My father is a communist.
In reality, he was a leader in the movement opposed to the Marcos government in the Philippines in the 1970s. However, my father’s real activism was in his relentless lectures on scarce resources and opportunity costs and pleading with his children to choose the path that closes the fewest amount of future opportunities.
Fast forward to adulthood. Like many, I studied through my 20s, got married and had children through my 30s, and moved quickly up one career ladder and then the next. After our first child was born, my childhood lessons of scarce resources and trade-offs were increasingly clear. I couldn’t seem to find a way to be a new mother watching her sleeping child, and embracing being “in the moment.” Instead, I longed for work, for clear progress on deadlines, and ending the day with a sense of validation that my career was continuing to progress. Attending new mom groups were a source of stress and anxiety. I wasn’t able to declare a full-throated commitment to breastfeeding, organic foods, and crying it out. Instead of being a gateway to a new sisterhood, motherhood was an island. According to research from the UK’s Action for Children, my experience is far from uncommon. The majority of parents feel cut off from friends, family, and colleagues after the birth of a child. From my loneliness emerged a new identify: I was going to become a JV parent.
In high school, Junior Varsity athletes were skilled players, but not quite good enough to be on the Varsity squad. That said, JV athletes still got to do what they loved: be part of a team and live a life where sports were present but not the center of their world. For me, being a JV Mom meant no longer apologizing for what I wasn’t doing, but embracing every little victory I did have: big or small.
JV Parenting doesn’t come without trade-offs. It also means that someone in the family needed to be the varsity parent. My new identity meant that my husband also had to embrace a new identity: Varsity Dad. After two children and three years of trying to balance family and work, he decided to stay home full time.
Over the years, we found ourselves the curious subject of conversations in the neighborhood.
Here are our answers to questions that many thought, and few were brave enough to ask:
What do you do all day, Varsity Dad? To be honest, the person that asks this question more than anyone else is me. It has taken me several years to understand how insulting it must be for me to ask him for a full accounting of his day – as if I am a supervisor instead of a partner.
Tanisha, don’t you love your kids enough to be there? The reality is that I am not the one that is always there and my children are the last ones to think it is odd that their primary caregiver is their Dad. In fact, my husband is there not only for our family, but also there for our neighbors who often need a safety net when a meeting doesn’t end on time, work travel goes askew, etc.
As the children have grown older, we quickly learned that different ages need different skills and it was impractical to believe all those skills can reside in one parent. So, even with a Varsity Dad, I have to be conscious of what skills I uniquely have that the children may need and in what way. As an example, I may not be the daily homework person, but I am the one that coaches Odyssey of the Mind and takes them to church on Sunday.
Are you alienated from your fellow mom friends? Yes. I don’t have the opportunity to connect and create a large community of other mothers. I can keep up with a handful of close friends, but by and large, my husband and our family consume 90% of my life outside of work.
What do you say you do at parties? For many years, my husband first emphasized the volunteer jobs he has always had since staying home. Now, I have noticed that he begins with introducing himself as a Stay-At-Home Dad. Or, the house CEO. To which he sometimes gets the responses, “Why?” or “Oh, I’m sorry.”
Is it strange to be living in a role-reversal (i.e., Tanisha being an executive in a male-dominated world, my husband in a female-dominated parent world)? Cutting to the chase, I often describe our marriage as a 1950s marriage in reverse, and I celebrate and am grateful that my partner is a varsity Dad. The reality is that if we expect women to take on more leadership roles, we have to support men who decide to stay home. Our life is just a testament to that reality.
So, I call for a new sisterhood of JV Moms, but first we need to celebrate our Varsity Dads!