the goal of equal parenting: why i want to be the "okayest" mom


before we had fiona, scott and i had a lot of conversations about the dynamic we would pursue when we parented a child. in these conversations, i frequently found myself feeling defensive about the unfair load society places on mothers over fathers, especially with young babies. scott and i both grew up with stay-at-home mothers, who were essentially super-human in their abilities to predict, prepare, and provide for anything their children brought to them. we had home-cooked meals, rides to and from endless activities, gear for all of those activities, and clean clothes to wear, without fail, all of the time. i look now at how well my mother maintained our household with 4 children within 2 years of each other, and my head spins. don't get me wrong, our dads were present and wonderful too. they coached, they played, they showed up. but when it came to managing the household, it was all mom.

perhaps this is why i felt like i had to spell out to scott that i would not be the mother who did it all and still had time for more, the hyper-organized home maker who insisted on doing the dishes after grocery shopping and making dinner, the helicopter mom who took on 90% of parenting duties so that the dad ended up feeling like he had no idea how to do anything for the baby. i didn't want to do it all, i wanted to share it all. i didn't want to be the only one who could soothe our baby, or be the primary parent taking her to activities. i wanted us to parent our kids together, intentionally, so that we each had responsibility over our household and our family. this wasn't news to him, of course. he predicted and assumed what kind of mother i would be based on what kind of partner i had been, and, probably, based on my feminist rants and ravings any time they presented themselves. but i had to say it. i had to protect myself from any expectation that i could do what our moms did. in the interest of sharing more equally with my husband, i wanted to be completely clear: i would not, could not, be our mothers. and, of course, because i knew what kind of partner he was, scott agreed full-heartedly. he wanted to be a parent just as much as i did, and he had no intention of letting me run the show.

i get a lot of comments about what kind of mom i am. this is a universal experience for all moms, from the minute we are visibly carrying a child in our bodies. we are society's property, to advise and guide and protect, despite the fact that we may be desperately opposed to outside opinions. now that i've been a mother for almost 2 years, i have experienced many, many comments specifically about how much i leave fiona, how often i travel, how i manage that time away. i so often hear the question: "how is scott with fiona when you're gone?" this is an inquiry i tried to protect myself from with those early conversations between scott and i, and yet it still makes me bristle. scott is an incredible parent. he is patient and playful and gentle and loving. he knows the best songs to calm fiona and the best noises to make her smile and he is always willing to chase her when she wants him to. he has a capacity for loving our daughter that is boundless and ever-present. he is an ideal parent. so yes, when i leave our daughter with him for a night or several, he is capable and, more importantly, willing to take on 100% of the duties of caring for her. here is what i wonder: if he wasn't, why would i have created a human with him? 

i have intentionally maintained a self that is independent from my child and my husband. i value it highly, and i work hard to nurture it and create opportunities to expand it. scott, who takes on full responsibility every time i leave for a trip or a night away, graciously supports and respects this need of mine, and feeds his own individual self with weekly basketball games and time with friends. we both know the importance of preserving at least some level of our independence as we give so much of ourselves to our child, and to each other. i love fiona with my whole heart. i care for her and provide for her and obsess over her with every fiber of my being. even when i'm away from her, i'm mentally parenting her, planning for her needs and counting time until i get back to her. perhaps this is why i thrive on a certain amount of time away. scott and i see how much it gives value to our time together as a family. we do what we each need to do to thrive, so that we are able to provide all of the love, attention, support and energy our little girl needs. 

scott and i decided early on what kind of parents we wanted to be. this was informed by our own parents' somewhat traditional roles, and what we did and did not want to replicate about that, as well as what we want for our relationship and our individual selves. we don't necessarily get it right every time... or ever, really, but we try hard to find a balance between us. sometimes that means giving each other breaks and time away, sometimes it means double-teaming a tantrum-fueled toddler, and sometimes it means resorting to traditional gender roles based on a lack of other options. i think what matters is that we try to be intentional, and we try to be, well, "okay" parents as much as we can. it isn't the right approach for everyone, but it's right for us.

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