Saturday, December 7, 2013

on 50/50 parenting

A month or so ago, Scott and I were seated around a table with a handful of people, mostly parents of adult children.  We were talking about a wide variety of things, when the subject of children came up.  Scott mentioned if we had children, that he was planning to take on the lion’s share of diaper-changing, something that we'd talked about privately before.  It was his idea, actually, a way to have some built-in time with his child.

"All of it?!" one person asked him, obviously surprised. “That seems like a lot to ask!”  Scott confirmed that, and explained a little bit - saying that if I was doing the bulk of the feeding, that it was only fair if he did the bulk of the changing.

At this point, I spoke up, saying that I expected he'd be doing 50% of the hands-on parenting duties.

The people around me seemed surprised, with one person commenting: "well I don't know about that". In hindsight, I should have questioned their surprise,, but it got me thinking: why is it that people - especially mothers - expect that the woman will do the bulk of the parenting?  And furthermore, why is it that people - especially mothers - feel entitled to weigh in other people’s lives and decisions about parenting?

The first issue boils down to the really basic concept of division of labor.  I've heard that it’s among the leading causes of marital discord and even divorce - and I can totally understand that, because I think it comes up innocently, in a lot of ways.  When I look down the road, there are certain things that Scott will not be able to do for our child because of biological limitations.  He can’t be pregnant, and he can’t breastfeed.   Add to that the fact that women typically have a much longer amount of time at home with the newborn (maternity leave vs. paternity leave) and I think the roles could develop very naturally.  Adding to that, many women WANT to take on the majority of parenting to these little ones, and that can easily lead to a much different roles for the mother and father.

I don’t want to go any further without saying that I fully respect – and applaud, really! – any family that has struck a balance that both partners feel comfortable with.  I have absolutely zero disrespect for families who have different arrangements than what I plan to have (many of my favorite people do, in fact).  I have nothing but respect for families that have found their division-of-labor balance.   

The second issue is a little more complex, I think.  Women seem to be the harshest critics of other women, and it both confuses me and infuriates me.  The “Mommy Wars” is a horrible concept, and one that I refuse to participate in.  The choices that you make for yourself and your family have absolutely nothing to do with me. (By that same token,  you don’t get to weigh in on my choices - and if you do, I hope that I have the gumption to point out how out of line you are).

And in the end, isn't that a fundamental part of parenting?  Thick skin, holding your own, and making the choices that you think are best.

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