My Illness Means My Husband Is the 'Better' Parent, and I'm OK With That
As I sat at dinner with my children one night, my 7-year-old asked me something so profound that I didn’t know how to react or respond. “Mommy, how come Daddy does everything for us and you don’t?” My jaw dropped. “What does Daddy do?” I asked. “He cleans the house and makes us dinner. He takes us to school. He takes us places like on nature walks and the park and bike rides.” “And what does Mommy do?” I asked. She thought for a minute then responded: “You go to work and you come home and lay on the couch.”
I wasn’t angry or upset because it’s true. For the past year my husband has been the one doing all the parenting activities that are often reserved for the mom. You know, the things moms sometimes complain about being underappreciated for and write top 10 lists about and wish their husbands would help with.
I have always been a workhorse and still am, but last October I went on a medical leave for five months due to what I now know is fibromyalgia. I spent my days on the couch unable to cook, clean or do pretty much anything. It was the first time in my adult life I couldn’t work. The pain prevented me from doing all the things that come natural to me as a hard-worker, a mother and wife. I became overwhelmingly depressed and my kids and husband were left to carry on without me. He picked up my slack with no complaint, all while working nights managing a bar. He kept the kids at bay when I was having hard days and made sure they were dressed, fed, hair brushed and homework done. He took them out on adventures after school so I could have more quiet time because he knew I was sensitive to sound, including the sound of my own kids’ voices.
My depression got even worse as I began to feel like a bum mother. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just do all the “mom things” I wanted to? I judged myself harshly and beat myself up constantly over my inability to care for my children, my home and my husband. I should be the one taking them to the park and making their breakfast in the morning. These were things I felt were my way of contributing and bonding with my kids. If I wasn’t helping my son brush his teeth in the morning then what was my role? I felt lost and displaced. Without realizing it I had distanced myself from my family out of self-loathing and disappointment. I began lashing out at my husband, picking fights with him for reasons I can’t even remember now. I only know it was only out of anger and frustration with myself and envy for my husband’s abilities and strong relationship with our children. I resented him for being the better parent.
I apologized a lot, but never to myself. I apologized to my husband and children who were so kind and understanding it made me feel even worse. My husband supported me and was perfectly content to assume both roles in our household. When my daughter asked me that question, I asked her how she felt about it. Her response was simple: “I don’t mind.”
That’s when it dawned on me that my kids didn’t see it as “Mommy’s job” and “Daddy’s job.” They don’t care which one of us it is taking them on nature walks or dropping them off at school, they just want us to be happy parents. I realized they were bonding more with my husband not because he was the better parent but because he exuded happiness. He spent time with them and all kids really need or want is your time. And I was wasting time wallowing in my self-pity and anger over my disease. My kids saw me unhappy, depressed and resentful of their father. I was toxic.
That’s when I decided that just because I couldn’t go on a five-mile bike ride or hiking in the woods or even wake up early due to side effects from my meds didn’t mean I couldn’t participate in my kids’ life (and my own)! I sat down and explained to them fibromyalgia as simply as I could. I told them that although I couldn’t do all the things Daddy does, we could still do things together like homework, art projects and reading. They excitedly began rattling off ideas of things we could do together and relief swept over me.
I finally went back to work which helped with my self-esteem and gave me back a feeling of contribution to the household. My husband still does the majority of the parenting, only now I’ve realized he does it because he wants to — because he loves me and loves our kids and understands what I need. His abilities as a father do not take away from mine, they only compensate for the abilities I don’t have and I realize just how lucky I am to have a partner who truly believes and understands me.