Today I’m excited to jump back into our Real Talk, Real Moms series. It’s been a little bit since I’ve tackled the parenthood topic. A few bouts of teething and the accompanying severe sleep deprivation left me rather drained. But this edition’s topic – coparenting – or more specifically – how you negotiate who does what with your partner is something I think about a lot.
I recently read a Washington Post article that said American parents have higher expectations of themselves than any previous generation. That certainly rings true to me. We have to be attentive, we have to be present, we have to be supportive, we have to foster personal growth, emotional intelligence, regular intelligence, physical aptitude, academic achievement – all without leaving our littles with lasting family of origin issues. Oh and we also have to have successful careers, blissful marriages, stunning homes, amazing social lives and rockin’ bodies.
Don’t worry, I got this.
Being an enlightened post-feminist woman, long before having kids I was very clear I wasn’t interested in the archaic gender-based divisions of labor. But when reality strikes, it can be a little hard to put that vision into practice. When you’re at home with two working parents, commutes, dogs, home renovations, moves, career upheavals – a lot can get in the way of your best intentions. But all kidding aside, it was really important to me that divisions of parental responsibility be reasonably equal. While I certainly can’t claim to have things figured out, we have come across a few solutions that work well for us.
Be in it together. From the very beginning we approached parenting as an equal partnership. For example, during middle-of-the-night feedings, Chris changed the diaper, I nursed & he slept, then he put the baby back to sleep and I slept. Since I was exclusively breast-feeding and we didn’t do a lot of bottles, Chris was on diaper duty. We took turns putting the baby down for naps. We did baths all together. The support was amazing. In fact, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
However, I’m also the first to admit that the be-in-it-together model worked best when we were both on parental leave. And having a husband who enjoyed eight weeks of leave was a real luxury. Don’t even get me started on parental benefits in this country. That’s an entirely other diatribe. But I do think that the habits we set up in the early weeks helped as returned to the reality of day to day life.
Divide and conquer. We also split up responsibilities where it made sense. Since I was exclusively breast-feeding, Chris played point on diaper-changing duty. We alternated who put the baby back to sleep at nap time. These days, I do dinner prep & feeding, while the husband does bath & pajama time. And since I still handle a lot of baby duties, Chris has taken on other chores like feeding our dogs etc etc. It doesn’t always feel like a completely balanced workload, but clearly delineating the labor did make a difference. You don’t have to worry about who is volunteering for what or feel overly burdened. We’ve figured it out in advance.
I have also heard of parents that alternate responsibilities by day. On Saturday one parent is on point any time the baby cries, needs to be fed or needs a diaper change. On Sunday it’s the other partner’s turn. That gives each adult a bit of a mental break. It’s not that they completely ditch out, but you no longer have to negotiate who’s turn it is to do what. That can be a refreshing feeling. I’m definitely intrigued by the concept and am seriously considering trying it, especially now that Carter is way more active.
Be flexible. Sometimes exhaustion gets the best of us and we really need a break. There were times when I took every middle of the night shift because I knew my husband would be a better person the next day. Or there have been mornings when I just cannot drag myself out of bed and Chris has spelled me so I can get a bit of extra sleep. Sometimes people have to work late and miss the bedtime routine. Or you really want a girl’s night out. The key is to recognize the exception and do your best to be present and supportive of your partner the next time. Just acknowledging the extra effort goes a really long way.
But above all else, the hard and fast rule I’ve learned in my first year of parenting is there are no hard and fast rules. And even with this mindset things are still tough. We struggle with resentment and feeling like one or the other isn’t pulling their weight. And just when we feel like we’ve found a good routine the kid up and changes everything on us. Teething. New sleep schedule. A sudden growth spurt.
And that brings me to my fourth key to co-parenting.
Over-communicate. Make your needs and expectations known. Ask for help when you need it. Overly voice appreciation and gratitude. Your sanity & well-being requires a united front. This can often be the hardest thing to do because of the exhaustion and stress parenthood can bring, but it’s by far the most important. This is what can save relationships.
With the thousands of years of parenting throughout the course of human history, you think there’d be a quintessential dummies’ guide to all of this by now. And while there are literally thousands of titles on the subject, it seems there’s no silver bullet to mastering modern parenting. You just have to find the formula that works for your family and your lifestyle.
Do you have any hot tips on how to share the parenting load? I can’t wait to check out what the rest of the mamas in today’s post had to say on the subject. Be sure to check them out!
And catch up on the entire Real Talk, Real Moms series HERE
photography by belathee