I remember being sixteen years old and rebelling in my English Literature class by saying that I’d actually be quite happy if I baked cupcakes and played with my babies all day while doing the occasional crossword. This was my concept of stay-at-home motherhood. Of course, I also had grand dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon, a Booker-prize-winning author and a just-a-little-bit-famous musician, all simultaneously. I had been told, you see, that I had “more than enough gumption to do it all” – I was becoming a woman. And that meant that I could do everything.
And then came a day fifteen years later, sitting on the couch with my best friend, staring vacantly at the tepid-warm coffee, sippy cups and half-eaten apple slices in front of us. This friend and I had connected years before through our love of complex philosophical writing and our value of deep intellectual thought and analysis, and yet we had just spent the last two hours speaking in half sentences, attempting to discuss the best dishwasher detergent on the market: which one leaves streaks on the wine glasses; which is better value for money; powder versus tablet; salt or no salt… Who were we? What had we become?!
During those first two years of each of my babies’ lives, I really struggled with an unexpected shift: My husband and I were suddenly living lives that were at the far ends of the traditional-gender-role continuum. I had become the very traditional cooking, cleaning, child-rearing wife, and my husband had become the money-earner who returned home just in time to open a beer and sit down to a roast chicken. Some mums I know absolutely adore this phase of their lives, soaking in those baby smells, perfectly folding their fluffy towels and relishing in the chaos that is a baby attempting to eat spaghetti Bolognese. And some of us don’t. Some of us are sitting there face-palming as we remember that time when we foolishly declared that living the picture-perfect quintessential “Good Wife’s Guide” life from 1955 would actually be kind of fun.
I learnt pretty quickly that there was nothing to be gained from reminding my husband of the freedom and joy that he gets to experience each morning as he walks to the train with Real Grown-Up Music playing in noise-cancelling headphones, perhaps even reading the newspaper and having some remote notion of the goings-on in the world outside these four walls. Obviously, those envy-laden snaps at him never did much good for our relationship, and you know what? I’ve since discovered that we are most certainly not alone. People have been studying couples like us for a while.
In speaking with “my people” in the science-world, I’ve since learnt that the transition to parenthood can be tough on any couple, and one of the possible reasons in a male-female relationship is that 75-80% of the added workload that a baby brings to a household is completed by the woman (Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, and Robinson). When my generation has been raised to believe that women are equals and that we must fight to be considered as such, this inequality of household duties often goes against our expectations, and it can really strain our relationships (Twenge, Campbell, and Foster). It’s no wonder, then, that Monday morning playgroups are as much about venting about our partners as they are about socialising our little ones.
I don’t have any magic advice for dealing with this shift, but I can tell you about one reasonably attainable thing that worked for us. Once I started to openly speak with my husband about what I was feeling, we began to actively schedule my needs into our week with the same level of importance as his work. Each Saturday morning, I would “go to work” for two hours, which was to walk down to my little village cafe with my notebook, have a coffee, and write. I’d then meander home through the farmer’s market, arriving to find my husband making lunch. Through trial and error, we learnt how incredibly vital this time was for my overall happiness, and therefore the overall happiness of our family unit. Two hours, once a week, saved my sanity and perhaps even saved my marriage. And a little part of me always revelled in the moment when my oldest would tell his baby brother, “Mummy is going to work now.”
By Johanna Sargeant
Originally from Australia, Johanna and her husband unexpectedly made Zurich their home in 2010, when it was simply too beautiful to leave. Fuelled by her own tumultuous experiences of motherhood with her two young boys, this former English teacher, writer and musician retrained as a breastfeeding consultant. She runs fortnightly breastfeeding support meetings, teaches prenatal breastfeeding classes and remains very busy providing online and in-person support for mothers throughout Switzerland. Follow her Milk and Motherhood blog and Facebook page.
Illustration by Masha Ellis
Masha works as a product manager in the finance industry during the day and dedicates her spare time to art, cooking and her traditional nutrition blog. She is Australian with Ukranian roots and now lives near Lake Zurich with her little girl. To find out more, follow her on Facebook or visit her blog.
Bianchi, S.M., Milkie, M.A., Sayer, L.C. and Robinson, J.P. (2000). Is Anyone Doing the Housework? Trends in the Gender Division of Household Labor. Social Forces, 79(1), 191-228. https://doi.org/10.2307/2675569.
Twenge, J.M., Campbell, W.K., and Foster, C.A. (2003). Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 574-583.