“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.
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.
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!)
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?
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.