My husband and I weren’t making a political statement, revolutionizing the stay-at-home parenting dynamic or sticking it to corporate America when we deliberately choose to both be work-at-home, stay-at-home parents. While there are lots of acronyms for one parent doing this—WAHM, SAHM, WAHD and beyond—I have yet to see one that fits our family. Perhaps DIWAHSAHPWOB (Double-Income-Work-At Home-Stay-At-Home-Parents-With-One-Baby).
Regardless of what you want to call us, we don’t really fit into any of the categories Elizabeth Wurtzel’s now infamous piece in The Atlantic mentions. Though I do sometimes shrug off work to go do errands (that don’t involve yoga or pedicures). Because to me, it’s a necessity to do errands during non-mobbed Trader Joe’s hours so my husband and I can de-career our marriage for a few hours and do adult things. Like have a beer before I try to finish freelance assignments I’ve barely scratched because I spent all day wrangling a baby girl with a stuffy nose.
My husband is a Senior Art Director for a large retailer and works at home 90 percent of the time. His boss is relatively hands-off. He has to take the occasional conference call while changing dirty diapers. I’m a freelance writer, and frequently draft articles while wearing our daughter strapped tightly to me in her Ergo carrier. I spend my days holding the equivalent of a human medicine ball. I work standing up.
We are all together, all three of us, about 80 percent of the day. All in our home office. Two laptops. Eight toys. One bathroom. But what some would call frightening, we call liberating. There is no squeezing in family time at the end of the day in the hour between getting home from a long commute and putting our baby to bed. My husband and I get to see our daughter’s milestone moments together, hear her cackling giggles and grow as a couple through sleepless nights and frustrating work days. We are a team. A team of three. And we know each other’s needs, frustrations and desires with an unmatched intimacy.
But here’s the truth: While I love the live, work, play environment we’ve carefully constructed, it’s a struggle to keep growing and prioritizing my career. My work usually falls last in this power trio we’ve created and remains part-time at best. My daughter’s needs are first. Her hunger, sleepiness or boredom is as immediate as it is palpable.
She also didn’t choose for us to be work-from-home parents while balancing child rearing. She deserves our undivided attention without a laptop obstructing her view of our faces, even when we’re on deadline. And it’s not just her needs that trump my time. My career also takes a backseat to my husband’s whose deadlines are more rigid and afford us health care and a steady paycheck. Call it anti-feminist, but I enjoy not worrying about pediatrician bills and knowing we can afford glasses and braces if our baby suffers the same genetic fate her father and I did.
So do I really have the best of both worlds? It depends on the world you’re talking about. Having an untainted and pure work/life balance does not exist. The fantasy probably took root when we saw Steve Gutenberg drawing cartoons from an enormous New York City penthouse apartment while raising a baby with an architect and semi-employed actor in “Three Men and a Baby.” They may not have had a nanny, but they had three clueless dudes on deck who nearly handed over the baby to a drug dealer by mistake. I envy the extra set of hands they had in their dynamic.
The real work/life balance is about keeping it on the scale at all instead of sliding off and shattering. One side of our life will always throw the other off balance. It is pointless to resist it or pretend it doesn’t exist. The only way to make this work is accept each and every day for what it is in that moment and forget about tomorrow, because the idea of dealing with it tomorrow is a dangerous one.
We can’t afford to wait until tomorrow and just gloss over personal issues or turn a blind eye to what’s really going on at home. Your issues in marriage and child rearing and your personal life are only magnified in a world like ours. Those quirks and endearing flaws you once admired in your mate are infinitely louder and more evident when you’re together so much. There is no cubicle to escape to each day.
That also means not taking on work we loathe and risk wreaking havoc; there is no room in our family for high-stress, soul-sucking projects that infect our dynamic like a plague. If one of us is chronically stressed-out and unhappy, the other two will soon follow suit. My responsibility to my daughter and career is also my husband’s and vice versa. Our personal lives are so entangled in our careers that it is egregious to allow constant negativity to infiltrate.
Sometimes the idea of either one of us, or both, having an office job is tempting. Some days it sounds just dreamy to deal with a passive-aggressive boss, gossiping coworkers and drinking sludgy coffee from a communal kitchen everyone refuses to clean. And there are many moments I wish my time was truly my own, that my career was as important as my husband’s on any given day.
But when I look down at my baby’s hazel eyes staring up at me while I type, I know we’re making the right choice for our family. I hope she’ll grow to see us as caring, attentive and ambitious parents who wanted her to grow up in an environment where anything is possible as long as we put family first. The responsibility of continually adjusting those scales and acknowledging where the balance is will continue to be a challenging one. And maybe it won’t always work, but there’s no sense in worrying about that now. Tomorrow is another day.