Friday, August 6, 2010

Well orchestrated flying by the seat of our pants...

A while ago Ohchicken asked how C. and I balance parenting and how we make it all work. I am not sure this will answer her question but I thought I'd try to respond just because she asked so nicely... :-)

C. and I generally see eye-to-eye on most of the big things (values, expectations, priorities, etc.) and have a very high regard for the other's perspective on just about anything. We have been professional colleagues, friends and partners for long enough that we trust one another's decisions even if we wouldn't always do it that way ourselves. We don't tend to second guess one another nor do we engage in blame (except self-blame) when we screw up. We each know that we are our own worst critics and tend to be highly reflective in nature so when we screw up we seek each other for support even if we know the other one would never have made that same mistake. Another thing that influences many of our interactions (consciously and not) is that C. could have lost her life a few years ago in a freak accident that turned our world upside down. Ever since then we both have a greater appreciation for the frailty of it all so we try not to waste time on stuff we cannot control or change and thus we work hard to accept each other as we are and trust we do the best we can at any given time especially stress producing times. :-)
I think we have a pretty good system of parenting/household managing. I can get really caught up in the parenting for the kids' specific needs, keeping the older kids regulated, gauging their moods/ability to handle stuff at any given moment, etc. and she infuses more of the "fun" into our daily lives. We seem to see eye-to-eye on most things and where we each have blind spots/gaps the other has a strength.  Generally speaking I am the "final word" on most things but that's because I am home with them, the "therapeutic" parent, and have more patience (or so she says..)   The kids view me as the "final" authority on the day to day but know anything major goes through both of us and if they try to triangulate us (which they have) they don't get very far. It's works probably because we have good communication and make all big decisions together.

People we have met in Texas work pretty hard to "figure us out." Some of it is that we are the only same-sex couple they know with kids and some of it is because we seem to defy most of the stereotypes they might have about lesbians. A few months ago we were chatting with one of our neighbors about our household tasks for the weekend and she started to say "oh, I get it. You are more like the woman and she is more like the man." Ugh. No. We nicely pointed out she shouldn't go down that path and she caught herself pretty quickly. But that brought up what I think gets confusing for folks who see us together and don't automatically "guess" that we are together because we both look pretty "girly"although don't let C. know that I wrote that.

Up until a year and a half ago we were both working full-time and living in Boston. At that time I had most of the running around duties (pick-ups, drop-offs, appts, sports, etc.), cooking, shopping, etc. She and I shared the housework pretty evenly and seemed to have a good balance of joint skills, likes and dislikes. For example, I tend to do most of daily household upkeep but she does vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms. She did grocery shopping and I did the other shopping. I did the bulk of cooking, daily chores (which kids share), and based on work schedules dealt with the bulk of kid "care." At the time she worked a nine-to-five job and I was teaching at the college level so I could juggle my teaching schedule to accommodate our children's needs. That was ideal when Milagro was born because after C.'s parental leave ended I took mine and then was able to take her to work with me while the other kids were in school/daycare. Since I taught masters level students I could schedule my classes in the late afternoon/evenings so for over a year I had one "hell" day (7 a.m. - 10:15 pm) of work but the rest of the week I was flexible enough that I could come and go as needed or work from home. I taught on one other night so when I wasn't there she could be with the kids then. On my long day, I still ran out to do school pickups, dropped all the kids with a friend for 1 hour then C. left work early to manage them for the night. That gave her a sense of their routines, etc. and a little appreciation for the rest of my week. She SWEARS I do the harder job! :-) Overall this worked well for us. I tended to do the morning/getting ready stuff and we split the bedtime stuff (I did baths, homework, etc. while she did stories, tucking in, etc.) When we had to be up in the middle of the night I tended to do the bulk of it because she had the 9-5 job and because I need less sleep and can go back to sleep more easily after multiple interruptions. I should probably say that we were lucky enough that the baby slept through the night from day one!!! Seriously. We woke her to feed/change her and she went right back to sleep. I can count on one hand the number of times I have needed to be up with her at night and every single time it has been due to illness. Before you start hating me I should note that the OTHER 3 kids would wake me up several times each (bathroom, nightmares, drama, sneaking, etc.) so I didn't quite get the break I would have liked. Generally, I tended to do all the "emergency" stuff just because of my more flexible schedule.

When we were moving to Texas we decided that I would stay home for the first year to help kids with transition stuff and then we would reassess and figure out how that was working for all of us. My going from full-time work outside the home to being a stay-at-home mom gave me more time to focus on the kids' needs and on the day-to-day household stuff. However we found that many of the habits we had cultivated around the household stuff still made sense for us (I still hate vacuuming and toilets!) so we haven't really changed much of it except to accommodate schedules and needs. She has a less predictable schedule because she isn't working a 9-5 now. She is a doctoral student and works 2 part time consulting jobs that add up to more than one full time job. She tends to have one day working from home and 4 days with changing schedules. I do the day to day but we split certain things up. For example, last school year Pollito was the only one who didn't homeschool. I would get him up, dressed, fed, and make sure he has everything he needed for school and I did the after-school pickup. She tended to make his lunch, drop him off in the a.m., and go into his classroom whenever we have a question/issue/etc. With Corazon's gym, I did drop offs and she did pickups and meetings at the gym but I do ALL the corresponding with coaches and "fundraising" booster club. We generally take turns doing appointments (e.g. parent conferences or doctor's appointments) depending on schedules or who has the more relevant information. (For example, I ALWAYS do Tortuga's doctor's appointments because I have his history and meds info committed to memory.) I still do the daily household upkeep (she vacuums and does bathrooms). If we need to do work around the house she tends to do much of the physical labor (lifting and carrying) but I tend to do the actual "work" (plumbing, electrical, etc.) although we both enjoy putting things together so that one is dependent on who has time, opportunity or desperately wants the thing put together. :-) Generally she will run errands to places like H*me D*p*t but I have made the lists and have a better sense of the specifics we need. She tends to deal with workmen if we need something done around the house that I can't do although I generally am the one home when they come by. Right now, she makes the money but we both handles the finances.

When she is home she spends as much time with the kids as she can. There are things she does with each one (nightly walks with Milagro), reading to the two older kids, biking with Corazon, basketball with Tortuga, grocery shopping with Pollito and Milagro, reading with Pollito, etc. It's a big deal when one of them can do their "schoolwork" with her at a coffee shop when she has to get away from the house to write/grade papers. Tortuga and Corazon will usually get the privilege of going with her to "work." We try to reserve our weekends for "family" time as much as possible. These days that looks like Saturday morning "family chores" and then "family errands." We try to reserve almost ALL of our errands for Saturdays and sometimes we divide and conquer and other times do them all together depending on what needs to get done. She can usually run important errands that need to happen during the week (post office, bank, dry cleaners, etc.) if we need so that I don't have to take all 4 kids shopping just for milk, bread or whatever. That is the biggest challenge when we really NEED something and I have to take all 4 of them. Saturday afternoons/evenings and Sundays we tend to do stuff as a whole family as much as possible because we both enjoy it.

We try to have a plan of what needs to be done overall and we each are willing to take over the other's role if one of us is too tired, has other work to do, etc. Her line is to not have all 4 kids by herself but she will if she had to. Share professional relationship so we talk over her work stuff pretty often. Finding time for ourselves is hard and that is something we don't do as well as we could/should but we are working on that. We try to have good routines for the kids so that we have time together and we are getting better at going out now that we have found a couple of babysitters who seem to follow our rules. We try to talk about things other than the kids and work but those figure prominently in our lives so we aren't as successful at that. :-)

Do we bump into each other occassionally. Sure, nothing can go that smoothly with four kids and all the special needs ours have! Mostly we try to focus on the stuff that matters and the stuff that brings out the best in each of us because it is what allows us to give our best to our kids and each other. Questions?


GB's Mom said...

Are you going back to work now?

GB's Mom said...

Are you going back to work now?

Lynn said...

Awesome, don't you think the "cycle" of parenting for anyone is that you start out totally dedicated to your child(your life goes onto the back burner) and as they grow and become more independent then you slowly get to return to your relationship time? I have found in the last few months that I am finally getting back to my crafts that I enjoyed in my free time before my children 8 years ago and they became my life. Ofcourse I am not sure if the mosaic lava lamp is still in style. hahaha

Bryna said...

This is really useful to read. I wonder what it would look like if I wrote a similar post? Having only had Big Guy (our 9 y/o foster son) for 2 months, we are still struggling to fall into a routine. I feel embarrassed to admit that I am still often afraid to have him alone for extended periods of time, because I feel my partner is much better with his more intense/physical tantrums and acting out and she is far more patient. Sometimes I feel like such a failure because of this. But we each do have a special relationship with him that is unique in its own way - he bonded with me before he bonded with her, but she is more fun and playful with him now (whereas I get more stressed/tense/angry quicker, though I do my best to hide it). We have a butch-femme dynamic to our relationship, but I no longer look as boyish as I used to so people would not necessarily peg us as lesbians or as having butch/femme roles (though this is hard for me to admit because I really do see myself as masculine even if the world doesn't always). Can you talk at all about what you tell babysitters and what your rules are for them? We are about to have to start finding occasional babysitters and I'm not quite sure how to orient them to the schedule and routine and rewards/consequences situation we've instituted, especially since it's not written in stone yet and continues to evolve. Our child has ODD, ADHD, anxiety and depression - So he needs certain things to be consistent and reliable.

I love hearing that two parents' approaches to parenting (and to being partners) can fit together so beautifully. I worry sometimes about the fact that the increased stress on our relationship is already starting to take its toll. We have a beautiful relationship, I just notice that when we fight it is more intense than it was before (probably because we are both stressed and underslept). At the same time, I think we are more in love than ever, from watching each other being such amazing mamas!

ohchicken said...

thank you for this window into your world. whew. you guys keep a pretty brisk pace at all times!

do you still find the time and space to be the couple? to feel like you are not just coparents?

Dia por Dia said...

Oh no...Blogger dumped a few of my comments. Please comment again if I haven't posted yours!

I will reply to all your questions soon. I promise!

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