We were buckling our children’s seat belts for a short trip to a friend’s home for dinner when my husband returned inside for a few more diapers to add to our car stash.
I slid into the passenger seat, and my son, 4, piped up from his booster in the back. “Can you drive instead of Daddy?”
I turned and met his serious gaze. “Daddy likes to drive,” I told him. It was true.
“I like when you drive the best,” he insisted, his jaw set with the determination that often precedes an argument. “You’re the driver.”
My son’s preference for my driving is almost laughable when my husband’s and my comparative eyesight, fender-bender records, and careers are taken into account. My husband, after all, is a professional pilot, paid to handle millions of dollars of machinery – and the lives within – safely.
He’s the family driver when we’re all together, navigating back roads where the GPS doesn’t reach, determining best routes to avoid traffic, staying awake for hours while the rest of us nap.
I, on the other hand, am an excellent passenger. My role on family trips is more akin to social director, managing the activities and moods of everyone within the vehicle. I dole out snacks, lead sing-a-longs and am always up for endless rounds of “Which color Power Ranger would you like to be?”
But for our young children, with me every day from sunup to sundown, I’m the one they almost always see behind the wheel. I’m the driver in the literal sense – from Point A to B – and the figurative one, who primarily deals with how to teach them to read, to become good citizens of the world, and yes, still manages their moods.
At home, my husband and I try to model good examples of a shared life. Everyone, including the children, pitches in to clean up, clear the table, load the dishwasher, fold the laundry. Our children see us both tackle tasks that – in the past – traditionally fell mostly to moms. We both cook. We both sweep. We both snuggle up to read them bedtime stories with outlandish voices.
My husband, however, is the only one who goes off to work. For most of our lives together, he’s been the figurative and literal driver. He drove me from Los Angeles across the deserts and mountains to our new shared home in Virginia; it was his career we then followed to Japan and back. It’s an agreement with which we’ve been happy, one we’ve built our lives around.
So he walks out the door each weekday to work.
And I’ve often wondered how that might affect our children’s perceptions of our roles, even though I work, too.
As a work-from-home writer and a stay-at-home parent, I find that the parenting typically tilts the scale during the waking hours of my two small children – especially with an almost 2-year-old daughter who has a propensity for climbing pantry shelves, tasting dish soap and smuggling eyeliner out of my makeup drawer.
My work, when it’s done, is crammed into naptimes or after bedtime stories. Even as my children grow older, my writing time will likely fall during their school hours. I’ll be home when they leave for school and when they return, with my words written in between. The fact that my work often goes unseen by my children, now and probably later, is something that often worries me.
I see the research on how working mothers raise more successful daughters, on how children can internalize stereotypical gender roles, sometimes despite parents’ best efforts, and I consider the costs that my invisible work might create.
Yet to my children, I am the driver. I hope it’s enough.
“It’s Daddy’s turn to drive,” I hedged, in another attempt to model fairness and shared roles.
“Okay,” my son acquiesced, as my husband returned to the car and put it in gear. His eyes were still serious, and the faint line between his brows mirrored mine. “But next time, it’s yours.”