This Is How My Husband and I Pulled Off 50/50 Shared Child Care With Our New Baby
When I was pregnant for the first time, I started to talk to other moms to prepare myself for welcoming our first child. I wanted to know how I could have an equitable situation regarding child care responsibilities with my husband. These moms gave me a funny look. I was told that I shouldn't expect my husband to help out very much with our newborn. That men just "aren't good with babies," or "they can't help much because they can't breastfeed," and "it's just the way that it is." Most of these women were exhausted, fatigued, and angry, and I could see why. I was overwhelmed and upset at the thought that all of the child care would be solely my responsibility simply because I was the woman in the relationship or because I could breastfeed. Yet I was determined, and I searched for another option.
I was well aware that a 50/50 share of child care isn't always realistic or possible, depending on work hours and jobs, personal strengths and weaknesses, and of course, the whole I-have-boobs-and-he-doesn't piece. Regardless, I wanted to find a way to work with my husband as a team instead of falling into typical gender roles of child rearing. Plus, throughout our pregnancy my husband and I had talked ad nauseam about how we'd like our relationship and our parenting to work once the baby arrived, and I knew he wanted to be really involved in every aspect of caring for our baby.
So, together we made a plan—and then we changed the plan over and over and over as we learned and made mistakes as new parents. Now, as my baby is 13 months old and I have the benefit of hindsight, I'm passing on a few things I learned along the way in the hopes they'll help you on your own journey to find equity in your own household:
1. Talk to other parents.
Talk to other parents and find out what their experience has been. What has and has not worked for them? Brainstorm options and come up with some new ones of your own as a couple based on the feedback you hear. It's helpful for both of you to do this—have Dad talk to other dads, Mom talk to other moms, and make sure Mom hears from dads and Dad from moms. This way both of you can hear the perspective of what it's like to be the other person. Talk about the tough stuff. How did they get sleep? When did they make time for each other? How did they decide who does what and when to care for the child? What do they wish they had done differently?
Additionally, read books and articles and listen to podcasts about parenthood and taking care of a young child. If this is your first child, you'll probably find out there are a lot of things you don't know yet and would never have imagined could happen.
2. Talk about sleep.
This was a huge oversight on our part as we knew in theory that we'd get less sleep, but we had no idea what that meant. In my experience, our baby didn't sleep more than an hour or so at a time for the first three to six weeks of life. How the heck do you deal with that? Well, for us that meant several weeks of misery with nobody getting any sleep. We literally became the worst version of ourselves, and when I think about that time, I get shivers down my spine. It was horrible.
Things improved once we started taking shifts. One of us would take care of our baby girl for eight to 12 hours (while the other slept, or made food, or went to the gym, or shopped for groceries, or walked the dogs), and then we'd switch. This was really hard on the person who was "on," but at least one of us was getting some sleep each day. We would alternate who took the night shift each night as well.
This worked for us, as my husband had six weeks off of work. Yet when he went back to work, it wasn't working anymore (I had to take on more), so we had to make a change. We hit a breaking point, and our baby had to sleep more or we wouldn't survive. So we signed up for an online sleep training class (not a cry-it-out method, mind you), which transformed our lives. Baby started sleeping eight hours a night starting at around 10 weeks old.
It's also super important to talk about sleeping arrangements. Do you and your partner want to co-sleep with your baby, or would you like your baby in a crib in your room or in their own room? Many couples do not see eye-to-eye on this. Talk through it and compromise; then try different options once baby arrives.
3. Get help. (Lots of it.)
Seriously, if it is at all possible, get some help! This could come from grandparents or friends, or a hired nanny or postpartum doula—but make it happen and get it scheduled and set in stone ahead of time.
Remember this: Grandma or your close friend saying "I'll come over sometimes to help" doesn't cut it. How many hours will she/he be there and for how long? Will it be a gift, or will you be paying them? If they can't plan it out or tell you the answers to these questions in detail before baby comes, don't count on it. Hire someone. For the love of God, hire someone. It will save you and your relationship.
Many parents I talk to say they are putting their child into day care at 6 weeks old and assume that covers it, but what about the first few weeks before that, or what about when your baby is sick and can't go to day care, or on nights and weekends? Even if you have your baby in day care full-time, my guess is you'll still want to talk through all the other times when it'll be all on you.
For us, this meant hiring a postpartum doula for several months. This was a big investment, but it saved us. We interviewed several doulas when we were pregnant and set the hours and budget prior to when baby was born. Though my mom was able to be with us a lot the first week and visit for a few days each month, we needed someone who was trained in taking care of a newborn who could teach us and give us a break on a regular, scheduled basis. (And guess what we did when she was there? Sleep!)
Note regarding hiring a postpartum doula: We went way over our estimated budget. You will want more hours than you expect! We ended up needing help from her at least 12 hours per week and some overnights, plus she cooked food for us on off days. This was a lifesaver and the best decision we made.
After the first few tough months, and in addition to help from family occasionally, we have also found it super helpful to have a part-time nanny. I highly recommend it, and we've moved mountains to be able to make that work within our budget.
4. Talk about feedings.
When I was pregnant, I assumed that I'd breastfeed our baby exclusively, and we'd worry about pumping and bottle feeding and all of that later. I assumed that as long as my husband did diaper changes and took care of the dogs, I'd feel he was doing enough.
I had no idea.
Our baby girl was born with several lip and tongue ties, so she had a tough time latching. She could breastfeed some, but I was pumping and bottle feeding on day one. This was physically and emotionally painful for me in many ways, but the pro is that it allowed my husband to help with feedings from the beginning. Talk through what you hope the feeding situation will be and then make a plan B. Many women are determined to exclusively breastfeed, and I respect that—truly I do and tried like heck to make it happen for myself—but at some point it will be helpful to pump milk (or use donor milk as we have done since 5 months of age when my milk dried up) and make it possible for others to bottle-feed. Feeding is so connected to sleeping, so if you can talk through who will do feedings and when, it will affect the sleep conversation.
5. Talk about work.
In depth. When will you and your partner work? What hours? Will you take off for a few months, but he only takes off a few weeks? Will you both be working full-time right away? All of this affects everything above, and unfortunately in our country, most people have to go back to work way too soon. So make a plan around this and go into this experience with your eyes wide open.
Make sure you discuss expectations. If your husband is going back to work, what are his expectations of you at home? What are your expectations of him? If he is working full-time, will he do his share on weekends and evenings, and in what specific ways?
You may find that what you do in the work area the first few months will change in time. Make a short-term, midterm, and long-term plan for work. This varies for each couple.
6. Make a (realistic) plan.
I'm sure by now you're like, "OK, OK, so do a lot of talking beforehand—I get it." But you really do need to spend some time talking to each other about what you would like to have happen. It can be tough to make a plan when you have no idea what is to come or what challenges you'll face, but just take a guess. You will be changing this plan often, I promise. So put everything you've talked about down on paper or on a notepad in your phone, or email it to yourself. If you're really a pro, create a shared family calendar.
Here are a few things we had to figure out and are continuing to work out on a weekly basis: When will my husband get to the gym? (He needs his workout time like he needs air.) When will I go back to work full-time, and what hours will he watch the baby so I can work part-time for now? When will we have time together without the baby? Who will handle early morning wake-ups with the baby, or will we take turns? (I am not a morning person.)
7. Reassess often, and keep expectations in check.
Remember that no matter how much planning you put into this, there will always be something that surprises you. For us it was the fact that our baby couldn't breastfeed, and we were scrambling to find donor milk (and still are).
You'll notice that all of this boils down to having a lot of very open conversation with your partner. If at all possible, work on your communication skills before baby arrives as it'll make your life easier down the road. You may find, as we have, that it's important to reassess how things are going often and to be super flexible.
Here's what works for us: Each weekend, usually on Sunday afternoons while baby is napping, we talk through the week and plan when each of us will work out (if it requires the other to be with the baby), when each of us will be working, and when we'll have dedicated family time. We talk through meals, grocery shopping, cooking, and when we'll walk the dogs. We even decide who is taking the lead on which piece (i.e., I'll do the shopping Tuesday night if you'll cook dinner on Wednesday evening, or I'll get up earlier on Monday morning so you can go to the gym, and then on Tuesday you'll watch her over your lunch break while I go to yoga).
Remember that what works for me and my husband may never work for you and your partner. A lot of this is trial and error, but hopefully this gives you hope that a fairer and more equitable child care arrangement is possible. It takes work, commitment, and a lot of compromise, but I promise you that it's worth it.
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