Who's the 'man' in your parenting partnership?
'You and Jason are different. It's like you're the guy.'
While tie dying clothes for our kids, the conversation between me, my friend Lois and my sister Annie turned to parenting duties and who in each relationship did what. It was clear to them that they considered themselves the primary caregiver in their relationships, but in mine, they didn't think it was me, hence my sister telling me that I was the man in the relationship. The deciding factor was not who spent quality time with the kids or was the breadwinner. It came down to things like who packed the baby bag and who knew where the medicine was kept.
I have to admit, neither of the answers to those questions is me. I still feel a little apprehensive about packing Marley's bag. I have no idea what her nursery set up is like. I don't really keep tabs on when we are running low on items such as nappies or milk. I have, at least twice, forgotten to feed her and found myself wondering why on earth she was moaning so much.
I'm currently reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and just finished the chapter called 'make your partner a real partner'. She writes of a couple she knows where the woman is constantly calling the man to check what to put in her kids lunchbox. That is definitely ME! It's obviously the norm in society but it's a little weird to me that these are considered the usual responsibilities of a woman.
I get a lot of women tell me how they think mine and my husband's parenting setup is different. This is usually kicked off by the fact that, SHOCK, I, as a female, started a new full time job when my daughter was just 3 months old and my husband reduced his full time hours to part time so that he could look after Marley while I was at work. I know we're not the norm. But we shouldn't be that weird.
We work in the way we do because I think we're a good partnership. I knew this would be the case from when my daughter was less than 48 hours old. I for some reason had been coaxed into trying breastfeeding even though I was adamant that I didn't want to (we will blame the awful nurses at the hospital for that one, but that's another story) and was confined to bed after having some rather painful stitches. Every time Marley woke up to feed (every 2 hours), Jason was just bringing her over to me and plonking her on my chest. There was nothing he could do to help. I could see he felt helpless. What was the point in him being there if he couldn't even feed our daughter when I was suffering from exhaustion? I was completely delirious, hormonal, and crying all over the place. For all of my self assurance and strong willed ways, I had been pushed into a corner by hospital staff and was too scared to tell them I didn't want to breastfeed any more. My husband looked to me and said 'Just stop doing it babe. You've never wanted to do it so why are you being pushed into it?'. He was right. 5 minutes later we told the staff she was having formula and that was that. We shared the feeding duties and set up a great parenting partnership to build on going forward.
Now, we regularly discuss sharing out chores and responsibilities. For instance, I always cook. My friends who consider me the 'man' of the relationship always get a little stumped at that. How can I be the man of the relationship but be conforming to gender stereotypes in the kitchen? Well, simply, I'm better at it, and I enjoy the finished outcome. The same can be said for Jason and cleaning (I also hate cleaning). He is certainly the more organised one of the two so it makes sense for us that he keeps an eye on things like low stock levels of baby paraphernalia. We each have designated nights that we will get up if Marley wakes up in the night.
In the business / working world, we try to maximise each person's strengths to build a team. Looking for the right dynamic of personality and working traits is crucial. Being parents is no different. Jason's organisation has rubbed off on me a little, and I would like to things that my more laid back, off the cuff way has rubbed off a little on him.
I don't think by any means that our setup is how it should be. All I wanted to do with this post was talk about our experience and try and move people out of this idea that packing baby bags or organising nursery duties is solely the responsibility of a woman. It would be great to see more varied tasks of male and female parents, and it would also be nice to hear about other mums who don't know what the hell to include in a baby change bag!
Note 1: I am in no way against breastfeeding, it was just not my personal choice. I have a lot of respect and admiration for women who breastfeed.
Note 2: I am so truly grateful for my wonderful husband. I know and have seen many men who would find their wife being labelled as the 'man' of the relationship or being considered the primary caregiver as emasculating and I am truly appreciative that he does not succumb, or even seem bothered by this societal pressure.
Note 3: I don't forget to feed my child that often, I swear.