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Why Solo Parenting Really Isn't Shift Work

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Early on in my solo parenting time, I looked at my time as a shift. As in, "I'm on duty now and my husband can take the next shift."

War made it fairly easy for me to think that way. We both assumed the war would end, and we assumed that would happen sooner rather than later. After the war ended, we assumed we'd both have options again. But until the war ended, neither of us had much of a choice.

(There was this little thing called "stop loss orders" back then.)

If he didn't deploy, he'd get sent to military prison. And if one of us didn't raise our children, social services would find someone else who would.

Not a lot of room for either of us to negotiate, there.

We discussed this topic several times and were generally in agreement. He knew it wasn't fair for me to bid forever adieu to the career I'd loved, studied and strived for, so that he could forever pursue the one he loved and had studied and strived to have.

I'm fairly certain that we never discussed in detail what taking turns would really look like, but we did seem to be of the same mind that neither of us ever wanted to resent the other because we felt our own burden had become too heavy, and neither of us wanted the other to become resentful.

So nothing was permanent. No one was giving up a career. And no one was committing to always having a job that frequently took him away from our family. Our situation was a season in life -- a shift.

And then the years ticked by.

That "shift" became a decade, and then some.

A funny thing happens when you're the one who takes on the bulk of the parenting. By necessity and by virtue of not being blessed with extra hours in the day or less of a need for sleep, you take on less paid work.

At the same time, the parent who takes on the bulk of the paid work when no longer expected to share equally in the hands-on parenting, gains the ability to log the kind of hours that lead to workplace (and paycheck) success.

What I'm saying is: Though our earning power had been roughly the same when my husband and I started our parenting journey together, after years of Must Have/Must Do-ing, his earning power had become far greater than mine. This meant that if and when we ever got to that day when my Must-Have Parent shift ended and his began, we might not be able to afford to pursue that option.

Around that same time, I also realized that no matter what happened, my husband would never be able to "make it up to me."

Even if he volunteered to stay home with the kids for every single weekend until our youngest child left for college so that I could go off to meditate in the woods, or get a massage in Sedona, or brush up on my blackjack game in Vegas, or just hide in a neutral colored, minimalist room, with nary a PowerPuff Girl in sight, he would never be able to log enough days at home to make up for all of the days he'd missed for deployments and other absences.

There was no way for him to make up to me that I'd gone through labor alone, or had to take all the kids with me to the emergency room when just one was hurt, or once squeezed under the house at nine months pregnant to shut off the water valve before everything flooded.

Or, or, or ...

Too much had happened. Too many days had passed. There weren't even enough days on all the future calendars for it to be possible for him to ever "catch up."

And I would never be able to "make up" to him all the birthday parties, first words and grape jelly-mouthed kisses he'd missed while he'd been off earning the money that supports our family.

I realized that it was absolutely stupid to keep score. That there's no scale to balance, no debts to be repaid.

I realized that there are no "shifts," there's just life.

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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