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 didn’t read all the comments, it’s an interesting post…but I find that the mothers that complain about husbands not doing fair share will find something else to complain about. And won’t complain about their kids because they they would like like a bad mom. Even if my husband wasn’t doing everything equally (there are things he is better at, like the swaddling and speed diaper changes, and he is far cleaner than I am picking up after me most of the time) I would never complain or make comments about him ever, in public, private, whatever. I talk to him and him only when I have complaints. I don’t think it’s an unequal thing the other mothers are talking about…I personally thinks it’s a mother unhappy with the whole marriage mothering aspect as it is working out and it’s become ACCEPTABLE and even ENCOURAGED to b*tch about your other half. Really, if it was that bad and a mother was complaining, then well, do something about it. If not, then there are other much deeper issues going on, you know what I mean?

    • You know.. for some people I’m sure you’re not far off the mark, but I know I personally will TOTALLY vent any frustrations I have with my relationship to my best friend (of 12 years, I should add), close friends, and a few co-workers.. depending on how close we are. I feel totally 100% fine with that. I use these conversations and the feedback I get from them as stepping stones for how I want to approach the problem when talking to my husband. I’ve found that people outside of the relationship have a clarity that I don’t always have — granted, I know my husband better than they do, but sometimes someone else can spin a situation that is SO frustrating to me in a different way, and it changes how I talk about it with my husband. So, in that regard, and for me — talking to friends about my husband is totally fine.

      Having said that, I don’t talk about him or any problems we might have to large groups of people I barely know, online, or anything like that. I think there is a line, and it’s important to know where it is in the context of your own relationship.

      • yes, yes, I do agree, there is a difference between looking for advice, options, or a different view and then the all around “you’ll see” attitude or the general “you have no idea what you are talking about” which I think is more of the misery loves company thing, what I have encountered myself.

      • I would NEVER, EVER talk about my relationship with any of my friends — EVER. But this may be due to the fact that I used to let my friends in on my private life, and it was used to judge, it was spread around many other people, and it led to many assumptions, unwanted opinions and drama among my friend groups.

        If I had some major drama going down I am not honestly sure who I would talk to these days, because I don’t trust anyone around me enough to understand even who I am at this point, let alone trust with the burden of knowing any of my serious issues. My BFFs both live far away & don’t know enough about my day-to-day for it to make sense for me to spill to them, but I guess I could. Thankfully I don’t really have serious issues right now. My husband is also really really sensitive to being spoken about to other people without his knowledge, and in my experience it WILL get back to him if I do it, somehow, some way, and its just not worth it to open our relationship up to judgment when its really nobody’s business but ours.

        • I never say anything about my husband to my friend(s) that I wouldn’t also say to him. Totally one of my rules.

  2. I love this. I always want to brag about my husband during those conversations, but I realize that is also counter-productive. It isn’t some sort of super-dad trait to change cloth diapers, do laundry, cook, clean, care for his child, teach his child, and soothe his child. It’s just being a parent. Which we both are equally.

  3. Honestly, I feel there may be a big switch between gen x and y with regards to the male response to third wave feminism. I see such a difference between men in their 30s and men in their 40s.

  4. It could probably be argued that my husband and I don’t split childcare duties 50/50, but I do feel that we split overall responsibilities (kids, work, chores) pretty evenly. My husband owns a tax practice, so he works some intense hours for about 3 months out of the year. So when we had a 3 month old, and he was working until 2am, and getting at 7am to go back to work, I opted not to make him care for the baby during those hours. He was willing, but I decided not to ask it of him. I could catch some extra Zzz’s after her first morning feeding, so why wake him just out of principle? Now that she is older(2), he comes home for dinner and stays to give her her bath and put her to bed before heading back to the office during the busy season. So he is perfectly capable of parenting her, and they have a good relationship.

    In the end I think the actual divide is less important than everyone being happy with the roles they have chosen. Discontent comes in when someone feels like they have no choice.

    • “In the end I think the actual divide is less important than everyone being happy with the roles they have chosen. Discontent comes in when someone feels like they have no choice.”

      That is exactly it for me as well — totally agree.

      • Yes, indeed, I agree, and actually that’s what the research shows. Relationship satisfaction is highest when gender roles are what both partners want them to be. When there is a mismatch, that is when relationship satisfaction goes down.

  5. We don’t have a baby yet (working on it!), but my partner will be the stay-at-home daddy, as we try to figure out how to balance his home-run business with my full time job away from home. He is more patient, more nurturing and sweeter than I am in about a million ways.
    We are constantly irritated and frustrated by the external messages aligned with the original post. Commercials for baby products almost universally show fathers as bumbling morons, while the super moms roll their eyes at their too-stupid-to-tolerate mates and take care of everything themselves. It is profoundly discouraging.
    We recently saw a commercial (for baby wipes of some sort?) that showed dads….just being dads. They weren’t dropping the babies, they weren’t existing among uncleaned messes, they weren’t exasperated by their children. They were just feeding the kids and cleaning up after them! We rejoiced! And then I realized how sad it was that this was the first image of this sort I could recall seeing on TV.

    We have some totally messed up messaging about this out there. Lyla – thank you so much for sharing your story! Competent parents (and parents-to-be) unite!

  6. I love this. My husband and I frequently joke that he’s more maternal than I am. 🙂

  7. We had a discussion before marriage- and kids- that I wasn’t interested in being a single parent, ever. And I married an incredible man. The best thing that ever happened was going back east (from the west coast) when our son was 4 weeks (WEEKS!) old and leaving him with my husband…pumping on the plane, in parking lots, etc- for 36 hours to be with a girlfriend after her father died. My husband figured things out fast, and we played on a much more level field after that.

    I think people should be extremely careful in complaining about their partners ever, but especially outside of a counseling relationship WITH their partners. I don’t like hearing it from others and don’t like doing it myself- it is not a healthy way for a relationship to operate. If there are really frustrations, that’s where there should be opportunity to better communicate with your partner- and seek counseling together if necessary, as the relationship you have is the basis of life, self esteem, stability for your children.

  8. Thank you for this post. As the son of a stay-at-home father who has talked extensively with my wife about equal parenting, I truly appreciate when people take the time to deconstruct gender roles (in any sector, but especially in parenting).

    Part if it is that a man just cannot relieve a woman of the (literal) labor of pregnancy and child birth. You can’t each take a 4.5 month share. Breast feeding complicates this further, as the mother becomes a necessary caretaker, or at least needs to pump enough that the father can use the breast milk later. I am so glad that my wife and I are adopting and not breast feeding because I do not envy couples who need to navigate these issues. When neither of us is carrying the child or breast feeding it, we can both be father and mother. My parents seemed to have the arrangement that she would carry the kids for nine months, and he would take on the rest of the work for the next 18 years. I kid.

    In adoption circles, women complain constantly about their husbands who aren’t into adoption, who don’t want to read the books or go to the seminars, who don’t want to write the birthmother letter or make decisions of any kind. I don’t get it. I also think women are at least in some part to blame for a. their own choices in partners and b. what seems to be their inability to give up some control to their husbands.

    Gay and lesbian parents seem to share parenting responsibilities more equally than heterosexual parents. Getting over conceived gender roles is a lot of work for many men (and women), but it’s awesome that more and more people are doing that work.

    • Hi Cal, thanks for bringing in the adoption perspective. It’s interesting for me to hear that you had an involved father as well. In my research, I have found that men who had involved fathers are way more likely to be involved with there own kids. Not surprising, I guess. If you have sons, they will likely carry on this tradition as well. I also agree that gay and lesbian parents do a better job with division of labor – they don’t have to actively put aside traditional gender roles first, in order to set up an egalitarian set-up, at least not in the way hetero couples do.

      • My hubbie was actually the OPPOSITE. His dad was in the police and was absent A LOT when hubbie was growing up, like “who-knows-when-Dad-will-be-home-and-even-then-who-knows-for-how-long-he´ll-be-here”. He considers that he met his Dad at 13, and being the eldest (and only male) child, he considers that he never got to get to know his Dad.
        SO, there is no way in hell that he won´t be 1000% here for (future) kiddo, to the point that he´s kind of jealous that he can´t carry kiddo himself. The man is driving me bonkers with what I can/can´t do/eat/sleep/exercise/what have you, and we´re only a month along! (to be fair, we had a prior miscarriage, so that doesn´t help either).
        Anyways, just to say that the TOTALLY UN-INVOLVED fathers sometimes ALSO raise involved Dads! 🙂

  9. Thank you SO much. On top of what everyone else has already said, it’s very interesting to me how even in my own family there is this underlining thought that 1. I LET my husband take care of MY child (cause, you know, he obviously needs permission from me to do something with our toddler. Sigh) and 2. there are snarky comments of “being lazy today?” or “why can’t you do it?” when I ask my husband to do something or he just automatically does it because, well, that’s how we work. There is definitely that idea put forth that there is some sort of “lack” within the mother if the father “steps in” so often and it is very frustrating and disheartening. Liam, my son, is OUR child, OUR responsibility — we both kiss his scrapes, cuddle him, love him, and care for him. We both balance work and being a parent; we both balance our own interests and being a parent. What’s interesting is that difference of people attempting to make me feel guilty versus praising my husband because “oh my, you NEVER see men that are like this with their children” and then shoot a disappointing glance at me. So, thank you for bringing up all of these wonderful discussion points and for sparking such a great conversation. I wish there were more women in my community that I could share these same sentiments/ideas/questions with.

    • UGH Rachel, such great examples you gave, and yet SO frustrating. Being LAZY TODAY – that kills me. I think there is an implication in our society that mothers should be self-sacrificial all the time, and if we do take “me-time” it should be so we can mother better later, not just for us. Don’t we deserve some “laziness?” No one is on call at their job 24/7 right? And yes, it’s frustrating when people praise men for doing rudimentary parenting. I experience that too. I think it’s easy for men who DO their share to feel like they are entitled to something. My husband gets that attitude sometimes, I I’m like, ok, I do as much as you, where’s my prize?

  10. I love this article! My husband and I have always approached our marriage and stuff around the house as teammates. Between our busy teaching and coaching schedules there isn’t time for “his” and “her” jobs – we both have to pitch in when available in order to get things done. The same is true for us now that we have a daughter – teamwork. Granted, it was trial by fire for him in the very beginning of our daughter’s life due to my PPD but that time period forced him to get comfortable with his role in her life.

    • Laura, sometimes I wonder if PPD is our body and mind’s way of ensuring a more equal division of labor. Glad your husband was able to step up!

  11. Right on! For control freaks like myself it can be a challenge to let go (especially in the beginning when they are so tiny!) and admit that even though my partner does it differently, it works for him and its *possible* I don’t have the perfect strategy either. That said, I have also fallen into the spouse-grouse that goes on with other women, and now I’m going to think more about what I’m really saying. Is it my partner makes me crazy and sometimes I just need to vent for a few minutes or lets all connect as women over the ineptitude of men. Thanks for the wake up call!

    • I’m a control freak too, so I catch myself all the time. And SOME venting is necessary – I need to vent about my husband and he definitely needs to vent about me!

  12. I love this. My partner took care of my little one when was still working. It just financially made sense. I never worried about her even though my baby was only 6 weeks when i went back to working. But I must add, breastfeeding does make it a bit tricky for dads. My younger daughter never would take a bottle,so I could only leave in short bursts or take her with.
    As far as the daddy bashing, thats one of those I don’t know what to talk about, jsut like how old is your child, s/he is so cute, blah blah blah. don’t waste your time with that crap.

  13. Well this is the ugly “plus one” of gender inequality, isn’t it? You’re stuck with all the work PLUS you feel guilty because you can’t do it all PLUS your husband feels marginalized PLUS you’re actively transferring the inequality to the next generation. (How many pluses was that? I lost track…)

    But have faith! Because even if you break the cycle half-way ( i.e. if your husband is an active participant but your still feel guilty ), your sons and daughters will complete the chain. They won’t feel guilty when demanding to take an active role and when insisting their partners take an active role too.

  14. Thank you Stephanie! I don’t think it means your partnership is falling apart if you complain about your partner from time to time. Though I don’t complain about him to large groups, I do spill my heart to my mother on pretty much a daily basis and because our relationship isn’t always smiles and kisses, some complaining happens. I would go crazy if I didn’t talk about the things he does that annoy the crap out of me!

  15. I feel like this comment thread is extremely harsh on people who occasionally need to vent. My husband is an awesome father who knows how to take care of his children. He also works long hours and doesn’t breastfeed. And, not being around, doesn’t necessarily know what needs to get done. Which means I either need to tell him (which reduces his autonomy and makes me grumpy because I shouldn’t have to tell him what his children need from him) or not tell him and do it myself. And that’s a hard situation to navigate from both sides, even for people with the best of intentions. And so, while I try to be very careful with my venting, sometimes I need to vent to someone. Because if I vent to my husband, he will feel more pushed out of finding his own way to parent, and he’ll just opt out. Not because of some problem with him, but because he doesn’t want to be told what to do.

    Parenting is hard, and it’s tough to find perfect solutions, especially in those times when the children are small and very, very needy.

    • I don’t think it’s harsh, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s totally ok to vent about your partner to someone who isn’t your partner — which I said here. I totally feel you on this: “And so, while I try to be very careful with my venting, sometimes I need to vent to someone. Because if I vent to my husband, he will feel more pushed out of finding his own way to parent, and he’ll just opt out. Not because of some problem with him, but because he doesn’t want to be told what to do.”

    • Rina, thanks for speaking up. I certainly think venting is important, and I vent about my husband a lot. Probably more so to friends than moms I don’t know well, but I have my share of marital problems and frustrations with things my husband does and doesn’t do. I think what I was getting at more in my post was how uncommon my experience seemed to be. I was surprised that the venting was so much along gendered lines, and it concerned me – not that there is anything wrong with venting itself. And those whose partners don’t do as much probably NEED to vent a lot. I guess my main points would be -as moms can we also have a dialogue about lots of other thing? and -should we be thinking critically about the fact that many moms are still doing the “mother lode” of childcare?

      • Thank you. I share your concern for the genderedness of the comments, and it *is* a struggle to make sure we don’t default to task division along gender lines, especially when things like pregnancy and breastfeeding make it harder to divide the labor, and things like staying at home leave one person “in charge.”

    • Venting is one thing. I vent about my mom other moms at preschool etc. But all around caddyiness, is that a word? The oh youll see talk. Being told that you just dont know…i cant explain it i guess one is helpful and the other tears things down…you, your relationship. One can turn into a postive and one lives in the negative thrives in it and pulls others in to it.

  16. I love posts like these, because it is nice to see that our experiences are not alone, and I’m always glad to see the “you’ll see” turned on its head. My husband rocks. Like a lot of comments have already noted, while our duties probably aren’t 50/50 on the average day, we even out in that we both feel good about what we do and how we function in our household. And while I’m likely to vent if something about my husband is frustrating me, I’m also likely to flat out say, “Nope, I don’t have that issue with my husband.”

    I did take some time to get comfortable leaving my husband alone. Not because he’s a bad father — he’s a fantastic father — but because before our son was born, he’d never even touched a baby. His first diaper change was the first diaper change. As someone who had younger siblings and babysat in high school and worked as a nanny for a while — it took me a couple weeks to realize that taking charge of everything wasn’t going to solve the problem. (It helped that I went back to work; he figured it all out just fine.)

    I do have a problem with the characterization of women who vent about their husbands at playdates as one-dimensional. I’m having a terrible time phrasing how the second in the middle — about adult stimulation and on through discussions — made me feel, so undoubtly what I’m saying isn’t going to well portray what I mean. It seems to put a whole group of women in a box, declaring, “The kind of mother who does X, obviously isn’t Y.” I don’t at all take it as intended, and for all I know it was completely true of the group you’re discussing, but it just feels… sort of line-in-the-sand, to me. I hate the notion that there’s only one way to be the right sort kind of parent.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t want to portray moms as one-dimensional either, so I’m very interested in your feedback. I think I may have stressed the one-dimensionality of the interactions I had for emphasis. It’s hard in this length of post to cover all the nuances, but CERTAINLY there are moms who vent about their husbands and can also have interesting conversations about all sorts of things. I would put myself in that category. I certainly vent about my husband. I have, indeed, been at mom gatherings, though, where the only topics brought up were husband-bashing and child-related topics, and I found myself longing to talk about other aspects of mothering, and just other things in general.

      • I can understand that from a narrative standpoint, and I hope my comment didn’t come off as trying to pigeon-hole you into something you weren’t doing. I probably read as much of my own insecurity and frustration into that section as I was what was actually there.

        And that sucks. D: I hate when I end up at a social gathering and I can’t get involved in the conversation. When I went to playgroup meetings in town, it was actually more socioeconomic; I was clearly always the poorest (and typically the youngest) person in the room, and I could never relate to conversations about home ownership while sitting in a playroom basement the size of my apartment. They were all fabulous women, and I keep meaning to go to more meetings — but there’s definitely a disconnect.

  17. Great post! I made a conscious decision from the start to give my husband space to figure out how to parent. Our doula suggested that he stick with our daughter while she was being cleaned up/diapered for the first time (as I was being wheeled out of delivery) and I think that helped him start out on the right foot as a full partner. He’ll never let me forget that he changed her first diaper, then showed ME how. 🙂 I also started leaving him alone with our daughter while I went walking/jogging just a few weeks after birth, and I think that has been great for their relationship… when I’m around, it’s hard not to hover or race to offer the boob whenever she cries, but when I’m unavailable he has space to figure out his own ways to comfort her. I don’t know if our sharing is totally 50/50 (and I think it’s important not to bean-count to figure out if it is), but I definitely feel like he is a wonderful and helpful dad who is fully competent as a parent.

  18. “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 have not let go of these things, and I don’t have the nagging feeling that if I was a good mum, I would have. It is perfectly acceptable to want to retain parts if your pre-bebe identity, regardless of how equally the parenting is shared.

    I bloody well do demand equal parenting, and it was a testing time indeed in the early few months when the equality had to take the form of dishes or baths or dinner instead of quality time on the boob. All I wanted for so long was to not be the person attached to the baby. My husband is a full, competent parent (even more than me, I would say) and it killed me that I was the one at home just because I had the cans, and therefore, the paid leave as well.

    I guess my point is that not everyone associates the concept of equal parenting with feelings of guilt… but then I guess if I don’t hesitate to think of my partner as a partner in this parenting caper, I’m not one of the ones with the problem… Is that what you mean?

    • Hi and thanks for your response. I guess I don’t really know how many moms experience the guilty I’m talking about, but I’m sure glad to hear you don’t!! I don’t think any of us should. I guess I find myself wondering where you live and what kind of cultural influences you have had? I had a very traditional upbringing so in addition to what I see as cultural messages that women should be selfless and WANT TO give over their identities to motherhood, I had that imprint from my family. I’m glad other voices are in this conversation who have had different experiences from mine.

      • I’m in Australia, which I think probably is more culturally different to the US than I sometimes assume. My mum stayed at home with my brother and I until we went to school, which was pretty much how things were done when we were small. But she did go back to work afterwards, and I don’t remember growing up with any of my friends’ mums not doing some kind of work outside the home. My dad usually made dinner, and he was in charge of lunches as well, but I think my mum did most of the washing, cleaning, etc. This seemed pretty normal to me as a kid.
        I went back to work three days when my son turned one, and of the 12 or so mothers in our council-organised mothers’ group, I was reasonably late to go back. There are a handful who are still at home, but their husbands earn a lot more than mine!
        Regardless of boobs and earning power and leave entitlements though, I don’t think there is such a strong cultural message here that motherhood = identity. Even the mums I know who have decided to stay at home feel perfectly comfortable saying that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and they do have outside interests, which are supported/encouraged by their families. So. That’s my two cents from the southern hemisphere!

  19. In a perfect world parents would parent equally, but that is not always the case. My partner is amazing in many ways, but there were several things in the mix when we had our child, one of which was that he had never wanted children.
    We’d had a big discussion about this topic because I knew that at some point in my life I would like children, and we had agreed that in the next 1-2 years we would be more ready. Fast forward 2 months later, and I find out I’m pregnant. My partner admitted in the early months that he was resentful of our son, which was hard for me to hear, though I could understand where he was coming from. That feeling of his, however, translated into him not taking much of an active interest in our newborn until he was about 4 months old.
    Without family here (we are both from overseas) and without much support from him, I ‘took over’.
    Now things are a lot better and I would say we are far more like 70-30 with parenting than the 98-2 that those first months consisted of. His job keeps him very busy and he has to be switched on for work even when he is home sometimes. It is hard not to see this as a form of escape – if he HAS to do work, then he cannot spend time with his son. I have encouraged him to do one-on-one activities with him, but we live in a francophone city and my partner is unilingually English, so wants me at activities as a translator. I have encouraged him to bottle-feed pumped milk since the baby was 6 weeks old – he wasn’t interested.
    I am afraid to say that dealing with my own post-partum depression on top of what I would consider my partner’s PPD (I don’t know if there has been any research into partners getting post-partum mental and emotional issues, but there should be!) was just too much, and so I unconsciously became the 98% parent. I think this is instinctual in such circumstances, and although we have talked about it quite a lot, I am still now, one year on, coming to terms with what those first few months were like.
    I have always made a conscious effort not to partner-bash with my friends, but there are times when I have ranted on the phone to my Mum because feeling like you are parenting alone is hard.

    • Wow Ellen, you are in a tough situation, I feel for you. My husband wasn’t as ready for kids as I was, but he really stepped up once they were here. I certainly could have gone the other way for us though! I believe my husband had PPD too! I have to say, I haven’t looked into any research on this, but it’s got to be more common than people think. I’m going to have to do a blog post on that soon. You have had a traumatic first year as a parent, and you’re still really right at the beginning. I’m hoping as you and your partner process your own individual feelings more you will continue to negotiate a division of labor that works best for you. Good luck!

      • PPD in men is definitely real, and there has been some research done. A few studies:

        *Condon, J. T., Boyce, P. and Corkindale, C. J. (2004), The First-Time Fathers Study: a prospective study of the mental health and wellbeing of men during the transition to parenthood. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38: 56–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1614.2004.01298.x

        *Goodman, S. H., Brogan, D., Lynch, M. E. and Fielding, B. (1993), Social and Emotional Competence in Children of Depressed Mothers. Child Development, 64: 516–531. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1993.tb02925.x

        *Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2004, Vol. 25, No. 1 : Pages 23-34 ‘In the shadow of maternal depressed mood: experiences of parenthood during the first year after childbirth’ L. Seimyr, M. Edhborg, W. Lundh, and B. Sjögren
        (doi: 10.1080/01674820410001737414)

        Also, this site is Australian, but they have some information about dads and postnatal depression that I’m sure would be universal: http://www.panda.org.au/practical-information/information-for-men

  20. I’d really like to hear about strategies for opening up the discussion between parents who are not sharing equitably. I want to talk more about this with my husband, but don’t really know how to approach it.

    • Would you ever consider having him read through this comment thread, and simply putting the question out there of why things aren’t more shared? These conversations can be tough. I wish I could point you to a great resource on this – perhaps I will get around to writing one sometime. In the meantime, take a look here: http://www.equallysharedparenting.com/

  21. Another thought: perhaps it is integral that women with equal husbands stop biting their tongues out of politeness and say, “My husband does that.” Who knows how many women in your group are ALSO biting their tongues because of social norms? Men are supposed to be incompetent, and women are supposed to bitch about it. But every time a comment gets by without someone standing up and saying, “No, that’s wrong,” is another time those norms are upheld. If we agree, we make it alright for it to be true. So if we want to make the world a more feminist place, a friendlier place for equal parenting, let’s start saying, “My husband does that.”

    • Cal, you are absolutely right, I am working on doing this more and more. What I realized was that I was biting my tongue out of my own insecurity about not being a good mom. Once I was able to recognize that it got a lot easier to speak up, because in general, I am usually very open about my opinions! Thanks for inspiring me even more to speak up!

  22. Commenting again, because the world makes more sense in the morning! 😀 One of the things that does really bother me about husband-venting sessions is when mothers do it right in front of their children, especially their children who are old enough to understand. Which, I wonder, if that’s how these things get passed along and reinforced over generations. (Edited: holy run on sentence, batman!)

  23. A good friend left her three month old with her husband and went out for lunch anda pedicure- after an hour or so the husband called in a panic: he had spilled the milk and didn’t know what to do. She calmly told him she wouldn’t be back until late afternoon. He figured it out!

    Totally agree you have to just leave them to do it themselves and learn. Important for the baby, and for them (and for you!)

    We don’t have “equal” shares because my husband is working full time and I’m half time. But when we’re both home (ie in the house) we share responsibilities. And if one or the other of us thinks the other isn’t pulling our weight in some way, we ask the other for help with a specific task, which has worked well for us. Sometimes I think dads need specific requests and instructions. It’s like trying to help clean up at your mother in laws- I never know what to do unless I’m asked for help with something specific. Guys like/need specific instructions, especially to help with something we SEEM to do naturally

  24. Reading this post and the comments was really enlightening for me. I am currently 34 weeks pregnant with our first child. I have had a very difficult pregnancy and was put on “enforced rest” due to an issue with my hip. My mobility has been severely restricted and I am in a lot of pain all the time now. I am not at all complaining, though, because my husband and I have been forced to be thoughful about how we manage the household now and how we will cope with the changes after the baby is born. We tended to unintentionally and automatically divide things along traditional gender lines prior to this: I handled most housework, laundry, cooking, and shopping; my husband handled maintenance, garbage/recycling, yard work, and heavy-duty household cleaning projects. Since I have been unable to “do my share”, he has had to cover all of my tasks. I initially worried about how he was doing these things (“Did you wash that on cold?”…”I only buy X brand of this product”…) and I quickly realized that I was sounding ungrateful and controlling. I had a moment of forethought that I would absolutely handle parenting issues similarly if I was not more thoughtful. Since we had not ever discussed the division of labor and had wound up with a system by default, I believe that we could have been headed toward a disaster when the stress of parenting was added in. We definately have an egalitarian partnership, but as I said, we still wound up dividing things unconciously by societal norms. We both agree that is not how we want to parent. I believe that fathers add an irreplaceable energy and set of skills to the parenting mix. As a matter of fact, it is my belief that while same-sex couples may divide responsibilities in a more equitable manner, they do have the added struggle of being sure to provide both types of energy and parenting-styles so that their children can benefit. Children really do need balanced parenting for appropriate development. They way that fathers parent has value; especially in the fact that it is different. I do think that breastfeeding is not the only natural obstacle to finding ways to actively engage new fathers in parenting. The hormones of pregnancy and motherhood are extremely powerful. Nature has designed an amazing system to support bonding and attachment for new mothers. While there are hormonal changes that occur when new fathers are bonding with their babies, they do not have as complex or far-reaching an effect. This is not to say that fathers cannot bond as well. It is simply a fact that things are different. Failing to respect those differences sets parents up for failure, I believe. We are individuals who will parent differently due to our varied experiences, values, beliefs, ways of thinking, personalities, etc. Additionally, when we give birth to our children and have an opposite sex partner, we have had a completely divergent experience and set of biological changes. My husband cannot carry the baby, “take his turn” being pregnant, or even really understand what it is like to grow this new life inside of me; but, he can support me and the pregnancy by caring for me when I do not feel well, participating more in household chores, and remaining supportive and emotionall involved in my experience. When the baby is here he will not be able to nurse or “mother” the baby and he will not have the same cascade of hormones that work to ensure attunded responses; but, he will be able to participate by using his “father” energy to provide care, he will be able to learn to attune to the baby’s needs by trial and error and from watching us together, and by contributing in many other ways to her care and to mine. It will be an important thing for me to remember that we are both equally important to the baby in different ways and that my “mothering” way is not more important or more valid. I truly believe that if we are successful in managing this, we will not have further issues in how to equitably divide childcare and household duties. We will be coming from a place of mutual respect for our wants, needs, and skills and I think that will enable us to be flexible about whatever issues crop up. Thank you for your thoughful and insightful post!

    • Congratulations on getting to 34 weeks. Enforced rest is very, very hard. My husband took incredible care of me and the house while I was pregnant. When I was having a particularly tough day, it was our joke that I would ask him to take the babies for a few hours in the evening. And then he would know that I needed an extra hug, and maybe a grilled cheese sandwich.

  25. In my own personal experience, most of the fellow moms I know are extremely cautious/fearful parents who feel that there are right and wrong ways to do things. I think this causes them to be unable to relax and let the dad learn techniques on his own, thus, perpetuating the cycle of self-conscious and incompetent dads. My own sister-in-law was afraid of my mother or brother giving her son a bath, because, “I can’t imagine it being done any other way than the way I do it.”

    My husband was nervous about this very subject, bath time, even after watching me half a dozen times. I said to him, “There’s no wrong way to do it.” and walked out of the room. I’ve told this to several of my mom friends, and they simply could not relate. They hover and they micromanage, because it might be done “wrong.”

    I realize this is only part of the topic, but I think it’s relevant to the root of the problem.

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