MumBoss, Parenting

Is co-parenting really all it’s cracked up to be?

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…)
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The boys!

11 thoughts on “Is co-parenting really all it’s cracked up to be?”

  1. Yep, this is us to the letter. My mom says howits great to see my OH being so much more involved and hands on than my dad ever was (he does 90% of nursery runs and cooks dinner for example) but equally, she notes that we seem to have far more arguments about how to raise a child. She just got on with it and dad was there for the fun stuff (partly because he travelled so much with work).

    Definitely a swings and roundabouts / damned if you do, damned if you don’t situ!

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    1. I guess it follows that the more the dads are involved in their children’s lives, the more of an opinion they are going to have. Can’t we have it both ways..? I.e. dads who do lots of childcare but keep their opinions to themselves!!! 😉

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  2. I love this Elaine. The fact that you have now accepted that you do things differently is really positive (I still struggle with this and am a control freak i think). My blood boils when people praise Dan, they rarely praise me – simply comment how hard my job must be!

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  3. Couldn’t agree more, drives me crazy everyone thinks my husband is a saint because he plays with our children on the weekend (I’m there too!). I do it all week but it is just expected, wish this attitude would change. My husband is commended all day at work for doing such a great job then hears he’s a fantastic dad from grandparents and our friends. What about me??! He is a great dad but so am I a good mum.

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    1. It’s maddening! This post was almost called ‘the good dad and the bad mum’ because he gets all the praise for the time he spends with our son and I get the criticism/judgment for going out to work, for the time I spend away from him.

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  4. After baby #1 my husband and I both worked part-time when I went back to work (sadly, his new job can’t accommodate this, which is in itself a bit of a tragedy for equality in the workplace, but that’s another story). It used to make me crazy that people said I was “lucky” that he was happy to support my career and that he was happy to stay at home with the baby. The logistics are surprisingly difficult – trying to work out what does what on which day and having different routines (i.e.: he was happy to driver her around to get her to sleep, I didn’t want to go there). But there were real perks, when baby #2 arrived she was more ok with me breastfeeding, because she was all about dad and my husband is a very supportive partner now that I’m the only part-timer in the family because he knows how hard the juggle is and what a day at home is really like. In our case, he is more into housecleaning and I’m more into cooking so that actually worked really well for us – he cleaned when he was at home and I cooked.
    I hope one day we will have enough equality that we don’t need to be having this conversation, but I’m afraid we are a long way off yet.
    Great post!

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    1. You’re absolutely right – the logistics are really difficult! Thank you for your tip re the second baby; that will be something to look forward to next time around 😉 xx

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  5. The thing that strikes me most about this is that both parents having equality in the home is very different from both parents having equality out of the home. It’s very easy for a man and a woman to both go out to work. They’re not directly competing with one another. They don’t have to share their work tasks (unless, of course, they’re in business together and even then they probably have different jobs). They can go to their respective places of work and do their thing and get paid for it and it doesn’t impinge on their relationship. That is not the same when it comes to the domestic arena. It is all very well saying that two parents have equal responsibility for the home and children but the dynamic of making that happen can be fraught with difficulties. Two people and two often very different ideas about what makes a tidy/clean home; what makes a nutritious meal; what is appropriate bedtime etc. This is why I think it’s probably better for parents to take it in turns being the primary home/care-giver rather than try and share. Or alternatively for parents to be take on specific responsibilities (mealtimes or bedtimes or housework etc) with the other parent having completely different responsibilities. That way each parent knows when he or she is the one with authority on that particular issue and when he or she needs to defer to the other parent. Two bosses doesn’t work at work and it certainly doesn’t work at home!

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