Hi, Carolyn: Husband and I are parents of darling baby girl. Through it all my husband has done the work of keeping house together, dogs fed and us fed. All of which I appreciate.
But, I also feel like there’s a certain level of untidiness people would understand given we are new parents; i.e., let the leaves go and spend time with us or with her. We’ve always had different thresholds for how messy our living space is, but how can we balance the need to share the parenting? I’ve suggested hiring someone to do basic cleaning/yardwork and he’s not opposed to it.
This is all good stuff — you’re both invested in your young family, each in your own way; you want him to be central to your baby’s care; he’s open to your suggestions. All of these say you have the foundation for being grateful, respectful and hardworking teammates.
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So it might be that all you need to clear the obstacle between your current arrangement and true sharing is to recognize what your family’s particular obstacle is.
I can’t do that for you, because any number of things could be tugging him toward yardwork over child care.
But there is a common problem for new parents that seems like it might fit here: You’re both new to babies, but as the one actually having the baby — or the one taking the lead in caring for an adopted or surrogate child — you’re the one who becomes a baby expert over the course of weeks, even days.
The other parent witnesses this swift transformation and feels like … not an expert. And babies seem so helpless and fragile that non-experts tend to hesitate when it’s their turn to take over.
On top of that (as perhaps you’ve noticed), new babies have a way of wearing out their parents. Tired adults, meanwhile, have a way of delegating by default: They take on the jobs they’re better at/faster at/more familiar with and therefore more capable of handling while exhausted, and they leave the alien things in the more confident hands.
These two perfectly natural forces are a quick way for a devoted parent and spouse to wind up cooking, cleaning and raking while the other parent changes all the diapers. It’s not wrong, it’s just short-sighted – not to mention a little lonely. Both parents deserve to be experts in their own children, and to experience highs and lows together sometimes, versus always in shifts.
Where this balance doesn’t happen naturally, parents need to be mindful of their division of labor and force the issue of balancing it. Don’t just tell your husband what you’re noticing and what you’d prefer, and don’t just float ideas about professional cleaning and lawn care: Thank him for starting dinner, and offer to take over so he can feed/bathe/soothe/hang out with his daughter. If he feels awkward doing any of these things, then let him do it anyway — backed by your confidence in him — till he gets as smooth as you are.
Even if I’m wrong about the reasons for his hesitation, this is still a reasonable way to try to work past it.
Translation: Hand over the baby.
Oh — and if you can afford it, hire the cleaners and lawn service, too.
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