In two years’ time my partner and I plan to start a family. This is both a problem, and a challenge, for the both of us.
For my husband the concept of thinking about the future and planning his activities so that today’s effort will pay off by 2020 is a challenge. He’s one of those men who, when given a future hypothetical, will stow it away somewhere in the back of his mind, only to be surprised/shocked when that future hypothetical comes to pass at the exact date mentioned by his patient wife.
I am that patient wife.
I understand that my husband is very comfortable and does not like to be disturbed. This is the motivation for my recurrent question, “are you sure you want kids?”, due to the inherent disturbance-laden existence that children bring. He insists that, yes, while otherwise ambivalent he would enjoy ‘giving one a go’ and seeing how it works out from there.
What can I say, he can be incredibly British at times.
As a type-A, planning and somewhat neurotic personality style such vagueness irks me. I need concrete levels of commitment; definite answers. Something structured and set in stone. It is due to my personality that I am able to do what my husband does not – see into the future and magically calculate what efforts it will take to arrive there comfortably. Things like ‘We will need $X much in savings, achievable if you put away $Xreasonable_amount per week, by Y date.’ and ‘If we want a child by 2021 we need to start trying on X date, factoring in our ages and respective fertility success rates’. Thinking about the future has the tendency to stress my husband, so he quietly shuffles off to his office to Not Think About It while I spend my time Thinking About It.
Why Do I Think About It?
Up until we got married my husband’s approach to ‘just live day by day and not think too much about the future’ was fine. He was a bachelor, and a medical student who was decently successful despite a worrying lack of planners or calendars in his living space. He did groceries as needed, washed single items of clothing by hand as needed, and otherwise entertained a very simple existence. Being older than myself, my husband settled into this routine very happily for a number of years before I entered the picture and started demanding project timelines. Understandably this was a culture shock for the man because, unlike myself, my husband lived a very flexible and unstructured life outside of his work. Friends appeared at the door whenever they felt like it, parties happened on an impromptu basis, and many holidays were spent living by the seat of his pants. For the most of it my husband’s life had simply worked out.
And I daresay it still does, regardless of my efforts.
Yet when it comes to our shared future, and my future, I refuse to let things be up to chance. Plans, calendars, strategies and outlines for success are my method for life. I consider myself to be flexible if such plans fall apart, falling back on Plan B, C or D, and am good at making snap decisions on the go. I put my foot down after too many missed opportunities, too many unconsidered options that Could Have Been, and too many people making decisions for me when I elected not to do so. I insist on determining my own path for happiness. For the most part my husband is very obliging, patting me on the head and waving me off as I embark on every adventure. Eight times out of ten, I return home successful and fulfilled and we both end the day contentedly together.
But some things require the power of 2 for success.
Our first child, and our first home, are not things I can achieve alone. I require more than just a pat on the head and a send-off to begin these projects…which was half the point of our marriage in the first place. For the first time, I need my husband to be on board with a future plan even if he doesn’t want to think about it, because it could have large consequences if he doesn’t.
A new family member and a new home are huge mental and physical shifts. They require time to be processed, support to be given, and understanding before they can be committed to. If my husband wants to be a certain type of father, he will need time to develop the skills he desires before he needs them. If we want to live in a specific area of our home state, I will need time to identify something within our budget and desires for convenience before we need to make a decision. You shouldn’t be purchasing property on a last-minute whim, and you definitely shouldn’t be having last-minute considerations on the benefits of an unattached lifestyle just as your wife is expecting.
Surely There’s A Compromise
As with most other disagreements in our relationship, my husband and I have some middle ground. We discuss plans, my husband gives me assurances at the time, and then is allowed to conveniently forget the conversation until it’s relevant to his interests again. Most of the time this works satisfactorily, and my husband is able to recall his decisions upon discovering that I have executed them in the period between the conversation and the Some-Point-In-The-Future time. Occasions where this has happened involve Christmas, where his decision to receive annual new socks is conveniently forgotten and happily remembered upon reception, and as recently as dinner time. Throughout our relationship there is an endearing pattern resulting in my husband being pleasantly surprised by past decisions almost daily. His explanation is that he has more important things to worry about at work, which is more than fair, yet makes for occasionally repetitive after-dinner conversation.
It also sets a precedent for how future decision-making will progress; Discussion, Forgetting, Recollection.
Husband: “What’s this, then?”
Me: “That’s the microwave I said I was going to buy last week.”
Husband: “…Did you?”
Me: “Yes. We agreed on a budget under $200, using leftover money from the wedding, to replace the microwave that your friend set on fire and was no longer safe.”
Husband: “Oh, yes now I remember. Nice! Can I use it?”
How it’s currently progressing is that after an initial discussion on what we both want from our futures I write down the agreements, my husband double-checks and gives me the ‘nod of approval’, and I file the agreements away until later. I periodically remind him about the agreement when relevant, allowing my husband to revisit the decision and make adjustments as necessary. Then at the ‘deadline’ of some of these decisions, my husband will be able to comfortably arrive at the result in the knowledge that his lack of desire to ‘think about it’ had no negative impact on my ability to get things done.
The Title Says Sacrifice…Why?
Because to achieve these future-goals, we both need to double down our efforts and be productive. I need to finish my PhD, my husband needs to enter a medical training program, and at the beginning of 2020 I need to undertake a number of medical appointments to prepare my physical health for the process of growing a human being. Some of these appointments are surgical, hence my desire to know for sure if my partner is ready to take the plunge. I’m not being prodded with a scalpel until I’m confident that it’s necessary, obviously.
On top of this, we both need to compile our savings to overcome the various expenses that our goals will require, and put in a little more effort here and there as needed.
I’m aware of the impact that these goals will have on my career as a female academic. It may be profession-cide, and I’ve made my peace with the possibility that ducking out of the workforce to create a new person a few months post-grad may destroy any hope of working at a university as a researcher. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong.
I’m also aware, at the same time, that my husband will go on not-thinking about things…leaving me to do it instead. I will have to sacrifice some of my single-minded drive for professional excellence to plan for childcare, school enrolment and doctor’s appointments. I will be cooking dinners so my partner can study and pass his exams, be the primary carer for our infant so that my partner doesn’t miss a ward rotation, and attending to household needs so that when my partner does have time to spare he can be a good father. Due to the difference in our respective ages I consider a few years out of the workforce to be a relatively small sacrifice if it means that our infant will grow up well loved and educated, and that my husband can establish a reliable career for the foreseeable future.
On my husband’s end, working as a medical trainee will be exhausting as he’s routinely completing exams, rotating through different hospitals, and undertaking various other projects while adjusting to being a new father in a new home. He’ll be feeding the baby at 2am during an all-night study session, gently rocking the crib while he watches a lecture on a tablet, and then getting a few hours of peace to focus while I take the child to a play date. He’ll be learning to open cupboards with a child-safety latch, occasionally swapping medical texts for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and cherishing the few moments we’ll have together on our own when Ba-san (Grandmother) comes to save the day. Things will get easier as the child grows older and is able to be conveniently deposited at Ba-san’s house for the day, or at a childcare centre, while we both return to the things that give our existence a purpose.
Reassuring everyone that this is fully achievable, and more than within our capacity, also seems to be my job. Friends that look concerned over our decision, family members that begin to list extra and unnecessary duties associated with parenting, and the worried looks coming from both my husband and father-in-law, each prompt a hand-wave.
“We’ll be fine,” I repeat, “I’ve got this.”
Because in all honesty if I don’t ‘got this’, then nobody in my family will. The one who thinks about all of this the most actually has the most to lose from this decision…and I’m fully aware of it. If you think sexism is bad when you’re unattached, have I got some unfortunate news for you when it comes to being a female parent.
I’ve weighed up the pros and the cons. I’ve identified what sacrifices will need to be made, and I’ve made my peace with them. To me, it’s a small sacrifice for a long-term gain and one that I put my hand up for willingly.
So, dear readers, when 2020 rolls around and you want someone to pray for – think of me, and the work my partner and I will be doing to make our dreams of a happy family a reality.