When I think about Mother’s Day, I usually picture a dad in plaid pajama pants destroying the kitchen with his kids in a clumsy effort to make his wife breakfast in bed. There is flour everywhere, kids are enthusiastically beating something in a bowl and Dad is putting a single red rose in a vase. The entourage brings breakfast to Mom, who is leisurely reclining on a mountain of pillows. Soon her kids are nibbling at the pancakes on her tray and her husband tells her she has an appointment for a massage/manicure/facial in a few hours. “Until then,” he says proudly, “you’re off duty.”
Mother’s Day looks a little different in our house. Because our four-year old son has two moms, it’s not always clear who gets special treatment that day. We both work hard all year and could both use a whole day “off.”
The stereotypes about what mothers are supposed to look like and what women are supposed to want have caused confusion for lots of people over the years. This is particularly true for people who look at our family. I am very feminine, never felt the urge to get pregnant and never thought I would become a parent. My wife, Laura, is not feminine at all and has always known she wanted to become a parent. She has always known that she wanted to feel the little feet kicking above the waistband of her men’s cargo pants.
After a number of years together, we decided it was time to try to start a family and that Laura would try to get pregnant. She got pregnant right away and before I knew it, I was a mother. When Simon was born, I was terrified and thrilled. It was time, I realized, to figure out what kind of a mom I was going to be.
I didn’t have much time before it was decided for me. Four months after Laura gave birth to Simon, he became critically ill and was admitted to the ICU in congestive heart failure due to cardiomyopathy. Laura hadn’t planned to go back to work until Simon was about was about 6 months old, so she immediately took up residence in the hospital with him. I took a week off of work when he first got ill but as the days turned into weeks, we realized that I had to go back to work so we could keep a roof over our heads, food on our plates and much needed health insurance.
We slowly settled into a routine. We would wake up, go to the hospital, after 30 minutes I would leave Laura at the hospital, go to work all day, go straight to the hospital after work until Simon’s bed time and then we’d go home. We did this for four months.
Finally, Simon finally stabilized enough to come home. We were told that he was going to have a lot of residual health and developmental issues and realized one of us was going to have to stay home with him to manage his care. We both had Masters degrees and careers that we loved but decided, for a variety of reasons, that Laura would stay home and be Simon’s primary caregiver. It turned out I was going to be a shell-shocked, broken-hearted, singlehandedly-financially-supporting-a-family-of-three kind of mom and Laura was going to be a stay-at-home mom. Indefinitely.
We found that our gender-role divide became sharper once Simon got out of the hospital. I would get up every morning to shower and get dressed to go to work in an office. Laura was lucky if she got a shower and changed her clothes before Simon needed something. I worried about presentations and bosses and office politics. Laura worried about fevers and play groups and developmental progress. When we lay in bed comparing notes at the end of the day, sometimes it felt like we were reading from a 1950’s TV script, but I was the husband.
Laura ended up becoming the queen of all things domestic. Not only does she manage 90 percent of Simon’s needs, which are extensive, she now does the lion’s share of housework. She’s the one to take the dog to the vet, the car to the shop, do the laundry, get the birthday presents. Her life looks a lot like your typical, middle-America stay-at-home mom.
With that role of “mother” so archetypically filled, I’m not sure where that leaves me. I never spent much time imagining what kind of a mother I would be since I never really thought I’d be one. That vacuum often leaves me turning to stereotypes As a lesbian mom in this curious “Leave it to Beaver” set up I find myself in, I am struggling to find a meme that fits. Sometimes as I kiss my wife and child on the head and set out to bring home the bacon, I find myself dressed like June Cleaver but feeling more like Ward. For obvious reasons, that doesn’t quite fit. Other days I find myself grateful to be heading out to an office, because what Laura does looks way harder than what I do all day. Not wanting to be home leaves me feeling like a cold, heartless, career-driven “working mom” who thinks of no one but herself and can’t be bothered by her children. That doesn’t sound like what I’m aiming for either.
This uncharted territory is a little unnerving. We’ve been told that we are trailblazers, redefining motherhood for the women that will follow us and that what we are doing is important. It sounds really noble and brave, but sometimes it just feels … confusing. I guess this Mother’s Day I’ll just keep working on figuring out what kind of mother I am. And see if I can squeeze in a waffle somewhere.
Jaime Jenett lives in Oakland, California with her wife Laura and their son Simon. Jaime and Laura been blogging about their experiences as parents of a kid with special needs at SimonLev.Blogspot.com and were recently featured in a short film as part of “The Devotion Project,” a series a short documentary portraits of LGBTQ couples and families, chronicling and celebrating their commitment and love. This post is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Initiative.