When morning comes around, I sometimes look at the day stretching out in front of me and think, 'Oh god.' My husband's alarm goes off, he gets up, has a shower and gets ready for work. My alarm these days is our three year old, who loudly shouts, 'Are you awake Mummy? My pyjama bottoms are wet. I can't find my fire engine. Can I have some Weetos?' If I'm particularly lucky a series of recorded minion farts will be the first thing I hear when I wake up, as the fart blaster from Despicable Me 2 is activated next to my head. Waking the baby, who then promptly performs his first dump of the day. FML. And the morning circus begins...
'Have a good day,' I sneer at said husband as he leaves the house. On time. Without juggling a car seat and pram base combo to the car. Without worrying if he's got enough baby wipes and a clean muslin which doesn’t smell of cheese. Sometimes listening to actual music on an iPod. Bastard.
Back in the land of the living room, at least one half of my offspring is kicking off and I am left wondering whether 8:35 is too early for Toy Story 3, or whether I should wait to see what's coming up on Lorraine instead... And more to the point, I'm left pondering the same daily conundrum: what the actual fuck am I going to do with them all day?
‘You don’t appreciate how lucky you are going to work,’ I tell him. ‘I wish we could swap.’ Maternity leave housed the worst of this resentment but even after returning to work part-time my two ‘days off’ (grrrr) often prompted some spiteful comparisons. I clearly have neither the patience nor the all-round maternal vibe required for these midweek home days because I still find myself getting proper mardy towards my full-time working spouse. I know this part-time pattern is only temporary to see us through the baby years but I’m three years in and it doesn’t feel all that temporary. My weekday pattern has morphed into something unrecognisable from just a few years ago and his has not. This irritates me. The problem is, I know it irritates him too because the flip side is he’s working his arse off five days a week and I’m spending two days at home with our lovely boys.
Part-time work is the dream, right? Surely I’m winning?
‘I’d happily swap!’ he tells me. ‘I’d LOVE to work three days a week.’ He isn’t being spiteful or provocative when he says this – he genuinely likes the idea of a part-time week.
‘Ha! You have absolutely NO IDEA,’ I laugh at him. And on it rumbles…
Well, I have come to realise that an ongoing 'my day is harder than your day' debate is pointless. It’s ridiculous. It doesn't actually make either of you feel any better and it’s largely unfair to all concerned.
When I was on maternity leave for the second time I began to realise my jealousy towards his freedom to leave the house was somewhat misguided by the memory of what working life was like before we had children. Work may well be like a holiday at times (see pXX) – and I bloody love working – but it is still work. And with a new baby plus toddler at home he had to undergo his working day on significantly less sleep. Then after work, when his shift finished, he didn’t return to a tidy quiet house, put Sky Sports News on and have a cold beer, like he sometimes used to when I was working late at the bank. He came home to me. Stressed. Me sat scowling amongst mountains of shitty plastic toys and possibly a shitty nappy. Telling him I hated being at home. How I hated my life (the dramatic license of arguments). Telling him I was at breaking point and no, I didn’t know what was for fucking tea because I HADN'T EVEN HAD A SHOWER. Sometimes I would simply show him a video recorded earlier in the day of one or both of the children screaming and comment, ‘My whole day.’ I’m surprised he didn’t sign up for an additional evening job.
Well, I think the penny has dropped that I need to curb this almost boastful ‘my day was worse than yours’ carry-on. I’ve never really achieved anything by giving him shit when he comes through the door. Sometimes I just feel hard done by and want recognition that I have drawn the short straw. I want him to get out his ruler and confirm that my straw is shorter. I need him to get it. But equally, he is fed up with hearing my persistent whinging and wants to remind me that he has been at work all day (‘Well LUCKY you…’ And on it goes…)
The thing is, on refection, I know I have been a bit unfair. It is true that on my home days he does 'escape' at 8.25. And he can listen to music on the iPod (though he’s dicing with the risk of ‘Let It Go’ and/or ‘Hakuna Matata’ on shuffle). It is true that I am sometimes bored to tears by 9.25 – I can’t cope with Jeremy Kyle anymore; I struggle to get past the lack of teeth and the fact two toothless people had sex but seem surprised it resulted in a baby, who they’ve named Mercedes-Leigh.
It is true that there are genuinely many days I would rather be at work.
But none of these things prove he is ‘winning’. I’m sure he really does wake up some Monday mornings, look at the week stretching out in front of him and think, 'I wish I could stay at home.' His jealousy is just as valid as mine. But all he gets is me dismissing this as ridiculous, telling him how hard it is at home and reiterating that he has NO IDEA. I’m not wrong in that assertion – he doesn't have any idea what being at home with two kids under three all day every day for months on end is like. He has never had to do it. But that’s not really his fault. By the same token I don't really know what working full time and coming home to Hurricane Wife (and surrounding devastation) is like either. In the hardest of my maternity leave months I often forgot to even ask how his day had been. It might have been shit. I was too busy instantly offloading the full breakdown of reasons my day had been horrific, reasons my day had been ten times harder, reasons he had already heard in abusive sweary texts sent earlier in the day. Texts like:
I’d rather be a bin lady than deal with this shit.
Kill. Me. Now. Don’t phone me at lunch I’ve got nothing nice to say.
Where are you? Text me the moment you leave. You need to pick up nappies – I couldn’t even get to the shop because they’ve done nothing but play up like twats ALL day.
YOU BETTER NOT BE LATE I’VE FUCKING HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR KIDS.
Actual texts. Not proud.
I text when I feel compelled to text which unfortunately tends to be when I have gone off on one. Such messages aren’t a balanced view of the situation at all – I have plenty of great days, just me and the boys hanging out, that never make the text message edit, bar the odd token WhatsApp picture of them on a tractor at a farm park. Sure, I moan about my days ‘off’ – the midweek ones especially. But even for die-hard work fans there are benefits to being at home. Sometimes it is the better deal. On top of the summer sun and catching up with friends and extra cuddles (the non-snotty ones) there is something undeniably liberating about being master of your own schedule on the days you are not at work. If you choose to, you can simply decide at 2pm on a Tuesday that you fancy a trip to the library. And go. Admittedly you won't get there until 4pm because it is impossible to leave the sodding house in less than 90 minutes... but to a certain extent, you decide what you do with your time. It's the kids who roll the behaviour dice and decide how successful that outing is (some of my less than successful outings in chapter XX). You still answer to somebody, but the boss or bosses breathing down your neck are much smaller. And can be bribed with raisins.
I feel I should add at this point that I am writing purely based on the dynamic in my house. This isn’t a sweeping generalisation that the mum of the household is at home on kids duty more than the dad is – this is often not be the case. It might be the other way around. You might be in a same-sex marriage where it is not ‘Her vs Him’ at all. You might both work full-time. You might both work part-time. You might be a single parent.
Hats off to you all.
So maybe the grass really isn't always greener on the work side. Some days it is. Some days it isn't. Some days one of you has a distinct advantage. Some days you both lose. The only certainty is that unless you are genuinely considering addressing the work/home divide (and re-allocating roles), the constant 'my day is shitter than yours' debate could roll on forever, which doesn't help anyone. What has so far proved more helpful is to crack open a bottle of wine on Friday night and agree we’ve both had a hard week. This promotes a feeling of solidarity, and there’s wine – everybody wins.
Important notes for the worker
• If the baby is teething or if anybody at home is poorly, you definitely have the better deal being at work.
• Don't pretend you have any idea what it is like to take a crying baby to the doctor’s for his injections accompanied by a toddler who has switched to arsehole mode. Truly, she has lived through hell that day.
• If she is having a ‘moment’, cut her some slack. She doesn't really hate you. Or the kids. Or the house. Or her life. But she is at (temporary) breaking point. Those abusive sweary text messages aren't her new hobby but sometimes she can't stop herself. Sometimes she doesn’t know what else to do. Don't sigh. In fact, on those days, it's sometimes best not to breathe near her. It's nothing personal, but she might want to smack you in the face.
• Finally, never ever ask what she has been doing all day. Or if your work shirts have been washed. She hasn't even washed herself. You know where the washing machine is.
And for those holding the fort at home...
I know it's bloody annoying when he says, 'But I've been at work all day', but he has been at work. All day. And he never ever gets to sunbathe during toddler nap time. Or watch Judge Rinder in his PJs on a Thursday. Or meet a friend for coffee and cake at the library. Just admit that there are some small perks. Although if my husband is reading this, I know how hard you work but I think we could just agree being at home is a teeny tiny bit harder and that buying wine and/or making me a cup of tea is the least you can do. In return I’ll try and stop swearing in shouty capitals.