Shared Parenting For the Long Haul: How to make sure Dad keeps doing his dutiesCeridwen Morris and Rebecca Odes
My husband and I have made a pretty strong commitment to co-parenting. We tried, during the newborn years, to divide up the nights and responsibilities as best we could so that we were both equally exhausted, invested and knowledgeable about our babies. But now that we have two older kids I can’t help noticing a huge imbalance and I see it all around me, too. Women just do more and know more than their husbands. When we just “leave it to them” to do whatever, it’s often done wrong:sorry, guys, but it is! What kind of advice can you give so we don’t landslide back into the 50s?
–Not So Co Parenting
Dear Not So,
A classic complaint. And you’re dead right: research has shown that while dads are doing more than they ever did in terms of raising kids, mothers are doing more, too. So the gap remains. Sure, a modern dad can change diapers and don the Bjorn with ease, but does he know the pediatrician’s number? When the next Family Fun Day is at school? Who needs rain boots soon, and where to get the best ones at the best price? Maybe the answers are all yes for many dads. We know plenty of competent fathers, some of whom shoulder most or all of the domestic burden.
But what’s happened to you does seem to happen to quite a lot of otherwise evolved co-parents. Without conscious effort, as you applied to the newborn period, duties can fall uncomfortably along so-called traditional gender lines. Putting you squarely within the norm, but not where you want to be.
Our best advice is to get back to that deliberate planning phase. Together, parcel out the various responsibilities. Decide who’s doing what, and work out what’s involved. If your husband is the point person for all things teeth, he’ll figure out that dentist’s number, mark his calendar with appointments and google things like “how to get a four year-old to brush teeth.”
An important factor in this strategy: along with responsibility comes ownership. His way of handling teeth may be different (wrong). But if you roll your eyes too quickly and jump in with a critique or an offer to take care of things, nothing changes. Dustin Hoffman’s Kramer couldn’t master the art of French toast because no one had ever left him to do it before. Everyone needs some room for failure. Your husband may be bowing out because he’s afraid he can’t do anything as well as you can.
It may be the cause of endless under-the-breath mutterings, but being the one who knows everything can be a hard role to let go of. Knowledge is power, after all. But if you’re interested in divvying things up more equally, we urge you to take action: your early years bode well for an egalitarian family future. There’s no reason for you to get divorced for your husband to learn to make good French toast. Just hand him the eggs.
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