Before I became a mother, my husband and I had an equal partnership: we both worked full-time – he as a digital media consultant, I as a freelance writer – and contributed 50-50 to the household budget. We also tried to divide up the household chores evenly.
Then I got pregnant and had a baby – and equality flew out the window.
I was mentally and physically exhausted, nursing the baby around the clock, and felt overwhelmed with all the household chores. I felt like I had lost my energy. There was also no denying that – although I was very successful as a writer – my self-employment could not have covered the costs of childcare.
So I decided not to return to my job full-time after maternity leave. Instead, I convinced my husband of a very unusual agreement: instead of hiring a nanny or putting our four-month-old baby in daycare, I took care of the childcare myself, as well as housekeeping and other family responsibilities. So instead of paying professionals to do it, we just paid me.
I would track the hours I worked each week and set an hourly wage. I wanted to split it into two equal parts – after all, I worked not only for my husband, but also for myself – and deduct the sum that I myself had to contribute to the household budget every month. He worried that I would blame him for sacrificing my career for the family, but he saw that I was determined to do it – and he agreed.
We both wanted the best for our families and for our marriage. When I look back on it now, I have to admit that I was naive and couldn’t think clearly. It wasn’t a bad idea, but equality in a relationship is more complex than you think. So I had to learn a lot …
Being a mother is tough. Do not sell yourselves below value.
According to the US salary comparison website Salary.com, a mother in the US would have to make 150,000 euros a year to calculate what she is worth.
I calculated a mother’s hourly rate at 13.50 euros per hour, which would have cost us the nearest daycare center. I came up with 1,000 euros that we would have to spend on it every month. I kept paying for my own personal expenses like hairdressing, coffee, gifts, and so on.
So I would have needed a second job to cover these costs.
At that time I saw that as an advantage: I hadn’t given up my career, I thought, because I could write when the child was asleep. In all honesty, I should have charged my husband more.
Pay attention to the “scope creep”
Scope Creep is a technical term from project planning and describes a project that is implemented more extensively than planned.
As a first-time mother, I grossly overestimated what I could do in an eight-hour day.
After feeding, changing diapers, visiting the playground – including washing dishes, washing clothes and tidying up toys, of course – I didn’t even have time to shower, let alone for a second job. Landing jobs wasn’t a problem, but finishing them was something completely different. Being a full-time mom was no longer arrangeable with the job when my baby started tossing down napkins and climbing.
But because we agreed it was my job, all the housework was left to me. Of course my husband helped me with the baby when he got home from work, but he just helped. After all, I was the one who got paid to do it.
A disturbing but not uncommon dynamic developed: my self-esteem as a parent rose and hiss faded. He stepped back further and further and let me take the helm. It wasn’t because I was naturally better at folding laundry, preparing food, or soothing a screaming fit – I was more responsible for all of that, actually all the time, even when my husband Arran was at home.
I worked 24/7 – and I was exhausted.
According to experts, parental burnout is the result of an imbalance between requirements and rewards, and actually it is very similar to burnout at work: a high level of stress, the feeling of inadequacy, an emotional distance.
If my husband had paid me more – and if my responsibilities had been better defined and controlled by us from the start when our baby was a toddler – I would have felt different than a home mom. It made me feel incompetent and unfulfilled, exhausted and angry.
After a year as a full-time mother, the turning point came. I knew I had to change something when I was fully dressed and crying in the bathtub, lost my cell phone, and accidentally deleted a work document that I had been working on all afternoon after my son Oscar took his early afternoon nap had finished.
My husband saw that I was not doing well. And he started taking on a larger share of the family budget (which was like a raise for me). He took on more of the child-rearing and household chores without my even asking. And I hired help. I spent a large part of my income hiring a nanny who would help me three days a week.
With this reliable help, the situation became more bearable.
A valuable lesson
But then something unexpected happened: my husband lost his job. And we had to switch roles. Complete. He did household chores and child-rearing, and I worked full-time.
It was eye opening. I realized how much I missed my old job. I found how I nearly doubled my income, not least because of the time management and multitasking skills I’d acquired while being a full-time mom.
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And my husband had to find out firsthand how much I had achieved in the past year. More than once, when I came back to the apartment from my office – the café on the corner – I found my normally quiet husband in tears, overwhelmed and frustrated by all the tasks he still had on his list.
My family had a valuable lesson to learn: Raising a child is hard work, harder than my husband and I could ever have imagined. As soon as my husband found a new job, we decided to leave childcare to the professionals. At the age of two, Oscar will be spending the whole day in daycare from autumn.
This article was published by NewsABC.net in November 2019. It has now been reviewed and updated.