Bacon for Dinner: Stepping Toward a More Equitable Marriage

When I first read this week’s Modern Love column, “Honey, Let’s Get a Little Divorced,” I admit to feeling a bit smug and self righteous. In the piece, author Rachel Zucker concludes that “I’m going to try to follow my version of the Zen admonition to live as if you have already died by trying to be married as if I had already been divorced.” Why should you have to pretend to be divorced in your mind to recover the autonomy and egalitarianism you possessed before diving into a serious relationship or marriage? Shouldn’t a partnership already value these traits?

In theory, yes. In practice, not so much. As much as I want my husband to take on more of the household tasks, part of me is reluctant to cede control, making me complicit in my own unhappiness. If I’m not the one to pay the bills, go grocery shopping, and pack my daughter’s lunch, then what is my role in this partnership? Oddly enough, contemplating this question jars me more than resenting my husband’s inattention to household stuff.

Since I’ve noticed that women tend to write more about the experience of marriage, I asked my husband to read Zucker’s piece. Here’s his thoughtful response:

It’s interesting, although I think the “let’s act divorced” is more of a device and a hook than something seriously considered. I say that because what she is really talking about, and does a good job of explaining, is that marriage tends to assign men and women roles that are customary — perhaps determined by culture or tradition — even today, when men and women earn roughly the same and both bring home the bacon. Mmm. Bacon.

Perhaps we are still adjusting to the changes in workplace demographics that have occurred so quickly over the last 20-50 years. Then again there also could be legitimate desires on both men and women’s parts to hold some of those customary roles. They gave definition to one’s place and mission in life, even as they were restrictive and stifling. Remember the movie with George Clooney [Up in the Air]? His job is to fire people, and he has an affair with that married women, although he doesn’t know she is married at the time? The themes in that movie were all about reversal of roles, and increasing anomie in the traditional male role. And the woman seems to be doing what men used to do when they felt constricted by their home life and needed to “feel alive”…have an affair. Complete with separating the worlds so that they would never collide.

The thing is these days we will never be able to go back to tradition. First, socially we have all moved past that. Second, financially we cannot afford to. Very few people would make enough money with only one income. So instead we need to adjust to a new world and find ways to make everyone happier while finding your own role. The responsibility for doing so has shifted more than ever to the individual, which can also be empowering. I think that is more or less her conclusion, as well.

I think I’ll make bacon for dinner tonight. Mmm. Bacon.

If a more egalitarian marriage means bacon for dinner, then I suppose I can step away from my more traditional role and embrace a brave, new marriage.

Online Shopping and the Working Mom

When I read that 84% of moms at work spend between 15 minutes and an hour a day shopping online (Loechner, Media Research Center, July 15, 2010), I wasn’t surprised. After an evening or a weekend with Sweetpea + spouse, I relish the quiet time at work and the opportunity that it gives me to get things done.

What kind of things? Example: I’ve run out of both moisturizer and allergy medicine. I know that it would be less expensive for me to run to Costco to replenish my supply, but instead I found myself browsing the virtual aisles of Sure I’ll have to pay for shipping, but a trip to Costco in Pentagon City has NEVER been an in-and-out trip. Parking, toddler wrangling, incidental purchases, plus the ridiculously long lines mean that I may save a few bucks on the items, but I’ve lost a lot of a finite, treasured resource: time.

What’s your time worth? MSN Money’s Know the Value of Your Time Calculator can help you figure out the value of your leisure time. After plugging in the numbers, I learned that my leisure time is worth just under $40/ hour. This means that even if I pay an extra $10 for shipping moisturizer and allergy medicine instead of languishing at Costco, it’s worth it.

Of course, all of this assumes that you have discretionary funds to buy back your time. Some months you may not have the extra money and off to Target and Costco you must go. But consider this take-away from AOL’s “Mall Behind the Spreadsheet” Report:

[Women] control $4.3 trillion, roughly 73 percent of U.S. household spending.1 And they do it all while juggling work, home and family life. Many – particularly moms – manage to shoehorn 27 hours of activities into the standard 24-hour day.2 It should come as no surprise, then, that 40% shop online during work hours. (But don’t tell them we told you.)

The Problem With “I’ll Do It Myself”

Like a lot of can-do moms, I’m hesitant to ask for help around the house and with child care. I like being in control. I enjoy wearing the mantel of competence as much as a pair of sweats with an elastic waistband. But after a while, all this doing gets tiresome.

For those of you like me, you know what comes next: bitterness from lack of recognition, looking heavenward and wondering why the heck something that’s flamingly obvious to you is not obvious to your spouse, and then the inevitable: Nevermind! I’ll just do it myself.

So what would happen if I delegated responsibility at home. What if I asked for help?

Things wouldn’t be done right, of course. We’d run out of dental floss. Zora’s clothes might be mismatched. Or she might subsist on a diet of tofu, hot dogs, and blueberries. And if I asked for help, well, then I’m not the Great and Powerful Mom that I thought I was. Besides, shouldn’t Rodney realize when it’s time to pay the nanny? Shouldn’t he know where the diaper bag is?

Not necessarily.

Five words have really helped me: Honey, I need you to

…watch Zora so I can exercise on Saturday mornings.
…put on her shoes in the morning while I brush my teeth.
…pick up something for dinner on your way home.

I was reluctant at first. I felt like I was skipping out on my responsibility. Then I had to deal with the question, if I’m not super woman taking care of everything that needs to be done, then who am? Working through that question is turning out to be more challenging than doing everything myself.

What’s Better Than Five Minutes in the Bathroom? Mondays.

I remember when Sunday evenings filled me with a vague ennui, very much like that low-grade sadness that overtook me as a child the night of Christmas or my birthday. The lethargy. The aimlessness. The feeling that I could’ve used my time more wisely instead of letting the hours slip past.

Not anymore.

Sunday evenings are Christmas Eve for me now. Why? Because Monday means that I can be alone. I can drop Zora off with her nanny, I can kiss my husband goodbye, and bliss out to NPR while crawling up 395N. When I arrive at work, I can brew a pot of coffee for my floormates, crawl into my office, and not come out for hours. If I do leave my solitude, it’s only for a meeting or a quick trip to the kitchen to nuke my lunch and grab a Fresca before heading back to my office. My Space. It’s decidedly unsocial.

After a weekend of serving as my family’s chef, chauffeur, concierge, personal shopper, accountant, entertainer  — Mama, I want yogurt. Mama, I want up. Hon, can you hang up your coat and put away your boots? Play with me. What’s for dinner? What do we need at the store? — I’m ready to unplug. Five minutes behind a locked bathroom door once a day is not enough. Besides, my dear girl knows how to knock, turn the doorknob this way and that, and push her little fingers under the door to wave at me. “You pooping, Mama? Can I see your poo poo?”

Yep. I love being alone, and I am not alone in feeling this way.