The I/We Debacle

CG and I have a recurring problem. Deeper than the eternal Socks Next to the Hamper Fiasco or the You Load the Dishwasher Wrong Battle, this one cuts to the heart of what it means to be individuals in our family, to be autonomous and yet connected, to have a full-time stay at home parent and a full time working parent. We bump into this particular issue again and again, struggling to find a middle ground where we both feel loved and respected.

The problem: when talking about our house or our children, I often possessively say "I" or "my". And he inclusively says, and doesn't understand why I don't say more often, "we" or "our".

It is a pet peeve of mine when couples become a mono-unit using the royal "we" to express the sum content of their uni-brain. "We just loooove the endless pasta bowl at the Olive Garden, don't yoooooouuu?" This is one of my hottest feminist trigger points because in heterosexual relationships it's historically the woman who loses her sense of self and becomes subordinate to the man's intellect and opinions. His "I" becomes their "we".

Long ago, I vowed never to let anyone else's "I" become my "we".

But this really isn't political, it's personal. I say "I" when talking about our home or our children because I want to own something and stake claim to an identity that is mine alone. Since choosing to stay home with the girls, there is precious little else to possess. I can't deny that a selfish, possessive love for my girls and our home runs deep in me, whether it is a result of me staying home with them or the underlying motivator for me to stay at home in the first place, I don't know.

So I get that my identity struggles are at the heart of this stumbling over pronouns, but it still refuses to go away. I still say "I have some cookies here somewhere", "I found a great Christmas gift", "I thought her first birthday party should be at a biker bar" because I bought the cookies and I found the Christmas gift and I researched the very best biker bar for our daughter's first birthday (not really, but let's pretend). This, of course, negates that I bought the cookies because we both like them, I found the Christmas gift after we decided on the general idea and I chose the biker bar after we dismissed a topless bar from our list of options (But there'd be boobies everywhere! She'd love it!). From my skewed perspective, he gets sole ownership of his career, I should get sole ownership of what happens here, in the house, with the girls, even though they are his daughters too and he is as true a partner in parenting as he can be.

CG wants me to use "we" because he often feels wrongfully and hurtfully excluded when I use "I". As the current designated household earner who works very hard to keep us flush with those cookies and Christmas gifts and biker bar birthday parties, he sometimes feels cut off from the bonds, rituals and rhythms of life with the girls just by virtue of the number of hours he works away from the house.

He wants me to say we have some tea and we found a good preschool and we use time-outs sparingly because presenting a united front as parents, as the people who started this little family in the first place, is of paramount importance to him. My overuse of "I" appears to stake my claim to the mantle of Head of Household, or at least to Chief Parent. He worries I see him as an afterthought, a supporting player, in the central dramas of our family's life and my overuse of "I" just confirms and entrenches that fear.

I'm clearly struggling to forge an identity as a person, a mother and - gasp - homemaker, without making him feel as if I'm trying to push him out and own all of parenthood, too.

This is one of those marital arguments where there can be no ultimate victor. We're both right; I deserve recognition for what I accomplish and contribute and he deserves to be clearly included as a partner at the very center of this family. Obviously, I need to work on differentiating when it's appropriate for me to use "I" and when it's more precise and truthful to use "we".

I have some work to do but I'm so glad that we have each other.


GratefulTwinMom said...

This is so perfectly said. I do that exact same thing, but it's mostly around life-changing events that we shared, like "my" wedding day, and "my" birth experience (although--technically--he didn't share that completely).

This is a hard habit to break, but I love how you've reflected on it here and are working on it. It's a good goal for me too. Even though I work too, my husband still feels left out because, truly, I do do most of the child rearing. I'm simply with them more. But, you're right. It's not fair for him to have a perceived feeling of being "pushed out." Thanks for bringing it to mind.

Hillary said...

I work but we still have this problem. Love your last line.

Swistle said...

I use either one, depending on context: "When we bought our house," "We chose a lilac color for the new computer room," "I like sugar snap peas," "We like that Italian restaurant on Olive St." If it's something we decided on together (a parenting issue, for example), then "we" makes sense. I file "objections to the Marital We" along with "people who always refer to married couples as 'smug,' even though I don't think I've ever once felt anything like that emotion in connection with being married." But I think that could be because I've never felt like I lost myself to marriage, either---helps to be married twice!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

GTM- I do the "my wedding" and "my birth experience" thing, too. OY.

Hillary- I'm SO curious about whether it would be different if I was working. Wanna write a post about it? :-)

Swistle- I clearly need to take a few lessons from you!

Ann Wyse said...

Fascinating! I'm also SAHM - and consider myself a feminist - but around here, we are the opposite. I almost always use "we" while my husband uses "I."

I think I'm afraid to claim responsibilities that I deem as mundane and general, thus, "we bought cookies" or "we had his birthday party at the beer garden."

On the other hand, *I* designed the kitchen island and *I* will build the deck, even if my husband has a pretty big hand in it, as well.

I'm going to try to think of it a little more like you, and then maybe I'll find a happy medium.

Bird said...

Yes! I've even been known to get mad at DMS for offering to help me with something like laundry because if he goes to work AND does the house stuff where do I fit in? How do I feel necessary? What gets to be "mine?"

Joanna said...

Again, another beautiful, eloquent post.

Barb said...

off topic: pretty new picture as your profile pic!!! :)

B said...

Great post. I often think about this from the flip side. I do not currently contribute to the household income at all and struggle with my identity and feminist principles to no end because of that. So I am so very touched and grateful that my husband always refers to it as "OUR money, OUR house, etc.," when I often feel like I am just trying to earn my keep around here.

grammalouie said...

It's pretty easy to have parts of your identity slip away during the course of an intimate relationship. This becomes a balancing act for both people in the relationship. If they both care equally about that balancing act and love and respect each other equally, then the push-pull of this "slippage" can be kept on an even keel. If, however, those elements are not present, there can be real trouble in the relationship over the years.
All this can make for very interesting discussions!
As a ever-so-slight aside, my own pet peeve occurs when one person writes a letter and signs BOTH names. Now, we all know TWO people did NOT write that letter! I try to wriggle around this by sometimes adding at the end of my (in this case sympathy) note by saying "so and so joins me in sending our deepest sympathy..."Or sometimes I'll write something in the "we" form and have my partner sign it next to my signature.
When my college roommate writes me, she always signs her name and then her partner's name and I don't even KNOW her partner!Just my own pet peeve that feels good to vent about.
Thanks for a very thought-provoking post.

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