When a baby is born, the mother doesn’t think about what she’s wearing. She opts for whatever’s comfortable on her post-partum body, a body that needs to preserve all its energy to care for the baby and to heal.
A Woman Changes When She Mothers a Newborn
After the birth of each of my children, I found this post-partum period seemed to stretch infinitely ahead, the ‘return to normal’ never came by itself. I had to draw a line myself, and it was often impossible to do – something about becoming a mother changes what’s ‘normal’, so it’s not as simple as going back to before.
My clothes, in particular, changed, mostly for pragmatic reasons. I knew I couldn’t make it to noon without a child rubbing a dripping nose or food-stained hands onto my outfit, without someone charging at me with a felt-tip pen or tugging at a sleeve. There was no sense in wearing delicate blouses, shorter skirts became impractical with all the kneeling I was doing, cashmere jumpers were unthinkable.
One morning when my husband had agreed to take the children, I found the release of wearing clothes I knew would remain unsoiled for the next few hours. I rejoiced in taking great care in my choices, choices that only depended on my preferences.
I found such relief in this act that I told my husband I wanted to make it a regular thing – mornings without the children. Seeing how important it was to me, he accepted.
A Stay at Home Mother
There was a time when making the choice to be a stay at home mother was the norm, where women depended on each other for childcare and support, where looking after your children for the bulk of the day wasn’t a decision that left you isolated.
Now that the majority of women choose to return to work outside the home, women find themselves relying far less on each other for childcare, and far more on the fathers.
On the one hand, this is seen as a shift in a natural, logical direction: both parents are equally responsible for the care of their children, and so both parents should share that role equally: equal time spent with them, equal energy, equal costs.
But after I had children I realised that fathers can’t do exactly the same as what mothers do. Even mothers of other children turned out to be more helpful to me than my own husband. Whether or not that’s innate or not isn’t something I want to dwell on – I want to focus on the present reality today: that, for whatever reason, other women, in particular, those who have children, are typically more helpful, practical, and reliable than my own husband or other dads, in assisting with childcare duties.
Other women don’t need to be micromanaged as much, they don’t wait to be asked to do certain things – they offer, they know when to insist, when to distract a toddler while you change a baby, how to cheer them up, to ask before offering food, how to chat with them.
But this isn’t a complaint. It’s a message of thanksgiving, to all husbands and fathers out there, who I perceive as being criticised for not doing enough. On the one hand, it’s true, they don’t do anywhere near enough compared to the support a female network can offer. Stay at home mums today find themselves isolated, many return to work precisely so as not to be, and those who successfully take care of their children full-time and long-term tend to rely on a predominantly female network either of relatives or other full-time mothers in their area – a reality that is increasingly impossible for many.
But on the other hand, this shift is so recent, this is the first generation where the majority of women are going back to work – we can’t expect men to know what to do overnight. All we can expect is for them to commit to doing everything they can.
I see men and women trying everywhere to do the impossible: to go out to work, come back home, and share the duties of childcare and home management, and to share them equally. It often doesn’t work, we bicker, resentment builds, we find ourselves exhausted and guilty and we don’t know exactly why.
But we keep trying, finding new ways of negotiating work-life balance, figuring out our roles, forging a model that works for our family, day by day, year by year.
Perhaps due to its Christian roots, it has become unfashionable to talk about ‘debt’, to see thanks as something we ‘owe’. Especially when it comes to women, whose dignity, as John Paul II said, ‘has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude.’Being a mother is often a thankless, self-sacrificing task, and being a woman comes with similar sacrifices – so why should we thank our husbands for anything?
But that is the logic of the world – the logic of domination. Christians know better: we give thanks to our partners who are not perfect, but who love us ‘as Christ loved the Church’ (Ephesians 5:25). Partners who sometimes do less than we would like, who fail, but who, by trying, give up their life for us one small sacrifice at a time.