Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Staying in Charge

There are a lot of cultural banana peels out there just waiting to trip up a would-be ESP couple - to cause them to slip into standard gendered divisions of labor without their consent. But sometimes the thing that can crumble their equality comes in the shape of a toddler. Beware the toddler!

I remember when T was 2 years old and he developed a huge Daddy preference. He was happy to hang out with either Marc or myself during the day, but he wanted nothing but Daddy if he woke up in the middle of the night. The preference was so intense that a visit from me (which happened every other time he wakened) escalated his crying to a fever pitch, complete with "No, Mommy! Want Daddy!" and physically pushing me away. It would have been easy for me to give up, crawl back to much-desired sleep, and send in the requested parent. Marc would have gotten a very different response from T - quick calming and a "yes" to Marc's suggestion that they rock and cuddle for a few minutes, followed by an agreeable return to the crib. But neither of us wanted T to consider Marc his only source of comfort; we knew I was just as capable. So we didn't cave. I kept going in his room every few minutes to soothe him, offer him water/rocking/hugging, and sure enough he finally called a quiet "Mama" and collapsed into my arms for a big hug. The whole event, at its worst, took less than an hour and lasted a couple of nights (once per night). After that, he readily accepted either of us - with the usual phases of mild preference over time.

It is no fun to be the parent who isn't preferred. It can grate on your psyche and make you question your ability to care for your own child. For parents who are not equal sharers, this doubting makes sense - after all, if a mother is home with her children all week, she probably will be more talented at taking care of them (and hence more preferred) than their father. But for ESP parents - equally competent and practiced at childraising activities - we suggest you consider other reasons for your child's preference (e.g., desire for routine, wish to control, mood).

It is so easy for the more desired parent to just pick up the other parent's rejected responsibilities. It solves the problem for the moment, and your child is happy. But as they say, "pay now or pay later." Soon, with this cave-in approach, the childraising domain is out of balance. Your child, furthermore, is running the show. Keep your eyes on the long-term prize of ESP - a prize that benefits all three of you.


Blogger Marci said...

We've completely been through this! And always during those middle of the night wakeups. Our solution was if it's earlier than 5 pm, Daddy goes to comfort her, and after 5 pm it's me. It meant that we were up there about half the time.

And when our daughter says, "That's not how Mommy (or Daddy) does it..." our answer is: "Do I LOOK like Mommy? Do I SOUND like Mommy?" in a really exaggerated voice that makes her giggle. Usually diffuses things.

Except one time, when I was just so curious - how does Daddy turn her shirt around when it's on backwards if not by taking her arms out of the sleeves and twirling it? Maybe there's some innovative way... So we called him, and he confirmed that, yes, he does the arm-removal-twirl method. F stopped screeching, and looked at me and said quietly, "Oh, ok."

10:01 PM  
Blogger Angela V-C said...

We have this problem from time to time, but generally during the day, not at night, when H wants me to do everything. I have to push the stroller, and put on her clothes, and whatever. It can be frustrating (for both of us), and we struggle with how to handle it. One big key is both having alone time with her. We sometimes let her have her way with these choices and sometimes not (and I wonder if we'd make more progress if we just made it a no-choice situation like you did with night wakings).

3:16 PM  
Blogger Michelle Barry Franco said...

I find it takes a while for this preference thing to even out, if you didn't start ESP. We are just feeling the benefits in this area as the girls ask for us equally, finally (with the roller coaster of preference at any given time.) I think part of the reason it has worked relatively quickly for us is that those times when they asked for Daddy, I said fine (usually out of relief, frankly, as I was exhausted from being the preference for so long) but he does not give in when they ask for me. He sticks it out and shows them that he can handle whatever is going on just lovely well. And he does.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Marci, Angela, Michelle,

Thanks for your comments! We've used the time cutoff method too, when M was a baby but no longer needed night feedings we divided the night at 2am. I remember sometimes waking only to see the clock click over from 1:59 to 2:00 and then snoozing away knowing that Marc was now 'on.' Ah...

Love the answer about 'Do I LOOK like Mommy?' Must try that! Love the concept that correcting can go one way - toward the partner who needs to establish him/herself as a full and equal parent in the kids' eyes.

Alone time is key, and makes it easier for a child to understand that the preferred parent CAN'T come in and rescue her. During the day, for us, it's M wanting only Mommy to sit next to her at dinner, etc. When we notice a pattern, we mostly try to alternate but we too sometimes give in when the battle is a small one we don't feel will ruin our equality.

I wish we could all chat about these things over coffee! It's fun!

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that this post inspired us. We decided to tackle the morning getting out the door routine, alternating days, with one parent doing all of the getting ready stuff with her (clothes, picking up into booster seat, pigtails, shoes...). We explained to H that Mama and Ima take turns helping her, because we both love her and want to take care of her, and that if one of us does it all the time, that one gets tired. We were firm, and really drew the line. It took one morning of complete meltdown for 20 minutes when Ima really wasn't going to put on her shirt, and now she gets in, and is now more balanced in her requests at other times as well. So so so worth it. Thank you!

11:21 AM  

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