A fellow new mom (a year into her new role) sent me an article on co-parenting after the birth of my firstborn. Intriguing. From what I remember, the article was stressing that if both parents are equally invested and responsible for child rearing then there are different options open within the family structure. In other words, both parents can work if they find ways to be present to parent their children. Did I mention this friend was my co-worker? Sure, she likely had an agenda to open my eyes to the ways I could parent the way I wanted to while working, but she was also taking this challenge on herself. Her husband was studying to be a doctor and she was working a full-time job; how would they manage? Ultra-scheduled and planned weeks where one watches the child and the other works or studies. Does this work? They are still employing this strategy, their kids are happy and healthy, she has moved up in her job, and her husband has started his own practice.
Another girlfriend has a newborn and her partner has been hands on since day one. He is going to be parenting their son full-time when she returns to work. The mother was somewhat disappointed when their son took to the bottle immediately during his first bottle feeding with his dad. They are wisely taking every opportunity to share care now, so the loss is perhaps less traumatic when she returns to work.
My husband took two weeks off of work to be with my daughter and I. There were no philosophical conversations about where we were going with this procreative adventure…but the topic of my work came up every couple of weeks until I was looking at my last few weeks of maternity leave. I knew I wanted to return to work. I hadn’t wrapped up projects and I actually liked my job. So we decided that I would do some hours from home and tweak my schedule so I could be home a couple of mornings and full days with our baby. My sister-in-law would come over and care for our daughter two days a week and my husband would be home two afternoons a week.
Work aside, we are working out the kinks of how to parent, manage a household, and maintain a healthy relationship. It boils down to aptitude, interest, and then divvying out the rest between us. I am now home with our two children full-time. There are times when I get frustrated and start writing that mental list of what we each do in the household. It’s futile. He works his tail off then comes home to cook for us every night. He sees the cues that parenting is stressing me out and promptly leaves a bag of the good licorice where I can find it. Our daughter is almost four years old and it has taken this long for me to really get that we are truly sharing the role of parenting.
Sure there are the politics involved with the pause button being pressed on my career, but has that ever been my first priority in life? No. True, I had more pressure to leave my job but it made sense. I had made the decision to work for a non-profit, and my husband had a greater income. We both came from families where our mothers had stayed home to care for us, and had seen the benefits firsthand.
What is more important to me is that my husband is an emotional ballast and source of strength for our family. He reads stories to our children with theatrical brilliance. He takes our daughter out for ice cream dates. He explains his expectations to our children instead of reacting angrily when they don’t comply. And he is giving me the space I need now to be away from the children. My hope for all parents – married, partnered, separated, or divorced – is that they figure out the ways that they can be true to themselves, to the inevitable lifelong relationship they have with the mother/father of their child, and do what they can in the utmost to protect, guide, and love their children. The seeds of compassion toward your parenting partner are sowed (certainly before the baby is born but especially) in those first days with your newborn.