Sharing parenting duties: can we ever really get an even split? Do we even want to?
- on January 6, 2013
Recently, a friend of mine posted this article to Facebook for all of us to consider.
Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.
What do you think? My girlfriend and I laughed out loud at the title alone. 'HA! No," we cried. "It just doesn't work that way."
My friend is a stay at home mom, which automatically skews the parenting to her. That is how she earns her room and board, so to speak. She does the school schlepping, cooking, enrolling in extra curriculars, doctor appointments, and most of the housework.
Who does that stuff if both parents are working? Ideally, both parents do it, in equal measure. But I think most of my friends who are in a two-working-parent family would agree it doesn't seem to fall out that way, regardless of everyone's best intentions.
While my sister has long told me the mantra in her marriage when it comes to division of labor is "It's not a competition," it seems hard to remember that some days. One parent is mentally ticking off all the chores and tasks he or she accomplished in a day and wondering what the heck the other person did to contribute. Both parents might often be feeling that way at the very same time.
For example, my husband works longer hours than I do. Most days he puts in no fewer then 10 and usually closer to 12 hours. And that's non-negotiable. He's not doing it because he is so in love with his work he can't tear himself away, or because he is a crazy over-achiever. It's because he drives a truck and he isn't done until the route is done. He works fast, busts his hump, and tries to get home as quickly as possible but that beer isn't going to move itself. He leaves before the rest of us get up in the morning. He's exhausted at night so he goes to bed well before everyone else. Simply put, he doesn't have time to do as much parenting as I do.
I happen to work at my son's early education center, so I am obviously going to be more in touch with his daily routine and needs than my husband. I know what he has eaten, if he has had his medicine, if he took a nap, and how many times he went potty. I am privy to a lot of information that, in the evening, means I still do a lot more parenting. My husband might not know my son hasn't gone #2 in three days, but I do. So I put in the effort to get him to eat a fiber bar or drink some extra Mirilax and spend some extra time in the bathroom. My husband is not aware that Johnny didn't like the school lunch that day so he ate a big snack after school and therefore won't want to eat his dinner. So when I contradict him for insisting that clean his dinner, it causes parenting tension.
We do our best to share the duties. We take turns doing the bath and bedtime routine. We both sit and fold laundry after the kiddo is in bed. I am an earlier riser than my husband, so I get up with Johnny on the weekends while he sleeps in, but I might disappear for a long brunch with friends on Saturday and ask him to handle lunch and nap on his own.
And this is just our situation. I know families in many different combinations of work and home and every single one of them struggles with this balance. "Why didn't you pick up the blocks?" "Are you going to give him a bath?" "Whose responsibility is to make sure we don't run out of diapers?" When both parents are working, it could be either the mom or the dad asking these questions. And even if one parent stays home, doesn't the other parent still have to split duties after the 5:00 bell rings?
The fact is, most families are in a situation where both parents have to work out of necessity. Most of us simply cannot make ends meet on one salary. And yes, it's stressful. But it's also highly doable, if you are honest with your partner and you clearly discuss expectations BEFORE it gets to critical mass. The conversations about who does what can be painful and seem trite, but they're vital. If I look at a pile of dirty dishes every night and just think to myself, "I shopped for the groceries, invented the meal, and cooked it. He should do the dishes," but I never articulate that expectation, I'm in for a world of hurt. If I have given six of the last seven baths AND called around to find a sitter for our last five dates, I might be getting resentful. But it's not fair unless I say "Hey, can you do bath?" Because he probably was folding laundry and thinking "Why doesn't she ever do her laundry" at the same time I was drying the kiddo off from the tub.
As always, communication is key. There is no way to get more hours in the day. We work, we have dinner, we collapse.
My only other hint is this: DO LESS. Your kids do not need to do EVERY activity the city or school offers. You do not have to have four play dates a week. It is OKAY if your child watches a little tv while you get your dinner on. Just as important as soccer practice is quality family time. If you are all so busy you never sit down to a meal together, if you can't find time to talk about your day or be in the same room for more than thirty minute bursts here and there, you are doing too much. Disenroll. Cut an activity. Stop being on that board or drop the basketweaving class. It's okay.
Will parenting duties ever be equal? I highly doubt it. The trick is to avoid resentment over the inequality, however large or small it may be. Walk a mile in his work boots. Invite him to take your stilettos for a test run. Talk about what your priorities are for home, self, and children. And then do a WHOLE LOT LESS of all of it.