I suppose that it’s time that I make the necessary shout out to my wife (probably because if I don’t, the random kicks at 3a.m. to my back could now really become intentional).
As baba’s/dad’s, there is a lot of time where we fail. We fail at parenting (we think). We fail at being a husband (we assume). We fail our families for whatever they think we should be and aren’t (not always). We fail at failing. We become our own worst critics because we seem to be watching all of this miracle stuff happening (pregnancy and kids) like we are watching a movie – like it’s not really happening to us. My wife calls it being ‘detached’ (I had to look it up and it still doesn’t make sense in translation). Sometimes we make that choice and sometimes we don’t. But that detachment, especially in the beginning, is because we feel like we didn’t feel anything (the pain, the emotional rollercoaster, the result). We just showed up and there was a baby. And then, we are suppose to do something with ‘it’. How are we suppose to succeed at this stuff? And what is that white baby powder for again (I used it for 2 weeks on her head because it made her bald head smell so good.)?
My wife already had a son and the idea of having a child again scared her (especially at her age at the time – I won’t say it but she is the one that keeps telling me she needs the cream for mature skin – I think she’s beautiful!). She wasn’t there for her son as much as she had wanted and had great fears about not doing the same thing with our girls. She persevered not only for our first daughter but our second as well.
When our oldest was born, we made the decision, together, that I would just keep working but part-time (long story on trying to accomplish that in Qatar). We didn’t take to the nanny idea at all and really felt that if we had kids, it was our responsibility to raise them. And, because my wife had a great career, it wasn’t like the choice was too difficult. But, as a man, and an arab man, the pride can be a very difficult thing to overcome. As much of the joy it brought me being the stay-at-home baba, the challenge was that I missed out on a work life, colleagues, something else. Our choices were even more limited when the second one arrived.
It wasn’t like I was not given the choices to work and with pretty good opportunities It wasn’t like I was being lazy or just relaxing by the pool all day. I wanted to work and provide for my family the way my wife was doing as well. There were points where the endless arguments with my family and friends started to make me think that I was doing something wrong.
I interviewed quite a bit when we moved to Dubai and when it came to it, the choice that had to be made was that the flexibility I needed and wanted as a baba was not there. If I needed to take off because my kids were sick, I knew that I wasn’t prepared to throw this onto someone else to do. I needed to be the one to be there. It has been a difficult choice that I make daily but I’m afforded the opportunity to take on the job to raise my daughters because of my wife.
What it also took me a long time to realise is what my wife was going through as well. Being away from her girls whether it be working or when she was travelling for work was always one of the most painful things to watch her go through. It wasn’t until we talked one time after one of her trips when I thought I was doing the great ‘baba’ thing and sending her pics of the girls constantly through the day, that she was in tears each time I sent it. Those periodic ‘firsts’ that she just missed, ate at her endlessly.
My wife has supported whatever endeavour I have chosen. She has believed in me with everything that I have wanted to do and supported me in the times where I thought I would lose it. We have a balance. We have a yin and yang thing happening that works with our family.
She may bring in a chunk of our family income but the value that she places on me and that my girls see in me (especially if chocolate popcorn or a kinderegg is involved) goes further than any amount of money ever could.
We have mutual sacrifice at every level. And stay-at-home babas everywhere go through the same things every day.
Placing a monetary value on something that just isn’t depositing in your account each month it’s a pointless exercise. You won’t find it. I didn’t. But I did find the balance that is created with the yin and yang thing.
In an arab community, family is the single most important factor in any decision that is made. The mother holds higher value than anything and is to be upheld. But, also in the Arab community, much like many others around the world, it takes a village to raise a child (thats from my wife – because that was the only thing she could come up with the other day when I was trying to explain things to her). But, it’s true. When you are an expat, oftentimes that village isn’t there and it comes down to you and your wife. You can’t run to the nearest family member when trouble hits. You make friends only to see them possibly leave when their 2 year contract is up. Or you maintain your close friendships in other countries that you’ve had. But, there is no one to just run to. And believe me, I hear this from my ‘village’ on a daily basis about why I’m doing what I’m doing – get a job – support your family – be a man. My wife’s family is a bit more practical in the sense that they laugh hysterically at any drama that occurs and consistently reminds my wife of the ‘mothers curse’ (our oldest being the exact same personality as her), and they continue to laugh – with love of course.
The power of the Arab world is that community is everything. In a place like Dubai or other areas in the Middle East, the importance of family is so overwhelming at times that there is no other obligation that surpasses the needs of a family. Where we have the challenge is being able to support the diversity enough in this part of the world to accept the new dynamics that are surrounding us – this includes the changing family structures, moving abroad, hiring nannies, the husband AND wife working, multi-cultural relationships.
Part of that family structure is that of a stay-at-home baba. There will probably never be enough emphasis on the importance of babas out there and the impact they have on a childs life. And when a baba chooses to stay at home, the opportunity to overcome stereotypes, judgements and criticism takes a very strong man. Involving yourself in the daily life of your child (and not for 5 minutes a day) and taking that time to be ‘present’ is the most important thing that you will ever do in your lifetime. No one is going to care what brand you wore, the car your drove, a couple of hours of shisha a night with friends, when they put you in the ground. The one’s that are going to care are the one’s that you have, hopefully, nurtured, respected, raised and were the biggest part of their growing up – your child.
At the same time, it also takes a very strong woman to explain the ‘different’ dynamic to people. My wife had to fight off the same demons of her own in coming to terms with me taking care of the girls (when her maternal instinct said she should be the one doing it but was pulled between a job she loved and family). She also had to fend off people that thought something was wrong or it was because she married ‘that nationality’. It was disturbing for her because no one knew what we were going through and how happy we were as 2 parents loving on our kids. That was all we wanted. We simply wanted to just go on and live our life.
My wife goes through the same challenges that I do every day but in just different directions. At the end of the day, she comes home to the most important time that we have together – a few hours in the evening (if those conference calls -1,2 and 3- don’t drop in her lap), where we get to jump around, play, watch the girls do ‘shows’, visit a few places here and there and seeing friends – but we always make every available attempt to do with our kids in tow.
My wife has supported me in every way. She is also the one that was going at me constantly to put my endless notebooks into virtual paper of the girls stories. These are still coming but there are so many things happening right now, each day, that are far more interesting to drop down to everyone.
We can’t forget the mom in the family. For whatever reason a baba is a stay-at-home baba, the mom is the one that has endured. I’m not talking about that 9 month thing and an epidural induced delivery and all of those things. I’m talking about the one who is the ‘yin’ making the choices to my ‘yang’ and we end up meeting in the middle and making it work.
Shout out to mom’s out there. But my wife, she’s the best and there is no one would I would rather share this crazy family dynamic with (and yes, she is paying me to say that).