I was at a party recently and met another mom. We were comparing notes the way you do when you've just met someone and she asked what my husband does. I replied that he was writing his dissertation and mostly worked from home. Her reply was unusual,
"Oh, I can't imagine! I have a hard enough time organizing my own life!"
I think this woman and I are going to become friends.
Most people, when they hear about our family's arrangement think that we are so lucky. Mom and Dad are both home. We're never lacking for "couple time," we both see lots of the kids. Eric is able to babysit and otherwise arrange his schedule to make my life with the kids easier. We know several families trying to find a line of work for the husband that allows him to be at home. This life, to them, seems ideal. I don't doubt that there are some families out there who successfully have Dad at home to the greater happiness of all. But our family is not one of them.
Eric and I certainly see our marriage and our family as our mutual vocation. We wouldn't have married each other if we didn't think so. We adore each other and the children. We've found, however, that all these relationships work better when Eric and I maintain our separate work, our separate spheres.
Eric's vocation includes the roles of husband, father, scholar, writer, teacher. My vocation includes the roles of wife, mother and household manager. Throughout our relatively short marriage, we have found over and over that the spouse and parent roles work better all around when we are most fully engaging our other respective roles. When Eric works from home all day he is tempted to talk to me, play with the kids, see to other chores around the house. When he's around me I feel as if someone has invaded my work space. I don't need or want his advice on when to wash the futon cover, but I tend to ask him about it if he's there and he, of course, responds.
Small moments of stress or disorganization on the part of one of us always affects the other negatively. It's one thing for me to debrief with my husband at the end of the day and get his insight into a discipline problem I'm having. It's quite another for him to witness, first-hand, each and every blowup with the kids. I find that each stress point in my day is magnified into an event if Eric is there when it happens. If I'm on my own, I don't wallow in it, I just deal and move on. In the evening, when I tell Eric about my day, everything is put into better perspective when I can't even remember what the kids did that made me so annoyed.
When Eric is home I let him solve problems for me. Again, this isn't such a big deal when a problem is big enough that I am still thinking about it at the end of the day. Then it is appropriate that Eric and I discuss it and come up with a solution. But when I let Eric solve my small problems day after day I start to wonder if I'm even capable of being a stay-at-home mom. When he's not around and I have to figure things out on my own, I feel competent and capable (but tired) at the end of the day.
We're recently adjusted our schedule so that Eric can work at the library on campus three days each week. The benefits have been tremendous. The whole family feels busier but happier and more productive. The academic life is one of constantly changing and irregular schedules, so I expect that we'll have to relearn this lesson over and over again. But now we're appreciating each other more, spending better time with the kids, and taking more ownership over our separate tasks.