Before this year, my husband traveled every week for work. Gone Monday-Thursday, he tried to make up for lost time with our three kids the rest of the week. But his hours were still long, often bleeding into the weekend, and certain habits and routines developed early.
The kids came to me for every little thing, walking right by him to ask me for help while I was in the shower, as I cooked dinner, or even coming into our dark bedroom to wake me up on the rare occasion that I got a nap. And he rarely stepped in to redirect them in those moments, whether small or large. This dynamic felt permanent, not a situation capable of developing into something more equitable. Dad was the fun guy who took everyone to Starbucks on the weekend, stocking up on the missed hugs and smiles from his week away. Mom was for everything else. A snack? Tangled hair? A problem at school? Me, me, me.
I see my other mom friends struggling now, attempting to balance work and parenthood in the time of COVID, and I recognize that exhaustion and frustration. I know this tidal wave well. It’s been my life since our first child was born. I quit my job as a teacher and stayed home while my husband went to work, and even later, as I began working from home as a freelance writer, those established parenting roles didn’t evolve. I took care of a majority of the heavy parenting lifting. I was on call all day, every day, no matter my work deadlines, appointments, or personal goals.
As our kids grew older, the weight of their care grew crushing. I felt stifled, like I rarely had a moment to myself. I was Mom: everything to everyone. There was no room for “me” in my life.
I wanted a real parenting partner. Even though my husband was a loving father, and even though our kids raced into his arms for bedtime stories or to ride on his shoulders, I still found myself resentful and bone-weary. I needed more and so did they. And, it turns out, so did my husband.
Once COVID hit, his company went 100 percent remote. He hasn’t traveled a day since, working in our basement and discovering that he’s far more productive with his days this way. I’m not surprised to see him less anxious and more successful in his job without the stress of weekly traveling and living alone in a hotel. But something else has happened that I never expected. My husband’s role as a father has changed dramatically since March, as well. He’s a happier, more tuned-in dad.
It started a couple of months after COVID hit, with him offering to schedule in time with the kids each day, little things like taking a walk with our 7-year-old after her last virtual class or picking up our autistic 12-year-old from his half-day of in-person school. He started getting up and making breakfast for everyone. He helped with our medically fragile child’s medication and attended a Zoom special education meeting with me, asking questions and offering input. These were previously Mom-only areas of responsibility, particularly during the week.
From there, it grew into us bonding as a parenting team. I love hearing him ask our kids questions about school and joke with them about day-to-day stuff. And it’s nice to see our kids roll their eyes at him for a change, too.
The kids have noticed and thrived with this new attention, as well as the tag-team approach it offers when I grow tired and cranky. He notices when I droop, steps in, and takes over whatever parenting task needs doing, from redirecting a whine fest to fixing a broken LOL doll. Our kids now ask him for help instead of always coming to me. They also go to him more often for cuddles, advice, and to watch a movie when I end up having to work on a Saturday.
Recently, I even went away for three days, using his old travel points to stay in a local hotel. The kids cried when I left, but were fine when I texted half an hour later.
“We’re going to grab burgers and have a picnic out back. Have fun and quit bugging us!” he wrote back. I took naps, watched a ton of movies, read without interruption, got some work done, and slept about 12 hours each night. I came home to a happy and calm house — not because the kids had been on their best behavior with a dad they didn’t get to see that often, but because they were themselves, as argumentative and sassy as always, and their dad knew how to support them and handle their various needs.
I recognize the privilege of our lives, of my husband’s ability to take time off work, for both of us to work remotely, etc. But before COVID, it felt like I had married an excellent provider for our family, a loving husband, but only a part-time father. Since March, he’s stepped up in time, emotional connection, and willingness to tackle the boring, routine stuff it would be so easy to ignore. Instead of hiding away during this time of isolation and fear, he’s bonded with our kids a thousand times more.
This year has been awful in so many ways, but I’ve never been more grateful for my husband and the father he’s become.
Childbirth is nothing like in the movies, as these beautiful photos show.