Debbie is a full time working mom. She sets up shop in her office adjacent to her bedroom, puts on her headset and mutes CNN, and head-hunts with a vengeance. As the sole breadwinner of the family she has to constantly pick up the slack of her rarely present ex-husband. Financially stressed 100% of the time, I’ve noticed there isn’t much time or energy left over to take care of the little things required as a mom. So, being a delegator, she handed those tasks off to me during the few weeks a year I was home from college.
Every day at promptly 2:30 pm I would enter the side door by the driveway to enter the house of a divorced mom and four children. I would empty the dishwasher I had left running the prior day and fill the newly empty machine with dirty dishes left in the sink. Next I would climb the stairs to the second floor, drop off Debbie’s coffee – medium hot with skim – and check the laundry room. I would collect the kids’ dirty clothes, run a couple loads, fold, and return the clothes back to the respective rooms, putting the clothes in the properly labeled drawers. Around 2:45 the kids would start to come home from school, some with friends, some alone, some I had to go pick up. In between nagging them to do their homework and turning off “Family Guy” every time the younger boys would turn it on, I set about cleaning and organizing the house. On days when the food supply was getting low, I put the keys in the ignition of Debbie’s breaking down old Suburban and head over to the grocery store to “stock up” on everything I decided Debbie needed.
The first week of working for Debbie, I was a little timid. I didn’t know what she expected, or needed from me. This translated primarily into my lack of initiative in the house. At first, I wouldn’t just go into the laundry room or the kids’ rooms and organize, but instead I would wait for Debbie to emerge from the office to tell me to do something. I made mac and cheese or chicken nuggets night after night without considering that what I fed the kids mattered. When I was around, I was their surrogate mother. I diffused disagreements, cooked, cleaned, drove and cared for the four kids. Upon realizing the great responsibility I had, I harnessed my mother’s actions and force fed the kids milk at dinner and always included at least one vegetable in each meal. I became consciously aware of the fact that I would be influencing the lives of these kids that I had grown to care about deeply.
In the world of parenthood, there is a stereotype at play. Societal norms still place the cookie-cutter 50’s household in our minds with the white picket fence and smiling faces. The woman plays the role of the traditional wife and mother, cooking, cleaning and caring for the kids. The strong man works diligently so he can provide financially for his beautiful family. These two roles are rarely intertwined. Yet in modern society, in reality, Debbie defies these norms daily, forced to play the role of both the man and woman.
Working for her, I gained a new perspective on the life of divorced moms, and single moms in general. Her life is a full time job. While some may view her as lazy, or work-driven, I see her for what she truly is: a dedicated parent doing the best she can. Through everything, she is a happy, funny, amazing woman who loves her kids more than anything. That is definitely more admirable than adherence to dated social confines. And I have the utmost respect for her for waking up every morning to do everything she does.
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