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Can two parents really divide the responsibilities of home and family equally? If you're willing to spend time talking about what each family member needs (as well as what needs to be done around the house), you may come pretty close. Use the tips below to begin figuring out who should do what.
Everybody in the family benefits when parents work together to maintain home and hearth. Men are more involved in childcare these days, which helps them develop a strong bond with their kids. Children also benefit from positive role models: They see that men and women both are important to family life.
Chores and housework are unavoidable, and there may not be an ideal division of labor. But when parents cooperate, communicate fairly, and work together, everybody comes out ahead.
Rethink your goals
How does a modern couple maintain balance at home – get dinner on the table, do laundry, feed and bathe the kids – and still have some time for each other and themselves?
Before answering that question, think about what exactly you both want and need. Rather than aiming for a straight 50-50 division of labor, try to find a way to simply balance the load and keep both of you feeling happy, productive, and appreciated.
List your responsibilities
Keep a one-week log of everything you do around the house and for the family. Have your partner do the same. Then compare lists.
- How do you each feel about the items on your list?
- Do you want to change anything?
- Is there any task you intensely dislike?
- Can you swap it for another chore?
This exercise can be eye-opening: Don't be surprised if one person's list is very long and the other's isn't. With lists in hand, try reassigning responsibilities and finding compromises. Maybe you can agree to take turns doing the especially difficult tasks.
And stay flexible even after you've divided up the chores in a way that's mutually agreeable. Be willing to help each other out when you can, or even swap chores once in a while to get a feel for what your partner does.
List your baby's needs
You both need to adjust to the idea of doing things on your baby's schedule rather than your own. Start talking about the division of labor before your baby arrives. Make a list of all the tasks involved in caring for a baby, from diapering to choosing childcare.
If you're having trouble coming up with a list, consult friends and family members who have recently become parents. Talk about how you should split up these new tasks (and whether you should divide the chores you did before the baby differently).
In the early days of a newborn's life, for example, many couples find that because Mom spends hours breastfeeding, Dad ends up on diaper duty the minute he walks in the door.
Anticipate and communicate
It's crucial that you tell each other what you want and need. Try to express yourself clearly and specifically, without blame.
For example, when you need help, tell your partner exactly what you want ("Can you play with the baby so I can cook dinner?"), rather than how you may feel at the moment. ("I have to do everything around here!") If you fight over household responsibilities, set aside some time – when you're both calm – to figure out what the real problem is and how to find a solution.
Make a schedule
There's so much to do with a new baby in the house, on top of all the other household chores that just don't go away. But with a little planning and communication, you can tackle the new responsibilities together.
What jobs do you like to do? What jobs do you hate? Are you a morning person? A night owl?
With your preferences in mind, you and your partner can make a schedule of household responsibilities. Maybe one of you can take morning breakfast duty and the other can do the evening bath. Or try days on and off: One of you cooks dinner and cleans up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the other takes Mondays and Wednesdays – and you order takeout on Fridays.
Take turns sleeping in on the weekends or getting up with the baby in the middle of the night.
And keep talking about these arrangements so that you can be flexible and make changes if necessary. Maintaining an open dialogue helps you deal with situations as they arise.
Who was up all night with the baby or who's not feeling well? Who just pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline? Figure out who has the energy and ability to take care of things, and switch nights or chores.
Once you realize all these tasks are up for negotiation, you'll be amazed at how much saner life gets.
Shed traditional expectations
To truly share the load, you and your partner may have to do a little soul searching to examine your own motives and fears.
It's easy to fall back on safe (but limiting) traditional roles. But doing so can leave one parent feeling resentful and the other left out in the cold.
As a mother, do you say you want your partner to take an equal role in childrearing and then feel threatened by his involvement? As a father, do you want to be involved but feel clueless with no role model and a hovering partner? Try talking to each other about these feelings so you can move past them.
And even if your family does fall into traditional patterns – for example, one parent works more hours outside the home than the other and takes on fewer household and child responsibilities as a result – it's still important to discuss that decision and make sure that you both feel good about it. If one parent resents the other's involvement (or lack of it), everyone, including your baby, suffers.
Share baby time
A new father often feels left out of the mother-infant bond and unsure of his new role. If he feels he has nothing to contribute, he might not pitch in as much at home. Everyone loses in this situation.
One solution: paternity leave. New dads may be eligible for paid leave, partially paid time off, or unpaid time off. Or they may be able to use vacation time. If you can swing it, having Dad take time off can help you start figuring out together how to be a family.
Keep in mind that paternity leave doesn't have to be taken immediately after the baby is born, and that you might need more help after the first month or so, when the baby is awake for longer stretches during the day.
Make room for two experts
Mothers and fathers have different parenting styles, and these differences are important gifts for each child. But parents sometimes have a hard time respecting and valuing those differences.
Rather than criticize your mate about how he dresses the baby, simply accept and respect that he dresses, bathes, or feeds her differently than you do. If you constantly criticize your partner's efforts, he'll be more reluctant to help with the baby.
Consider hiring help
It's a luxury that only a few can afford. But if you can afford to hire someone to clean the house once a week or twice a month, it can really make a difference. Rather than cleaning the bathroom, you can read to or play with your baby and spend time with your partner.
Take advantage of technology
Dishwashers and washing machines saved time for early generations. For us, there's a whole new crop of gadgets and services that can free up our time to spend with family.
Here are a few examples: If you work outside the home, see if you can telecommute some days. This will save you commuting time and stress. Sign up to pay your bills online or try online grocery delivery if it's available in your area.
Let go of perfection
If you think you can keep your house to pre-children standards, you're probably fighting a losing battle. Your house doesn't have to be spotless all week long. For lots of parents, stress levels go down when they give up trying to keep their house immaculate.
Discuss with your partner the minimum level of cleanliness you can both tolerate, and then do what you can together to keep it that way. Save the big cleanups for weekends – or the housecleaning service.
If you agree to work together, you can play together later. Try scenarios like this: "If you take the baby to the park Saturday morning, I'll spend that time paying the bills. Then we'll have the rest of the day free."