In the weeks building up to a business trip, I created a schedule for the five people who’d replace me, a single mom with two kids, for two days. It listed the phone numbers of about a dozen people as well, just in case.
At the conference, a woman asked me who was caring for my daughters back home. “I assembled a small team of caretakers,” I said in all seriousness. Most of the other women relied on their partners and an additional family member along with regular child care facilities to take over the regular day-to-day domestic duties they fulfilled. Mine was a little different. Some might argue extensive.
I hired a babysitter to cover the bulk of the afternoons and daycare drop-off and pick-up. The evenings had my youngest daughter’s dad and grandma putting in a few hours before my 1- and-8-year-old walked across the hall to spend the night with my neighbor, who’s also a single mom with a son my older daughter’s age. We exchange our kids so much, I fondly call her my kids’ “other mom.”
In all, that’s five people rotating the hours that are normally taken up by one person — me.
These situations only attest to just how much domestic unpaid work mothers are expected to do on a day-to-day basis. We often fill the roles of many in our own homes, shuttling kids around, shopping, cooking meals, cleaning and caring for the emotional needs of our families.
Sheryl Sandberg recently shared a video on Facebook of a foreign commercial for laundry detergent. It shows a mother coming home from work, but still at work through handling a situation over the phone, while caring for her entire family — including a husband who’s sitting on the couch, watching television. Her father sits at the table, observing, while we listen to his voice, reading a letter to his daughter where he realizes that by being the husband on the couch, he’d raised a daughter who’d never expect anything different. At the end, it showed him insisting on doing his own laundry, and the words “share the load” appeared.
While I sat in my training conference, most of the way across the country, I kept my mind set to the time zone at home. I had a schedule in front of me, telling me who’d be on shift with my kids and when. My first night away had gone smoothly, but I was still nervous it’d been a fluke.
My 20-month-old couldn’t really be happy without me, right? There must be some level of misery going on at home in my absence. Then, my friend sent me a photo of the girls, posing in the sun, saying “Had to stop and play on the way home from daycare pick-up.” My whole body relaxed, and I started to enjoy being away from my family, knowing that even though it took five people to do it, I’d been lovingly replaced.
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