I’ve been writing a lot lately, just not for this blog. Now that life is settling into more of a routine, it gets a little harder to come up with new ideas on what to write here. I mean, it’s fun to tell the tales of different adventures we get to have, but mostly I’d like to be able to share those with people in person. One thing I have found is that when I write about all we do, when I get to see people and tell them stories, they’ve already read about them.
When I started the blog, it was a way to document our adventure. Of course, the beginning of the adventure is pure madness and changes are everywhere, all day, every day. There is a newness about everything that casts everyday life events in new light. Changing nearly every aspect of your life is bound to have drama attached to it, and that drama provides lots of subject matter to write about.
But soon the drama decreases, things settle down, and life becomes a bit more routine. Not that routine is a bad thing, either. Living in chaos all the time is taxing. Yes it is fun, but it can be exhausting at the same time. Routine brings with it (for me) a bit of sanity. Right now, our routine during the week is very predictable—the little girls have school, Lisa has work, and I have time. And while you might think that having a lot of time on my hands would lead to binge-watching Netflix movies or general screwing around, I find my day is nearly as busy as working a full time (paying) job.
But I do have time to think, and that is where the topic for this entry comes from. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the role reversal that exists with Lisa and I. Not that this is a new situation—I’ve been home for a year and a half now—but being in another country with no option to work has, again, cast everyday life into a new light. And because of this role reversal, Lisa and I have very different experiences regarding living abroad.
For Lisa, work takes up the majority of her time during the week. After all, this is the reason we are here in the first place. Lisa was selected to perform a very important role within her Organization and it requires her time, attention and dedication…and a lot of it. Lisa is one of the most dedicated workers I have ever met. She has an amazing work ethic that drives her to not only succeed at what she does, but to excel, and to influence and motivate others along the way. I have watched her change roles at work countless times over the last 12 years and it is amazing to watch her. Every year or two she sees an opportunity that will challenge her and allow her to grow her career…and she goes for it. Without fail, when she has set out for a particular job, she has gotten it. And without fail, within a month or two, she has her world humming like a top. Not only that, she then goes on to exceed everyone’s expectations and deliver outstanding results. Her experience here in Ireland is no different. She is already dialing things in and making meaningful changes that everyone around sees. It brings me great joy to watch her confidence grow and to hear on a daily basis how she is moving her business forward. In my eyes, she is amazing.
Maybe in today’s world this kind of drive in a woman is more common, but things have not always been that way. Traditionally, at least, women were raised to put their time, energy, focus and whatever on being a mother and raising a family which leaves little time for climbing any kind of corporate ladder. (For the record, I am not trying to man-splain or over-simplify traditional male-female roles, this is just one WMA’s simple perspective.) Many women who try to have both a demanding career and raise a family at the same time suffer burnout, stress, anxiety and a host of other symptoms that cause something to “give”. Usually, it’s the career that takes a back burner because, again, traditionally, the husband has a career of his own and is usually the primary breadwinner. So if someone is going to focus on the family, it usually defaults to the mother. She then gives up her job, or cuts way back on hours, and then puts that time into focusing on the needs of the children, household, etc. etc.
In late 2014, Lisa and I were both in the corporate world and both had demanding positions. And while Lisa was excited about what she was doing, I was feeling just the opposite. I was sick and tired of doing what was being asked of me because it felt like all I was asked to do was take things away from people. My area of the business was struggling and cuts were being made in every way shape and form. I was constantly having to tell people bad news, and whatever good news I could share was token at best.
The best part of our situation was that we both worked from home, which gave us lots of flexibility to meet the needs of our growing family. But even that was being impinged upon. Yes we could leave to pick the kids up from school, but as soon as we got home it was back onto phone calls and telling the kids not to bother us while we were talking. Shooing them out of the room every five minutes when all they needed was a snack, or a little help with homework was a less-than-ideal parenting situation and we both knew that.
I tried changing roles at work but it did not have the desired effect I wanted. Lisa and I agreed something had to change. She knew how I felt about my work and what it was doing to my health and supported me leaving 100%. So, when I suspected that layoffs were coming around, I asked to be put on the list. My wish was granted and I was essentially paid to leave. It was a scary change, but as I previously wrote, change transforms us. And it transformed us. I won’t speak for Lisa’s transformations, but it turned me into a different (and, I suspect, healthier) person.
Obviously, this change in circumstance put pressure on Lisa in new ways. Being the primary provider put her under a new kind of stress, but one she handled in the most professional way anyone could. She never complained. She never said I should be looking for another job. She supported our situation 100%. She and I knew that what our family needed the most was the unconditional support of at least one of us, and for the time being, it was me.
It was easy for me to give up a career that gave nothing back to me and was eating my very soul. The hard part was figuring out what to do next. For a long time I felt the need to provide monetarily. I didn’t want Lisa to have to carry that burden all by herself. Besides bringing in money, work also gave me something to focus on, and without it, time took on a whole new meaning. When 90% of the mental energy I spent thinking about work and what needed to be done there was freed, all of a sudden I was faced with a different kind of reality, one that I was not immediately equipped to handle. There was a six-month detox period where my body was physically healing and I could literally feel IBM leaving my system. The aches and pains I had felt for over a year disappeared and I began to feel human again. I spent the next year trying to fit into my new skin.
Fast forward to now and I think about how our lives have changed so dramatically. I am not authorized to work in Ireland, so I don’t spend time thinking about that. Instead, I think about my family more than I ever have. Taking care of them in this very hands-on way puts their needs at the front of my mind, all day, every day. My job is no longer to think about what my next job is going to be (though that does creep in there) it is what am I going to make the family for dinner tonight? Are the kids clothes washed and ready for the week? Are they getting to and from school and activities as needed? I arrange for play dates and sleepovers. I clean the house and do laundry. I braid hair. I bake fresh bread. I try to make everyone’s life as smooth and comfortable as I can.
I try to make it so that Lisa fully knows that everything at home is taken care of so that she does not have to worry about it. I make her breakfast, lunch and dinner so she doesn’t have to worry about that. I make sure her car is full of gas. I do whatever I can think of to make it so all she has to do is focus on doing the best job at work that she can. And yes, there are a lot of “I”s in there, but every one of those statements are changes I have made and reflect what I am doing for my family. As hard as it was for me to break out of a traditional male-provider role, I am very proud of the fact that I get to provide for my family on a much more personal level than I ever thought I could or would. It’s a job that not many men get to experience (as further confirmed by the very small number of stay-at-home dads I’ve met).
And while work does take up a ton of Lisa’s time, when she is not working she gets to spend high quality time with us. We don’t have to worry about running errands all weekend. All of the day-to-day stuff is covered so when in her free time she can play as hard as she works. That is where this arrangement pays off for all of us. We get to take fun trips on the weekends and see amazing things and create incredible new memories as family. I think it is extra special when, as a family, you all get to do something new for the first time together. We get to experience that all the time, and it’s things like that that keep pulling this family closer and closer together.
So while our experiences here in Ireland are quite different from one another, Lisa and I are a team, and a darn good one at that. We both agree that this is a temporary arrangement. There is still the mother in her that wants to spend time with her kids, especially as they near middle school age. I still want to have another career as well. Time will tell what that is and how it will all play out, but for now, we fully embrace where we are in life and do the best job we can in our respective roles. We both feel so enriched by this whole experience—in ways we never really could expect. Our family feels more connected than ever before, and that is perhaps the biggest gift we could have been given.
Peace and love.