How to ease into 50/50 parenting if you’re not there already? Man, do I have some tips....
I'll back it up to 2010 when I had my very first baby and was determined to rock it all out in the Super-New-Mom department. With the exception of my husband giving occasional baths in the beginning (when I was so scared I'd break our newborn), let's just say we were not operating at a 50/50 parenting situation at our house -- I pretty much did everything. I cared for our newborn (diapers, burps, messes... you know the drill), I cooked, I shopped, I cleaned, I washed, I did all the feedings in the middle of the night (so husband could get rest for his demanding job), I kept one foot in my career and continued to build my budding new blog at the time. Okay, I skipped nursing, but I also endured a C-section so I'm calling evens on that. I was on a new mom adrenaline rush, baby! Who said being WonderMom was hard? Piece of cake.
It all seemed so empowering... until my second baby burst onto the scene a year and a half later. And then my blog started growing and more gigs started coming. And then I landed a regular job on local Los Angeles television. And then I was writing a book.
Without realizing it last year, I was trying to be a full-time stay at home mom and a working mom at the exact same time. (So stupid.) I had two small kids in school and activities, was married to a spouse who's schedule did have some flexibility here and there, yet I was acting like a single parent by taking on every home-related responsibility there was.
I blamed my upbringing. As an American Armenian who was raised with a dad who didn’t quite ever learn the concept of kitchen cleanup after slopping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (not his fault; it was the way many traditional families worked back then, no?), my mom did everything domestically-related whether she was working or not. So that's what I did too.
It wasn't until a fellow preschool mom spilled to me while waiting at dance class how her husband cooked dinner a few nights a week. I was speechless. Getting my own husband to cook a whole dinner would most likely never happen, but some things had to change before I broke.
Here's how I did it:
1) I started small. If I wanted changes to last, I knew I had to be sly about getting him involved in a way that didn't seem like permanent changes were actually taking place. (Sorry babe. I love you but there was no other way.) "Can you take the girls to school this Friday morning?" It was a question I remember dreading to ask. I'd started working the morning news on Fridays (thanks to that new job on TV) -- I'd wake up at 4am, get to the station at 6am, do my segment at 6:45am and then dash out as fast as I could to get home to take my daughter to Kindergarten at 8am. All this while my husband was home during this time in the morning. My man is easygoing, but he wasn't exactly thrilled with my inquiry. "Just this week only, right?" I nodded. It's been a year since he's been taking our daughter to Kindergarten on Fridays. After one task gets into a good groove, then add on another one... not to quickly though. (Score! FAB tip: Make sure your kids pour on how exciting it is for "Daddy to do this and that...")
2) I cried. Never show weakness? Nonsense. It wasn't until I found myself having a complete adult meltdown with tears and snot and sobbing and tissues, sitting on our bed, that my husband truly realized "Wow. She's overwhelmed." Let them see you cry. Let them see you weak. Let them see that you're struggling with getting it all done. Let them realize that maybe they might need to carry a bit more of the load to prevent flip-outs.
3) I asked HIM to pay the babysitters. This sounds really sexist, but I promise it's effective if your spouse is the kind of guy that pays attention to money. Sitters aren't cheap these days ($15 an hour?!?! I made $15 an hour at my first corporate job!) and even the teen babysitter fees can add up if you're constantly needing someone to cover you here or hire there to help with household duties. There's something very real and infuriating about handing a 20-something a wad of cash for doing something that didn't necessarily need to cost you had your spouse just been willing to help with whatever you might need an extra hand with. When my husband started realizing how much extra help actually cost, he was suddenly more willing to lend a hand.
4) I stopped doing things my way. My friend and author Doyin Richards always talks about letting dads do things their way -- whether it's a bath, bedtime routine, reading stories or braiding hair. I've followed Doyin's advice over the recent years and the dude's onto something. It doesn't matter if my daughter's ponytail isn't absolutely perfect for school -- at least my husband helped. It doesn't matter if the dishes aren't loaded into the washer the precise way that you do it -- at least they're in there. Don't criticize. Say thank you (and then make the ponytail tighter or ship-shape the dishes without letting him know that you did so...).
5) I didn't ask questions. In my brand new mom days, I'd ask something like, "Is it okay if I run an errand and leave the girls home?" That would inevitably be followed by a response something along the lines of: "I can't really watch them right now, I have some work." I now state facts and circumstances like, "I'm going to leave the girls home and be right back. Make sure they don't hurt themselves." See? Not a question. Not much option. Be nice and respectful, but be assertive. Also, moving quickly and getting in the car before they have a chance to respond negatively also helps your chances...
And then, there's always the rational way to shift your parenting responsibilities: TALK to your spouse. Friend of mine (and bestselling, working-mother author) Samantha Ettus always talks about how each spouse should make a list of everything they do concerning work and kids so the other one can see. "Any reasonable person will take notice if one list is exponentially longer than the other," I've heard her say at seminars and one-on-one chats dozens of times. Then, using those lists, make a plan -- a schedule that details who picks up what kid when, etc -- that both of you can stick to (however, I do suggest starting small on this should your spouse flip out at the thought of losing extended freedom).
I can't guarantee fast results, but I am living proof that teeny tiny baby steps can yield gradual change if you're committed to the process for about a year -- that's about how long it took us. I can confidently say that we went from 85/15 (me/him) to about 60/40 now. There were fights (still are, sometimes) but that's marriage and parenting. Once the dust settles, things adjust and find their rhythm. And most spouses realize it's not all that bad.
Does my man do laundry? Hell no, not ever. Does he wash our daughters' hair when I need to clean up the kitchen or just have a few minutes to decompress a bit at the end of the day? Yes -- he even does a wicked blow dry. Does he load the dishwasher? Not unless I beg and complain and throw some kind of cranky-wife fit.
Although, I've noticed that he's been UN-loading the clean dishes from our washer in the mornings lately (and I do say thank you)... maybe we'll get to 50/50 after all.
Jill Simonian is a TV/digital Parenting Lifestyle Personality and mom of two young daughters. Her blog, TheFABMom.com, aims to keep life motivated and focused after babies (f-a-b). Jill's debut book, The FAB Mom's Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby, is a confidence-building read — detailing personal choices, surprising celebrity stories and expert lifestyle tips sprinkled throughout — to boost any first-time mom's mind, energy and spirit.