In my mid-thirties, I met my soulmate, and inherited three stepchildren to boot! A year or so into our marriage we talked about what it would mean to have children together. I had long wanted to redefine what marriage and family could look like. Having come from a family of divorce, I was really looking for a model that could inspire me of a happier version of family life, of partnership between men and women in the raising of children and building a home, and, of course, I didn’t want to have to compromise between this vision and the continuation of my professional life which was important to me.
Indeed, my career had been founded on the kinds of values which were and still are important to me in my marriage and parenting journey too. My work uses participation in theatre and other creative techniques to empower the potential of migrant and refugee women and children and the same ideas of love, inclusion, empowerment, feminine leadership, equality and integrity were something that I would want to see blossom in my role as a wife and mother too.
I’ve never really bought into the career vs motherhood debate. I think it’s a false dichotomy that we are sold by the media and requires deeper thought to see a more nuanced version of life. It should never be a zero sum game. The reality is that women have always worked throughout history, combining raising a family with paid employment or a career that satisfies them intellectually. But, critically, what we need to see more of is the full and total engagement of men in the parenting journey too.
My husband had actually been a stay-at-home Dad in his previous marriage so there was ample proof that he knew what to do! Moreover, our marriage was founded on a deep love and mutual respect for our ‘callings’ of careers of service, his in the public practice of Christian Science and my work as a serial social entrepreneur. So there was never even a discussion on either of us giving up work to parent.
Rather, for us, it has come to mean a beautiful unfoldment of blending our respective careers with the hugely important task of raising children that requires both parents to give of their time and energy. Practically, this means a complete and utter fair division of the ‘work’ – and the joy – of raising our children.
I have written a blog about how we make this work on a day-to-day basis in a practical way but it’s really more about the mutual respect we have for each other and our work, coupled with a deep love for each other and desire to work as a team. And my husband and I BOTH believing at a deep level that parenting is as much his responsibility as it is mine.
This is not just a feminist ideal. Men and women bring different qualities to parenting. I have seen it up close, the huge importance that father’s play in the upbringing of children. I say this, not to state the obvious, because I think there is still too little discussion on why this is important. My husband and I each bring very different, but complementary qualities to being parents. These are not so much gender specific but rather the reflection of different personalities that our daughters are benefitting from on a daily basis. My husband is more physical than I am, more encouraging of the rough and tumble play and outdoors than I am; more practical with his hands in teaching our daughters DIY or gardening, and remembers more diligently than I do to explain how and why things work the way they do. He is often better at getting our babies to sleep than I am and certainly brings a big healthy dose of calm to my sometimes more anxious tendencies, having already been in this parenting game much longer than I have.
Alternatively, I bring a greater sense of adventure and curiosity about the world at large, a strong commitment to being respectful and considerate of others with a concern to make sure our daughters make a contribution to society. My husband has lived in France for most of his life whereas I have lived all over the world and he is so excited to have his own mind opened with my firm desire to ensure our children travel and explore. My background in the arts and training as an actress bring a cultural sensibility and determination that our daughters should read, dance, sing and play music and express themselves creatively as much as possible.
In short, it is in the blending of our respective qualities, as well as the masculine and feminine elements of human potential (whether they are expressed by men or women) that, I believe, should be the bedrock of healthy parenting. It is so fundamentally wrong to believe the mother can and should be the primary caregiver and this over focus on the woman leads to so many challenges in the world at large as we know, but also within marriages and families at a more intimate level too.
Am I just lucky to have a husband who gets this? Yes and no. Of course, I am grateful. But I also know that I would never have settled for anything less. It took me a long time to find my soulmate and I think I knew at some deep level that anything less than true teamwork would define my marriage. I was and never have been attracted to alpha-male types who are too insecure in themselves to step out of the roles society expects them too – but, I also know that, as a woman, I can and must stand up for myself and my own needs and desires. Blaming men is only half the problem if we don’t claim our own rights too.
To me, it is not so much about ‘having it all’ as it is allowing the different threads of our lives to weave together in the most harmonious way. And, I need hardly spell it out that this shared responsibility has knock on effects to other parts of our marriage too :-)
Mum, stepmum and honorary foster mum. Passionate about fulfilling the potential of all the world's children - both big and little. Serial entrepreneur and life traveller now living in Paris. www.carolinewatson.org