I first heard about Equally Shared Parenting a few months before my son was born on a parenting forum. There is an entire book on it that follows the stories of a few parents.
We probably would have fallen into Equally Shared Parenting because that is how we work. However, reading the book let us know that it can be done and gave us some ideas on how we could achieve it. Since both of us have careers in software development, it allowed us to be creative with our schedules and find what worked for us.
There is no right way and this will look different for every family. However I think there are a few keys for success-
Keep your partner involved from the beginning.
Even if you are staying home and your partner is working, your partner can wake up once in the middle of the night to help you out. It truly helps to know that you’re not alone in the struggles of early parenthood. Some nights just having my husband awake next to me for five minutes reminded me that I wasn’t alone. It doesn’t have to be every night. Sharing the exhaustion of those early weeks with your partner will prepare you for sharing all the trials and joys of parenthood. Lots of working moms (me!) wake up to feed their babies in the middle of the night and have to go to work the next day. If your partner doesn’t know how to help, tell them what you need from them. As a breastfeeding mom, it would have been easy for my husband to just let me manage feeding our newborn, but there are ways a partner can help:
– Diaper changes
– Washing pump parts and bottles
– Pillow and comfort support while breastfeeding
– Bottle feed one night a week
Take time away early on.
If you are two working parents, when the first parent returns to work, the second parent can stay home with your baby for a week or a long weekend. If your partner is the working parent, take a long weekend away with friends, family, or solo. Let your partner learn and understand the life of a stay at home parent. I would argue a day is not enough; your partner truly needs to understand how exhausting, frustrating and amazing it is to be home with little ones. This can only happen with a several day stretch. Will it be hard to leave your little one? Absolutely! However, you want your partner to be involved and understand life with a little one.
When I returned to work after my first, he was a little over 5 months. My husband took paternity leave for the next 3 months to stay home with our little guy. I recognize that not everyone can do this, but find a few days to let your partner own parenthood without your help.
My son runs to my husband first whenever he is upset. I take this as a sign that we are doing this equally shared parenting thing right and credit the those three months they spent together when he was young.
Let go of how things need to be done.
If you want your partner equally involved, you need to release control on how you parent your children. Does your partner wash the bottles or change the diaper the “wrong way” – don’t care, let it go, and appreciate the involvement. Talk about how you want to raise your children together. How do you respond to temper tantrums? Reach a decision on how to handle these situations together. Share ideas from books you read (my preferred method) or online articles you find (my husband) on parenting.
With older children, recognize that you both will parent differently. I tend to be the parent that will take the kids out of the house. My husband tends to to be the parent that will keep the kids busy with Lego and crafts at home. I am more relaxed with something planned to keep the kids busy (out of the house). My husband is more relaxed at home with the kids. Both are great and valuable. Recognize the value that your partner brings to parenting.
Recognize the individual needs of your partner.
Since we both have taken time to stay home solo with the children, we know how hard some of those days can be. If I plan a day to myself (brunch with friends, a massage, etc.) I find time to allow my husband time to himself as well. I schedule my time away around the times that work best for my family and husband. I workout at 5a so that I can help with breakfast and getting the children ready.
Take care of yourself and each other.
Don’t lose yourself in parenting and don’t let your partner lose themselves in parenting. Check in on how each of you are doing. If you and your partner aren’t caring for yourselves (whatever that looks like to you!) then you are not doing your best for your children.
It doesn’t have to be 50/50. It has to be a balance that works for both of you. But it does have to be enough time so you have time to be and invest in you.