Once I gave up my superhero status, my family and I got stronger.
By Dulce Zamora
Every year, I organize and execute plans for my daughters’ birthdays, from the parties, to the meals, to the gifts. This year, for the first time I can remember, my husband, Noel, offered to help with the plans for our soon-to-be 12-year-old’s birthday. My first instinct was to balk. Why was he encroaching into my territory? Did he think I was not doing a good enough job? If I let him help me, would that mean that I was a failure of a woman, that I wasn’t able to do it all – take care of the kids, manage the household, and work on my career at the same time? Was this some kind of foreshadowing that he was going to leave me? My thinking was that if he were to take on kid duties, it meant he was making me dispensable.
Then I realized, I was being ridiculous. Why shouldn’t he assist me — No, why shouldn’t he be an active part of family care? Wasn’t this what I wanted? Didn’t I say, a few posts back, that we needed more men minding things at home just as we needed more women advancing in the workplace? Why was I then claiming our daughter’s birthday plans as my jurisdiction?
I told Noel I was thinking of setting up a bowling party for our daughter Sienna. He said there was a karaoke-bowling place near his work. He said he’d go there to check it out. Of course, then I worried about losing control of the event. Would he remember to ask how many people per lane we could have, what kind of songs were available, what kind of food was offered, and whether or not we could bring in our own cake?
Noel said to email him the questions I had. One day later, Noel called me from the bowling alley, but I was in the middle of a meeting and couldn’t talk to him. So he went ahead and reserved the lanes, and informed me later what he found out about the venue. Once that was locked in, I emailed the invitations.
Then, Noel asked our two girls what favors they wanted for the party. He suggested going to the candy shop they had been eyeing at the mall. My guard went up: Candy? Ugh, I detested it whenever the kids came home from parties with all sorts of sweets and useless trinkets. And I wasn’t a big fan of favors. I mean, why should we give someone a gift for going to our party? In past years, I had tried to get away with favors by giving guests something they were already using at the party, like lab coats and plastic goggles for our science party, or small disposable lanterns for our camping party.
Again, I had to remind myself to let go. Noel and the girls could take care of the favor bags. I stayed home to mind some household stuff while they went to the mall. I asked Noel to give the girls a budget for spending (since they were now capable of doing the math), and asked him to limit the candy. Yes, candy was cheap, but it was also loaded with junk.
Everyone came home excited about their purchases. Our 9 year old, Jasmine, offered to put the goodie bags together. I gave her some small white paper bags I already had in my stash, and off she went distributing the loot and decorating the bags. In an hour, she was done. Each bag was personalized with artwork and the guest’s name. Inside were candies (12 pieces — because they were inexpensive), fancy rulers, pens, and mini notebooks. It wouldn’t have been the way I had done things, but it was done. And it was pretty good (except for the amount of candy). The best thing about it was that I didn’t spend time doing it. Instead, I had time to do something else, like go to boot camp, or revise a chapter of my book.
I must admit, I felt guilty. My daughter’s birthday was coming up, and I hadn’t done much to prepare for it. Did that make me a bad mommy?
I collected evidence to prove I wasn’t:
- I did have birthday gifts in the closet. I had bought them in the U.S. over the summer, because it was so much cheaper to buy it there compared to Singapore.
- I did spend a little time tracking down guests’ emails. (Because of privacy laws, class lists and contact info were not readily available.)
- I did notice that the goodie bags were set up in a fashion that was not dissimilar to the way I organized and decorated bags (so I wouldn’t have to spend too much on fancy bags). Perhaps my daughters were paying attention to what I was doing all these years? Maybe I was leading by example?
- Perhaps the girls were independent, partly because I had spent hours setting up activities that would help them achieve self sufficiency. Hadn’t I insisted they do all the cooking and baking on Saturday mornings? (Of course I set up the cuboards and workspaces so that all the ingredients and cooking/baking supplies were within reach.)
- Hadn’t I planned library days and play-based learning activities so that they could learn to use their brain? Of course I don’t claim ownership of all their achievements, but I could still be a proud mama, right?
Why was I even doing this? Why did I have to prove my value as a mother and as a woman? Just because I didn’t slave over party plans or goodie bags, it doesn’t mean I’m not worthy. Just because I didn’t have the birthday planning to add to my already full juggling act, it doesn’t mean I don’t care.
Of course, all this birthday stuff was superfluous. What if I let go of other, more important matters? I shudder to think of it, but I’m also excited. Because I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life (resume my career), my husband and daughters stepped in to do the other stuff I was doing. By carving out space for myself, I made room for others to lead. It wasn’t just wife and mommy doing all the work. Everyone was pitching in. It was the teamwork I said I always wanted.
If this was so great, then why did I feel bad about it? Some other evidence came to mind:
- According to United Nations Women, females around the world carry out two and a half times more unpaid household and care work compared to males. As a result, women have less time for paid labor, and work more (paid and unpaid labor combined).
- Forty-three percent of highly-qualified women with children take a career break compared to 24% of men with kids. The most common reasons mothers leave the workforce: family time (44%), earn a degree or other training (23%), and work is not enjoyable/satisfying (17%). The most common reasons fathers leave the workforce: change careers (29%), earn a degree or other training (25%), and work is not enjoyable/satisfying (24%). The survey was conducted by a private sector, multiyear task force entitled “The Hidden Brain Drain: Women and Minorities as Unrealized Assets.”
- A global study of gender roles in advertising shows women are 3.5 times more likely to be shown in a domestic role compared to men. (“Gender-Role Portrayals in Television Advertising Across the Globe,” Sex Roles, 2016.)
In my own family, my mother was the one who managed the household and the family. My dad was the primary breadwinner. My mother gave up a career in teaching and baking (she went to school for both) so she could take care of me and my two siblings. My maternal grandmother had to close up her dress shop (where she had 10 seamstresses working for her), because she had to attend to their family of 11. My paternal grandmother raised 12 kids while her husband worked as a barber. No one was at fault for all of this. It was just the way things were.
Well, the way things were doesn’t have to apply today — that’s what I’m starting to realize. If I stop trying to be superwoman and share the domestic duties with my husband and children, it means I have time for other stuff like career and self care. If I have more time for myself, I become more fulfilled as a person, and have more to offer my family. So, maybe, if I let go of the guilt of not doing it all, I can help society, too, by promoting a healthier work balance for everyone.
© 2019 Windswept Wildflower