We have more to navigate as parents nowadays, so we can’t rely on traditional roles anymore.
While some high-powered couples do need to think deliberately about which parent will lead on a long-term basis, most two-parent working households are muddling through some variation of partnership. Partnering isn’t easy. It requires constant communication, keeping track of who is doing what, and praying that the next field trip form or snack duty doesn’t fall through the cracks.
My husband and I are by no means experts. We’re only four years into this parenting and working at the same time thing. But we are starting to figure ourselves out, bit by bit. We both have careers that are meaningful and provide us with a sense of purpose and value. And we both are committed to ensuring our children grow up safe, secure, and attached. That means we have more to negotiate, and can’t rely on traditional gender roles to help us out.
Make your roles equal, not the same. This isn’t about dividing things along gender lines. It’s about leveraging the strengths of your partnership. I’m a morning person; he’s a night owl. I’m great at organizing things and love to cook, so he does the meal planning and preparation. He’s a technophile and musician, so he makes sure music can stream into every room in the house and that my iPhone isn’t about to crash and burn. If I judged our partnership every morning at 6 a.m., I would be doing far more than him. But later in the evening, I’m chilling on the couch with a glass of wine while he’s cleaning up the kitchen. Equality balances over time, not from moment to moment.
Prioritize things that feed your soul. My soul needs to write and exercise 3-4 times/week to be grounded. My husband needs to make music in his studio and find time to mountain bike in the woods. We juggle other things to make all of this happen. When we do, we are much more capable of rolling with the inevitable punches of life. When mama’s happy, everyone’s happy — a phrase that goes for dads too.
Give each other breaks. (This is also called “Be a Little Bit Divorced.”) Each week, I get a night out without kid responsibility and so does my husband. On the other nights (except for date night), we split pick-up duty and evening routines. Knowing that I have one night a week that I can work late, go to the gym, and meet up with a friend is heaven. And my husband feels the same way. We each get to hold on to a bit of our pre-kid independence, so we don’t miss it as much. It also allows each of us to develop our strengths as parents, and have extra bonding time with our kids.
Don’t micromanage. If your partner is cooking dinner, prepping lunches, or loading the dishwasher, don’t make it your problem too. Will the result of doing it “wrong” be worse than the fight you’ll start by criticizing your partner’s contribution? I’m guessing not. Too many women complain about their husband’s way of dressing, caring, or feeding the kids. Just leave it alone and be grateful you have a partner who is chipping in — even if they are putting the plates on the wrong rack or picked an outfit that makes the fashion diva in you cringe.
Make memories. I didn’t really get this until August when our little family spent a week on the beach. My husband and I were both dreading a week in a two-bedroom condo with an active 4-year-old and 18-month-old, but it turned out to be a truly soul-filling week. There were tantrums, stalling, and not nearly enough naps, but these all paled in comparison to watching them get sandy and salty next to the ocean. When our hectic back-to-school season started, these memories sustained me during tearful goodbyes and other rough transitions.
Parenting and partnering are both marathon journeys. We figure things out along the way. We never reach perfection. But when we hone in on our core values and priorities, we can troubleshoot whatever challenges come our way. And I’m really glad I picked someone to spend my life with who shares my desire to redefine parenting and partnering in ways that allow us both to work, grow, and thrive.