When my first child was born, I approached parenting with a very rigid point of view. I was determined that my husband and I would be equal in all aspects of parenting except those that only I could do, like breastfeeding. By the second day our son was home, it was clear to me that parenting equally was going to be tricky. My husband was anxious to be involved and more than willing to be helpful and supportive, but it was hard for him to survive on as little sleep as I could. And truthfully, parenting came easier and faster to me than it did to him.
But, I resented his parenting learning curve. I saw parenting as a job and I didn’t want to have to work harder than my husband did. In my mind, both mom and dad should split the parenting jobs down the middle. I didn’t want to feel like I was getting stuck with all the work. I wanted everything to be fair.
The following year, my husband and I fought more than we ever had before. Our relationship had always been our top priority, so our fights about the responsibilities of raising our son were a shock to both of us. We saw how quickly our relationship could be broken down and it scared the crap out of both of us.
The decision to have another child did not come easily, mostly because we were scared the addition of another child would break us apart. We didn’t want the strain of parenting to end our relationship and we didn’t want our kids to be raised in an unhappy home. I realized that my determination to parent equally with my husband was a huge factor that added to the state of friction in our home.
And so I decided that we needed to parent differently going forward. In order for us to work together as parents, we needed to parent equally over time but not equally every day. Turns out, this was the best decision we’ve ever made. Here is how we changed things the second time around:
1. He slept all night, while I did the night feedings. Though we both work, my job is flexible and my husband’s hours are not. So with our daughter I told my husband he never needed to get up in the night with her unless I absolutely couldn’t. He had to get to work in the morning and it seemed silly for both of us to be exhausted all the time. I got through the months of no sleep fairly easily and he picked up the slack in other areas.
2. My husband and I each “own” different tasks. By the second time around, we had learned what part of parenting came easy to us and what didn’t. So we could stick to our own respective sweet spots. It turns out my husband is great at homework while I’m the go-to for killer lunchboxes. We still help each other out, but we don’t feel like we have to be masters of every part of parenthood.
3. I stopped looking at parenting like a burden. Especially when my kids were infants, I saw tending to their needs as effort and work. I changed my attitude and stopped feeling burdened by being needed by them. In turn, I stopped feeling resentful of my husband when he wasn’t working as hard as I was. Our family became more joyful and my husband and I stopped fighting so much.
4. We prioritized our own needs. My husband needs a lot more sleep than I do, so he takes a weekend nap or two. I like to exercise, so he makes sure I have time each day to get a workout in. When we stopped keeping score, we were able to be there for our kids and each other in a much more productive way.
5. I stopped micromanaging how my husband parents our kids. My husband is a good dad who often does things differently than I do with our kids. But, if I’m working or taking time for myself to see friends, I don’t manage him with the kids. Since deciding we didn’t have to be equal in parenting, we also made room for each other to parent differently. Our only rule is that the kids are safe and happy. Otherwise, we allow ourselves to have our own unique parenting style.
So while I may sleep less than my husband and I may do more early mornings with the kids than he does, I get the time I need to stay happy, rested, and recharged. And while we don’t parent equally every moment of every day, we are equal partners over time. That’s all that really matters, now isn’t it?
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