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

Equal Sharing of Childraising:
Tips and Tricks

Equality in the childraising domain should begin from the moment your child is born.  Let’s start at this point and move through the stages of a child’s life to illustrate how childraising can be equally shared.

The newborn period
Mothers in our culture are expected to take up the challenge of newborn care and succeed with gusto, but here is what fathers can do to establish their equality right from the beginning:

  • Take as much paternity leave and as many vacation days as your job allows. 
  • Learn every baby-related task along with your spouse.  Practice throughout each day by doing at least half of the diapering, changing, bathing, rocking, burping, etc.
  • If your partner is breastfeeding, take total control of the baby for a non-feeding portion of every day.  After a few weeks, feed the baby his first bottle of expressed breastmilk pumped by your partner.  Then, if all goes well with the first feed, continue to feed him at least one bottle of breastmilk every day. 
  • If your partner is not breastfeeding, do half of all the feedings while you are on paternity leave.  
  • Seriously weigh the pros/cons of downsizing your job on a permanent basis.  Then take action by requesting what you want.

Here’s what a new mother can do to allow for equality in the early days:

  • Make no assumptions that you are a naturally better parent than your husband.
  • Work out your plans, if you haven’t already, for returning to your job.  Ideally, work out a schedule so that you will be spending an equivalent amount of time (no more, no less) at home and at work as your husband.

Once your baby is about 4 months old, he has morphed into a much more interactive little person.  You are entering the phases of first solids, decisions on sleep philosophy, sitting up and crawling.  Here are some ideas for creating equality during this period:

  • Negotiate each parent-initiated change in your baby’s life through lots of communication.  For example, decide when and how to start solids, which foods to try and when to move to the next food, what type of meal routine to aim for, and what type of bib to use. 
  • Have a serious discussion about your philosophies on sleep habits.  Trade off putting your child to bed so that each parent does it 50% of the time. 
  • Navigate the daycare decision together. 
  • When you are both available, trade off who is ‘on’ with your baby and who is free to wander away to do chores, errands, or check email.  Watch the amount of time each week that each of you is ‘on’ alone.  Make this time come out as even as possible.  Mix this up with activities when both of you are ‘on’ and it’s family time.
  • Try very hard not to remind each other of childcare responsibilities.  If one parent begins to own all the remembering, the other will eventually abdicate this duty and dumb down. 

Your baby is no longer a baby.  She’s walking and climbing and getting into all sorts of trouble.  She has a clear personality and a mind of her own.  To keep your equality going during this stage, you may want to:

  • Continue to negotiate philosophies and general practices.  Topics include effective discipline techniques, sleep habits (again), eating habits (again), acceptable toys and activities, and preschool planning.
  • Continue to defer to the ‘on’ parent for daily activities. 
  • Let each of you establish your own parenting style, within the boundaries of your joint philosophies. 
  • Try to avoid a rather unique pitfall of equally shared parenting:  Doubletalk.  While you always want to present a united front and back each other up, don’t repeat each other constantly.  If Dad tells Sarah that she can’t have a cupcake now, Mom doesn’t need to step in 30 seconds later with the same sentence.
  • Make sure you communicate clearly who is ‘on’ and who is not at all times.  Several spats have resulted from miscommunication about this issue in our house.  Learn from our mistakes.

Preschool time
Parental equality at this stage is much like that of toddlerhood, but you are becoming even more public about your equal status as you swing through the play date circuit and hang out with other parents in the waiting area of kids-only gymnastics class.  Some ideas for keeping equality during this period:

  • Continue to break gender barriers in the name of equality.  Fathers can braid hair and take their daughters to ballet class.  Mothers can take them to their first baseball game and teach them the do’s and don’ts of the backyard grill.
  • Get involved at your child’s preschool, if applicable.  Make your involvement equal, or at least not one-parent-only. 
  • Get to know your kid’s friends and their parents.  Again, make this project as equal as possible, so that you can both be involved in your child’s growing world.

School age and beyond
Beats us!  Seriously, we can’t comment very authoritatively on something we have only begun to touch the edge of so far with our daughter's Kindergarten year.  Our children are 3 and 6.  We can guess that equally raising an elementary school child may involve such things as adjusting both of your work schedules to accommodate 5 day per week of school pick-up times, making decisions about summer ‘camp’ enrollment together in the cold of January, learning how to parent a child who experiences social rejection or loss, fitting in with all the other types of parents in the PTA, and helping to facilitate your child’s long-term hobbies according to her interests.  Check the Real Life Stories section of this website for some details from equally sharing parents with elementary, middle school and high school (and beyond) children. 

Making it work for you
Hopefully, you can use one or two ideas from above.  No solution works for all couples, and you will obviously need to find your own way of achieving balance in parenting responsibilities.  The most important concept is equality.  Equally shared parenting lifestyles work best when each parent puts in about the same amount of time caring for their children, when neither parent is the alpha parent, and when both parents feel competent and enjoy their time with the kids.

Our wishes that you fully enjoy your wonderful children and that they fully enjoy both of you.

©Copyright 2008 Marc and Amy Vachon

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