’re raising lovely little children that will most likely grow up to be people of the highest quality, just like you. Why on earth would you feel guilty about that?
And to the alpha dad in the school yard. Next time try and engage your tiny little brain before you make any mum jokes around me, lest we have to step behind the bike sheds and settle this the old fashioned way.