Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Equal Opportunity
by Sharon

LBB (Life Before Baby)
Before W was even a twinkle in our eye, Rob and I were very career-oriented. We were throwing ourselves into our work and living the typical young, urban lifestyle – work hard, play hard. Rob had just scored a part-time position as a pediatric physical therapist. The 4-day, 21 hour workweek enabled him to pursue his true passion – coaching youth soccer. I was well into my 10th year in advertising, often working 50-60 hours/week.

We had planned on working hard at building our nest egg, while at the same time enjoying the childless lifestyle that let us eat out several times a week, attend spontaneous after-work get-togethers, and embark on weekend getaways… ah! Good times. We didn’t know it then, but it was only going to get better.

When we found out I was pregnant, Rob and I agreed we did not want W in daycare fulltime if one of us could be home with him. I was the primary breadwinner in our family, so it was looking like Rob would be a stay-at-home Dad. Admittedly, there was a twinge of guilt, maybe even jealousy, when I thought about Rob taking on this role. But at the time, it seemed to make the most sense.

But it was soon after W was born and I returned to work when I realized I was burnt out at my job. Work was just not fun any longer and the long hours and added stress were more than I could handle. We decided instead that I would stay home with our new baby and Rob would be the sole breadwinner. This was a really tough decision. Fortunately we had enough in our savings to make it work, at least for a little while.

So we became a single-income family so that I could stay home with W. But we quickly found that I didn’t quite fit the SAHM label. With Rob’s flexible work schedule, we realized that we could both share in raising W from the beginning. We saw the benefits of having both of us around to raise W and take care of the house. And we knew that our single-income family structure wasn’t going to work for us on one part-time physical therapist’s salary plus a soccer coach’s salary for too long.

Equally Shared Parenting –And We Didn’t Even Know It!
After putting much stress on our finances by living on just Rob’s part-time income for a year, I parlayed a freelance gig as a project manager into a part-time job of my own minutes from our house. I was able to negotiate a 4-day, 32-hour work week, which would allow me to have Fridays off with W. Rob’s schedule remained the same, which allowed him to have Wednesdays with W. We then made daycare arrangements for W for the other three workdays.

It wasn’t before long we were truly sharing breadwinning, housework and childraising. Neither of us felt the stress of being the primary breadwinner any longer. When it came to housework, we each agreed for each of us would take on one chore we both dreaded – I cleaned the bathroom and Rob paid the bills. All other chores were taken up equally; whoever had time to tackle a task first would be responsible for getting it done.

Taking care of W became like clockwork with our work schedules. Rob and W had their dad/son time on Wednesdays, W and I would do our thing on Fridays, and during the soccer off-season, we spent the weekends together as a family. And as we did even before W was born, we were very conscious about giving one another equal leisure time (either much needed alone or guy/girl time respectively).

We made this shift to equal sharing mostly unconsciously, following what seemed to work best and feel right.  We didn’t set out to do something unusual, but we began to realize that our situation was pretty unique among our circle of friends. We had something special and there was no turning back.

Our Top 3 Tips for Making ESP Work
We’re about a year into Equally Shared Parenting now and we’ve made lots of sacrifices along the way – a dinner out is a special treat and a dinner and a movie is a big deal these days. We’ve had our share of chats on topics from “who’s going to go food shopping this week” to “why does W behave that way with you on Wednesdays but this way with me on Fridays?”. It’s an organic process, and along the way, we’ve learned a couple things we want to pass along to other couples who are finding ways to make ESP work:

1. Learn to let go. I think every working Mom tries to be the “supermom” – balancing a career with being a mother. I often find myself trying to do everything, but have learned to let go and ask Rob to take over his share. And to trust that however he chooses to manage a task (from shopping for a birthday present to taking our child to the doctor’s), it’s going to be just fine. This is fundamental to making ESP work.
2. Be flexible. There will inevitably be times when things are not exactly equal and one partner is forced to pick up the other’s slack. In our case, when soccer season is in full swing and Rob’s soccer obligations mean late nights and weekend-long tournaments, housework and childcare will make a big shift onto my shoulders. It’s important not to get too resentful and know that the situation is usually temporary. And we find ways to make it up later.
3. Taking care of yourself  = a better parent.  A happy parent often means a happy home. It’s important to do things for yourself that make you happy. For us, it’s about making time for a workout, a guy’s or girl’s night out, or a date night. Often it will take prodding from each other to do something for ourselves, but a little prodding can go a long way.

We now realize we’ve landed on something pretty good – where we both can play an equal part in W’s life, share housework duties, be engaged in work that we can enjoy, and never lose sight of ourselves as individuals. It will be hard to try to live any other lifestyle.  We hope other couples can find a way to experience the benefits of ESP too.

©Copyright 2007 Marc and Amy Vachon

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