When Anel and I were young and falling in love before we were married and had a child together, we excitedly talked about our future constantly. At the time, he was a personal trainer working for a gym in Manhattan and my marketing career was taking off, so we assumed that he would take on more of a primary caretaker role with our future babies.
But our careers have both changed pretty drastically. By the time we had Amalia, it was clear that the primary caretaker role would fall on my shoulders. When I was pregnant, that scared me a lot. I didn’t know how much work it would be or what it would entail. In Amalia’s first year of life, I was so anxious that I really didn’t know if I could handle it.
Now I am happy to report that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to take care of everything she needs and still provide income for my family is something that I’m incredibly proud of. Read on to find out how we handle parenting responsibilities in the Dzafic household.
From the early days
From day one, Anel was on top of his dad game. I was so out of it and anxious for those first two or three weeks of Amalia’s life that I pretty much didn’t have any emotional or physical capacity for anything beyond feeding her. Anel literally taught me how to change her diaper and put her to sleep once I started to come out of the fog. He knew how to feed her bottles, clean my breast pump, give her a bath, and calm her down. I felt like the worst mother in the world because it came so naturally to him and it was such a learning curve for me.
But in addition to being a stellar dad, he’s a stellar husband and stayed patient as he walked me through everything and tried to keep my anxiety at bay. He also did all of the grocery shopping, cooking, taking care of the dog, and more in the first month of parenthood. I’m literally crying as I write this because I feel so lucky to have him! I hadn’t thought about those days in a while.
At that time, however, he had just left his job in the city and he didn’t have a lot of clients out in Connecticut yet. He was able to be home a lot. It was a blessing because we couldn’t really afford for me to take any time off of work. I took two weeks of maternity leave (I don’t recommend that to anyone!) and he was able to pick up the slack. As his business grew and he took on more work, however, he was home less and less over the months, and the roles started to reverse.
How we divide parenting roles today
Because Anel was so involved at the beginning, it was a struggle for him to take a step back. Ideally, we would divide up parenting tasks like daycare pick up and drop off, buying diapers, cleaning Amalia’s room, and making her meals. But because of his long, crazy hours and the responsibility of owning a new business, it makes far more sense for me to take on most of the parenting responsibilities in addition to other responsibilities around the house.
Studies (and obviously lots of anecdotal evidence) have shown that mothers, even if they work full-time jobs outside of the home, take on more parenting responsibilities. But one interesting thing I read about this was that this inequality only harmed a relationship when the mother herself thought of this division of tasks as unfair (source).
From my personal perspective, I don’t find our unequal divide to be unfair (although after reading this article yesterday, I got a little fired up) because there is really no other solution and because I love doing it. I’m a caretaker by nature— and feeding, bathing, and clothing my daughter brings me so much joy. I really believe that an equal division of labor matters less than understanding the roles of who does what and appreciating each other for those roles.
On most days of the week, I take care of the morning routine, nighttime routine, and every other detail in between, so Anel works really hard to step up in other ways to balance the parenting workload. He’ll take on things like bringing her to swim lessons, cleaning up her toys on the weekends, and always gives her a bath and puts her down when he’s home at night. And because he has more trainers working for him now and he makes his own schedule, he’s started taking off two nights per week so he can be home with us and take on half of the work. We’ve had countless conversations about emotional labor and they have really paid off.
The hard part for me isn’t being the primary caretaker of our child, but taking on the emotional labor or “mental load” that involves everything from making sure our fridge is always fully stocked to booking a babysitter if we have to go out, to organizing playdates, to scheduling doctor appointments.
It can be draining and most of the work goes unseen by anyone else, including your partner. I’ve written about this before but our therapist gave us an exercise that has drastically helped us in the emotional labor department. I spent a week writing down every single task I do for the house, from making sure the dog’s food is fully stocked to getting oil changes for the cars. It didn’t matter how big or small the task was, it made it on that list.
Then we sat down one night for almost a full hour and Anel took as much as he could off of my plate. Although it’s still not 50/50, it feels more even and I don’t feel so much pressure to keep our house running perfectly on my own. I found this resource after the fact, but here are some free downloadable worksheets, that are organized in a similar way to how I did mine.
Until we did that exercise, Anel really had no idea how much I was doing to keep us all afloat. It was eye-opening for him because he saw what went through my head on a daily basis, but it was also eye-opening for me because I realized that he really wanted to take on more, I just hadn’t asked.
The biggest challenge for me with my Type-A personality is to fully let go of the responsibilities that he has taken on. But for anyone out there reading this who is similar to me in that sense, I promise you that after a few weeks, you’ll be so happy that you let things go.
A Practical Guide for Working Parents to Divide Household Responsibilities (Fast Company)
What a ‘Good’ Dad Gets Away With (New York Times)
Dividing Household Duties With Your Partner (Baby Center)
Worksheets for dividing household responsibilities (Here’s the Plan)
Don’t be Grateful That Dad Does His Share (The Atlantic)
WHAT DO THE OTHER MOMS THINK?
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I’d love to hear how you divide parenting roles in your households.