I keep having this argument with my husband every couple of weeks at the moment and I’m starting to go batshit crazy about it, even though I’m pretty sure it’s an argument that all parents have with each other on a semi-regular basis. The argument is this: WHO HAS THE HARDEST JOB? You see, my husband and I both have two jobs. One of them is the job we do out of necessity; the one that brings in the money to pay the mortgage and feed our family. The other one is the job we chose together back in 2011 when we decided to try for a baby. My husband goes out to work five days out of the week, stays home alone with the kids one day a week and co-parents with me on the other day. I go out to work two days a week (unless I have to fill in for someone somewhere), stay home alone with the kids four days a week and co-parent with my husband on the other day. So who has the harder job? Well, hereabouts I need to put some things into perspective.
You all know the story of Baby Taylor, which means that you all know that I haven’t slept more than five hours a night in about nine and a half months (because now, of course, Baby Taylor is finally kinda sorta sleeping through the night. Halle-fucking-lujah!). So for nine and a half months I have been sleep-deprived. My husband is a “modern man” in a lot of ways (I use quotations marks here because I really don’t get why for some men, the willingness and ability to change a nappy should earn them some kind of badge of honour among their womenfolk), but he has never shared the burden of the night shift with me. When I was breastfeeding, his rationale was that he couldn’t really do a whole lot to help, so he might as well just sleep through it. When I had to switch Baby Taylor to formula – reflux, blah, blah; you’ve heard it already – he still somehow figured that it wasn’t his job to ever be awake in the night. And now he just shrugs and says, “I don’t hear him wake up and you do, so you might as well go”. So, yeah, I’ve spent quite a few months feeling on-the-brink-of-insanity tired. On top of this, I went back to work two months ago. So on some of those nights when I hadn’t actually managed more than a few hours' sleep between trips back and forth to settle Baby Taylor, I then had to get up and go to work and try to remember how to do my job when I wasn’t actually sure if my pants were even on the right way out because I was Just. That. TIRED.
And then there are the days when it’s just me on my own with the kids from just after two in the afternoon until bedtime. And that’s probably fine with one child – even accounting for sleep-deprivation -, but with two it’s... Well, sometimes it’s not. Because I love spending time with my children. Of course I do. BUT – collective sharp intake of breath from non-parent readership – sometimes looking after children is exhausting and wearing and actually really fucking hard work. Sometimes I would actually rather be at work than trying to occupy a boisterous three year-old while his ten month-old brother disappears under the coffee table for the umpteenth time because he just hasn’t figured out how to crawl in the right direction quite yet. Sometimes I’d like to be able to get on with some cleaning or laundry without worrying what the ominous crash in the playroom just now was all about and if Baby Taylor was also involved in the disaster. Because that’s what parenting is like. It’s none stop. And then it’s bath time and both kids are crying because the big one is tired and also cross that he has to stop playing and the little one is hungry and crabby. Coaxing Toddler Taylor into pyjamas whilst trying to persuade Baby Taylor to finish his milk sometimes feels like the most insurmountable task in the world. But finally they’re in bed and now I can sit and vegetate in front of the TV for a couple of hours... But wait! There’s still that huge pile of ironing to do and all three of the laundry bins in the house are overflowing, even though I’m sure I literally did a load of washing like, two days ago. So I’ll do that first, and then suddenly it’s 11PM and I need to go to bed RIGHT FUCKING NOW otherwise I will not be able to make it up the stairs.
I’m really lucky. Both sets of grandparents are on hand most of the time, standing by for an emergency . Mostly because they’ve already seen what happens when I go into meltdown and nobody wants to deal with that ever again, ever. But even grandparental aid poses its own unique set of problems, because Toddler Taylor gets excited when grandma or nana turn up around bath time and he metamorphoses from a knackered out little boy into... Well, remember Hurryup from Stopit and Tidyup? Yeah. Pretty much that. And then I have to become Shouty Mummy and threaten him with NO STORIES and NO FRIENDS IN BED and I actually just fucking hate being Shouty Mummy because it’s a really shit way to end the day. But without help from grandma and nana, some nights I really don’t know how I would cope. I know I would, but probably not well.
So who has the hardest job? Maybe it’s not so much about that as it is about whoever goes out to paid work – because feminism – accepting and acknowledging that whoever gets left at home with the small people is probably having a pretty hard time too. There are always moments throughout the day when your children are both/all being lovely at the same time and you can’t imagine for a second that you would ever want to be anywhere other than right here with them. But those moments are just that; MOMENTS. If they happened all the time they wouldn’t be nearly so precious. The rest of time, being a parent is hard work. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever do, which is not to say that it isn’t worth it because it absolutely is. But when you’re the primary care-giver, the job you do is shaping a little person into a grown-up human and helping them find their way through the first years of their life, and that is a MONUMENTAL undertaking. My husband defers to me all decisions to do with the kids, which means that on some level, he must recognise that I am better equipped to make those decisions than he is. Why, then, is my job as a parent any less challenging than his job as the main earner?