On Divorcing a Feminist

Trigger Warning for Unadulterated Bitterness

On a humid summer day, and old friend and sit in a restaurant balling our eyes out, tears streaming down into little bowls of wasabi, as our sushi sits untouched.  I have just told her my husband has asked for a separation.  It was not my feelings about losing him, however, that had us tearful for ten solid minutes as fellow patrons tried to be subtle about their gawking — it was my fears, and her empathy, about losing my kids.

You see, my friend and I have something in common.  We both went through infertility.  We both know how hard being a mother is, but we both know how it feels to fear you’ll never get to be one.  For months now I’ve lay awake at night thinking about what it will be like to someday lay alone in bed in my house knowing my kids are sleeping somewhere else.  And she can imagine all too well what that would feel like, especially after willing our kids into existence against every odd.

Meanwhile, somewhere in New Jersey, my husband sits with some friends over drinks talking over how good I’m going to have it after the divorce because I’ll still have him doing half the childcare.

Meanwhile, somewhere in New Jersey, my own family members laugh aloud about how I’m going to cook and clean for myself now that my “wife” is leaving me.

Marrying a feminist rules, but friends, let me tell you, divorcing a feminist sucks.

Marrying a feminist means a true parenting partnership.  Divorcing a feminist means losing half your access to your kids.

Marrying a feminist means it’s not the woman by default who does the most housekeeping.  Divorcing a feminist makes all too clear the sexist notions people had about your marriage.

A woman does more housework in a marriage and no one bats an eye.  A man does more, and the same people who are ready to erect a statue in his honor are quick to draw conclusions that his wife is lazy, incapable, ungrateful, etc.

No one stops to consider all the ways in which a relationship can be egalitarian, all the different types of work that go on in a household, and the many reasons why one person might end up doing certain work over another.

When I agreed to share childcare 50/50 with my husband I did so in the context of a family.  I wasn’t giving up time with my kids, I was gaining a partner, someone to parent with.  It never crossed my mind that when that partner would choose not to be my partner anymore, parenting together would morph into parenting half the time.

Having a fully capable, fully involved parent in your bed with you at night in case a child gets sick or is upset, is not the same as sending your young child to a strange home without you.  Both of these situations could be called egalitarian, but they are far from the same.

Having time to yourself because you’ve made arrangements with your life partner and best friend to be with your children is not the same as having time to yourself because your children are with a man who prefers to build a life with someone else.  That person’s investment in you, in respecting your wishes, in your general well-being, is never going to be the same.  And your ability to really know him and trust his motives will never be either.

So I’m not just losing a husband and best friend.  I’m losing the family structure that I chose for my kids, and the parenting structure that I chose for myself when I decided to have them.  I know I’m not losing my kids, but I am losing time and access to them.  I’m losing the ability to know who they are with and how those people are treating them, to know what they’re being fed, what substances they are coming into contact with in the their environment, what types of experiences they are having, and what the little expressions on their faces will be when they have those experiences.  It’s missing out on first-times, kissing boo-boos, comforting them, and even knowing comfort was needed.

I don’t say any of this to denigrate my ex-husband as a parent.  He is an incredible parent.  But I didn’t spend three months on bed rest willing my precious O and J to survive so I could miss those things.  And I didn’t make the choice to parent with someone who isn’t invested in me as a life partner.  I guess this is all just part of the terror of parenting, because however we conceive our kids, whether with a partner, a donor, through adoption, a gestational carrier, etc., we don’t ever have complete control.  There are governmental forces, legal forces and unknowns about our child’s other parent(s) that we will never have complete control over.

The truth is I have no more control now that I did in that bed wishing to god my cervix would stay closed long enough.  But that was random, and this doesn’t feel quite so random.  This feels like a betrayal.  It feels like a betrayal of my trust in the person I chose to parent with, because for me, I wouldn’t have chosen to do it alone.

Marry a feminist and you can look forward to a cushy lifestyle of reasonable contributions by your partner to childcare and housekeeping – lofty contributions nearing 50% – which far exceed the average in which women still do twice as much.  But beware.  Every single thing that male does will stick out like a sore thumb to everyone in your vicinity, including him, and the things you do will be as invisible and undervalued as women’s work always has been.  You will know your relationship is 50/50, but someday you may realize that no one else sees it that way.  Because a woman with an egalitarian spouse looks oddly similar in a lot of people’s eyes to a woman lounging in a pool sipping a tropical cocktail, and parenting 50/50 in a marriage can suddenly morph into only getting to parent 50% of the time.

Feminist, if you want my completely jaded, absolutely colored by bitterness and anger, totally situationally-bound, and thoroughly inappropriate opinion… don’t marry a feminist!  Better yet, don’t marry anyone.  Keep your bank account to yourself.  Keep your kids close.  And ladies, if you have to partner with a feminist, for god’s sake, make it a woman!

Copyright 2013, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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What’s in a Name? On Being DadaMama Instead of MaMa

Sometimes I still wish to be the one who walks beside my children, while others follow.

Originally Appeared here on RoleReboot.org.

Only when my twins were 20 months old did they master the correct use of the words “mama” and “dada.”  They took quite a long time to even SAY these words, despite beginning to talk about six months prior.  Their first words were “uh oh” and “ba ba” (bottle), (ba)”nana,” “hi,” “bye” and “boon” (balloon).  I figured, okay, as long as they are starting to say words, no problem.  But on the inside I was wondering what was wrong.  Was I, as Mama, not as important to them as I should be if they learned “boon” first?  Had I been neglectful somehow?  I couldn’t help measuring myself against other moms with kids younger than mine who were constantly saying “Mama.”

In the next few months the twins started throwing around the words Mama and Dada, but they didn’t seem to be in reference to anyone.  Sometimes they would point at the window or a light switch and shout “Mama.”  Sometimes they were directed toward Seth or I, but also toward the babysitter, Grammy and Grampy, aunts and uncles, etc.  What was this about?  Wasn’t I supposed to be much more important than these other folks?

My anxiety only increased when their words started to get more complex.  They started saying “window,” “shake it” (when we danced) and “okra.”  My daughter started to refer to her Minnie Mouse doll as “Minya Minya Maow” and her stuffed kangaroo as “Kanga.”  Really, I thought, you know Minnie and Kanga and Hippo and Poo Bear and not Mama?  I was starting to feel peeved.  Okay, maybe even a little hurt. Then something strange began to happen.  One day my daughter looked right at me, and with a big smile, and great exuberance, as though she’d had had a revelation, she shouted “Dada!” and pointed in my direction.  Over the next couple weeks both babies began to refer to my husband AND me as DaDa.

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My Husband Does Do That – My Journey out of the Equal Parenting Closet

Seth holding the twins.

Originally Posted on RoleReboot.org, also featured on Feministing.com, and Offbeat Mama:

The first time it happened, I was at a Mothers of Multiples Club welcome brunch.  My fantasy was that my terror at the impending birth of my twins would dissipate as soon as I met the wise kindred spirits who would be guiding me through the transition to multiple-motherhood.  Much to my surprise, however, brunch soon descended into a husband-bashing session, replete with the kind of ominous warnings I would receive over and over during my pregnancy.

“Make sure you leave the house when they’re a few months old.  I waited three years to leave my kids alone with my husband, and now he refuses to babysit,” one mom insisted.  My initial response was confusion.  I was planning to leave the house the first week.  I had written my doctoral dissertation on equally shared parenting for frig’s sake!  Caught totally off guard, I responded, “That’s not going to be a problem for me.”  Several of the women chuckled sweetly, shooting me the pitying “you’ll see” glance I would receive time and time again.

What was this strange land I was entering?  These were smart, accomplished moms –some working, some stay-at-home– all of whom swore that when kids came into the picture, roles changed overnight.  Were the brilliant, creative, feminist women I’d known in college really now accepting such arrangements?  My twin terror was quickly compounded by the fear of losing the egalitarian marriage I so valued.

Well, fourteen months into motherhood my marriage is as egalitarian as ever.  However, the “our husbands suck and don’t do anything” motif turned out to be rampant at the mommy meet-ups and play-dates that were supposed to help maintain my sanity during the first year with infant twins.  Now don’t get me wrong, my husband can be an ass.  Then again, so can I!  But the truth is– (hushed whisper) I like my husband.  He is a fantastic husband.  No one has the perfect marriage, but it was the gendered aspects of the husband-bashing which eluded me most– husbands not “helping” around the house, never “watching the kids,” oblivious to routines and childcare tasks.

Despite my relief that my own marriage hadn’t followed this path, my own parenting experience felt utterly erased during these conversations.  I would feel like a total asshole if I sat there repeating, “My husband does do that,” and adding obnoxiously, “My husband cleans more than I do.”  So instead I just passed, keeping my identity practicing equally shared parenting hidden.  I was also a queer mom passing as straight at these gatherings, but amazingly, stating, “My husband taught me how to swaddle,” orSometimes Seth is more comfortable with our kids than I am,” felt more threatening than announcing I was queer.

When I really examined my fear, I realized it felt like I would be “coming out” as a bad mom.  Had we somehow gotten the message that fairness and equality were okay for us to enjoy in our marriages but to be good mothers, we had to be the ones drastically rearranging our lives to make room for children?  If my husband was parenting as well as me, must I not be parenting well at all?

Seth Wearing Babies

I desperately want to be accepted by my peers.  After all, this mothering thing is hard, and I am going to need them.  Then again, am I really even there if I just hide out at playgroups , nod and pass, not only as straight, but as June Cleaver?  And the truth is husband-bashing isn’t the kind of support that I need anyway.  What about adult stimulation?  What about moms who can talk politics, who are activists?  What about discussing how the hell we are going to give our kids the space to explore flexible gender identities and orientations toward love and sex while media and culture steer them onto narrow, limiting paths?  What about the massive, profound transition that is becoming a mother?  Let’s talk about the guilt, the ecstasy, the terror, trying to find balance, trying to hold on to ourselves!  Some moms I’ve met seem so burdened with the lion’s share of childcare that they’ve had to lose the rest of themselves to manage it.  Is this the culturally-accepted ideal of motherhood?  No selves allowed?

I’m still trying to work out why my husband and I never walked through that time warp back to the 1950s that all those couples who “swore it wouldn’t happen to them” walked through.  I ask myself if these women complaining about their male partners’ traditional responses to parenting were themselves willing to be flexible in their own gender roles.  As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won’t step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?

That mom who didn’t leave the children with her husband for three years obviously didn’t see him as a competent caretaker, but now seems bitter that he’s not one.  We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the private domain.  How would we react to that kind of attitude toward our work in the public sphere?  Imagine men expecting to supervise and micromanage our works as CEOs?

So why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?  Is it just that hard to picture?  I don’t think so.  I think it’s because deep down there is a part of us that believes if we demand equal parenting, if we demand holding onto ourselves– as our husbands do when children come into the picture– then we are not good mothers.  I can understand this fear.  When I really sit and think about it, I have it, too.  When I work, when I take time to write, when I keep up with friends, go out with other adults, and spend time fantasizing about things I’m passionate about, there is always this little nagging feeling that a “good mom” would have let go of these things.

I’ve held onto my egalitarian marriage and my sense of self, but I haven’t managed to not beat myself up about it.  So my husband has all the parenting skills and responsibility I do, but I still look at him and he seems unburdened, free of the guilt and self-doubt that plagues me.  If he can be a full person and also believe he is a good parent, why can’t I be out and proud as an egalitarian mother?


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