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Stepping up, without stepping on toes

April 26, 2012

One of the great things about these regular coffees that Magda and I recently started is that on the way home I get really fired up to write about something. And not in the tabloid, What-A-Bitch sort of way that our culture clambers for like dogs after bacon. In many cases, I come away struck by an epiphany that makes me want to pound the table and shout “THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE, MAN!

We get together mostly to compare notes on the kids, figure out what needs to get done, and decide who’s gonna do it. In any childcare arrangement between parents, married or otherwise, our culture’s expectation is that “if it’s gonna get done, then Mom’s gonna do it.” That’s a lot of pressure for mothers to carry around, especially when a dad gets to be Father of the Year if he manages to remember his kid’s birthday, within a week or two.

For any 50-50 co-parenting plan to work, two things have to happen: 1) one parent–<cough> usually the dad </cough>—has to want to take an active role and pull 50% of the load, and 2) the other (usually the mom) has to be willing to cede that part of the load without feeling like she’s not living up to some unreachable and unreasonable expectation. It’s a bad enough non-starter when 1) doesn’t happen (and it doesn’t WAY too often), but 1) without 2) can conjure the same level of friction and resentment if one parent, for whatever reason, overclings to the majority of the responsibility.

And that’s a big part of what’s happening (or not happening) with us right now. If I step up and say I’ll take the kids to skating class, or sign them up for a day camp, or whatever, Magda will say, “Sure. Knock yourself out.” Because she’s decided not to buy into the “Mom or Bust” mentality, we can spend our precious energy figuring out the division of labor, and all we care about is whether it’s fair. It isn’t something we consciously set out to do, but it’s a symbiosis that has settled in as part of our routine. And it seems to be working.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2012 12:36 am

    I love this commentary. I think many problems result when one person slacks off on their responsibility, but it is also the duty of the other, maybe more responsible-prone individual, to relinquish control. Thanks for your post.

  2. myhonestanswer permalink
    April 27, 2012 7:38 am

    You guys are so sensible! I love it.

  3. April 29, 2012 7:23 am

    As true for cohabitating couples as separated. I’m definitely guilty of holding on to the Mom control factor while at the same time silently grumbling over my partner’s more removed role. I think we could use a big-picture coparenting negotiation/agreement just to flesh this all out. But shaking that control – a hard one. It requires letting go and trusting that if X, Y and Z doesn’t get done (or doesn’t get done MY way) the world won’t end. And that my resentment won’t build exponentially. What happens with you guys when something falls through the cracks?

    • May 14, 2012 12:20 am

      If it happens, it happens. It’s never anything serious, and I sleep well at night. (If you’d asked me this a year ago when I was still in Manhattan, I might have replied differently.)

  4. Kathleen permalink
    May 4, 2012 9:54 pm

    If only couples that are still married could do this as well. It might save a lot of marriages.

    • May 14, 2012 12:21 am

      They don’t tell you any of this when you’re getting ready to get married. The sagest thing our minister told me before our wedding was not to arrive drunk.

    • Kim permalink
      June 13, 2012 4:15 pm

      I agree, Kathleen. As a person in a relationship that is struggling, I really like this and hope we will put it into place. I like the idea of having arranged meetings, because at the end of the day one or both of us is too tired to talk business. But it needs to happen…seems like a good way to avoid some of the silly arguments.

  5. May 16, 2012 5:47 am

    My sister directed me to your blog when my ex and I first separated. You both have been an inspiration to me, and we are following your 50/50 model. We modifyed it to fit our needs as I’m still unemployed, so we have no need for after school care. Anyways, I recently tagged you on my site at http://www.raisingexpats.com in a blogger networking game. I understand if you don’t participate, but I wanted to direct people who read mine to yours, because I think a lot of people could learn from you two. Good luck with everything.

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