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

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Best of Both Worlds
by Shimul

My husband Roger and I have a 7 month old son (whom we'll call D), and we have been practicing ESP since he was born (actually, for much of our 10 year marriage as well, minus the parenting part.) We had no idea it had a name, or was a well-define philosophy. To us, it was just common sense and fairness!

We are mechanical engineers (myself with a BS and Roger with a BS and MS), graduated from the same university, and work at the same company. Throughout most of our marriage we have done everything together, whether it is cleaning the house and getting groceries and cooking meals, or building our deck and putting in vast amounts of landscaping. We each buy and launder our own clothes, maintain our own cars, and split the financial chores of bill paying, researching new household items to purchase, and interviewing contractors. Our housework is split down the middle, and for the most part either one of us can do anything. Having said that, there are things that each of us prefers, and some of it does follow traditional gender lines. Some things are just physically more efficient for Roger to complete. He'll still take on most of the outdoor maintenance work, and I prefer being the planner and list maker – whether it's planning the details of our next big house project or a party. Our equality in housework was hard-earned; early in our marriage we did go through a phase in which each of us felt like we did more than our fair share and felt underappreciated by the other. It can be a challenge to keep this pattern from reoccurring, but through much communication and understanding, we have reached a happy middle ground that has become increasingly easy to maintain. 

One of our biggest hurdles in deciding to have a baby was that I could not figure out how to have it all. I did not want to use daycare - I could not imagine leaving such a young baby in the care of someone whom I barely know and missing out on all of his milestones, and I could not imagine quitting my job and staying home. While work is not my identity, I couldn't imagine being a stay-at-home mom and not using my degree and contributing to the household income. I have never subscribed to traditional gender roles, and I knew that I would grow to resent Roger if I was handling all of the child-raising duties and not working outside of the home. When I brought this up with Roger a couple of years ago, he looked at me and said, "That's easy, we can both work part time so that one of us can be home with D." I was dumbfounded that I had not thought of this myself. I had just spent a decade with my husband living a life where equality was the core of who we were, and yet it did not occur to me that he could use the same part-time options at work that are available to me. What did this say about my own gender stereotypes and expectations? I immediately had a newfound admiration for Roger. Suddenly all barriers had been lifted for me, and we were well on our path to pursuing parenthood.

We are very fortunate that our workplace (a large Fortune 500 company) offers the option to work part-time at anywhere from 40 to 90% of our schedule and pay, in 10% increments. It is an official HR policy, yet not all areas are equally accepting of a part time schedule. Oddly, it was my husband's area that was very supportive of his plan to work part time, yet my area was old-school and viewed part time as meaning that an employee was less committed to the job. I worked very hard to move into another area that values all of its engineers equally, and that rates performance against the hours that are worked, and not against that of peers working a full time schedule. Currently we both work part time using a combination of in-office hours and telecommuting - Roger works 80% (32 hours) with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the office (8 hours a day), and Monday and Friday at home (4 hours a day). I work 70% (28 hours) with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the office (8 hours a day), and Tuesday and Thursday at home (2 hours a day). We are fortunate to have my mom take D on Wednesdays so that Roger and I can both go into work on that day. We do not use daycare, and he is always with one of us three everyday.

Roger is a great model for telecommuting; he is very efficient in caring for D and getting things done on his work-issued laptop in various places around the house. He uses web teleconferences to meet with colleagues as needed, and uses e-mails and even instant messaging to communicate with his boss and coworkers one-on-one throughout the day. Much of the work is accomplished during D's naptimes, and some of it occurs while D is happily playing nearby. To make sure he's working his hours fair and square, he uses a stopwatch throughout the day to log his hours, otherwise it is easy to forget how much has been worked when the work is occurring in small chunks of time throughout the day.  Some days D makes it really easy to finish the allotted work hours and other days, it can be a bit of a struggle to be there for D and to get the work done.  Overall though, it is very doable and very much worth it for both of us to get to spend so much time with him.

Our child-raising is mostly split down the middle, largely due to our equal number of days we spend with our son. But even from the beginning during my 12 week maternity leave, I was surprised that I was able to "let go" of my need to control every aspect of infant care. In fact, I did not change a diaper until day 21! Because of my long recovery from childbirth, my husband actually became the expert in almost everything related to caring for D. I actually found myself having to learn from him. In the long run, this showed me that I could trust him fully, that he is more than competent as a parent, and that I don't have to know or do everything related to our son. This was a huge relief for me and it set the tone for 50-50 parenting. He will take on tasks that I don't want to do such as clipping his nails or tasks that I'd rather not do on my own such as bathing him. I enjoy tracking his clothes and rotating them in and out of his closet as he flies through the sizes and seasons. Roger takes him to his pediatrician appointments because I am squeamish about watching D get his vaccinations. I participate in a mom's group and take D on the stroller walks or indoor "playdates" that are set up weekly to give and receive insight on the ups and downs of our new babies and new life. At night Roger sleeps with the baby monitor and is the first to attend to D's needs - knowing that if D is hungry, I will be up longer to feed him than he will be to change a diaper. On weekends, we will take turns caring for D in the morning and sleeping-in, depending on who is more sleep deprived from the night or week before. Neither one of us is overly tired or overly stressed out at any given moment, as we are constantly balancing the scale to ensure that both of us can attend to our own needs and not feel overwhelmed. This allows each of us to be a better parent with D when we are "on" with him, rather than being strung-out and resentful all the time.

For recreation, recently each of us has started to go out with friends or coworkers on a Friday or Saturday night for dinner and drinks while the other person stays home while D is sleeping for the night. We mostly go out with other new parents, since it feels like we're "getting away" from our parental duties for a few hours and it is more enjoyable with others doing the same. It's a great way to get out of the house and reclaim a piece of our former lives without having to use babysitters, and we both take turns doing it. It's nice to be able to come home refreshed and reenergized.

Financially, it "costs" us much more to work part time and not use daycare than it does to work full time and use the best daycare in town. We had to take a long hard look at our finances to make sure that this was a feasible solution for us for as long as we'd like to work this reduced schedule. Some aspects of living within our budgets were easy, such as the newfound savings from not taking any big vacations or working on a large home improvement project, since these items are now on hold while adjusting to life with a young baby. Others were more purposeful, such as agreeing to keep our paid-off cars longer than we normally might keep them, or rethinking new electronic purchases or items for the house. Secondhand clothing and toys for D have become second nature, especially given how quickly he outgrows everything. But we feel strongly about raising our own child rather than having someone else do it for us, therefore the financial sacrifice is worth it. There's no end to how much we can earn and spend – that cycle can continue to spin out of control unless we purposefully choose to put a limit on it and learn to live with more modest means. As all parents who have come before us tell us all the time, kids grow up too fast, therefore enjoy every precious minute of it. We are doing just that, and even with all the hours we each spend with our son, we still feel that the past 7 months have gone by far too quickly. We love that D knows each of us equally well, and he is always happy to see whichever parent that comes home from work at the end of the day. He is exposed to two similar but slightly different parenting styles each day, which will hopefully teach him that flexibility is a good thing. And we don't ever feel guilty for not spending enough time with him.

When I initially went back to work after my maternity leave, I couldn't figure out which side I identified with the most. I didn't feel like a stay-at-home mom, since I wasn't home with D all week long and didn't have the same issues of isolation and frustrations of being overworked in the child-raising and housework departments as many of the SAHMs I know, plus I was still working 70% of my full-time schedule. But at the same time, I didn't identify with my full time coworkers in the same way that I used to. I eventually realized that I truly have the best of both worlds. I never have to worry about D while at work, knowing that he is comfortably in Roger's care at home. This allows me to fully concentrate on work and not worry about him and how his day is going. After a day at work, I always look forward to spending a day at home with him. And after a day at home with him - particularly if it was a difficult one - I always look forward to going to work the next day, knowing that he will have a perfectly good time with his dad or his Nana the next day. Weekends are our precious family time, when the three of us can lounge at home or go out for a walk together, or when we can tag-team to get the chores done while caring for D.  Because of Roger's full involvement with D, I am never stressed out or resentful about having to take on all or most of the tasks by myself. I am absolutely thrilled to have this arrangement during our son's precious early years, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

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