Balance is a daily quest for me. Juggling the responsibilities of parenthood, being a spouse, pediatrician, practice owner, and other smaller hats requires the agility of an Olympic gymnast. So I read with interest Lisa Belkin’s article in the New York Times Magazine this Sunday, “When Mom and Dad Share It All”. She details parenting duos who strive for a 50:50 split of all childcare and household duties. One family divides parenting into 3 or 4 molds based on their past and present experiences: “mother-knows-best mold”, “involved dad married to the stressed out working mom”, “stay at home dad”, or a newer mold, “equally shared parenting.”
Me: Which mold do you think we fit into? I ask husband who is enjoying his Father’s Day repose in front of the US Open.
Husband: (grins) I don’t know.
Me: Are we the equally shared parent group or the involved dad married to stressed-out working mom?
Husband: I think the latter would be more accurate.
We’ve actually tried on most of these molds in our marriage. There probably was a time as a pediatrician and mother that I thought I knew best. My husband and I have certainly butted heads about this – my husband being more of an authority on the male half of our species than I. Time has taught me that I may be an expert on some matters relating to children, but I always have a lot to learn about my own children and their version of human nature. I’ve also learned how capable my husband is at dealing with our family – that at the end of the day if all are fed, healthy, and content that matching socks, extracurricular activities, and thank you notes can go by the wayside.
The stay at home dad experience was our failed experiment. After a challenging experience with a nanny, my husband decided to be the stay at home parent with our then seven month old son. Belkin and Marc Vachon (one of the interviewed fathers) say that this parent is “cooed at for his sensitivity but who is isolated and financially vulnerable as the stay-at-home mom.” That pretty much hit the nail on the head. Living in a small, conservative town worsened the loneliness for my outgoing husband who was used to the daily traffic of his office. Ultimately we moved to a larger community so that we could find support and reinvent our parenting roles.
Our current mold is a hybrid of stressed out mom and 50:50 parenting. Some days are 10:90 when I am on call and my husband picks up, feeds, and completes homework with the boys. Other days are 50:50 when we divide and conquer the birthday party gift-buying, drop off and pick up. The stressed out part comes from my own personal parenting standard getting in the way of just doing it. I don’t always know where these standards come from, but they are very persistent and immediate. This week is a good example. The boys are enrolled in soccer camp, and I have found myself micromanaging the clothes, water bottles, and drawstring bags for each day. I don’t have any idea where this standard comes from that both boys need to have these things and look like they’re playing in the World Cup.
With the exception of reading articles about co-parenting in the NY Times magazine, I think less about the division of labor in our household than I used to. Keeping track of how much work at home each parent does isn’t very fruitful. It either makes me anxious that I haven’t done enough and I overcompensate (read stress out) or I’m resentful that I have so much to do in a short period of time (more stress). Looking at the big picture helps – the important things are getting done and accomplished. What didn’t get done probably didn’t really matter that much.