By Conz Preti
When I tell people that I have three kids under the age of 4 at home, work full time and also have several freelance gigs, they all gasp at the Wonder Woman level at which I’m juggling all these things. Truth is, I couldn’t do any of it if my husband wasn’t a stay-at-home dad, taking care of the kids every single day. It wasn’t always like this. In fact, it took both of us working and hiring someone to take care of our baby for us to realize what our family actually needed for everyone to be happy.
When our first baby was merely 3 weeks old, my husband had to go back to work, leaving me, still recovering from an emergency and unexpected C-section, caring for a newborn who was very bad at eating (and therefore, not gaining weight) while constantly teetering on the verge of a panic attack from it all. His employer only provided a week of paid paternity leave, he added two more weeks of PTO and that was it.
It was brutal. On both of us.
I needed support and help. Days went by without me being able to properly shower. I cried regularly and wondered if I had ruined my life by bringing this tiny human into our world. My husband felt like he was constantly missing out, his son growing so quickly and him not being a part of it. When the summer rolled around, he decided to take three months off, and we moved our family of three (plus two dogs) from New York to a remote farm so we could disconnect and enjoy each other’s presence for a while. We could make this work because my maternity leave was full pay and benefits for the entire six months I was out.
It was incredible. Our days were slow with no big plans or the hustle of the city. We visited state parks, our baby took naps at the beach under the shade of trees, we tried new beers, shopped for antiques and just enjoyed each other’s company.
I was reinvigorated and ready to go back to work by the time my leave was over. My husband, on the other hand, not so much. Those three months made him realize how much he was actually missing. It also made him think about how little his own dad was around because he was working so hard and traveling so much to provide his family the best life he could. He did provide well for them, but in the process, he lost that connection with his sons. It was a very similar situation with my own dad and me. My husband and I talked extensively about how we didn’t want the same for our family; we wanted to be present and available to our children. Could we even do that while both working full time to pay the bills?
Back in New York, my husband decided to return to work part time. His hours were far longer than mine, his schedule way more rigid than mine. I was able to negotiate working from home two days a week, and so we could take the kids on family adventures during the week and be fully present every single dinnertime.
We hired a nanny for those days we were both working outside of the house. She became part of the family so quickly and really was instrumental in us being able to have the dynamics we wanted. She was flexible and reliable but also … very expensive. My husband’s entire salary was all going to afford this extra set of hands. We questioned our choices a couple of times a year, but living in New York and being working parents was what made sense then.
Right about the time we got our new life and schedules figured out, I got pregnant with surprise twins. We had been trying for a while, and I had a miscarriage that really made it clear that I wanted more children. However, twins seemed like way more than we could handle, especially with the rocky start I had with our first child and even more so with what that would mean in terms of our finances.
While I was suffering from debilitating morning sickness (more like all-day-long sickness), we went through all the possible scenarios that would work for our growing family. Our son could go to an at-home Montessori school nearby while our nanny took care of the twins, so then my husband and I could work full time, maybe from home? Was there enough room for everyone in the house? Could we actually afford all of this? Were we just following the paths of our own fathers, the one thing we said we didn’t want to do?
Life works in mysterious ways sometimes. I wish I could’ve told us to relax because we were about to get the curveball of a lifetime.
The twins were born in early March 2020. I had, once again, a brutal recovery. My OB discharged me under the condition that I stay on “house arrest” for at least two weeks given the tremendous amounts of blood I had lost. So I did. And then the pandemic was declared. We had three children under the age of 3, two full-time jobs, no extra hands and a lot of juggling to do.
The day my OB saw me for my postpartum visit (and told me not to come for the following six-week checkup) was the day that my husband and I decided to pack our bags and head north to Maine, where we had a family home we could stay in until the dust settled. We thought we would be there a month, maybe two, and then life would go back to normal. Except it didn’t.
Soon after I returned to work and while my husband was still on parental leave, he was laid off due to COVID cutbacks. My first reaction was to panic, which is something I do with ease. But he was relieved. We had already been discussing what to do with our infant twins once he had to go back to work. We didn’t feel safe sending two 3-month-old babies to a child care facility, not during a pandemic. We also didn’t feel safe bringing in someone from outside our family to take care of the kids at home. But more importantly, my husband had bonded so hard with the twins — just by being present from the beginning in a way he hadn’t been able to with our first — that as hard as it was to take care of two screaming babies, he wanted to be with them.
So we opted for another big change. Besides transplanting permanently to Maine, I became the sole breadwinner for our family, and my husband became a stay-at-home parent. Tossing aside societal expectations of who does the child care and who brings in the money was the best thing that happened to our family. Seeing the bond my children have with their father makes my ovaries do summersaults.
Of course, people ask my husband all the time when he’ll go back to an office job. The answer is Who knows? Eventually the kids will go to school, and he will have empty days to fill. For now, we are not focusing on that.
As for me, I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to work from home forever (I was doing it way before everyone was forced to do it), so I get to be around our kids more than I did when our first was born. I sometimes feel guilty when I’m tucked away in my office typing and I hear a baby cry — the urge is to drop everything and run to them. When I do, my husband reminds me that taking care of the kids is now his job during work hours, and sends me back to do my actual job.
Who knows what the future holds for us? Hopefully not another pandemic, but maybe (maaaaybe) more babies to take care of at home.
Conz Preti is an Argentine journalist and mom of three under 4. She’s worked in digital journalism for over a decade now, and her byline can be found in many of the popular websites millennials read regularly. She’s the author of “Too Pregnant To Move” and her weekly newsletter Modern Motherhood.