When I tell other mums that my partner and I share the responsibility of childcare, I am often met with an envious ‘lucky you’. This was particularly true in the early days when many of my new mum friends wouldn’t see much of their partners from Monday to Friday and would mostly have to figure out how to look after a tiny baby all by themselves. So yes, in some respects, lucky me. But it’s not always a walk in the park. Taking equal responsibility for childcare, and managing that division of labour, certainly comes with its own unique challenges, and can be a real strain for a relationship.
Here are some of the issues I have encountered along the way:
- The logistics of trying to organise the workload of two freelancers around a child are a nightmare, and a recipe for rows and hurt feelings. There is the inevitable argument of whose job is more important, or at least the most important that day. It puts enormous strain on a relationship.
- I have had to slowly – and painfully – learn to let go of the idea that I am not the only one who knows how to look after my child and gets to decide what is best for him. Several of my mum friends have partners who wouldn’t have an opinion on which potty-training method to try, or when to make the transition from a cot to a ‘big boy’ bed, because it mostly doesn’t affect them, whereas my OH is working in the field, elbow deep in nappies, and it’s every bit as much his decision as it is mine (*she says through gritted teeth…*)
- In the early days (i.e. the first 6 months), my son was exclusively breastfed, which meant that I was the only one who could actually do anything when he woke up in the night, and it also meant that I couldn’t leave him for more than a couple of hours at a time. I felt (unfairly) resentful that my OH could just leave the house when he wanted, could stay away for the night, and was not losing nearly as much sleep as I was. It didn’t feel like the ‘fair’ divide we had agreed on. Not his fault I know, but sleep deprivation’s a bitch.
- There is an expectation, from several corners, that I should be grateful for his ‘help’. He’s not helping me. Childcare is not my ‘job’. It’s a shared responsibility and no-one expects him to be grateful to me for getting up in the night or changing nappies. This doesn’t mean that I’m ‘ungrateful’. I’m certainly grateful to have him in my life, but I don’t think he’s doing me a favour by sharing childcare duties.
- Quite simply, my OH doesn’t do things the way I would do them. He doesn’t prioritise the same types of activity, and doesn’t see screentime as such a bad thing. In the past, if I was out for a whole day, I would be worried that my son would not be getting enough stimulation, fresh air, or the general over-the-top attention he would be getting from me. I used to think it would be easier to pay a childcare professional so I could make sure they were doing things my way. I know, total cow. I’m over that now, and realise that we both just offer very different things to my son, which is great. (And I have also very much relaxed my own attitude to screentime!)
- Total strangers (often grannies in cafes) feel the need to remark on what a good dad my OH is, and it makes my blood boil. Not because he’s not a good dad, because I really know that he is (despite my whining), but because nobody is thinking what a good mum I am for doing the exact same things!
- Childcare actually isn’t split down the middle. Even when you try really hard, there are still some things that one of you does more than the other, and those things change all the time as your child grows. For a long time, I still considered myself to be the ‘primary parent’, particularly during the first year, but I think we’re slowly finding a better balance.
For all of the above, there are enormous advantages to having a hands-on partner. Like the close bond between my son and his dad, which is amazing to see. I know that I can leave them together without a long list of instructions, and I can now swan out of the house without a care (like I longed to do so much in the early days). I don’t participate in the gentle ‘dad-bashing’ I see from some mums, who occasionally laugh at the ineptitude of their other halves when it comes to changing nappies or dealing with toddler tantrums. He’s actually better at lots of it than I am (but don’t tell him I said so…)