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!
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