Why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?

Guest post by Lyla Cicero
Family Walk
By: www.GlynLowe.comCC BY 2.0

The first time it happened, I was at a Mothers of Multiples Club welcome brunch. My fantasy was that my terror of the impending birth of my twins would dissipate as soon as I met the wise kindred spirits who would be guiding me through the transition to multiple-motherhood. Much to my surprise, however, brunch soon descended into a partner-bashing session, replete with the kind of ominous warnings I would receive over and over during my pregnancy.

“Make sure you leave the house when they’re a few months old. I waited three years to leave my kids alone with my husband, and now he refuses to babysit,” one mom insisted. My initial response was confusion. I was planning to leave the house the first week. I had written my doctoral dissertation on equally shared parenting for frig’s sake! Caught totally off guard, I responded, “That’s not going to be a problem for me.” Several of the women chuckled sweetly, shooting me the pitying “you’ll see” glance I would receive time and time again.

What was this strange land I was entering? These were smart, accomplished moms — some working, some stay-at-home — all of whom swore that when kids came into the picture, roles changed overnight. Were the brilliant, creative, feminist women I’d known in college really now accepting such arrangements? My twin terror was quickly compounded by the fear of losing the egalitarian marriage I so valued.

Well, fourteen months into motherhood my marriage is as egalitarian as ever. However, the “our husbands suck and don’t do anything” motif turned out to be rampant at the mommy meet-ups and play-dates that were supposed to help maintain my sanity during the first year with infant twins. Now don’t get me wrong, my husband can be an ass. Then again, so can I! But the truth is — (hushed whisper) I like my husband. He is a fantastic husband. No one has the perfect marriage, but it was the gendered aspects of the husband-bashing which eluded me most — husbands not “helping” around the house, never “watching the kids,” oblivious to routines and childcare tasks.

Despite my relief that my own marriage hadn’t followed this path, my own parenting experience felt utterly erased during these conversations. I would feel like a total asshole if I sat there repeating, “My husband does do that,” and adding obnoxiously, “My husband cleans more than I do.” So instead I just passed, keeping my identity practicing equally shared parenting hidden. I was also a queer mom passing as straight at these gatherings, but amazingly, stating, “My husband taught me how to swaddle,” or “Sometimes Seth is more comfortable with our kids than I am,” felt more threatening than announcing I was queer.

When I really examined my fear, I realized it felt like I would be “coming out” as a bad mom. Had we somehow gotten the message that fairness and equality were okay for us to enjoy in our marriages but to be good mothers, we had to be the ones drastically rearranging our lives to make room for children? If my husband was parenting as well as me, must I not be parenting well at all?

I desperately want to be accepted by my peers. After all, this mothering thing is hard, and I am going to need them. Then again, am I really even there if I just hide out at playgroups, nod and pass, not only as straight — but as June Cleaver? And the truth is husband-bashing isn’t the kind of support that I need anyway. What about adult stimulation? What about moms who can talk politics, who are activists? What about discussing how the hell we are going to give our kids the space to explore flexible gender identities and orientations toward love and sex while media and culture steer them onto narrow, limiting paths? What about the massive, profound transition that is becoming a mother? Let’s talk about the guilt, the ecstasy, the terror, trying to find balance, trying to hold on to ourselves! Some moms I’ve met seem so burdened with the lion’s share of childcare that they’ve had to lose the rest of themselves to manage it. Is this the culturally-accepted ideal of motherhood? No selves allowed?

"Daddy is not my babysitter" tshirt available here
“Daddy is not my babysitter” tshirt available here

I’m still trying to work out why my husband and I never walked through that time warp back to the 1950s that all those couples who “swore it wouldn’t happen to them” walked through. I ask myself if these women complaining about their male partners’ traditional responses to parenting were themselves willing to be flexible in their own gender roles. As long as we have the attitude that we can do it better, men probably won’t step up, because what man enjoys feeling incompetent?

That mom who didn’t leave the children with her husband for three years obviously didn’t see him as a competent caretaker, but now seems bitter that he’s not one. We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the private domain. How would we react to that kind of attitude toward our work in the public sphere? Imagine men expecting to supervise and micromanage our works as CEOs?

So why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents? Is it just that hard to picture? I don’t think so. I think it’s because deep down there is a part of us that believes if we demand equal parenting, if we demand holding onto ourselves — as our husbands do when children come into the picture — then we are not good mothers.

I can understand this fear. When I really sit and think about it, I have it, too. When I work, when I take time to write, when I keep up with friends, go out with other adults, and spend time fantasizing about things I’m passionate about, there is always this little nagging feeling that a “good mom” would have let go of these things.

I’ve held onto my egalitarian marriage and my sense of self, but I haven’t managed to not beat myself up about it. So my husband has all the parenting skills and responsibility I do, but I still look at him and he seems unburdened, free of the guilt and self-doubt that plagues me. But no more: if he can be a full person and also believe he is a good parent, I can be out and proud as an egalitarian mother.

Comments on Why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?

  1. I think that this was really thoughtful, and this perspective should be put “out there” more. Honestly, not only do we lose as partners and parents when we assume that our husbands are incompetent, our children lose too. They lose a fully involved and invested parent and a role model.

    And I want to kick the shins of anyone who refers to a father being with his own children as “babysitting.” No, it’s parenting. No vagina required.

    • Jane, that’s such an important point. In my dissertation research I found that SO MANY positive aspects of mental health and adjustment were related to father involvement in children’s lives. Plus, if father’s are not involved it passes on the idea that women the ones who can be nurturing and do childcare, and then the next generation follows the same scripts.

    • I also have a horrible reaction towards the use of the term “babysitting” in reference to a father taking care of his children. Do you PAY the father of your children an hourly wage to watch his own kids for a couple of hours in the evening? I doubt it.

      If I were a father, I would “refuse to babysit” as well. It makes it sound like the fathers have no parenting rights (or responsibilities) at all.

      • OH MY GOD, that drives me nuts. My husband called it babysitting, and I refused to let it go — now he says “I’m parenting while Jill is at work”. LOL

      • Sometimes when I hear a father say that, I will ask ( all wide-eyed and innocent), “Is it called babysitting if you watch your own children?”

      • My fiancee and I both refer to it as “babysitting” when one of us is watching our son specifically so the other can go do something fun. But it would be weird to think of him “babysitting” normally.

        • That is a great distinction! There’s a difference between around the clock normal parenting and one parent doing the other a favor. Maybe when the time comes I will call this “favor-sitting” or something hopefully less lame, haha.

    • It doesn’t help that the United States Census Bureau considers men watching their children “babysitting.” Even when the men report being the child’s primary caregiver, i.e. stay-at-home dad. It’s insulting to both sexes.

    • YES! I’m so glad I’m not the only one whose head exploded because that woman said her husband won’t “babysit” their children. Um… if you’re a parent spending time with your child, that is NOT babysitting. That’s parenting.

      My fiance and I have been going through relationship books pre-marriage, and one of them was talking about an example couple where the wife was upset her husband didn’t “help” her do housework. And both my fiance and I just kind at stared at each other blankly… we pretty much always do all our chores and errands together (“Looks like it’s time to clean the apartment/go grocery shopping/do laundry!” “Cool, let’s do it.”)

      It’s baffling.

    • I find this a little judge-y. I often refer to either my husband or myself as “babysitting” when one of us can’t make it to a social engagement, because it is clear and concise: “Will you be joining us?” “No, I’m babysitting, but Tom will be there.”

      What’s to get so upset about?

      I do have a friend who challanges me on that, but seriously, the baby’s crying/nursing/grabbing at the phone. Can I just hang up now?

      • Same here. We don’t have kiddos yet, but when I’ve had to stay at home with our dog while my partner was working, I’ve excused myself from activities by saying I was “babysitting.” I think the issue is that no one is likely to say to a man, “Oh, is mom at home babysitting?”

      • Because it’s parenting. You hire a babysitter. By downgrading a father’s role to babysitter, you imply that he’s just temporarily caretaking. Instead of fathering (or mothering). My husband finds it very offensive.

      • Alyssa said above “My fiancee and I both refer to it as “babysitting” when one of us is watching our son specifically so the other can go do something fun.”

        It’s sounds like you are using the same definition as she is. However, I would not call dad watching the kids “babysitting” if I were grocery shopping or cleaning, haha!

        Words mean multiple things and are used differently by different people. So in some cases, Dad “babysitting” might be devaluing his involvement and in other cases it could just be short hand for “Dad is being awesome and letting me go buy shoes sans kiddos.”

  2. This idea of women bonding over bashing thier partners like a Tammy Wynette song come to life is as old as the hills, how it’s still going on in 2012 is a mystery. It’s almost like they’re reinforcing to each other that taking nothing to do with the children is a normal way for a man to act, and the additional burden on them is part of those unfair expectations society has of women. I’m guessing that some of them at least might like to hear about a dynamic that wasn’t rooted in a bygone era, where both parents parented equally. Maybe they’ve slipped into that routine but have been fooled into thinking it’s normal because the other mothers act like it is.

    The others probably like it like that and just want a place to complain about it though.

    • I feel conflicted about this essay as well as a lot of the comments. First of all, though I agree that in an ideal world, gender stereotypes would exist only in the realm of 1950’s sitcoms, the fact remains that most parts of this country are not as progressive as Offbeat Mama. Why does this surprise so many of you, I wonder? Do you not consider yourselves “offbeat”? Perhaps many of you live on the coasts or in big cities, but here in Kansas I know that equal parenting is hardly the norm. I don’t blame the mothers who might be complaining or their husbands who might be slacking; if anything, I blame the society that created both of them!

      Furthermore, on the subject of socialization, the fact is that much of the time, women are socialized to take care of children and men are not. (not ALWAYS but MOSTLY). My husband is a great dad who happily assumes his share of caring for our son, but the fact is, he doesn’t have the years of babysitting classes and experience that I have, so he does things like offer our 9-month old strawberries, forget to pack the milk, offer the baby slices of banana from the TIP OF A STEAK KNIFE (yes, really), or leave the bathroom “only for a sec” while the baby’s in the tub. So, it is not that I don’t trust him so much as I know that loving our son has not AUTOMATICALLY instilled my husband with many of the childcare skills that I learned from playing with dolls as a little girl.

      So be careful when you bash those moms for responding to their and their husbands’ socialization. Maybe you should organize an offbeat mama (papa, whatever) meet-up in your area instead so you won’t have to hide or feel awkward with these “onbeat” mamas.

      • But – sorry, wouldn’t it be nicer if we (as mothers) helped our partners to learn to parent better instead of rolling our eyes and taking the baby away and saying “I can’t trust you”? I mean, I don’t think that having a uterus means you know how to parent. Everyone learns somehow. I’ve been a babysitter and nanny, and my husband often asks me for detailed instructions. He wants to learn how to parent our kid. Now he does things just as well as me, even if he does them differently. Would I have put a hat on her for that chilly morning walk? Yes, but did she die? No. Would I have served her pasta for lunch AND dinner? No, but again – not that big of a deal. We have to help them, then give them some space. Even if it’s just 20 mins at a time. They have to learn just like we did.

        • I don’t think I insinuated that taking the baby away or saying, “I can’t trust you,” is ever okay. Quite the opposite, actually. I have left my son alone with my husband since I was healed enough to walk after the birth. I have been teaching him diapering and swaddling and everything else as we went along, and he is learning well, but he still makes mistakes. I gently tell him how important it is to never leave a young child unattended in the bath (a bit of a bigger deal than wearing a hat on a walk, I think you’ll agree), and I trust that it won’t happen again because being a great dad is SO important to him. But some men (partners) may not be so willing to take instruction so well. What I don’t agree with about this post and the follow-up comments is that so many of them seem to do just what they disparage. That is, bash other people. You all don’t know what goes on in these women’s houses and what they have or have not tried in order to get their partners to help with the childcare. The poor women are probably sleep-deprived and frustrated. Let them blow off a little steam instead of being so damn high and mighty. Not everyone may be as lucky as you and I in our choice of partners. Also, one more thing: there is always the possibility that “false advertising” is involved. I know that in the case of my husband and I, we discussed how we would do certain things (such as the religious upbringing of our future children) before we even got married or preggo. Strangely, his views on some of those things have changed since the baby became a reality. Does that mean I made a bad choice in husbands? No, it just means that neither of us could foresee how much things can change once you have a kid.

          • My husband and I are planning on having kids. I have almost never been around babies in my entire life. My husband has just a little more childcare experience and that’s only being around his young cousins at family events. We’ll both have to learn this parenting thing mostly from scratch. We should both be able to figure out this parenting gig without years of previous experience.

          • Yes, but I make mistakes too. Even with years of experience – my partner does some things better, some worse, same as I. Assuming that one Partner is more equipped is for me a slope towards unequal partnership. I’m willing to accept a few mistakes in support of that.

          • I think the problem with husband bashing, when done as a frequent hobby, is that it engenders negativity. It encourages people to only see and talk about the bad stuff husbands do.

            The fact that Lyla was so hesitant to speak up about the fact that her husband is a good parent and is better than her in some areas shows that.

            As others have said, EVERYONE makes mistakes, EVERYONE has areas where they will learn. But if all you do is criticise someone for something they don’t know, sooner or later they will give up trying.

      • I didn’t grow up babysitting and am not a mother, so I know my partner and I will both be learning together. But I can see how inequities can arise in relationships when the people entered into them have different backgrounds.

        And…why can’t a 9 month old have strawberries? I have a lot of reading to do over the next couple years…

    • “This idea of women bonding over bashing thier partners like a Tammy Wynette song come to life is as old as the hills, how it’s still going on in 2012 is a mystery.”

      Indeed. Can you imagine the inverse: a bunch of men sitting around complaining about how their wives didn’t earn enough money or weren’t attractive anymore? The issue here isn’t gender roles (OK, it isn’t *only* gender roles). It’s respecting your partner enough to bad mouth them behind their back.

  3. Love this. There are some aspects of parenting and housekeeping that my husband is better at than me. But that’s ok, cos there are aspects that I’m better at! We’re a team. We work together. I hate what some women seem to put up with, or even facilitate. I just don’t understand it!

  4. Yaaay, I freakin love this essay! We don’t have kids quite yet, but I worry sometimes that I’ll slip into the role of “default parent” without realizing it, especially growing up in a (very nice!) family where my mom did like 95% of the parenting. It’s super scary because there aren’t really ways to “prepare” for having kids, but that analogy about a dude micro-managing a woman CEO really struck a chord with me.

    Thank you so much for showing such a positive example of partnership in parenting. I’m sure that I’ll mentally revisit it a lot in the years to come!

    • So glad you responded, I’m really happy to be able to say it doesn’t have to be like that!!!! My family was extremely traditional growing up, and I am doings things completely differently. Just be sure you have an open dialogue with your partner about it, and make your desires known. I am so flattered that you will be revisiting my piece mentally. πŸ™‚ Good luck!

  5. I understand where you are coming from, I wish my boyfriend and I had discussed this (or even thought about it) before we had our baby but we didn’t. Because it was hard for me to pump enough milk to bottle feed my daughter, my BF has only gotten to do it a handful of times. She isn’t really used to a bottle so when he feeds her she doesn’t like it, I usually nurse her to sleep so when I leave her with him at night she cries out of want for a nice boob to snuggle up with. When she was a new born I would always be the first one to her and I couldn’t stand not comforting her myself. I didn’t know that I was setting our relationship up to be so unequal. I didn’t know that I was taking his confidence away. I didn’t do it on purpose though. Now when I leave her with him I do feel like I’m leaving him to babysit (at night when I have school once a week). She gets upset, cries, rejects bottles, and he gets stressed out and is upset and not very talkative when I get home. I’m trying to backtrack, to renew his confidence, but it’s hard, super hard, though we are making progress. It also helps that she is getting older and as she gets older he can relate to her more and more.

    Reading this article was hard for me, it made me feel a little bit bad about myself. I don’t think that was the authors intention though. I feel like I’m in a world where I can’t win haha!

    • Just because parents share in the parenting, doesn’t mean they each do half of everything. My kids never used bottles, so I did all the feeding, but my husband gave almost all the baths. It was his sweet time with the kids.

      • It Is difficult not to scoop up baby when they cry and are with Daddy, it really really is, but soooooo neccesary so our partners can establish their bonds and values as parents as well. Now I hate the commiserate Game, it deemphasizes all the beautiful possitive things our babies do and bring to our lives. I was recently at a ‘playdate’ as much as a one month old can play I guess, and it was a complain athon. I felt guilted because my baby sleeps and I didn’t think my husbands idea of parenting was idiotic. My husband works all day and I get to hang out with this incredible little angel all day, so yeah maybe I can read his cues more easily, but how us daddy going to get it if you second guess and criticize and then conversly if you don’t allow them the time to do so, you shouldn’t complain. Instead of all the comparing and commiserating we should be supportive.

      • Yeah, it makes sense that one parent would be better at a certain task than the other, since people are naturally better at different things. Having complementary tasks instead of taking turns seems like it could work for a lot of couples.

    • If you’re breastfeeding, it’s hard to have a “50-50” split with a newborn, no matter how egalitarian you are. Your partner’s contribution may have to be feeding you, or taking care of the house, or something like that. As the baby gets older and can go longer between feedings, and learns to eat solids, it will be easier and things will fall more naturally into place.

      We signed my husband up for a “mommy-and-me” class with our first baby when he was six months old, and I only went to the first class to take pictures; after that they flew solo and they had a special “thing” that was just theirs that I wasn’t involved in. It gave me a break and it gave him a thing that he was the clear expert at. Having that deliberate “thing” helped build confidence in both of us that my husband and son could have their own relationship independent of me, and more natural egalitarian splits of child care developed.

      My husband still doesn’t see spills on the counter, which is maddening. But it’s all right, I don’t see weeds in the veggie beds. We all have our weaknesses. πŸ™‚

      • I managed a mostly 50-50 split (okay, maybe 60-40) with our newborn… by doing NOTHING besides breastfeeding. After the first week or two, I realized I was literally spending 12 hours a day breastfeeding, and that meant that diapering, baths, burping, swaying, etc all had to be my husband’s job to have us be even close to spending equal time on the baby. It was hard for me to back off that much, and like this article talks about there were a lot of times when I felt like I wasn’t being a Good Mother by doing it all myself. But seriously. Breastfeeding literally 12 hours a day.

        • This was my experience as the mother of a newborn too: I was The Boobs Of Nourishment, he was The Arms Of Everything Else.

        • Marina I feel like our babies were similar. My best friend likes to say she didn’t know what my son looked like for the first 3 months because his face was always buried in my chest!

    • Hi Marina, I’m sorry if the piece made you feel bad. It’s NEVER too late. Actually in my dissertation research I found that couples became more and more egalitarian over time – it is the hardest to do, the younger the children, and breastfeeding does pose a challenge. I would say try to really empower him to do other tasks that don’t require breasts – give him a lot of positive feedback anytime he does them!

    • I just wanted to say that I think some of this shifts after weaning (that is not meant as a suggestion that you wean by the way!).

      For us, at least, there was definitely an unequal phase with our first child and it was largely due to breastfeeding (plus my being home for six months), but once my son weaned, we really shifted back into egalitarian patterns.

      We are expecting our second child in two months and are bracing ourselves for the return of the short-term inequality, and we hope that knowing that things will eventually shift will help us deal with the inevitable marital tensions (my frustration at always being on call, and his at feeling sometimes marginalized and less important). I suspect that our son’s strong bond with his father will help mitigate some of this, though I have also been warned that in the early weeks our son will be very mommy needy due to the intensity of the time I will spend with the baby and that he might shift away from Dad a bit.

      For me, breastfeeding was truly the “best of times and the worst of times.” I adored it, yet it was also so so hard — logistically hard at the start and hard in terms of sleep deprivation the entire time. I look two months ahead and am giddy with excitement to (hopefully) be able to do it again, yet looking to those middle of the night feedings with a certain degree of real dread. A lot of this is about me, but also some of it is the parental inequality and the fact that I just don’t enjoy that and don’t find that it brings out the best in me. But, we will take deep breaths and just try to remind ourselves when we get frustrated with each other that “this too shall pass.”

      At the risk of rhetorically excluding non-bio parents, which is not my intent, I will say that I often think of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum months as the “biological” phase of parenting. And for us that meant for some inequality. (After all, if Daddy gives a bottle as a break for me, I still have to pump it — not really a break — and I was always worried about milk supply and never wanted to skip a replacement pump!) But, it really did get better post-weaning (again I am not suggesting you do that!) when that biological difference ended.

    • I did all the night feedings and I always put my son to bed at night because he is nursing. So, this is why I can never be out late. My husband is a stay at home dad, so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to take care of our son, but he gets really frustrated if I’m not home in the evenings for bed time. It’s like I get the nights and he has the days. (Unless it’s the weekend then I get the days too!)

    • I exclusively breastfed (no bottles) and my husband was still able to do his “share” of parenting – feeding was my responsibility, since I had the boobs, but soothing Miles when he wasn’t hungry was always Dad’s job. He has mad skills in that area to this day (2 years later) and I think it really has to with all those early weeks spent swaddling and bouncing and pacing the hallways while I slept and, as he put it, “recharged the milkers.”

    • I think you hit the nail on the head with the primary nursing role coming to = primary role for everything. The key, if I may say based on my similar experience to yours, is making sure there are primary tasks that your partner takes on, too. Doesn’t matter what it is, but making sure the QT is there for both of you with the child will help foster more egalitarian roles. I can only hope this theory proves true as we welcome our 2nd child into our family in the next 6-8 weeks!

  6. I’d like to say that my co-parenting adventure started out egalitarian, but it just didn’t. From the start my husband slept on a different floor so he could get more sleep while I toiled alone all night with our newborn in what was a breastfeeding/pumping nightmare. I didn’t feel like I could ask for help because we’d just moved to this new place and he was nervous about his new job and to top it off we were living with his parents while going through the house purchasing process. But it only went downhill from there. He couldn’t change a diaper without help, he didn’t know what to feed the child if he was left alone, he freaked out if the baby cried. Honestly I wouldn’t have been nervous or had a “he can’t handle it” feeling about my partner if he hadn’t put the vibe out there so very strongly himself. I tried to convince him it was fine, he was doing well and was a good father, but he never seemed to feel it himself.

    We are on child 2 and talking about child 3 at this point, and things are far different. Things actually ARE egalitarian now. Where the first time I would have perhaps participated in the idle comment from time to time with my fellow moms about how he overreacts to poop, I now smile quietly when other moms share their stories of husbands who aren’t as helpful as they wished. I think there’s nothing wrong with sharing what is plainly a common problem. Bashing, yeah that’s wrong. But sharing your frustration when you are tired from 24/7 parenting and your partner doesn’t lend much of a hand? No. Nothing wrong there. You’re simply looking for support and hoping you aren’t alone.

    But really, the problem is in getting those partners to feel more in-control and able in the first place. Partners that are more confident about such things are going to be more helpful all around.

    • Hi Audrey, glad you have been able to move toward equal parenting, I have found it is easier for a lot of couples to do the more time that goes by, and older children get. I think you make a good point that moms do need a place to vent and bitch if husbands/partners aren’t doing their share – what I really see as problematic is when that becomes part of what it means to be a good mother – the sense that if we are not self-sacrificial we are doing something wrong. I also wish more women would speak up TO their partners as well as to other moms. Thanks for reading!

  7. We don’t have kids yet, but the husband-bashing happens just the same. Actually, it happened even when we were dating, when I’d get together with my girlfriends and they’d just want to talk about how stupid/lazy/noncommunicative their boyfriends were. Like the author of this post, I learned to just keep quiet because no one wants to hear, “Actually my boyfriend does do that… We communicate very well… No, he’s never said that…” And now I’m the odd one because I don’t do all the household chores — my husband and I have a system based on each of our strengths. So I can’t commiserate about how this huge burdan is placed on me to do all the housework.

    This is why I love Offbeat Mama — you all make me feel less alone!

    • Jessica, yay, it’s great to read about your egalitarian relationship! Keep speaking up when you can, hopefully it will empower others to think more critically about their relationships. If women stop marrying/dating men who don’t do their share, men will have no choice but to step up! Props to you! I feel less alone as well.

      • Hi Lyla,

        Just an aside on “men will have no choice but to step up!”.. I find that in a group, the norm is to husband/partner bash as thats what the group is doing, whereas you meet couples as just a twosome and you can tell straight off that most are egalitarian in a way that suits the couple.

        I don’t think speaking up would make men “step up” I think it would encourage women to stop bashing and be thankful for the partner they have.

    • I think it’s important to speak up in these situations and let people know that some men do pull their weight in terms of chores, communicate, pay attention etc. I might help the people venting to realise that these things aren’t just something all men do, but something that their partner does and maybe that means he needs to buck up his ideas or he’s not the guy she wants to settle down with after all.

      • Exactly, when peope go on about how dense their partner is I wonder why they married them. The reality usually is someone defining self worth by the inadequacies of their partner, which in fact devalues them in the process. We can all be good at the whole life thing, right? Whoever was happy because someone else was unhappy!

      • I take a different approach if I’m talking one-on-one with a friend than when I’m in a group. If I’m talking with a friend individually about our partners and they mention having to shoulder the burden of housework, for example, then I would definitely say, “Here’s what we found works best… Have you tried such-and-such? What do you think about this?” Many of my friends seek relationship advice from me one-on-one (or read my blog and ask me about things I’ve written about my marriage), so it’s not awkward in that situation.

        On the other hand, being in a group of women where everyone just wants to vent and bash on their partners, I’ve found that trying to interject a positive comment just shuts down conversation and causes everyone to act uncomfortable, or people completely ignore my comments altogether and keep on talking. So I’ve learned to adjust what I say according to the situation.

  8. I love this post so hard, and feel like in some ways this is another expression of Mama Martyrdom:

    if you think you’re the only one who knows how best to deal with your kid, you trap yourself in a little box where noone else is allowed to help, and then the burden is all on you, and then you’re exhausted and people get alienated and then noone else bothers trying to help (because they’ve hit road blocks with you telling them they’re doing it wrong) and then there you are: frazzled and feeling isolated and overburdened.

    • I dealt with these feelings when we realized we needed to find a nanny share because I had to return to work. There were many tears over the loss of control over how someone else would take care of my baby, no matter how skilled they were or how well we gave them directions. Finally I had to make peace with the fact that it WOULD be different and that it would be ok.

      Anyway…I know it’s not quite the same thing but it’s SO easy to find yourself in that box! I say make sure the big things are covered and try and let the little things (she used THAT blanket for naptime??) go.

      • I can’t remember seeing a post about this kind of thing – having a nanny watch your children. I know I have seen posts about it from the nanny side! But I would be curious to know what to expect, and how to come to that decision, and the biggest fears/worries, etc…. Unless of course I did miss that post! πŸ˜‰

        • Maybe I’ll try and write something and submit it for consideration. We have our 7-month-old in a nannyshare and it’s great…but being away from her, especially at the beginning, is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Our nanny is great and the two babies love each other but it was really hard for me. But for us it was a much better alternative to daycare and we’re happy about our decision–even though it is definitely more expensive!

  9. I can imagine how easy it is to fall into the stereotypical roles trap with a newborn, especially if the mother is nursing, has maternity leave longer than the father, etc, which then builds into a situation where the mother is more “in-tune” with the baby’s schedule and needs. It doesn’t have to be like that, but I can see how it can slip into a certain routine of care, and probably easy for dad to think that mom has all the essentials (boobs and some kind of natural maternal instincts) and hesitate to jump in.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I can see how circumstances might easily propagate an old stereotype and how couples get to a point where they can’t see the arc of those circumstances, only the current result. I do know people who have joked that their husbands won’t be much use when the baby comes, but by and large the majority of expecting parents I’ve talked to are absolutely convinced they are entering a shared venture.

    Sometimes the best medicine is to hand the baby over and completely remove yourself, very early in baby’s life. Motherhood can be kind of sink-or-swim at the start and maybe fathers need to be thrown in the water alone from time to time as well.

    That said, my husband is a natural father and I felt like parenthood came more naturally to him than me. He was the one who could get the colicky baby to sleep, he was the one who wasn’t afraid to cut the tiny finger nails, and he was the one who recognized different cries for different needs.

    • “Sometimes the best medicine is to hand the baby over and completely remove yourself, very early in baby’s life. Motherhood can be kind of sink-or-swim at the start and maybe fathers need to be thrown in the water alone from time to time as well.”

      This. We do not have an egalitarian parenting relationship. We’re very intentionally a “spheres of influence” style household. However, I don’t handle sleep deprivation well. So during those first few weeks, there were definitely times when I walked out of the bedroom, handed the fussy baby and a bottle to my startled husband, and went back into my room, closed the door and went to sleep. Guess what? Both my husband and the baby survived every single time. Now, when he can tell I’m getting frazzled, he’s perfectly capable of taking the baby and putting him to bed (or whatever) on his own.

      The trick is just to stay out of the way. I learned what works through trial and error. He can do the same. Especially since what works for me and what works for him tend to be different (the lack of boobs does make a difference).

      • The trick is totally to stay out of the way. The more I “helped,” the more I sent the message that I knew what I was doing and he didn’t and that he should consult me. That’s how you end up with a partner who doesn’t know where your 5-year-old’s socks are even though they’ve been in the same drawer since birth.

        I used to hand over our first son as soon as my husband walked in the door, and from there I would go on a walk and then come in the side door to the house so I could sneak into the bedroom for a break without baby losing it because he realized I was there. It doesn’t make for a very sweet movie about parenting but it kept him every bit as much a parent as me.

        • I often feel frustrated when my husband wants me to teach him what I had to learn on my own. Especially if he doesn’t get it the first time around. On top of that, I’m feeling more and more possessive of our baby, since I am with him all day and know his cues so well. I think it’s very challenging to establish some sort of balanced parenting relationship with a young baby.

          Instead of partner bashing, I would love to be able to vent, then discuss strategies for letting go AND empowering my husband. My breast feeding support group is very helpful in discussing inclusion and empowerment of partners.

          • I feel this way, often. Mostly when I am exhausted I snap into the following resentfulness: When I am working with the kids, I do everything. When you are working with the kids, I still do at least half of everything.

            The thing is:
            1. Score keeping can drive you crazy, and
            2. The time to change it is not in the heat of that feeling.

            I have taken to pausing for a moment before answering to see if he can answer his own question. Sometimes I straight up lie and tell him I don’t know something. At those points it is usually only 1/2 of a lie, because I often feel like I *know* what he’s asking me but I’m so mentally fried that I can’t form the answer.

  10. This line –>”We have to believe men can care for children and manage homes, just as we believe we can run companies and nations, rather than expect them to “help” while we maintain control over the private domain.”

    The biggest fight my husband and I ever had was about 6 months into being new parents. He felt like I was only letting him “help” or “babysit”. When he wanted to be a true partner/ co-parent. I really had to take a step back and reassess my views on how our family unit functioned. I had to let him make decisions about our twins and I had to let go of a lot of my control.

  11. This is actually one topic I haven’t really discussed with my mom friends…not for any reason but we just haven’t. I am happy to say that my husband is even MORE involved than I imagined he would be. Due to my taking freelance jobs fairly early on (with late hours) he was the one to install Olive’s bedtime routine and to this day is the one who manages it. I do think that because she was both bottle and breastfed, he assumed easily half of her feedings and we still share it pretty equally. I think my dad was frankly amazed the first time we took Olive to their house and he saw how much Ryan did for her, and I can tell that he has a lot of respect for it even though I can tell it’s a little baffling to him.

    Both my husband and I consider the concept of the father (or non-mother partner) “babysitting” their own child to be ridiculous. If it’s your kid it’s not babysitting! Anyway, you are not alone in having a great partner who puts in as much work as you do. And I think our daughter really benefits from having a close bond with each of us. Sometimes she needs “mama time” sure, but she also needs her “papa time” too.

    Great article!

  12. i love this post too. it took my husband and me a little while to get a good flow going, but we got there well before having our second child, although i’m not sure it had anything to do with it not being an egalitarian relationship.

    a lot of the husband bashing seems to stem from dudes putting the vibe out there that they’re scared or not confident in their ability to care for a baby (as previous poster mentioned). ideally we’d support and empower our partners to be better caregivers in this case, but i get the feeling that some moms are afraid to trust their partners that much. i used to hover a lot like that too, but i realized there were some things he was just much better at than i was — changing onesies and giving baths. and i see now that i was a complete nervous wreck the first few months of our older daughter’s life.

    i also remember there were times early in our relationship where i would get upset that he didn’t offer to help more, or that he didn’t read my mind when i was so obviously (to me) struggling and stressed out, but i wasn’t clearly communicating my feelings and expectations with him, and i wouldn’t just say “hey, i need help” which is totally unfair. i recently had a talk with a friend who was going through something similar, and when i told her to be assertive and just clearly state that she wanted her husband to care for their child while she went out with a friend instead of dumping the baby on her mom, she seemed to think it was bitchy, or that it would come off as bitchy and demanding. so there’s also that feeling too, that we’re somehow being bitchier when we communicate clearly.

    anyway, echoing sentiments — i love this post. πŸ™‚

  13. …Also wanted to say that I have witnessed a number of moms not really let their partners do very much with their kid. This was the extreme, but I was once at a very uncomfortable dinner party starring a new baby and both parents, and was horrified at how the mom acted toward the dad. This was years before I had my own and I didn’t know the couple very well, but the dad couldn’t even hold his son without the mom literally scolding him at every turn. Don’t do this, hold him like that, he doesn’t like that, you don’t get it, her just give him back to me, etc. I’m sure she was frazzled and stressed out, but wow…I swore at that moment that I would never browbeat the father of my kid like that.

    Again I know that’s an extreme, but I’ve seen other much more subtle examples of this and wonder if some dads start feeling shut out. I’d love to hear from dads/non-mom partners about this! Although I’m betting if they’re already reading OBM then they’re probably pretty involved already πŸ™‚

    • When my husband is doing something with the baby that I don’t like (but won’t harm the baby-I intervene with too hot bath water, but not holding positions), I tell myself, “the baby learns different skills from daddy.”

      So it’s okay for him to do things differently from me, even beneficial for our baby.

  14. Amen sister! I love this article. I am pregnant with my first and I find it hard enough to fit in with other wives and future moms because my husband is awesome enough to change his last name to mine when we got married. We are looking forward to this adventure and I am especially concerned about equally shared parenting. It’s one of the reasons I am so hesitant to breastfeed. We are both graduate students and taking one week off from teaching. After that, we agreed that we both get 2.5 days on campus a week to work and take care of the classes we are in, the classes we are teaching, research, etc. I just feel taht breastfeeding would add a dimension of unfairness that I really don’t think I would be able to handle half way through the semester. Time shall tell…

    Thanks for offbeat mama AGAIN for not being afraid to bring up the tough issues we all struggle with.

    • Of course only you know what would work best for your situation, but I would really encourage you to at least give breastfeeding a try. I breastfeed and work full time, and my husband and I find equality in our relationship in other ways–for instance, he does all the nighttime diaper changes. I personally find the health and emotional benefits of nursing worth finding ways for my husband to be an equal parent other than feeding. But again, you’re the one who knows what works best for you and your family!

    • Allyn, wow that’s really awesome that your husband changed his name to yours. We were considering that, and my kids have my name and not his, and people really act like we’re crazy on that front. Sounds like you have a great plan in place! Good luck!

      • My husband is pretty awesome, I’m not going to lie. It’s still not “official” (though we should probably get on that since the baby is duu in November) because we live in Tennessee where men can’t just use their marriage certificate to change their name. So it’s the $500, court ordered process. But he does have several academic publications under his new name, which makes it more real to me πŸ™‚

        We are still figuring out the whole upcoming “feeding the baby” situation, and I know there are lots of parents who manage to work full time and breastfeed and pump. I think we are going to try and hope for the best! Thanks again everyone

        • Just wanted to also encourage you to breastfeed if possible…there are so many benefits that will far outweigh any perceived inequality. This comes from a mom who does both breastfeeding and bottlefeeding with both milk and formula. And now I do work fulltime and still breastfeed when I can and pump otherwise. There are so many ways for dad to contribute that will make it feel more equal, and dads find many ways to bond with the baby. Changing diapers is actually a great time to bond since you’re right there with them and they can have close eye contact. We still play silly games with Olive on the table!

          Hope this helps πŸ™‚

          • Our 3 month old loves diaper changes, and always has. I think before the baby is born, many people view changing diapers as a burden, but it really is a great bonding time.

  15. Husband bashing has almost become a norm between women…. while I find this to be partially just “venting” I also find it sad that men can be stereotyped into that “incompetant father” role. I find myself, often times, telling people of my husband’s impeccible parenting skills. He has more of a maternal instinct than I do! I don’t think it makes me any less of a mother, it just means that in our parenting partnership he takes on the motherly role more so than I do, and that works for us! Who cares, as long as our children are happy and safe? πŸ™‚

  16. I think this is really true. I feel like my husband and I are equal parents… because he’s the one who stays home with the baby full time while I work full time. I have the breastfeeding/biological bond, he has the most-time-spent bond, and that feels equal. (Most of the time.) If I was the one staying home, I imagine it would feel very, very different even though we’d be the same people and the same parents.

  17. I really appreciate this post. I’m 8 months pregnant. My husband is much more domestically minded than I am, and I always assumed that I’d go back to work while he took care of the kid(s).

    Instead, circumstances dictate that he’ll be working while I stay home with the kid for the next year, and already I’m sick to death of friends/family characterizing their husbands (and sometimes the husbands themselves!) as incompetent parents. And it offends me when they insinuate my husband will be equally so!

    My mother laughed when I said I was planning on pumping so my husband could take a few of the late-night feeding shifts, saying “oh he won’t wake up, only mothers hear their babies cry.” What?

    • Welllllll… I do wake up faster when my 3 month old cries. But that just means I nudge my husband until he gets out of bed, and then I go back to sleep.

      • Yeah, my husband doesn’t wake up. In fact, I wake long before baby cries. He actually smacks his lips πŸ™‚ I have found that breast feeding at night is very convenient once you’ve mastered the side lying position. You can actually sleep while baby nurses. I do wake husband if a nighttime diaper change is needed. I’m not willing to get out of bed!

  18. Hear hear! I consciously try to boast about my husband as much as I can, because it really bugs me that he’s faced with so many assumptions about how he must be a less involved parent because he has a penis. I try to be upfront in mommy groups that I work full time and my husband takes care of the baby full time and that works GREAT for both of us.

    One major reason that I feel like we have a pretty egalitarian parenting situation is because we both took the same amount of time off work. There was never one of us who was more familiar with the baby’s habits because the other one was out of the house every day, we both learned how to be new parents together and at the same pace. I know it can be tough financially, but I’d really recommend taking equal time off for new parents who want egalitarian parenting situations. Fathers are legally entitled to FMLA leave too (in the US).

    • Marina, such good points. I find there is actually a double standard AGAINST MEN often in the workplace. If women take time off for childrearing I think most workplaces feel they have to be supportive, but if men to so the reaction can be very different. My husband left his job after my kids were born because he felt it would be frowned upon if he took the leave he was entitled to as females did, and when he told his boss that was why he was leaving, his boss said he was correct in his assumption that it would have been frowned upon.

    • True, but while they may be entitled to the leave, they may not be entitled to paid time off during that leave, which would mean my husband and I would both have to take all of our sick time together in order to make ends meet during parental/maternity leave (my job offers maternity leave, but it’s not paid). But then we’d be in a situation where neither person in the home had any sicktime available, which seemed like a bad idea, too, in the event of unforeseen circumstances. (All hypothetical at the moment as I’m still trying to *get* pregnant.)

      It’s dreadful that parental leave isn’t paid leave. πŸ™ Along with Lyla’s point above, it really is an institutionalized inequality. My husband and I are both lucky enough to have jobs that offer paid sick/vacation leave that we could use for future babytimes, but some of my contractor friends who are employed full time don’t even get that.

      • I’m not sure I quite understand your point… you seem to be saying that fathers may not be able to take leave because it isn’t paid, but maternity leave isn’t paid either, so why would fathers not be able to afford to take leave but mothers would? Do you mean one parent needs to be working at any given point to make ends meet, so both parents aren’t able to take time off at the same time? Taking turns being the primary caregiver during the early months makes a lot of sense to me.

        • Basically I meant that it may not be feasible for one parent to take a long bit of unpaid time off, then the other parent to do the same. Financially, that’s double the strain of taking one long string of unpaid time off. It would certainly make sense for people to be able to swap primary care-giver roles, but financially if the time off isn’t paid, that may not be possible.

          Plus, now that I think about it, I don’t know if my husband *could* use sicktime when taking parental leave to compensate for the lack of paid parental leave. At my job, you’re only allowed to use sick time for being sick/medical reasons — proof can be demanded at any time.

          • I think in my mind I was suggesting that the total time off be split equally, not that double the time off be taken. That would be the same total amount of unpaid time taken and the same financial strain. (For example each person taking 6 weeks, not both people taking 12 weeks. Or if you can only afford 6 weeks unpaid time off, each person taking 3.)

  19. I really love this post SO HARD and am very happy to read it. I think we need to also open up a larger conversation about the economic realities of egalitarian parenting with two working-outside-the-home parents . . .which is where our mostly egalitarian parenting has had a major FAIL.

    It is only within the past six months that we’ve worked my husband up to a 30% childcare dropoff/pickup rate at our nannyshare, and that’s been hella hard, in part because we both have hour+ commutes, and I’m the one who can realistically take fewer “normal” work hours. My husband also deals with the fact at work that he is the only one of three attorneys at his office that have A WORKING PARTNER. It’s been very hard for him to get across the importance of picking up his child, taking him to doctor’s appointments, or taking a sick day to take care of our son. In fact he usually lies and says HE is sick because it would reflect poorly on him due to the office’s politics/policy. It kind of sucks.

    My husband is amazing: he cooks dinner most nights and cleans up (while I make up the rest of my work day at home after our son has gone to sleep), he reads stories with our son, takes him on backpack hikes, walks the dog, does bathtime and bedtime a lot . . . but damn, it’s amazing how tough it is to sometimes feel as if all things are equal when there are larger, outside-the-home, extenuating circumstances to contend with. It’s been a challenge to not feel put out at times because I, as the working mom in an office where odd hours are accepted, has to bear more of the duties much of the time. Anyone want to start that convo?

    • Elka, YES, this is SO IMPORTANT. My husband is also a lawyer and we were appalled at how different the “unspoken” rules were in his office for him and the women there. We have found managing work to be the biggest barrier to shared parenting. We would prefer to both work the same number of hours and be home the same number, but it is almost impossible to find careers in which this is workable. We need major institutional change to make the climate in this country truly ripe for equal parenting!

      • My husband changed from a law firm to city attorney work in part to cut down on the horrid hours β€”Β and also said that every woman that made partner at his prior workplace did not have kids. It was an understood, unspoken agreement. Yick.

    • I would love to be part of this conversation! I am due in June with our first. It’s very important to me/us that things feel equal or egalitarian. I am frankly freaked out that parenting is going to cause a major imbalance in the reality of that.

      Working and maintaining some independence is important to me, not to mention financially necessary, but there is a part of me that feels like having both parents work out of the home is absolutely insane and is going to create so much stress in terms of trying to get things done domestically.

      I relish in the fact that my husband wants to take an equal part of parenting. And I just hope that all of life’s complications don’t make it impossible (he’ll also be in school part time next semester). I think I have to ask myself if I am okay with the it being imbalanced on a temporary basis, knowing that it will once again (hopefully) even out. But that really really freaks me out.

  20. Great article.

    I’d like to propose two solutions for this problem:

    1: The non-gestational parent should take some parental leave by him/herself. My wife took three weeks off once I finished maternity my maternity leave (in addition to a couple of weeks right after the birth). This really helped build her confidence in caring for the baby by herself and also helped her bond with the baby (to whom she had no genetic relationship). It was also critical in or case since I take call about once a week and she’d be doing nights and weekends solo then. She needed to learn her way of doing everything because she didn’t have breastfeeding to fall back on like I did. Of course this doesn’t work as well if the gestational parent is going to be staying at home.

    2: Try to join parenting groups with your partner. Here in Seattle we have PEPS, a group for parents to meet weekly for a couple of months and talk about parenting topics with a group leader. (Seattlites, PEPS is so wonderful, my group is still meeting weekly over a year later!) Despite the potential for husband-bashing when you get a bunch of sleep-deprived postpartum women in one room, no one does it because their husbands are right there next to them. They are sharing their experiences with the group and learning new tips to try on their babies too. I know PEPS is in Seattle only but try setting up some meet-ups on OBM and specify that dads are encouraged to come.

  21. I love that you posted this, and I wish I would have thought to write something like it myself! As a working mom with an at-home husband, I had to learn to let go of feeling like I could just do it better and let him take the lead–otherwise, we would have both gone crazy. For the record, I think that it works out well for the both of us, since my husband is far more patient than I am and thus a better parent for a toddler (mine is also 14 months old, coincidentally enough).

    I also appreciated how you hit on the fact that a lot of women lose themselves in parenting. One thing that I’ve noticed–and maybe you have, too–are moms saying that they’ve “lost all their friends” who are not also moms. I was so confused by this at first, because that didn’t happen to me *at all.* It’s possible that I made some conscious decisions to see certain casual friends less often, but my close friends who do not have children I still see pretty frequently. I soon discovered that there are probably two parts to why this happened: some jealousy on the part of certain women, because they want kids and don’t have them (a sad, but real reason), but I think it’s mostly because if all they talk about are their kids with their child-free friends, that would make them total bores. You have to continue being a person as a parent, or you stagnate as an individual. I still watch movies, listen to music, read books, and hang out with friends separate of my daughter. My friends want to hear about how my daughter’s doing and don’t mind listening to my stories up to a point, but as soon as I see the telltale eye glaze, I switch gears. Anyway, I think being a person with interests, and not just a mommy or daddy, sets a good example for your children and it makes you a better, more well-rounded parent.

    • Agree wholeheartedly, Amy. I actually find it hard to spend time with other moms because all they talk about is there kids, I still feel like I have more in common with my childless friends. I think I need to find more moms like you πŸ™‚

      • I’d like to find more moms like you! πŸ™‚ I think it’s so hard to find each other, though, because, as you so rightly put it, you have to “out” yourself as a parent in a way that’s not generally considered to be acceptable, which is sad.

        I also think that parents can remain friends with their child-free friends by making a few minor adjustments to the way they manage their social lives. For instance, my husband and I often take turns going out now. I went out for a reading and some drinks with a couple of friends last Monday; he went out to a bar with his friends on Thursday. We also have people over more often, for movies, TV watching, or just hanging out for dinner and a bottle of wine. Yeah, it can be a bit of an imposition on your friends to have to come over more often, but good friends aren’t as concerned with that.

        • Yes, exactly, but I’m coming to the conclusion that I just need to get more comfortable going ahead and speaking my truth, and even if most people don’t get it maybe a few will. We have definitely stayed in touch with childless friends, in many of the ways you described. I find they are easier to make plans with, actually. A lot of the people I know with kids just don’t socialize. That would not work for me! Anyway, not sure where you are located, I’m wondering if I’ll find any like-minded moms here. If you don’t want to give up your location here, feel free to email me at [email protected].

    • To be fair, most people do this with any new passion. There were a couple years there that I saw the telltale eye-glaze at some point while talking about food and cooking, while I was in culinary school. My only other time-suck was my health which was awful, so no one wanted to hear about it and I didn’t want to talk about it. I think people just get more worked up about it when they have friends who are new parents and don’t talk about anything but their kids, because they can’t tell themselves even subconsciously that this is a phase and they will be less annoying soon. They know full well that barring any unfortunate catastrophes, this topic will be a major passion for the rest of their friend’s life, and they would feel guilty wishing it were otherwise. Heck, I don’t blame them! At some point if I heard the words “cooking” or “beer” come out of my mouth again I might have taped it shut!

  22. LOVE. THIS. POST. I don’t have much to add except YAAAAY for queer, egalitarian parenthood realness!

    • Thanks Aly, I wish I encountered that sentiment more among parents. Have you found any good ways to meet likeminded parents?

  23. I also think it’s important to understand when things aren’t 50-50–like breastfeeding. I think it’s less important that things be “equal” as it is that things be “fair.” By that I mean, I don’t mind making dinner AND doing the dishes when my partner worked 9 hours at a food show and drove 2.5 hours to get there, and I worked 4 hours and drove 15 minutes to get there. When I was finishing up my degree, he took on a lot more of the day-to-day household chores. It wasn’t a 50-50 split, but we were both making sacrifices so that everyone in our family could feel fulfilled and accomplished on many different levels. Does that make sense?

    Technically, I tend to do more dishes and laundry, but the important part is that he doesn’t act like he’s doing me a favor if he does chores. He acts like he is participating in our home.

    • I completely agree; my husband and I are both in college right now and we BOTH have to sacrifice, take turns, and compromise on everything. If I have a test coming up, my husband will do everything. He’ll cook, clean, and take care of the kids. When he has a huge project due, I’m doing all of the household stuff and taking care of the kids.

      It works for us and in the end, we both feel thankful that the other person can step up. A lot of my friends say they ‘do all of the work’ and feel very resentful toward their spouses. I love that I have a true partner, not ‘just’ a spouse πŸ™‚

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