“I didn’t change a single diaper!” Is an anecdote often heard from the fathers of generations passed. Most people laugh and mumble something about “how times sure have changed”.
The world will have us believe that parenting is different today; spouses are 50/50 partners and they share all the responsibilities of child-rearing despite their additional commitments.
Is anyone else out there just doing a gigantic eye roll right now?
I’m not going to lie to you– my husband and I do not split the childcare evenly.
When we brought our firstborn home from the hospital, I had this idea that my husband would be a do-it-all, modern-day dad. That’s not how things happened at all. The bad news is, it caused a lot of resentment, arguments, and added stress. The good news is that we learned how to care for our child without expecting the impossible from each other.
Whether you’re awaiting your very first bundle of joy or navigating several running around the house, here are three steps to avoid the “50/50 parenting” relationship nightmare.
Step 1: Have a Mental Health Check-in
Allow yourself to feel your feelings. They are justified and cannot be discredited. This doesn’t mean you need to let the “feelings” bomb go off in the middle dinner. Try stepping out of the room, refocus and collect your thoughts. If you’re anything like me, it helps to voice that you’re in an “off” mood but not ready to talk about it. Let your emotions simmer until you are ready to discuss.
Ask yourself what you really need. As moms, we want to be there for every waking moment but also want someone to come in and save us from the chaos. As a mental health exercise, force yourself to pick two areas of childcare where you are willing to ask for help and act upon that. It can be hard to let someone step in but, remember, you need time to care for you, too!
Ask yourself what you actually want. Take a step back and ask yourself, “do I actually want him to make dinner, or do I just want him to acknowledge I’ve had a long day?” In the heat of the moment, we don’t always realize what it is we may really want. Do you want your partner to take on more childcare responsibilities? Are you worried you need to do it all because they won’t do it right? Is there some part of you that doesn’t want to miss out on the fun parts if you aren’t in charge of it all?
Step 2: Recognize that Communication is Key
Have a relationship meeting. Relationships are a constant evolution, and as your kid grows, you grow. Remember you are not just parents, you are people, too, so a consistent check-in is always a good idea! If you decided long before your child was even conceived that you’d both be the pick-up-from-school parent or the time-out parent, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how this plan fits your family today. What worked when your baby was two months old isn’t going to work when they are two years old or even 12 years old.
Bring your listening ears. You are stressed, you are upset, and, you are also one part of a two-part equation. Don’t forget to listen to your partner’s concerns and actually hear them. Listening can be the hardest part when you’re exhausted!
Stop assuming. I assumed my husband knew I was overwhelmed. I also assumed that he was coming home from work, kicking up his feet, and expecting that I would just carry on chasing our child. What I later learned in our conversations was that none of that was true. I had blown things out of proportion in my mind instead of simply asking for a break.
Step 3: Commit to the Plan (and Each Other!)
Find your super-parent strengths. You are the best parents for your child, so have a chat about strengths and weaknesses. Maybe one of you is better at doing “the voices” during story time, so they can take on bedtime. Perhaps the other is a little OCD (…or a lot!) so they should be in charge of packing lunches and getting the kids out the door without forgetting their backpacks. We are always asked to analyze our strengths and weaknesses at our jobs, why should this job be any different?
Compromise– as cliché as it sounds. Parenting is really, really hard. Plans change, people get annoyed, breaking points are reached. It’s okay to give in every now and then– to your child, to your spouse, to yourself. If it’s Thursday night, and you’re both too tired to tackle the pile of dishes, it’s 100% fine to just leave ‘em.
Planning makes possible. Utilize a shared calendar to make sure nothing falls through the cracks like doctors appointments, work phone calls, or family visits. It doesn’t need to be a big event, it can be watching the MSU basketball game without having to be on kid watch. Once it’s on the calendar, it’s always helpful to give a verbal reminder, too! Don’t forget to be fair to everyone: 50/50 parenting is also 50/50 not-parenting. When you get a night out, so does he; when you get to go on a trip, so does he; if one person can’t use work as an excuse, the other can’t use staying home as an excuse. Fair is fair.
50/50 Parenting Looks Different to Everyone
You are your own family. Don’t compare yourselves to what you see on TV or how your siblings’ families are structured. 50/50 parenting doesn’t necessarily mean splitting everything evenly; it means sharing responsibilities in a way that you both view as fair. Stop listening to the mom blogs that tell you the “right” way. There isn’t one.
Happy healthy kids need happy healthy parents. That’s the bottom line! Stay strong in your communication choices. There is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of when it comes to taking care of your kids and your relationship!