In an increasing number of countries children have two working parents, and if the parent is a millennial then two full time working parents. This is in stark contrast to barely 60 years ago when the majority of women stayed at home and the father figure was the main breadwinner. As this change has happened a cultural discussion has emerged around the co-caring parenting model. How should the mental and physical parenting load be shared to allow both parents to have a career while meeting the needs of their children?
While there is no set way to be a working parent there are ways to help you decide how to better allocate the physical and even more importantly the mental load of parenting to ensure that both parents can thrive at work. If the parenting load is unevenly spread then the working parent, who also has the full-time household manager role, does not have the time to reach for stretch goals at work and this can hinder their career development.
Here are my top ideas of how to start the discussion about sharing the parenting load;
1. Communicate the parenting load Keeping an open dialogue is important to really understand the magnitude of your families parenting load. One way to do this is via a regular household meeting. The aim is to allow for a full and open discussion of the recurrent chores and kids activities that both parents need to know about. It is also important that upcoming ad hoc events such as parents evening, uniform/stationary buying requirements and events coming up for both parents are also highlighted. By increasing the transparency of the parenting load both parties are better able to see how they can help each other.
To support this you can create a virtual or paper calendar and to do list. The allocation of tasks could be based on natural skill/available time or they could be parent agnostic in which case either parent can and should take turns to pick them up.
If you happen to be a single parent then it is important to build up a community of support around you, this can be in person or virtually. This allows you to at the very least to have a sounding board for evaluating your parenting load.
In my family the way this works is weekly meetings on a Saturday with my partner and kids. Making sure my kids also see the parenting load allows them to see chances to step in and help support me as their parent. This is also a chance to manage my kids expectations around my availability and contribution to their mental and physical needs in the upcoming week. As my kids live in two blended families I also need to make sure that I have a subsequent discussion with my ex-husband with regards anything that affects him and his partner, but this is mostly done more on an ad hoc basis.
2. Accept that some things might need to be outsourced None of us are superhuman so accepting outside help is vital. If you are lucky enough to live near family that is great and is especially important if you are a sole parent. The reality is that many people live far away from family support networks so outsourcing is an important way to stay sane. Outsourcing can take many forms including childcare, a cleaner, buying in ready meals, sending shirts to the launderette. Whatever your choice it is important that both parents agree what should be outsourced first and then the remaining tasks discussed and re-allocated.
3. No Comparison How your family allocates the mental and physical load is personal to your circumstances. Accepting that every family is different and your family’s choice will be different from anyone else’s is vital to ensure that you make the best choices for your own family and not worry about your neighbours next door and their seemingly perfect life.
4. Review, Review, Review Life continuously changes and what might work when your children are under five might not work once they start school. Allowing your family to continuously review the mental and physical load as your circumstances change ensures that your parenting remains fit for purpose. One idea to support this is an annual away day to help you plan for the year ahead and talk about the bigger topics such as longer-term money and career goals. If you are a sole parent then taking time to talk to your real or community ‘family’ away from your kids is just as important.
Once a family allocates the parenting load it is equally important to also give yourselves leeway – partnerships are a balance and sometimes it can be 50/50 but on other days or even weeks it may look more than 80/20. The aim is to strive for a longer-term balance where overall you feel there is generally balance – this could be over a three-week period, a month or even quarterly. As part of this it is important to keep checking in with your partner to make sure their view of ‘balance’ is the same as yours and quickly identify when you are moving off the co-caring track.
In creating this blog I found some amazing resources at the following links - please check them out.
https://www.mindfulreturn.com/annual-planning-day/ https://rosetintedtentacles.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/8-ways-to-share-the-mental-load/ https://mumager.ie/2015/10/22/the-25-minutes-that-could-save-your-relationship/
All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.