Sharing Parenting Tips: Divide Domestic Duties -- Even if Your Husband Can't Cook
I faced a special challenge when we started a family: my husband, Bill, had no domestic skills. He wanted to share parenting. His flexible hours as an academic allowed him to help at home. But he could barely boil an egg.
Needless to say, our first year with baby number one (and no regular help) was rocky. We persevered, however, and the equal parenting arrangement we worked out with our first daughter made having our second much easier than it would have been otherwise. What follows are tips from our experience and from my reporting on sharing parenting:
*Be sure it's what you want. Sharing parenting involves tradeoffs. As a mom, you don't always get to do things your way. You negotiate and consult about childcare issues a lot with your mate, which can be tedious. However you get a real partner and the kids get an involved, hands-on dad. You also understand each other's lives a lot better than when you operate in separate spheres all the time.
*Take a stand. Don't expect your husband to demand equal time at the diaper-changing table. He won't. Women usually don't get a fifty-fifty deal unless they push for it. Much of the work that goes into parenting isn't too appealing. Most men are not going to it unless asked. In addition, women serve as gatekeepers for father's involvement; studies show that husbands take cues from their wives about how much to step in. Make clear what you want, see if he agrees, and if so, get out of the way. Don't buy the line that equal parenting can't work because men and women are different. Many couples share parenting and are very happy with the arrangement.
*Don't take work as an excuse. Recently a woman in a group I was speaking to asked, "If I stay at home with the kids and he works, should I expect him to help after hours?" Yes. If you are home all day with small children and he's at work all day, come evening you've both worked. Try alternating parenting duties after hours so each person gets a break. But recognize that if he works 80 hours a week sharing parenting probably isn't an option. Parents who share duties usually have at least somewhat family-friendly careers.
*Be specific. I spent the first year with our first baby saying, "I need more help," and having Bill respond, "I want to help." And round and round we went. Finally I made a list of all I was doing to keep the home front humming and we divided the chores up. Making the list was empowering. Finally all my minute tasks were visible to my partner. I also realized how much my husband was doing already. Read my Real Simple magazine essay on our "his" and "hers" household to-do lists.
*Create mom and dad duties. Contrary to popular belief, the obstacle to sharing parenting is usually not the man in the house, but the toddler. The minute daddy takes over, the little one screams, "NO, I WANT MOMMY!" Kids thrive on routines so set duties can help with this problem. Tame the toddler by making dad the bath guy and mom the one who reads the bedtime books. Do not intervene when your husband is in charge -- few things have upset mine more than when I have. And if junior hollers for dad when you're on duty? Don't judge yourself by your toddler's whims. Kids sometimes seem to give mom the hardest time because they feel safest with her.
*Be flexible. Equal doesn't have to mean the same. Some couples thrive splitting childcare tasks down the middle. Others do better when mom and dad carve out separate spheres of responsibility. Either way works as long as each parent is free from meddling by the othe
*Train him. Nobody likes being told what to do. But if your husband is like mine, you have no choice but to train him. Pick your shots; show him how to make one simple kids' meal. Don't rescue him. You learned how to cook burning burgers too. And take heart, attitude is more important than aptitude. The really difficult guy is the one who made the gourmet meals when you were dating and has refused to cook since.
*Air anger when necessary. The silent treatment doesn't work. I know. I've tried it. Having a full-fledged tantrum, however, can be effective. I'm not proud of the one I had (in a nice restaurant) but it got my man's attention. Men can handle anger, but they're lousy at reading tea leaves. Better a few fights than simmering resentment.
*Plan for baby number two. If you're expecting a second child, talk to your husband about the family's needs before the baby arrives. What worked or didn't in your parenting arrangement with your first child? How can you do things differently? Get dad to start assuming parenting duties for your older child before the second arrives to smooth the transition, by, say, getting your firstborn ready for school. Think small. What will need to be done? Who can do it best?
*Brag about it. If you share parenting, brag about it. Boast to the women at the park. Praise your husband's parenting skills in front of his male friends. A lot of people want to share parenting but lack role models. Your example can provide inspiration and ideas. Bragging also recognizes shared parenting for what it is: a great accomplishment!
(c) 2010 Jennifer Bingham Hull. Reprint rights granted as long as the article is published in its entirety, including the resource box and its live links.
About the Author
Jennifer Bingham Hull is an award-winning author and mother of two. Her book, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life, looks at life after the second child. To learn more, visit www.growingafamily.com, where you can contact her to receive this Parenting Tips column and sign up for her free newsletter.