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

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Letting Men Into the Experience

We've said countless times on this blog that women who want to share in the work of parenting with their partners need to let go of running the show at home and with the kids. Don't make more than your share of household or childraising decisions, don't direct your husband or belittle his way of handling the kids or chores, etc. In fact, we've said more than once that there are only a couple of things that you can't share as a mom: pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.

Well, maybe you can share these too. Not physically, of course. But sometimes the most important things aren't confined to the physical. Take pregnancy, for instance. It's pretty common for pregnant women to kind of fold in on themselves and take in all the changes going on in their bodies - the wonder of those first fluttering movements, the cravings and repulsions, the careful eating, the strange aches and odd proportions and unique clothing requirements. Sure, they might involve their partners peripherally by letting them know when the baby is kicking or inviting them to join in at an ultrasound visit. But they typically focus on the pregnancy as theirs alone - later, the baby will be shareable.

All of this woman-focused baby-making is understandable. Yet, in a very small way, it sets the tone for the future - or at least it can. "My baby" can become a way of thinking that extends past birth. And it allows the woman to slowly become better prepared, emotionally and mentally, for motherhood over 9 months - while her husband can more easily ignore the enormous life change in store until, say, he attends childbirth classes with her. Or maybe until the day their baby is born.

Joe Kelly, aka The Dad Man, advocates in a recent blog post that men and women think of their baby as 'theirs' from the first moment they know they are expecting. He suggests using language like "we're expecting" and even "we're pregnant" rather than "she's expecting" or "I'm pregnant." You may object - in fact, I can see pregnant women out there rolling their eyes and saying, "Hold it right there, honey...we're not pregnant...I am." And then sending their husbands out for mocha fudge brownie ice cream. But Joe is onto something. Yes, for the next few months, a baby is growing inside of one of you and not the other. But if you want that baby to grow up in the equal care of both of you, perhaps the experience of anticipation can be a primary focus for now...and this can be fully shared.


Anonymous Jenn said...

I so agree!! When I think of the most sacred and intimate moments for us, sharing the labour and birth of each of our children is right up there.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anne www.equalcouples.com said...

Yes, it is so important that couples start at the very beginning. One of the chapters in our book, Couples, Gender, and Power, describes two ways of thinking about mothering: innate talent and conscious collaboration. Mothers who emphasize innate talent tend to drive away fathers and end up with stereotypic gender roles for both parents and greater couple inequality. You can pretty much guess where conscious collaboration takes a couple -- equally shared parenting. And it begins with pregnancy.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hey, Jenn - great to hear from you! As a doula, I'm wondering if you've seen a lot of 'shared' birth stories or mostly women who think of their babies' birth as their own very special womanly experience only (with Dad invited to be a peripheral coach if he behaves).

Very interesting, Anne, about the two ways of thinking - I love having terms for things. I think it is still very radical for women to 'share' pregnancy, but so important.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Birth was ours, but pregnancy... I really don't want Dad sharing in what I eat and when ("as it's my baby in there too"). He comes with me to all my prenatal midwife visits, if at all possible. But hey, he's not the one bone tired, or feeling like an emotional wreck, etc. It's my body. Birth was a wonderful two person experience: we stayed at home. I kept standing for my labour, almost hanging on him, with his arms around me. It was fast and the midwife arrived only fifteen minutes before our baby was born.
Everything went well, until we had to go to the hospital, where he was sent home every evening. Boy, did I hate that.
Experience and feelings can be communicated, but my belly is mine. Women have fought long and hard to have the right to decide about their own bodies. Even in a relationship, you need to be your own person.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hello, and welcome! I agree that the physical aspects of pregnancy can't officially be shared, and appreciate that you feel strongly that these belong to the one literally involved. I was speaking more of the emotional aspects of preparing to become parents as the months of pregnancy tick by. Women can tend to 'own' this far more than men too, which stands to reason; but maybe we can do a better job of sharing that.

8:04 AM  
Blogger jhon said...

can happen if college kids are not careful. They are out on their own for the first time and feel invincible. Parents, it is your job to help them understand they aren't and what they can do to protect themselves.
double jogging stroller

6:28 PM  

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