Since reading M. Blazoned's Huffington Post blog about being the "default parent," I have been thinking about why it did resonate with me and why it did not. My husband Jacob and I consider ourselves the parenting partners of our seven children, who range in age from 21-3, and one could call either of us the "default parent" -- depending on what parenting or housekeeping roles one is prioritizing at that given moment.
We both go to school parent meetings and extracurricular activities (often only one of us due to other competing parenting responsibilities, but not always the same one); we both are alone with the kids what feels like equally as often; and never, never would we refer to those times when Jacob is home with the kids as "babsitting"! Even when I was nursing babies, we made a conscious effort to make changing the diapers his job; he would have been insulted if anyone implied that he was less of a parent to our infants than I was, and he would be equally as insulted if anyone implied that he is less of a parent to our older children than I am today.
Even if I am the one who takes charge of family scheduling, simply because I am better at it, Jacob is just as involved emotionally and physically as a parent as I am. And even if he is the one who has taken on more of the financial burden of our family, I am just as involved in deciding how to budget our family's expenses. It is impossible to run a household if all tasks are shared and all decisions bilateral. Each day in our life is filled with chores and tasks and detail work that must get done. We cannot do it all together. Sometimes roles do have to be divvied up in order for the family to function. We have both had to make career and leisure sacrifices for the good of our family. But the point is that no one is keeping score.
The main difference between our model and that of previous generations is that roles are not divvied up based on gender (even if they may appear to be on some level), but rather on personal strengths and interests. Moreover, the roles are not set, but seen as fluid should circumstances change. Plus, we do sometimes switch roles without a second thought. What makes our parenting a partnership is the sharing of information and emotional investment, the mutual appreciation, and the valuing of the other partner's contribution to making it all happen. Without that, resentment can arise on both sides.
When Jacob is away on business, I do sometimes feel resentment bubbling up inside me. We live in Israel, far from family. We live on a privatized kibbutz with a strong sense of community, which certainly helps when he is gone, but raising seven children without nearby family in a foreign country with a partner who travels every few weeks can be overwhelming. Yet, I try to turn my resentment into appreciation, since his trips are always for business not pleasure, and his absences highlight for me how much of our daily functioning does depend on him.
As soon as Jacob leaves for the airport, I wonder what will go wrong first. I have a usual checklist. At least one important appliance has to break down, one problem has to arise with the car, one child has to get sick and some other miscellaneous surprises are usually thrown into the mix.
On his last trip a few weeks ago, the first thing to go was the Internet in the house. Then, without any Internet to keep the kids from going wild, my 14-year-old daughter broke her toe while jumping on the couch. Then, my son's teacher asked me to come into school to discuss his recent disturbances in class. Then the skies opened up to a horrible thunder storm, and I had to find our rain gear from last winter and get all of the kids out to their school buses by 7 a.m.. Then the lights went out, and not only did we have no electricity in the house, but our electric car did not charge. Major inconvenience when living in a remote kibbutz!
Jacob does not believe that my list theory is true, even though when I was away on a business trip this summer, our car battery died, we had an electric power outage, my daughter's preschool was closed unexpectedly and my son got an ear infection. He says the same things happen all of the time when we are both home, but that it just feels like more when one of us is away.
As much as I still do believe in my list theory, I have to admit that his point makes sense. Single parenting is not only physically exhausting, but it is also emotionally exhausting. Without a co-parent around to commiserate and trouble-shoot, the usual glitches seem more intense and insurmountable. If I were really doing most of the parenting on my own, I would not feel so overwhelmed when he is gone.
We are in this together, even if he needs me to remind him when to pick kids up from soccer and wall climbing, and even if I have to email him oversees to ask what the Internet code is in the house when the repair person comes to fix it. I imagine that if I were a single parent, I would somehow figure out a way to do it all. But since I don't have to, I appreciate having a co-parent for my children and a co-homemaker for my family -- in all of the many facets that those jobs entail.
Haviva Ner-David is a rabbi and writer. She is the director of Shmaya: A Ritual and Educational Mikveh, and the author of two memoirs: "Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination," and the more recent "Chanah's Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women's Rituals and Baking, Bathing, and Brightening." Both are available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle formats.