By Alexis Chung
There are many words that come to mind when thinking about the reaction to events that occur over the lifespan of an individual. As women (and some of us mothers), we often consider our own transformation, adaptation and/or evolution. Obviously, we aren’t the only ones who change. The roles we naturally fall into, whether due to societal pressures, an internal belief system or pure desires and preferences often shape our interpretation of what is happening to us.
This isn’t so much about gender as it is the awakening that one experiences through myriad moments in life. It’s also not about the “domestication of the man” or another partner in our life. It’s simply a reflection of the adjustment period that our partners also experience. So important is the fact that we take a moment to pay major props to those partners, just as we congratulate ourselves on making it through another day.
Experiences growing up play a huge role in our expectations of the future, whether we’re looking to mirror the experience or change it. I don’t quite remember the early years in their entirety - I do recall a stay at home mom for a while (an aspiration that I long held), and a father who worked hard for the money. I can only trust my mother’s accounts of bedtime shenanigans with 2 kids and a dad who would arrive just in the nick of time (to miss the hardest parts).
What’s funny is dad has different memories than mom, and of course focuses on the positive. In fact, I often wonder if during the early 80’s adaptation was easier on one member of the household than it was the other. How I remember growing up and the dynamic between my parents had me expecting early on that I was going to be able to achieve something similarly glorious. I do give my father tons of credit for the life he was able to build for us.
Both of my husband’s parents worked, and still do. He was raised by grandparents, as was his younger sister. I give him tons of credit, too. His drive to succeed and bring home the bacon can only be attributed to knowing the struggles his parents faced to make a solid living for their family. While this key difference drives his adaptation, it overshadows my expectations of harmony amongst all the tasks with one, soon to be two, kiddos.
Of course, both my father and husband share similar attributes. Life of the party, funny and outgoing, great collaborators and solution-creators. And, deep in the thick of adaptation. After my first son was born, my dad said something to the extent of, “I wasn’t there much for you and your brother. Now I have the opportunity to be there as often as I can, so expect a lot from me.” It was both crushing and uplifting at the same time. Every 4AM or 10PM call my husband takes with a country overseas is for our family. He’s even adapted his schedule and is on duty almost all mornings so I can have some alone time in the last half of my second pregnancy. I haven’t given him nearly enough credit for the support.
It wasn’t until I started pondering this topic that I realized how their transformation is affecting my mother and me. For myself, it’s added another layer to the internal conversation I have daily about my struggles, “How can I get it all done?” “How am I going to handle two?!” “How do I get a break?” and now, “How can I make it less about me and more about us?” and “How can I adapt to better suit not just my children, but my partner?” Because hubs is adapting just as much as I am. Maybe even more so - given the demands I place on him for help despite being the sole provider for the family (at least for now).
As time progresses, maybe we’ll see the adaptation that our partners experience folded into the evolutionary cloth of humankind. Maybe those of us who have the privilege of a partner or support network will see a shift, not in “roles” but in how effectively we work together. Some people have got it down, I’m sure. Others struggle. But one thing is true - adaptation, just like evolution, is a process that takes time. And things only get better with time.