It was almost too easy to turn that one around. Didn't have to raise my voice, didn't have to puff up my chest. Just calmly said that I found it frankly insulting that it was just assumed that the one with the Y chromosome wouldn't pull his own weight. L says that she's seen it happen to her friends. I say, are you married to any of your friend's husbands? Then they can do whatever they want, it's got nothing to do with us. Counselor says that maybe she just needs some extra reassurance. I say that if the past seven years that we've been living together aren't reassurance enough that I pull my own weight around the house, then I've got nothing to say. By that point the Hamsters were spinning almost entirely in reverse, rushing to assure me that of course they hadn't meant to ACCUSE me of anything, of COURSE I was totally committed to being a father, that was the whole reason I was here, nobody was calling that into question, as if they hadn't been doing exactly that about four sentences ago.
(To be perfectly fair to the counselor, she was raised in a different generation, when raising kids and keeping house really was considered "women's work" more often than not, and she doesn't know me from Adam, so she doesn't know that our domestic situation is plenty egalitarian and that there's no reason for L to have any doubts that that would continue. So it's not that I blame her for bringing it up.)
So yesterday we were talking about the things that L wants to do-- go back to school, move away from the city we're in-- that she's afraid she won't be able to do if we have kids. I tell her those things and kids don't have to be mutually exclusive, but that I can't put my priorities on indefinite hold because she vaguely wants to do these other things someday. I've given her my plan and my timetable, which includes taking a year or two to buy a house where we're at, get settled, and work on our relationship and our careers (I just got a new job last spring, and am being groomed for an even better position that will be opening up when a coworker retires within the next few years) to the point where we could support a kid morally and financially, and then think about things like moving and school another five or six years after that when the kid is getting into grade school.
If that doesn't work for her, it's on HER to bring me a counter-plan that puts her priorities higher up on the timetable so that I can decide if it's a compromise I'm willing to get on board for. But that needs to be a real plan, not just a "we can't do this because it doesn't let me do X," and it needs to include details like what degree or certificate are you going back to school for? What semester would you start? What job would that prepare you for? Would that job be good enough to be worth moving for, pay enough that we could afford to? Etc. Not just, "But I wanna go back to schoooooool / but I wanna moooooooove!"
She says that she doesn't feel like any plan she brings to the table would be good enough for me. I tell her that's hardly fair, considering that she hasn't brought a plan to the table at all. She gets that stubborn look on her face and says that she hates the idea that she has to get my permission to do the things she needs to do to be happy. I tell her, "You don't need my permission to do those things. You only need my permission if you want to do them with me."
The room falls silent. Because that's what it comes down to, isn't it?
After the session is over, we talk a little more. I tell her that I DO want her to do the things she wants to do. Of course I want us to be able to have it all. And to my own surprise, I find that I'm telling the truth. I do want to see her happy, and I think that some of these things have a pretty good chance of making her happier. I just no longer want it so much that I'm willing to prioritize it over my own happiness. She's been talking about going back to school and about moving for years, and I've been "yes-dear"ing her the whole way. But by giving her so much leeway to choose the time and place and way she goes about it, I've also been enabling her to not make it happen.
Now I'm putting a much tighter timetable and an enormous amount of pressure on her to actually DO something. And paradoxically, I think it might actually give her the kick in the ass she needs to form a real plan. Which, double-paradoxically, would make me a lot more inclined to want a kid with her. I'd rather my kid have a mom who rose to the occasion and made that shit happen than one who gave up on her own goals and settled into a comfortable routine of doing what I wanted and quietly resenting me for it. For a moment, I allow myself to hope that we can actually do it, have our cake and eat it too. What the hell, people do it all the time. Why not us?
Well, it's either that or she doesn't come up with a plan for herself and I, rather than continue to enable her, put on my walking shoes. No guarantees. But it was nice to have that moment of hope.