Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two part series.

My husband and I often joke that we have “reverse” gender roles. I work full-time as an academic emergency physician and he is “Mr. Mom” to our three little girls. I pay our bills and usually drive when we go places together. He is a better cook and gift-giver than me. Seriously. He just bought Christmas presents for our families, neighbors and teachers this year. And they were awesome. He is creative and artistic and is in charge of our house décor. We have been married 17 years and these roles work REALLY well for us.

That said, there are certainly difficulties with challenging “traditional” gender roles—both biologically and socially. I have tremendous guilt about not always being there, not being my girls’ default “comfort zone.” And my husband has the societal pressure and guilt of not “providing” for his family. He must be lazy, unaccomplished, or incompetent. Whereas I must be cold, uncaring, not nurturing, over-ambitious or have misplaced priorities. Even our families, who know how difficult his job is on a daily basis, still want to know what my husband is “working” on. He made the decision early in our relationship (when we met while seminary students) that my career in medicine would always take priority over his career aspirations. Practically speaking for him as a linguist specializing in the ancient near east, the job security in medicine won over Ugaritic texts so this prioritization seemed obvious to him.

I feel guilty frequently because I know how hard it is to take care of the kids. And I know how much my husband needs to feel like his PhD-trained creative brain needs exercise. How my introverted hubby needs a break from tea parties and patty-cake and some precious solitude with his nose in books printed in the 15 languages he has studied…I also miss my kids and want to be immersed in their daily routines of bathing, story time, packing lunches, etc. And I have “work-guilt” when I am at home because I am in academics and don’t have the luxury of just “being home” when I am home. I couldn’t be happier but I constantly feel like I am not quite doing any one thing perfectly, and that the slightest hiccup will send it all shattering apart. 

It is HARD to be a working mom. And figuring out the balance of doing this successfully is a work in progress. Communication with one another as a couple and clarifying both our needs and frustrations has been crucial for our ability to sustain our relationship and remain functional. I need to express my gratitude and appreciation for all he has done instead of noticing that the dishes aren’t done and reflexively comment on it the second I walk in the door. Besides, the girls have my back on that one. Once my husband overheard a conversation between the 3 year-old twins. One said to the other, “Daddy didn’t do the dishes. Did he make a bad decision?” He made sure the dishes were done that night long before I got home. But it is admittedly often hard to make the time to communicate when you are just trying to survive the chaos. I have been BUSY my entire marriage (we got married right before I started medical school).

In order to successfully team parent, we create a weekly schedule that lets us know who is “in charge” during certain sections of the day. Before we regularly did this, I would just take over when I got home. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and my husband felt de-legitimized when I would swoop in and do everything “better.” We discussed that I needed to REALLY delegate and not micromanage. My husband has gently shown me ways when I can be unnecessarily uptight and that my behavior would discourage his help – like changing what he is packing for lunches, switching the girls’ outfits, or adding things to his dinner plans to increase nutrition (how annoying!). And once when I was overwhelmed and lazy about my communication and correcting how he was managing their activity schedule and meals he aptly yelled, “stop castrating me!” Enough said. Point taken. My mama guilt sometimes blinds me to being a sensitive wife.

We function better when we regularly discuss the bigger picture. We discuss questions like, what do we want to communicate to and inspire in our children? What is our family mission and the values we want to instill in our children? What do we need to focus on in them and what issues do we need to address to help guide them in their growth?  

Remembering to step back and view the big picture helps us keep it all in perspective. Life is very short and precious. I remind myself to be so grateful for my family. When the sleeplessness and chaos is overwhelming I remember that this is VERY temporary. That I am going to miss that precious sweet moments of snuggles and conversations. And maybe even the chaos too. Those are sacred and fleeting moments, and I must enjoy each stage and process. Because tomorrow is not promised and tomorrow has its own set of challenges (like three teenage girls in our future). 

Check out Part 2 next week!