I believe we have been sufficiently warned: Couples tend to fight more after the baby comes. I was amused with the way one of my friends described her first few weeks after her son was born: “It’s like you suddenly have this house guest and he just won’t leave!” We were told that couples’ fights often revolve around how this house guest takes away the time and attention of the partner that used to be unreservedly theirs (i.e. “All she talks about is our baby!”) ; who does more around the house (i.e. “He can’t even change a diaper or give our baby a bath!”) ; and how best to take care of this house guest’s needs (i.e. “Really? You’re going to feed that to our baby?”).
Strangely enough, the opposite was true with me and my husband. Our relationship improved when Ruby was born and now that I’m pregnant with our second, it has become even better. My husband is already talking about a third to bring our relationship to perfection. Then again, it might be argued that we must have had a pretty bad first year of marriage together that things couldn’t be much worse than that. That’s not entirely true. Things could have been much worse — we could fight with each other and fight about the baby. But we didn’t.
I was committed to completely direct breast feeding Ruby and cannot see myself leaving her in the care of a nanny or a daycare facility so I knew from the start that I would be a full-time stay-at-home mom (Aside: The term “stay-at-home mom” does not sound like an accurate or even esteemed job description for the demanding and dynamic work of raising children. I am amused by the suggestions of Leslie Morgan Steiner, “sabbatical parent,” “temparent” and “director of child development.” Her readers have some fun suggestions too). I knew early on that I would be the one spending the most time with Ruby, and since my time is more flexible, that I would be taking care of the house as well.
That said, I do miss working outside the home. I miss the satisfaction of completing projects that are of consequence to numerous others. I miss the small pleasure of getting paid and the independence this brings. I miss the freedom of having my own time to read voraciously or to do whatever I want whenever I want. And so yes, I admit that there are times when I look back ever so longingly to the time before I had Ruby. Yet, I do not resent my husband for essentially having the same life (particularly his work life) he had before Ruby. That is not to say that Ruby did not change any of his plans. She did. Because of her heart condition and the need to stay here in Japan, he had to give up some of his big dreams. But still, I think women’s lives change more than men’s with the birth of a child (unless they belong to the few who can afford to delegate the task of childcare to someone else). To be with Ruby is my choice and I embrace all its joys and limitations.
My husband works full time and yet once he comes home, he takes it upon himself to wash the dishes after dinner, do the laundry, and attend to Ruby’s needs and play with her without my saying a single word. And I earnestly admire my husband. The first time I left Ruby in his complete care, she was a month old, and he took care of her for three weeks while working full time. He settled her in a banana box under his office desk and took her with him to meetings and presentations (and I believe he even changed her diaper in the middle of one of those presentations). Since then, he has taken Ruby with him several times, from as short as a day to as long as ten days to give me some precious time alone or for me to attend conferences. Again I didn’t have to ask him to do so; he urged me to take time for myself. Some of my mom friends find this unbelievable. “I can’t even leave my baby with my husband for two measly hours!”
I thought about what they said. Is it more because women feel their husbands will somehow botch the job? “They’re men and what do they know about child care?” or “For heaven’s sakes they might even try to feed the baby some beer when we’re not looking!” or “I’m sure he’s going to let the baby sit on her pooh for hours before changing her.” On this note, I am slightly guilty and I admit to feeling a bit apprehensive the first few times I had to leave Ruby with my husband. I felt that he won’t pay as much careful attention to her needs as I would but I learned to trust that he will do okay, just as he trusts that I do okay everyday. Another thing I have learned is to avert my eyes. Yes, he will toss Ruby high up in the air and play rough with her. Yes he will probably feed her only bananas and milk the whole day (what happened to the recommended five different fruits and vegetables for complete nutrition?). But if Ruby is happy and healthy at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter and I don’t have to sweat the details.
Or, could it be that two hours is the maximum amount of time before the men give up and need a break? I asked my husband whether he feels like he needs time for himself after a whole day at work and then coming home and spending time with Ruby. He said, “This is my time for myself. This is my break – spending time with Ruby, playing with her in the playground.” He enjoys watching her and getting to know her quirks. My husband said that yes, it is important for Ruby to see how her dad wastes time with her but she will probably not remember it. She won’t remember how many times he had to push her on the swing set, or read Green Eggs and Ham. “It really is more for me and my emotional investment.” He tells me that he needs his time alone with Ruby (in which she interacts differently than when it’s the three of us together or when it’s just Ruby and me together), and giving me some time for myself is a happy consequence of that.
On these counts, I consider myself extremely lucky.