Friday, August 5, 2011

equally shared parenting hurts

Equally Shared Parenting: Rewriting the Rules for a New Generation of ParentsAs a feminist and equal rights advocate, I was surprised and slightly disgruntled to experience how hard it was to let go of my position as the "primary-parent." I'd been with Lilly 24 -7 that first year of her life so you'd think I'd be ready for a break. Which I craved, but the transition still took some time. And arguing.

Equally shared parenting. It's actually a term and now there's a book for it too. In it, the authors stress that moms must relinquish "primary-parent status:"

If you want lasting and happy equal childraising with your partner, you will need to:
  1. Stop thinking of babies and children as your territory.
  2. Quit taking on more than half the childraising work and responsibility.
  3. Give up the right to be your child's most important parent. (60)

And that second year of Lilly's life, we did it, Leighton and I, sharing our days writing and being with her, playing, cleaning, shopping, cooking.

Correction: the sharing was never equal. I still nursed her day and night. And up until only a couple of weeks ago, I've been the one sharing my bed with her with her body next to me / on top of me.

I am still slightly resentful for how Leighton and I stuck to a schedule where we'd each get a couple of mornings to write (seeing that's the preferred writing time for both of us). On the days when it was my turn to write in the afternoon, I'd still linger after lunch, trying to nurse her down for nap. Which would ultimately eat up half my writing time, leaving me brainless for the rest of it.

I don't know why we held on to that arrangement for so long. The idealism of it. Why I could never suggest we change things up a bit.

Secretly, I've had this deep dark force in me that embraces my mama-power that exceeds the power of the boob. That I'm the one needed in the darkest hours of the day. It's actually a bit embarrassing to confess. Which perhaps explains why I held on to that idealism. Trying hard to pass off as a bigger person. Or maybe holding on to the arrangement was just another side of martyrdom.

Now I've lost the power of the boob. And my magical mama-powers appear to be dwindling too. I've been the one putting her down for nap and night forever. But just this past weekend, her papa got to put her down for nap in an effortless swap of whose body was lying next to her in bed.

And now yesterday, for the first time, she asked to have her papa put her to bed at night even, lying next to her the way I've been doing. Just like that. A quick fix switch.

What's going on here? What's coming next? Where will this leave me? A shriveled up case of retired mama, depleted and hung up to dry?


  1. You *do* have mama-powers beyond the boob. And they have nothing to do with Leighton. It has to do with your being the mother. I think there's a flaw in how you're looking at things. You are not in competition AGAINST Leighton for most-favored-parent status. Lilly is being raised by Team Sabo-Hambrick. Studies have shown that couples that stay together tend to think of things not as me-vs.-you but as our-team-against-the world (or against the dirty dishes or whatever).

    Allowing Lilly and her father to explore and experiment with their bond does not diminish the bond you have with Lilly. Leighton has been excluded from a lot of intimacy because of the breastfeeding. Give the two of them a chance to explore and catch up. The pendulum will swing back and forth over the years of who Lilly prefers at any one moment. It will be you at least half the time.

    Use your occasional time off right now while they play catch up to do your own personal catching up. Catch up on all the parts of you that have been neglected and pushed aside during the crazy first years of motherhood. The yoga, the writing, the relaxing, the showering uninterrupted, seeing friends, etc.. In fifteen years Lilly will go off to college. Make sure that when she does, you have a definition for yourself that is not just "Lilly's mother." Make sure there's some actual you left inside you. For your own sake, but also for Lilly's and Leighton's.

  2. It's an mixed bag. Babies forget the mommy-power. I felt like being a new babies mother is the only place on earth women hold limitless power. Then, so many babies grow up to be jerks and leave mom on the sideline of life. Some make sure she gets screwed over really good financially. Okay, that was my political rant....

    You'll be able to define your role as the woman you are too now! And that's fun. You are probably more amazing now than ever. It will give her and you time to see all that you have become! 

  3. I appreciate your rant and words of encouragement!

  4. I know you're right about all of this, Tara; but it doesn't stop it from hurting at least just a little. Going from feeling crowded to lonely in bed (because now Leighton's often the one going in to sleep with Lilly when she can't sleep by herself at night) is also kind of sad.

  5. I totally hear what you're saying. I think a lot of the sadness has to do with stopping breastfeeding, which for anyone who enjoyed it is one of the most tragic "advances" in a kid's development. Weaning can break a mother's heart for sure, but you'll recover. No matter how long you thought you would do it, it was bound to end at some point. I forgot about the heartbreak of weaning after a few weeks and since then have just fond memories of the breastfeeding itself. (isn't memory great?) 

    Lilly will definitely NOT always ask for Leighton. Most kids I know switch back and forth, sometimes favoring one parent, sometimes the other. C. has an apparently innate ability to pick the parent who is least grumpy on any given day, for example. (which varies in our household!) You won't always be alone at night. The pendulum will swing.

  6. Anne,
    Thank you for this - I'm loving it.  So glad we met and looking forward to connecting more.

  7. Thank you, Stacey! I'm so glad I ran into you. Good to know you're in the neighborhood!

  8. Thanks, Tara! And my congratulations your way and welcome to L.!


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