On the eve of my middle son Alfie’s third birthday my husband and I were woken to the sound of footsteps pattering along the corridor and into our bedroom.
I won’t go into detail about what the issue was, only that the birthday boy needed clean sheets, clean pyjamas and a hose down in the shower.
My husband and I dealt with the situation in silence. He washed the child, I changed the sheets, and in a few minutes everyone was back in bed.
Afterwards, I tried to fall back to sleep, I reflected on the fact that parenthood is a permanent exercise in team building.
Incidents like this, that were unimaginable when we said our marriage vows, are now sorted out as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to limit their impact on our lives (or at least on our sleep).
Yes, there are times when I feel my husband gets the easier ride
He escapes the children for the office, whereas I work at home; he doesn’t fret about their birthday cakes, swimming lessons and what they’re wearing for World Book Day.
But then a situation like last night happens and I remember that he’s just as involved as I am (and I need to stop stressing about the small things).
Ever since the beginnings of parenthood, when I spent a month in hospital before our eldest was born, my husband has been a provider to our family in so many non-traditional (i.e. non financial) ways: bringing me home-cooked meals in hospital, clothes shopping for me in TK Maxx (who knew you don’t fit into your normal clothes straight after a baby?!); and then, once we were eventually discharged, staying up all night with a sick baby in A and E only to go straight into work the next day.
I’m now a “stay at home mum” who works full time; he’s the “breadwinner” who takes the children to nursery and watches their swimming lessons.
This is what modern parenting is like and why clichés such as “daddy daycare” and “stay at home mum” are so outdated.
But still we use them! Research carried out by WaterWipes shows that 78 per cent of parents with children under five equate the parent responsible for finances as the “main family provider” and more than half refer to either themselves or their partners as “babysitters” when one is taking care of the children.
Surely these narrow terms are more suited to the parenting styles of the 1950s when the mother was responsible for the children and the father was responsible for providing financially for the family? Happily parents’ roles are less pigeonholed these days – why then do we insist on rolling out the same old stereotypes?
“Whilst many couples today are determined not to slide into gender-stereotypical ways of parenting, parenting language has yet to catch up with the co-parenting models we are trying to develop,” explains relationship expert Sarah Abell, author of Authentic: Relationships from the inside out.
This is why Mumfidential is supporting The Parents Pact, a new campaign by WaterWipes to challenge traditional perceptions of what it means to provide to your family.
Their research suggests that at least a third of men find it difficult to leave their new family to return to work, while new mums struggle to cope with the demands of the newborn on their own.
“Many dads today find themselves facing two seemingly conflicting demands in the early days of their baby’s life – a sense of increased financial responsibility with a strong desire to be involved and engaged with their new baby and partner,” explains Abell.
I remember only too well those overwhelming first few weeks of motherhood; the envy I would channel at my husband’s back as he walked towards the front door, his numerous phone calls during the day to check I was ok; the speed at which he’d rush back from work.
Our roles had been redefined whether we liked it or not –– it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I know that these early incarnations of mum and dad were just temporary. Parenthood, at least in my experience, seems to be a perpetual shift of responsibilities.
Unfortunately I am not above getting caught up in the “I do more than you” argument.
It usually happens when my husband is working flat out and therefore less available to help with the children (poor him, as if he needs me on his case).
There’s little that can be done about this – we need to pay the nanny and the nursery fees after all – but spending time together, particularly having a night out doing something unparenting-related always helps me snap out of this mindset. I guess I just need to feel part of a team; parenting can be a lonely, disconnecting business – as can an office job.
The Parenting Pact aims to encourage parents that we are all each other needs. “We hope our campaign will help parents recognise how much they do together to make their family,” says Grainne Gallagher of WaterWipes. “They are all each other needs.”
As I sit here listening to my husband read yet another made-up Star Wars story to our sons, this has never been more apparent.
- What do you do for your family? Join to conversation #ParentsPact #WaterWipes
Here are Sarah Abell’s top tips for when two become three (or more!)
1. Create a united front – Make decisions and face challenges together. Talking in terms of “we”, “our” or “us” will help to keep you united. For example, “How can we budget our money this month?”.
Only agree to solutions that work for you both and don’t be afraid to renegotiate if something isn’t working.
2. Mind your language – When referring to yourself or your partner, phrases such as “the provider”, “babysitter” or “stay at home Mum or Dad” only reinforce traditional stereotypes. Remember you’ve both fostered the same role in providing love, engagement and care for your baby despite the different avenues you may take to get there.
3. Start as you mean to go on – Whether it is choosing a toy for baby or going to an ante natal class together, it’s vital that you involve each other from the beginning of your parenthood journey to build confidence between yourselves as Mum and Dad.
4. Consider each other’s needs – The smallest thing can lead to an argument when you are tired, stressed or over-whelmed, though don’t presume your partner will know how you feel. Speak to them and let them know what you need, whilst also looking out for them. If one of you needs an extra lie-in, time to exercise or a night out with friends, make it happen. It’s as important to give each other space as individuals than it is to connect as a couple.
5. Don’t compete – It’s counter-productive to compare notes on who has had the hardest day. Whether it’s tiredness, hours worked or money earned, always remember you are on the same team so pull together and show appreciation rather than scoring points.
6. Tune into each other – Carving out time to be together is not always easy but necessary for keeping allied. Take up offers of babysitting so you can spend quality time and always show an interest in what each other has been up to during the days when you’ve been apart.
7. Keep the spark alive – Small, affectionate gestures such as a kiss, cuddle or appreciative comment can go a long way on a hard day, and it’s a precious reminder that you are all each other needs.
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