To all of the fathers who can’t handle watching their kids, even when you are the designated stay-at-home parent, and even when your failure to do so means your wife has to quit her job, dissolve her business, and lose your only source of income during a global pandemic and looming economic depression: hell hath no pity.
We are the women who work thankless jobs, some of us for many hours, some of us doing manual labor, and often with nothing to show for it except for a meager paycheck that barely covers the basics. Our bones ache when we finally get home, when we can at long last shut down the computer, when we set foot into the space that you consider decompression, relaxation, lounge access. That is when we begin our second thankless job. This job is much harder.
We make the dinners and pack the lunches and clean the toilets and wash the clothes. We do this while tiny human beings constantly demanding more cling to our legs, tug at our shirts, shriek in our ears. This while you empty one dish washer per week and pronounce the accomplishment as though you had just run a marathon through glacial terrain. We vacuum around the crumbs you create as you watch TV, feet up, somehow immune to the sound of the child whining for something you could — and for fuck’s sake should — handle.
Sure, things are better. Stay-at-home dad is now a thing. Hey, Aston Kutcher even lobbied for changing tables in men’s restrooms. Good on him. Good on you. Men are picking up some of the slack, chipping in on household tasks, helping with childcare.
But every time we think we’re getting better, we realize just how set back we still are. When a female elbows her way through the mud, survives the bullets being fired by white men above her who don’t take her seriously, and manages to start her own badass business, you are still there to fuck it up. She has a whole team of employees and is the breadwinner. You agree to help out more at home, to be the caregiver for your child. Then a pandemic hits and you can’t handle the extra burden of more time with your kid. So, you lean on the oldest, misogynistic, patriarchal, weak trick in the book. You put everything back on her. Because you know she will cave. She feels responsible. You know she will pick up the shoddy pieces of your fragile male ego and put family above her own personal and career ambitions. Anything so you don’t have to stand at attention for long shifts to keep you child alive and, gasp, engaged.
Shame on you, men.
Yes, we do have some sympathy. We know how hard it is to keep a toddler busy during a pandemic. That’s because we’re doing it. We’re working and parenting and co-parenting and somehow making it all work, even if it’s held together with duct tape and too much screen time.
Some of us are lesbians — thank god! — and have figured out how to divide labor and responsibilities without the patriarchal bullshit undertones. I work full-time and then some, and my wife has willfully agreed to be stay-at-home mom to our three-year-old. I know how hard her job is. I appreciate all that she does. I tell her that all the time. She thanks me for taking care of the family financially. I remind her that I can only do what I do because she creates the space for me to be able to.
When I am done with what I call shift one of my work day, around five o’clock, I know that it is my job to become the primary parent for our kid because my wife has been on toddler duty all day and it is my privilege and responsibly to relieve her. When our child goes to bed, I return to work. This is the only time my wife gets to decompress. I also step up as primary caregiver on the weekends because I know my wife appreciates the opportunity to take a long shower by herself, to garden, to do the things that make her feel whole again after spending five days straight with many hours each day, trying to keep a tiny, demanding human alive.
I do not consider the option of bailing out. I do not assume that my wife should simply do it all. I would also never willingly give up my work. It’s insanely exhausting. This the bed we made. We must lie it in. And don’t forget to make it when you get up.
We are women and we are so much stronger than you. We bleed over and over and over again just for the off chance we might rip another person out of our womb. We exhale through cramps and hot flashes and the searing pain of childbirth and income inequality and sexual harassment and condescension, just to keep everything moving. We juggle executive decisioning and massive budgets and housekeeping and parenting just to be seen as a good mom and worker. Even though we will always feel like we failed at both. Always.
Don’t give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free to drink beer with your hand down your pants on the couch. I will lift no lamp beside a golden door. Get yourself up off your wretched ass, and take care of the kids you created. Otherwise, you are a sperm donor. Only worse. Sperm donors don’t leave the toilet seat up.