In every household, there is a distinct cusp of boundaries that divide duties around the house almost silently. One day, mom starts cutting the grass and then suddenly, she becomes the one responsible for the chore. When a baby enters the home, this dividing line can become even darker as mom and dad settle into doing a routine of parental duties without discussing them. Eventually however, it begins to seem that one parent takes on more of the responsibilities involved with raising the children and resentment and frustration breed. After all, just because mom is the one putting in the eight piles of laundry every day, doesn’t mean that dad can’t do it. So why doesn’t he? In dad’s defense, the reasons aren’t maliciously intended – they just come from a lack of communication and planning when it comes to sharing the parental duties around the home.
Each home has to divide things differently. If one parent stays home, chances are that parent will have to take on more when it comes to the raising of the children. By time the working parent gets home, most things are probably already done and this parent may get to simply sit and enjoy the laughter of their children. However, with one stay at home parent; what often happens is that they become the sole caretaker. First out of necessity and then by habit. It becomes easier for the kids to ask the stay home parent for everything and as they grow, they become accustomed to having this parent foresee and meet all of their needs. What transpires is that the working parent feels left out of the loop and almost like he or she is stranger in their own home. After all, they do things completely differently and often just their presence can ruin the best-laid groundwork of efficiency in the home. The kids may even say “mom doesn’t do it that way” or “dad would never make us do that!”
It is also common for one parent in the house to be the heavy or the disciplinarian. When mom and dad play good cop, bad cop – they are silently manipulating their children. The parent with the heavy hand so to speak, can become tired of always being the one to be strict, while the other secretly enjoys being the good guy who dries their child’s eyes. From a marital standpoint, this can be a deal breaker pitting parents against one another because they have different ideas of what is right and what is wrong. After all both parents want to feel included, responsible and loved by their children.
The question is how to fix this and make sure that couples are sharing the parental duties. It is always easier to fix things that aren’t broken. This means that as soon as a couple becomes a family, both should insist on help when they need it. This doesn’t mean that it takes two people to change one diaper or that parents should necessarily take exactly even turns giving a bottle. But it does mean that both parents should be empowered to take on whatever is necessary to take care of the children. If you start out this way, as the kids get older things around the house will be easier and less tense. The kids will have two parents to depend on and they will realize early on that mom and dad stand together on the important things. It is also important to not spend your time counting. If you can ever start an argument with words similar to “I have changed 7 diapers today (3 poop and 4 pee) and you have only changed one” – chances are you are looking for trouble. It would be much easier to just hand the stinky baby off to your partner with the assumption that they will take care of business. Also, remember that they might not do it the same way as you – and you have to remain non-critical. When you are dividing parental duties, it cannot be your way or no way at all!
The other thing to remember is that taking care of kids is no longer a matter of gender. We have soared past the years where mom wore the apron and dad grilled the burgers. Still, as you become a parent old ideas of what moms and dads should do will no doubt creep into your familial picture. Your best bet is to ignore them and try to remain as open to doing whatever it takes as possible. Working as a team also takes communication. You shouldn’t expect that your partner knows or feels about things the way you do. If you can talk about things and discuss them openly without arguing or feeling resentful, you will get much further together. Taking care of the kids – at least the routine upkeep and chores should not be a matter of who does more. It should be a matter of getting things done so that you have more time to enjoy each other. When it comes to big issues like discipline and rules – parents have no choice but to stand together. If you disagree with your partner, make sure you discuss it in private – afterwards, so the kids see you as a united force. Certainly, each of you has your own style of parenting and blending the two can take both time and commitment to communicate.
In your home, you and your partner both bring special qualities to the picture of your family. This doesn’t mean that you will always agree or that you and your partner will both believe in earnest that the dishes have to be done the minute dinner is over. Instead of focusing on who does what, who does more or less – try focusing on the to-do list. For many families, it works to create a list of chores and duties and deploy every member of the family who is able to get things done. Taking care of children is hard work and it entails a lot more than routine tasks around the home. If you remain too focused on what needs to be done, you will miss out on many chances to just be. Similarly, if you remain too focused on who does what (and who doesn’t) without talking about it, you will never be able to share the parental duties equally.