Unconventional: a look at our nontraditional family life

Wildflowers in Porugal’s Algarve.

“Oh, so your husband . . . doesn’t work?” The conversation usually begins.

“I mean, he does,” I reply. “He’s a stay at home dad.”

Awkward silence. “So . . . you work?”

“That’s right. I work full time. Travel a bunch. You know how it is.” Here, I usually offer the other person an opportunity to save face by adding something like, “He’s a much better stay-at-home parent than I’d ever be!”

And it’s true. Being a stay at home parent isn’t in me. I don’t cook. I don’t enjoy domestic duties. I don’t feel a sense of purpose in the daily hum of life.

From the TEDx stage. Behind the scenes: my husband cheered me on and took on extra duties around the house to make time for me to rehearse.

Don’t get me wrong: the daily hum of life is beautiful. I look to my friends, and even my own sister, who are incredible stay-at-home moms. They have gardens and make kombucha and are able to engage with their kids and domestic life in a way that is just completely contrary to how I’m wired.

And on top of that, I love my work. I mean, really love it. I enjoy sitting down at my desk each morning, look forward to calls with clients, and even right now, am choosing to write at 8:22 p.m. because I am enamored with writing! I’ve spent the past eleven years building a business I love, and have been a mom for seven and a half of those years.

But here’s the truth: bucking convention is hard. I have awkward conversations like the one I shared above. I get judgy comments about my husband “going back to work.” We have no models for what it looks like to live the kind of life we’re living. Because, while yes, we are a heterosexual couple with the nearly 2.3 children, our family life is anything but conventional.

My husband has been a stay-at-home dad for more than seven years. His former profession? Teaching! His master’s is in teaching reading, which is coming in handy right now while he’s homeschooling our oldest child.

Along those lines: we don’t follow the typical domestic roles. He cooks, does (most of) the laundry, and cleans. He’s obsessive about keeping an orderly kitchen. He’s an excellent dad and super goofy with the kids, which they love. I work, manage our finances (though he’s involved), pay bills, handle all medically related stuff (I always do doctor visits), handle any legal issues (like our visa process here in Portugal), and am usually the negotiator and problem-solver.

We’re living in our fourth country, Portugal. My husband and I lived in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam before we had kids, and we lived in Thailand with the kiddos.

We’re raising brave, globally minded citizens who will hopefully become fluent in at least one other language. Our daughter has taken Spanish, Thai, and now Portuguese; our son will be attending a Portuguese preschool this fall.

I travel and speak all over the world—gasp!—by myself. Yes, it’s true. In the past eighteen months, I’ve traveled to Vietnam, China, England, multiple US states, and of course Thailand and Portugal. (“Aren’t you worried traveling all by yourself?” Not really. But I sure have some interesting stories!)

I run a location-independent business supported by a small but mighty team of awesome women and men. That means we can be anywhere in the world, and I can still run my business just as effectively as I did from Idaho, where I’m from. The magic of the internet!

That’s all to say, the life I was raised within, the constructs of what is “normal” and what I “should” be doing is exactly the opposite of what I’m doing today. And as I mentioned, this can get tricky because my husband and I don’t have a clear roadmap on how life should look.

Nighttime at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

It would be much easier if I could look to my parents, or even my friends’ parents, and see a model. I had a happy childhood, but the household I grew up in was extraordinarily different than the life I have chosen. Instead of following a well-worn path, we’ve had to clear brush and build roads, fill potholes, and try to navigate this crazy world our own way, on our own terms.

The reality is, we aren’t perfect. It’s messy sorting through things like how to divvy up chores, and who is responsible for what, and who is on bedtime duty. We find ourselves, at times, falling into the opposite roles. Rather than paving our own way, we have moments of awareness in which we recognize that we aren’t forming an egalitarian relationship and household. Instead, we sometimes fall into the same constructs but in the reverse. Even as I reread my bullet points above, in which I detail how we share responsibilities, I see it.

The path to domestic equality begins with awareness; awareness needs to be followed by action. We are doing our best—day by day, we navigate. We try. At the core, that feels like the most important thing: that we try, and that we keep trying.

The thing is, before we had kids, before we really had to full-on adult, I thought it was possible to have a totally 50-50 household. In my dream, my husband and I would both work part-time, equally share all household duties, and equally share the childcare load.

The reality is that’s nearly impossible, and to be honest, I don’t think either of us would be happy. Because while my husband is an amazing teacher, he isn’t as passionate about his career as me. His main passions in life boil down to two things: bikes and family. (And maybe food. He’s an amazing cook!)

My two guys, cooking up another delicious meal.

While I love my kids more than life, I also find purpose in my work. Working part-time wouldn’t allow me to serve people the way I want to, or achieve the professional goals I’ve set for myself.

So our reality is this: we are figuring it out. We’re not perfect. We fall into stereotypical traps just like everyone else. But we also recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and work daily to live a life that lights us up, one that we’re joyful to get to live every single day.

Because, let me tell you, this life we’re living is pretty darn amazing. Our kids are the cutest, sweetest humans on the planet. My husband is a stay-at-home rockstar. I love my work. Portugal is incredible. And we’re out in the wide world, doing the thing on our own terms. What more could we ask for?

Enjoying the view and kite watching from Serra de Monchique in Portugal.

How about you? What’s one or more aspect of your life that you’ve defined on your own terms? Share with me in the comments—I love learning about your experiences.

6 Comments

  • Tim Cochran Reply

    As you already know I have had some pretty amazing times in my life. I cannot handle authority of any type and pretty much live by the Jimmy Buffet line, “We are the people our parents warned us about.” I have two older brothers, the oldest was a basketball and tennis star, the next is an extremely intelligent and talented musician. Both live rather conventional lives although my middle brother does live life to its’ fullest by traveling, performing and gardening. I tried the conventional route as well and married a wonderful woman. We were best friends. After twenty years of marriage, I did not change much but my wife did. Everything in life became a routine for her and I just could not take that regimented lifestyle any longer. We divorced and I moved to Florida. Since I was thirteen I have played percussion in various types of bands. I had not performed in about fifteen years when I met a guy at a 7-eleven and we got to talking. Next thing you know I am in a recording studio making business jingles and background music for radio and TV. My ex-wife hates me, my brothers don’t understand me but I am happy and would not change much. I live spur-of-the-moment and once people get to know me they kind of go, “wow, that’s so cool.” I may be 66 but think like a thirty-year-old and don’t ever want to “grow up.” Thanks for listening. I think you are an incredible person.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Wow, Tim! That’s quite a story. I always admire people who dance to the beat of their own drum—in your case, quite literally! I think there is a balance between maturing and losing a childlike sense of adventure, and I hope to never lose mine; it sounds like you haven’t lost yours. I appreciate you sharing about your life, and thank you, too, for your kind words.

  • Roslyn Hill Reply

    I am not normal, tomorrow I am going live on Facebook, we are doing a practice run abit like The Antiques Roadshow , I am calling it Lockdown Memorabilia Madness. Phil is sitting opposite me now trying to mend his wind up tin plate duck which I have told him he has to demonstrate online, and tell folks how it was made in the US zone of Germany just before the WW2.
    This is test run with friends for a challenge by my marketing coach where my colleagues have to go live on Facebook every day next week.
    I will be going as Latch Hook Lady Live online to promote a new very untraditional hobby called Latch Hook Crochet. Basically when I realised how easy it was to teach crochet to beginners with a latch hook I just had to write the book, which I did last year. So at the age of 70 I am now an Author that wants to reinvent the way the world teaches crochet.
    I retired from teaching in the late nineties, and bought a narrow boat , a few years later
    I met my husband Phil who was also living on his boat. We were on the canals for 10 years, then we bought 4 and a half acres , wore ourselves out practicing self sufficiency with animals and veg plot. We lived in a show wagon.
    We then turned the place into a Glamping site, then sold the wagon to buy an ocean going boat in Australia where I have two young grand children.
    When we are in the UK we live in a yellow school bus , then move to the sun in the winter. This year we just got back in time for Lockdown UK.
    Studying marketing online is keeping us busy though.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      My goodness, Roslyn! You are living quite a story. Thanks for sharing about your unconventional life. I’ve always been curious about life on the water—I don’t think I’m suited for it, but I am always interested in others’ experiences. Take care, and thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Hannah Rhinehart Reply

    I loved the candor of this post! You have truly served as an inspiration for what a full-time working mom can accomplish with the confidence and balance you’ve found.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Thank you, Hannah! I appreciate this thoughtful comment, and I have been equally inspired by you. You taught me a lot about motherhood before you were even a mom. 🙂

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