Stepping up, without stepping on toes
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.