Recently I watched a documentary called ‘The Evolution of Dad‘, which I highly recommend. The film follows a number of families that have more involved fathers than we’ve typically seen. There are stay-at-home dads who have been shunned from Mommy & Me groups, dads who sued their companies to get time for parental leave, and (what I found most intriguing) families doing Equally Shared Parenting. They had also written a book on the subject, and I found a copy at the library.
In Equally Shared Parenting (ESP), parents take equal shares of four domains: child-raising, bread-winning, household work, and free time. Want to see how the balance works in your family? There are worksheets you can print out on their website.
Simon and I have always aimed to divide up our work and family life as equally as possible. As I’ve mentioned before, he can do everything I do with Maya (except for breastfeed her!). Maya is happy with either of us and doesn’t seem to prefer one of us over the other. But we weren’t at the ESP level, either. Simon does most of the work, even though he works from home. I pick up a few jobs here and there, but the money-earning responsibilities are largely his. And in turn, I organize most of the household stuff. I know stuff like when Maya’s doctor appointment is, if the dishes in the dishwasher are clean, and what’s on the menu for dinner. This worked for us… for a while. But recently we’ve both been feeling worn out, disconnected and frustrated. It’s hard to be the one solely responsible for something, and it’s frustrating if your partner doesn’t understand what you do all day.
The changes we’ve made aren’t major. I’m going to take over some of Simon’s invoicing for his business, something he doesn’t like doing, but I am quite good at. He’s going to make dinner more often, and know what household stuff is going on. We stopped organizing chores based on who has always done them (for example: Simon – Taking out the trash, Me – Planning meals). And we are each going to make an effort to learn complex things that the other usually does (such as paying bills).
After a couple weeks of these changes, we already feel more relaxed. Simon no longer has to carry the weight of doing all the work, and still helping out with Maya. I don’t get burned out entertaining a toddler all day and my only break is a trip to the grocery store. Things are getting smoother, we both know what’s going on, and all of us are so much happier. We feel connected like we haven’t felt in years! Both of us are getting more free time (together and apart), and our house is clean. We are laughing more, Maya is sleeping better, everything is easier. I miss them when I go out and I love coming home again!
I think a major stumbling block of getting your partner more involved is giving up control. The dishwasher isn’t going to be loaded the exact way you like it… but who cares if the dishes are clean? And if you usually make a fancy meal, and your partner just boils macaroni… does it really matter? Believe me, that macaroni tastes pretty darn good if you didn’t have to make it! That said, if something is really important to you, make sure your partner knows.
Communication is key for this to work. We’ve struggled with communication over the years, as I’m sure many couples do. But for Equally Shared Parenting to work, you have to TALK. And you have to talk in a way that your partner can hear you and not feel attacked. It takes practice, and it isn’t easy. I really suggest reading books by John & Julie Gottman, or seeking couples therapy if this is a challenge for you. There is no shame in asking for help.
I will write more about ESP as we get more experience with it. But we are hooked! Let me know if you have questions and I will try to answer them.
How do you find balance in your relationship?
**Special thanks to Kat & Dan at Stone Photo for taking these amazing photos when Maya was 6 months old!**