Monday, November 07, 2011

What does co-parenting look like?

I've been having a number of interesting conversations lately about the difficulties of co-parenting. I define co-parenting in our household as being the commitment to both sharing the responsibilities of parenting relatively equally. That is to say, while we don't methodically divide tasks down an invisible middle line, we do aim to divvy up the work of raising our child so that there is a shared approach to the overall tasks required to raise him. It is also our desire not to fall back on the usual gender divides when allocating or assuming responsibilities.

The conversations have revolved around how difficult it can be to aim for a co-parenting model. How much discussion, negotiation, arguing and confusion it can lead to. Sometimes, some fellow crunchy parents and I wondered, wouldn't it be easier to have simple boundaries to follow? To accept that there was a set of tasks (in most cases probably defined by gender norms) that fell to one or the other of you, and that was that. Well, yes and no. Perhaps it would define things more easily, but would we like the division?

Here's what the split of parenting/household responsibilities looks like at our house. It should be noted that some of these tasks are undertaken by the other person (sometimes quite often), but that around 80% of the time the person listed is the default person for this task. Also, this isn't how things have always been divided. The lists looked quite different pre-Avery, and certainly they looked nothing like this when he was under one.

  • Daily morning routine, including getting up to Avery, feeding him breakfast and getting him ready for daycare
  • Packing and unpacking daycare bag
  • Walking Avery in and out of daycare from the car
  • Attending to Avery during night waking
  • Market shopping every fortnight
  • Preparing food for us and Avery
  • Washing nappies and laundry, hanging/drying/folding
  • Packing/unpacking dishwasher and hand-washing dishes
  • Vacuuming house
  • Daily cleaning routines (after Avery's meals, food preparation etc)
  • Putting out rubbish, recycling and compost scraps
  • Mowing lawns and general house maintenance
  • Attending to Avery's needs when we are out and about
  • Being a stay-at-home parent two days per week
  • Breastfeeding
  • Arranging who is picking up/dropping off Avery from daycare
  • Making sure we have milk, baby-wipes, nappies and other assorted baby supplies
  • Creating a household budget
  • Tracking and managing finances including paying bills, setting aside savings and managing insurance/rates/registration/mortgage/tax
  • Arranging assistance when we need babysitting and/or time out
  • Making doctor's appointments and taking Avery to doctor/maternal child health nurse
  • Manage calendar, including arranging social outings and organising various appointments for family or Avery (car services, birthday parties)
  • Plan holidays and/or family outings
  • Manage family/friends birthdays including buying presents
  • Reading up on Avery's milestones, stages and development, then attempting to apply appropriate parenting techniques and ideas for our family unit
  • Researching decisions on childcare, schooling, extra activities (music classes, baby gym, swimming etc)
  • Initiating discussions and negotiating decisions on feeding/sleep/behaviour boundaries and routines for Avery, then policing said routines
  • Finding and maintaining relationships with a group of like-minded parents and children to provide Avery with a positive community to grow up within
  • Major household item purchasing
  • Purchasing clothes/shoes/sundry for Avery
  • Bathroom/toilet cleaning
  • Spring cleaning
Roughly put, I would say I'm responsible for the research, planning and 'big picture' stuff. Himself is responsible for the implementation of the day-to-day stuff. He gets sh*t done. When I'm stressed or tired I find it very difficult to push through, where Himself can go on and on and on despite his own exhaustion or workload. We're a good team that way.

Unfortunately this partnership can sometimes feel like Himself is doing everything, because the things he does are visual, obvious and easily recognisable. The stuff I do often happens behind the scenes, and can be easily missed if you're not looking for it. It feels like I carry the weight of our responsibilities on my shoulders alone sometimes. I feel like I need to always be 'on', or something will fall through the cracks. As Blue Milk so eloquently (as always) put it

All the work of getting it to happen, getting it to work, and keeping it running smoothly is done by mothers. It seems ridiculous – two people working, two people are parents – the organisational workload should be shared, but that isn’t how it happens. I am torn between fighting to get some equality and conserving my energy to deal with making what actually happens work.

If Himself needs a break, he can get out of the house for the day and leave all of it behind (perhaps this is not how he feels, but it is how it seems to me). I carry the worries with me. Have we got milk for Avery to take to daycare the next day? Did I remember to buy my mother-in-law a birthday present? Have we paid our bills? It's hard to turn off my mind and escape from these things. I feel like I need to be thinking ahead at all times, ready for what is coming next. If I don't, we'll fall in a hole or miss something vitally important.

And is it all worth it? Yes. Although sometimes, particularly in the early days of Avery's life, it didn't feel that way. It is hard to constantly negotiate, and to consider who is doing too much/too little. I often find myself feeling ripped off, but wondering where exactly this dissatisfaction comes from. I also find myself feeling vaguely guilty that I don't pull my weight more around the house. When we sit down and discuss the balance between us, we usually realise that I don't want to do any more of the day-to-day cleaning and household tasks, and Himself sure as hell doesn't want to be responsible for budgeting and scheduling our life. These tasks are allotted in ways that play to our strengths. So why do I feel that way?

The upsides of all this negotiation are clear, though. Himself has a great relationship with Avery. The only thing I do for Avery that Himself cannot is breastfeed. He comes to each of us equally for comfort, or to play. Their relationship is one of the most wonderful things to witness. If I need time out there is no need to explain Avery's routines, Himself has it covered. If I want a bag packed for Avery when we are going away, Himself knows what clothes fit and what he will need away from home. I don't worry when I walk out of the door, I always know Avery is in good hands. All these things make it abundantly clear that we are managing, for the most part, to co-parent and both take relatively equal responsibility for Avery and our family life together. Which matters because I want Avery to see that this is possible, that it is worthwhile. Looking back on thoughts on this issue from before Avery was born, I'm happy to see that we are on the right track. He deserves two parents who are equally involved in raising him.


Katherine said...

It sounds like you (and the said Himself) have quite a handle on this co-parent business. I am green with envy! I know it is very early days for Lady and I (Ada is only 8.5 weeks old), but hearing about what co-parenting actually looks like in one household is very heartening.
You alluded to things being different in Avery's first year, I'd love to hear more about how this early time played out for you and how you managed to find something that worked for you and Himself at least most of the time.

Layne Adams said...

A traditional family doesn't always make sense today and sometimes what we really want is be able to bring children into this world and to raise them in a supportive environment. That's why you should choose the perfect co-parenting match.