In some ways, having a baby is a lot like a full-time job – but having a full-time job is a full-time job, too. If you’re parenting with a partner, you have a source of potential support that can make balancing these competing interests easier.
But parenting with a partner also comes with its own set of challenges. It’s going to require you and your partner figuring out how to balance the new responsibilities that come with caring for Baby alongside all of the other things you already do to keep your household running smoothly.
What does research say?
Before Baby comes along, you might assume that if you and your partner already divide up household chores and responsibilities equally, it will be easy to maintain a balance with your little one added to the equation. But a 2015 study at Ohio State University suggests that it might not be quite so simple. The study followed a series of new, two-parent families to see how they divided up household responsibilities during pregnancy versus how they divided up old and new baby-related responsibilities when their babies were nine months old.
During pregnancy, the new parents in the study divided responsibilities up relatively equally. But at nine months after giving birth, the situation was a little different. At nine months, the new parents still perceived that they divided up housework, childcare, and other household responsibilities relatively equally, but new fathers actually took on less of the childcare and let go of more of the chores and responsibilities that they’d previously done than new mothers.
These findings suggest that it’s common for the balance to shift between parents in the months following childbirth, with one parent slowly taking on more and more responsibilities – and neither parent realizing that it’s happening!
So it’s important for new parents to be realistic about the possibility of this happening, to be vigilant and proactive about splitting up duties fairly, and to make sure responsibilities stay split.
Dividing up duties
For being such tiny people, babies create pretty big changes in their parents’ day-to-day lives. And it’s no one’s fault if the balance of your family’s responsibilities gets thrown off by your little one’s arrival! But taking the time to try to correct that balance now can help to make sure that tensions about these kinds of things don’t boil over.
Having a conversation specifically about who is going to do what in terms of baby-care and jobs around the house can be uncomfortable, especially if you and your partner aren’t used to having this sort of a conversation. To help avoid resentments before they start, make the decision ahead of time about what is going to be whose “job”.
Tips for figuring out the balance that will work best for your growing family include:
- Making a list: It might feel weird to make a list dividing up tasks, but it’s an opportunity to see what you both think is necessary for keeping your home running smoothly. Go into this process with the intention of figuring out how to make sure you’re both getting the time to rest and time for yourselves that you need. Try not to look for blame or get defensive. Start by listing what you both do every day, and then listing what will probably need to be shared once you’ve gone back to work.
- Checking it twice: Just like before Baby came along, there’s no need to divide every task directly down the middle. When you’re figuring out how to distribute your and your partner’s efforts around the house, make sure you both feel your work is appreciated and understood. This might mean switching some tasks up now and then, or it might mean you both take turns doing a task you both really hate doing.
- Considering all the upsides: A lot of the day-to-day labor that goes into taking care of Baby is hard to classify as a job. It may take a lot of work, but you or your partner going to them when they cry during the night or changing their diaper are also the first ways Baby starts to build emotional attachments. Neither of you may want to drag yourselves out of bed to reach them in the moment, but in the long run, that’s something that both of you will want to be as much of a part of as you possibly can. These kinds of tasks are also transitory. The bigger Baby grows, the more of their basic care they'll become responsible for.
Making space for your partner to co-parent
Many mothers – and working mothers in particular – are so worried about being “good” mothers that they feel as though they need to take on all of the parenting responsibilities. This is called gatekeeping, and while it is a natural response to a desire to be a good mother, it can also eventually become a working mother’s worst enemy.
Having one person to delegate tasks often doesn’t work well in the long run; that person can easily start to feel burned out or overwhelmed, and it can create resentment between parents. It is much easier to be confident as a working mother when you let your partner play an active role in running a home and being a strong presence in your child’s daily care.
Of course, creating a fair division of labor can’t happen all at once. You’re going to want to keep checking in to make sure it’s working. It can also help to make lists of important tasks every six months or so, to see how your family’s dynamics and needs may have changed.
The bottom line: sharing is caring
In the end, dividing up household tasks is about how much work each person is actually doing, but it’s also about how each person feels. If one person is feeling unappreciated, it’s important to explore why. Sometimes, feeling unappreciated can happen when you and your partner have less time and opportunity to connect as people, instead of just as parents. Communication gets harder during this period because you feel like you have less time, you’re getting less sleep, and you have more big priorities to juggle. But if your family can find some sense of balance, it can help your transition back to work run infinitely more smoothly.
- Jeff Grabmeier. “When the baby comes, working couples no longer share the work equally.” The Ohio State University. The Ohio State University, May 7 2015. Retrieved July 26 2017. https://news.osu.edu/news/2015/05/07/new-baby/.
- Raising Children Network. “Healthy relationships: parents and partners.” Raising Children. Raising Children Network, March 23 2017. Retrieved July 26 2017. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/your_relationship_with_your_partner.html.
- “Parents and Caregivers Are Essential to Children’s Healthy Development.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 26 2017. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/parents-caregivers.aspx.