Should You Split Parenting 50/50?
Both of you change diapers. But only one of you is scrolling for birthday cakes and diaper rashes. That ends now.
There’s a story my son loves to hear retold again and again: After we brought him home from the hospital, swaddled and pink, I created a chart. Large and taped to the kitchen wall, it clocked my diaper changing sessions and baby feedings every 15 minutes on the dot.
I was seized by the belief that he would not survive even a moment without them. I asked my husband: “But how will he eat without me? Who’ll keep him clean?”
At this point in the story, my son cries, “Didn’t you know Daddy could change my diaper?” He finds the thought ridiculous.
“I was scared he would forget,” I respond.
Of course dads—my husband included—are built to ensure that their babies are cared for, fed, and clean. Hormonal postpartum anxiety is real. Still, the parent who uses the bottles is sure to wash them, just as they’re more likely to plan the birthday party, buy new 6-month socks, and note that sweet potatoes are eaten more readily than peas.
Who’s Doing the “Worry Work”?
Managing the family is sometimes called “worry work,” while the person responsible for it has been coined the “designated worrier.” And though modern parenting claims to split household duties 50/50, the reality is far from the ideal.
Fatherhood is confusing today. Dads are still expected to be breadwinners, but increasingly expected to be involved, nurturing and available to children in order to be “good.” In fact, about two-thirds of young fathers say they should share caregiving equally, according to research by the Boston College Center for Work and Family. However, only 30 percent of those polled made it work.
The question modern couples should ask is whether “worry work” can be divvied up fairly? Is it possible for two people to equally carry the emotional burden of a child’s emotional and physical needs?
Collaborating in Parenting Rather Than Competing
The answer, logistically, is no.
But that doesn’t mean both parents can’t find a balance that won’t leave them resentful, competitive and burnt out.
Most chores have mental or methodical components as well. After all, someone has to choose when to start giving the baby solid food, which brands to choose, how often to feed and what to do should the baby struggle or choke.
Add in the ripple effect of waking up every three hours for three weeks straight and making any life decision, including taking out the garbage, will no longer seem like a sustainable part of life.
Now is the time to shift to a “shared” mindset. In other words, no more household CEO. No more scorecard over diaper duty or nightly wake ups. If you’re used to doing everything, let it go.
Instead, divide and conquer and communicate about the important stuff—school, doctor, friends. It’s unusual for people to feel drawn to every household chore or to perform a duty at the same time. For example, if you prefer diaper duty at 5:30 a.m. before getting ready for work rather than midnight when your partner may still be awake, agree on the expectation to avoid conflict at 2 a.m.
Similarly, if you prefer laundry piles to kitchen cleaning after dinner every night, having a mutually agreed upon expectation can create a household that looks more like a well-oiled machine.
Equally Shared Parenting Isn’t Always Equal
Shared parenting works best when both partners are honest about their strengths, weaknesses, and priorities. If you value a task more, or you’ll find yourself frustrated if it doesn’t get done, it’s okay to own the job, even if it means taking on extra duty.
Clear expectations are more than doing actual work. It’s who organizes and remembers the things yet to be done.
The realities of child rearing—short on time and sleep, quick tempers, emotional pressure on women and financial pressure on men—shape what we mean by “equality.” Though mom may get calls about playdates, teacher reports and doctor instructions, it’s important to share the burden as a team. Share a household email, and make your “50/50” parenting visible to institutions that seem to favor mothers as the director of all household business.
Certainly, shared parenting means you’ll compromise and communicate more, but it’s fair to say that nobody was born with a passion to wash the floors or pack a diaper bag.
Though daytime diaper duty and feedings logistically fell to me during the first year of our daughter’s life, our sweet spot grew out of sharing household chores and midnight wakeups. That learning made us each better partners and parents.