Monday, January 05, 2009

Aadha teetar, aadha batair (half partridge, half quail)

I am so tired of being ticked off about how much more my career is affected by being a mother than my husband's is by being a father. Every few months I start to think that I've finally learned to deal with it, and then something throws me into a tailspin.

Fundamentally, of course, the problem is that I'm not really convinced that I should learn how to deal with it. A big part of me thinks that I should change things so that my husband and I have more evenly distributed responsibilities as parents ("The personal is political," etc.). But I also know that it's not something I can do unilaterally. I'm skeptical about how much people's opinions on these issues change with time, so I'm not too hopeful about my husband coming around to my point of view. And so the pendulum goes back and forth.

I think my ideas about gender roles in the home are pretty progressive (or radical, depending on who you ask), even by American standards. When you live on campus at a progressive liberal arts college, you tend to see somewhat unconventional living situations, e.g. stay at home dads whose wives are the breadwinners because they're both happy with that set up. You also end up meeting many couples who are less obviously unconventional, but have far more egalitarian households than is the norm: they both work, they both share the housework in an evenhanded way, they share childcare in an evenhanded way, and it's taken for granted that, of course, that is how things are done. And it is in the quiet taken-for-granted nature of the sharing of labour in which the departure from the norm lies.

So my experience of American couples was this egalitarian one, generally. There were exceptions, but they stuck out. More importantly, the fact of their existence meant that it was possible. Guys who were not "wusses" could, in fact, have the sense of justice to recognize what was fair, and the 'gumption' to step up to the plate and take on the responsibilities that follow from that recognition.

The knowledge that this is possible, that what I have always known internally, deep down in my gut, to be right and fair, actually exists in the real world, made concrete for me things that I considered non-negotiable in a marriage. I wasn't going to accept anymore the arguments I had always known to be weak: "well, it might be fair, but that's just not how guys are," "aisa to nahin hota," "women ALWAYS have to compromise in marriage".

Fast forward to 2009, and here I am, in a situation that is utterly conventional: my husband works an insane 70-80-hour work week, my career has come to a screeching stutter, and I am surrounded by housework (which I have always, and will always, hate. Make that HATE. There are SO many more interesting and rewarding things one can do with one's time.).

And the reasons for this are not entirely external. I would love to be able to blame it all on the sexism of those around me, but try as I might, I can't escape the voices in my own head, the ones that expect me to live up to my mother. I am assailed by guilt because I don't find being a wife and mother as fulfilling as she did, and because I don't want to be as devoted to the home as she was, and the sneaking suspicion that I would never be as good at it as she was. Are all women doomed to this constant tussle?

"..must I be content with discontent...?"

1 comment:

Northeast Iowa Mom said...

I wish I could write something wise and inspiring. But I cannot think of a thing.