For much of my life as a parent, I have felt that, between me and my husband, I've always been the one working harder. My to-do list has always been longer. My mental load — the invisible responsibilities that so often fall to us moms — has always been heavier.
After the first few weeks of immense adjustments, my mind – as much as it was firing on a whole new set of cylinders — relaxed. My internal monologue of complicated flow charts and checklists nearly disappeared.
I was the one who checked my preschooler's backpack every day so as not to forget a field-trip permission slip or progress report that needed a signature. I was the one who set iPhone alarms to remind myself to sign up online for my 3-year-old's gymnastics camp before all the spots filled up. It was always me who arranged playdates and made sure they didn't conflict with ballet class or neighborhood birthday parties, for which I was the one who bought and wrapped the gifts. It was me who managed our children's nanny, and I was the one who made sure she received her paychecks and who helped troubleshoot when she had issues with a car seat or couldn't find the peanut butter. I was the one coordinating schedules with our house cleaner. I was the one planning weekend date nights and booking babysitters.
So often, I picked fights with my husband about all these tasks I felt responsible for. "I do everything around here!" I'd often find myself shouting, either through tears or amid a boiling rage.
But then, we began sheltering in place. After the first few weeks of immense adjustments, my mind — as much as it was firing on a whole new set of cylinders — relaxed. My internal monologue of complicated flow charts and checklists nearly disappeared. There was no more school, at least not in the traditional sense. There was no more nanny, no more child care. There were no more classes or playdates or parties or date nights.
It didn't take long for the roles to reverse. Soon, I noticed the only tasks that needed doing were being done by my husband. The resident chef in our house, and an early riser, he had always made our two children breakfast and prepped their lunches, usually when I was either still in bed or off at the gym. He carried on doing those tasks now. He cooked most of the weeknight meals before, and he quite simply continued cooking them now. Before, I'd use his time in the kitchen to run errands — scooping up more laundry detergent and Elmer's glue after I alone noticed our inventory was running low — but these days, my husband also served as our family's gofer. He was the one donning a mask and gloves and going to the grocery store once or twice every two weeks. He was also the one, because my workday was busiest in the mornings, getting the kids dressed and running their makeshift morning circle time, complete with an off-tempo rendition of their beloved "Days of the Week" song.
Not only am I no longer doing "everything," but I realize that I never was. Was I doing more? I mean, yes, of course I was.
While I work from my laptop on the kitchen counter, he's patching a groove in the hardwood floor before it splinters. As I attempt a workout in front of the living room TV, he's scraping lasagna cheese off a casserole dish. And whenever I think he's ignoring the kids while on his phone, well, he is ignoring the kids while on his phone, but it's to update our shopping list with s'mores ingredients for a fireplace cookout or to google how to hang a hammock from our patio bars or to order some specialty batteries to get that obnoxiously loud Frozen karaoke microphone working again. (OK, there's no excuse for that last one. That's just rude.)
With us both at home and in each other's personal space nonstop, we've certainly encountered new frustrations, but it has really put a pin in an age-old one.
Not only am I no longer doing "everything," but I realize that I never was. Was I doing more? I mean, yes, of course I was. Come on.
But my husband has always done far more than I have given him credit for — far more than I ever truly stopped to realize.
So, this morning, when I was looking for some lotion in my kids' bathroom, I noticed that their toothpaste tube was squeezed dry. My initial reaction was to think, "Ugh, I have to do everything around here," as I hastily grabbed my phone and added it to our shopping list. But then I stopped myself and took in the fact that I haven't had to be the one to brush my kids' teeth in weeks. That was all him.
I am certain that when life returns to its default setting, we will, too. Sure, I hope we'll take some learnings from this time at home and make some positive changes to our lives as parents. But I also know that I'll very likely carry on managing the schedules and the paperwork and the child care. What I now know, however, is that my partner will carry on, too. As he did before, he'll continue to keep us fed and our teeth brushed and our lives made happier thanks to a whole smattering of other things that I will try my damndest to no longer take for granted.