Does 50:50 parenting work? (or how to be nicer to each other when you’re both up against everything)
I’d love to be able to say that I’ve finally got past that bit of parenting where every weekend is spent in a game of competitive one-upmanship with my husband as to who has done MORE. As in more childcare, more laundry/cooking/food shopping/ playing/ taking the bins out – are you still with me? But that would be a lie.
I say this too from the perspective of someone who found a partner who is very supportive of my independence, work and life choices, even when shouldering parental responsibilities or household chores impacts on his own work load or free time.
It’s tough: small children bring the greatest joy but also many, many sleepless nights (and I refer to the great internal dialogue as opposed to them waking up at 4am). In my head I like to think we both do 50:50 around the house, and while the labour divide is much better than in many marriages I know, it’s not by any means perfect. And for the record that swings both ways: I am just as guilty.
Still it never ceases to amaze me how many working mother friends -bright, educated, go-getting, non-doormat women married to smart, accomplished, understanding, reasonable men, still end up doing it all.
I used to think that it was down to one part guilt and two parts a desire to be in control at all times – ie never allowing their partner to do anything because it was always the “wrong” way, even if that meant constantly being on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And while that explains the dynamic of some couples I know, I increasingly see how most issues might be solved with better communication. The following is what I need to remember to do more of:
Telepathy is overrated:
Be vocal and say what you mean rather than assuming your partner will guess. Don’t play a game of “Is he going to notice that I need help?” Just ask. A word on the way you ask too: try and do this in a non-judgmental, non-moany way, (hard I know when you sometimes want to punch them but do your very best not to start out on the defensive). No one (truly) wants to be martyr mum (so dull!) or the “world’s busiest woman” and when I catch myself sounding like either, I shut the hell up.
Share all the school-min:
For the working mum, there is a heck of a lot of school-min. Do I really need to get into the list of cake sales/ school trips/ extra ballet rehearsals. I genuinely don’t think my husband realised how much school communication there was until I stuck him on the weekly bulletins. Even if he isn’t always around to help sort it out he is at least aware of what is happening. And when I’m away for work, it means he can pick up the pieces, rather than me nagging him to do so.
Learn to let go:
Respect that you both do things in your own way. No way is better. Honestly, it beats me why so many women actively look to fill their head with this sort of daily minutiae. Remember, most men will not lift a finger if women continue to be so controlling. Often it’s women, hard-wired to be perfectionists (so dull!) who are as much to blame.
You both need to feel responsible:
It’s a subtle mindshift but both parents need to feel responsible irrespective if they both work for largely inflexible employers. Rather than spending precious time blaming one another, think constructively of how tasks can be shared. I’m opening another can of worms up entirely here but a recent article in the Guardian about what one man wanted to say to his wife but didn’t feel he could offered a lot of food for thought for how we can all learn to communicate better. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/02/a-letter-to-my-wife-who-wont-get-a-job-while-i-work-myself-to-death
Be open minded and include your kids:
It’s never going to work to out 50:50 all of the time but it’s a way of looking at the world that suggests it’s normal that men need their children as much as women do, and that mothers need to work as much as men do. It’s fine to split the parenting work load 60:40 or 90:10, but not so long it throws either parent permanently off course.
I also think you owe it to your children to be honest. They need to understand what is required to look after them. And that the daily grind is not necessarily your idea of fun either. You are not their slaves. It will help them be more independent and more respectful of you too.
One mother I know decided she was not going to nag anyone but went out and bought a black board. On it she wrote all the things that needed doing each week. There was no judgment or expectation about who was going to do them but she found her husband was happy to pick things off the list and cross them off.
Be kind to each other:
It’s hard to remember sometimes in the thick of it but your family was born out of the love you have for each other. Well hopefully it is. Take the time to be nice to your partner. It’s so obvious and yet I think I fail this daily.
Leave your partner alone with your children often:
You’d never think, given the way that the majority of my friends talk about their husbands that they are with smart, educated, accomplished, understanding men. Sometimes I want to shout at them and say, “Really??? You married someone so stupid and incompetent that they can’t change a nappy or choose the right brand of formula, or look after their own children for a whole weekend? Men bashing is an impediment to your sanity so stop it this instant.
Think how long it took you to build up your confidence looking after a baby on your maternity leave. Most men never have that opportunity and they need to start somewhere. So book that weekend away and allow him to develop his own relationship with his children.
Remember, no leaving instructions or lists, or getting your mother-in-law on standby. What have you got to lose?