Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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A Commitment to Equality
by Gail and Lyn

We are Gail and Lyn, a lesbian couple sharing parenting of our 15-month-old daughter, who we'll call Leigh.   At first blush, it can appear that a same-sex couple automatically avoids some of the gendered division of labor that can make equal parenting a challenge for heterosexual couples, and indeed there is some academic research that shows lesbian households may be more egalitarian than straight households.  However, we've found that among our peers, even among other same-sex couples, we are rather unique.  Most lesbian families that we have encountered (admittedly not a scientific sample!), particularly those where one mom gives birth, choose or fall into an unequal division of labor, with the bio-mom taking on a more traditional caregiving role and the non-bio-mom acting as primary breadwinner.  In our family, Gail is Leigh's bio-mom and Lyn is Leigh's adoptive mom (we are both full legal parents to our daughter).  However, we have been careful not to extend this distinction between us to how we manage Leigh's care.  This first year has been almost a 50/50 split on childcare, housework and breadwinning (based on hours worked), though not necessarily exactly equal at any given moment.  There hasn't been much recreation to speak of, but we're working on that.

During this first year of Leigh's life, Lyn was finishing her dissertation, and Gail was teaching college mathematics.  Leigh was born in June, and as academics, we were both able to take the summer as leave, so for the first two months of Leigh's life she had both of her moms with her most of the time.  However, even from the very beginning, we made sure that we each had time alone with Leigh.  In September, Gail headed back to full-time teaching, compressed into a four day work week, and Lyn started part-time work on her  dissertation, mostly from home.  Lyn covered about 3 1/2 days of child care, Gail took one day at home, and we had a sitter for a half-day.  This meant Lyn was able to get to the office 1 1/2 days to meet with her advisor and go to seminars, but the rest of her work was done in the wee hours of the morning, during naps, and during occasional additional afternoons of sitting.  For the spring semester, Gail had arranged for a teaching release and we switched up the schedule, with Gail taking the majority of the at-home care while still working part-time on some administrative work and consulting.  Lyn worked about four days a week finishing her dissertation.  During the month leading up to the thesis due date, Gail definitely took care of more of the housework and day to day tasks, but Lyn was careful to still take one day home with Leigh.  For the summer after her graduation, Lyn did the majority of Leigh's daytime care while waiting to start her new job in September.  Now that Lyn has begun a post-doctoral research position, things have changed yet again, with each of us working four days and taking one day home.  Leigh has started attending a child care center three days a week.  We're excited to move into the world of 50/50 shared parenting on a day-to-day (as opposed to semester-to-semester) basis. 

We've learned a lot managing Leigh's care this way.  One of the main things we learned is that what is most important for developing a relationship with a young baby is time.  Gail nursed Leigh for 14 months, pumping at work when necessary.  With all of the talk about how nursing is great for bonding, Lyn had worried that she would be stuck as an outsider, unable to offer much meaningful care to Leigh, though she was certainly committed to successful nursing.  What we found instead was that Leigh bonded with both of us, precisely because she spent meaningful amounts of one-on-one time with each of her moms. 

We've also each experienced the particular advantages and pitfalls of being the "breadwinner" and the "home-parent."  During first semester, when Gail would wander in at the end of a work day, look around in a daze, and not really make herself useful, Lyn was thinking, "chop chop!!  There are things to do!  Cut these veggies for dinner!  The baby needs to eat!  The laundry needs folding!"  Come second semester, when it was more often Lyn coming home, it turned out she did exactly the same thing.  We now both know there is just something challenging about changing gears from the focus of the office to the chaos of a home that's been running all day without you.  Knowing both sides of the coin so intimately helps us stay gentle with each other, as well as communicative and appreciative.

One aspect of division of labor that is a huge component of the "second shift" for most women is the management of a home.  Who keeps track of which chores need to be done, the pediatricians name and number, the stock of staples in the pantry and the babysitter's schedule?  Even in households where Dad contributes markedly to chores and childcare, management duties usually fall to Mom.  One thing that has worked well for us is that we both feel this management responsibility.  Some management areas are divided, for example Lyn is in charge of grocery shopping and Gail manages our laundry, but overall we each feel responsibility for most everyday tasks, like dishes, washing diapers and making dinner.  This keeps chores moving along and makes us very appreciative of the other's efforts.  Gail also developed a helpful checklist of basic chores that must be done every morning and evening.  We can each do jobs on the checklist without duplicating efforts.    We make sure to work a few minutes on both food preparation and laundry every morning and every evening, which keeps us in relatively clean clothes and let's us make food ahead with minimal time investment.

Sharing parenting has gone so well, we want to keep doing it.  Lyn had been very unsatisfied with her graduate work prior to Leigh's arrival, and we had thought it might make most sense for her to stay home with Leigh when the PhD was done.  But even with all of the craziness and exhaustion, somehow the time Lyn spent caring for Leigh made her work more satisfying, and miraculously, more productive.  If Lyn stayed home with Leigh, we would also lose a lot of the balance that we've enjoyed as a couple.  We both know our daughter so well.  We can both appreciate every tiny new accomplishment.  We are both confident in our parenting.  Neither of us bears the total weight of our family's financial wellbeing and precisely because that is true, we each have a guard against falling completely into our work to the exclusion of all else.  We cannot predict exactly what the future will hold; economics shift and there is no guarantee we'll always have the sort of work conducive to shared parenting, but no matter what, we have both established a meaningful place in Leigh's life and a commitment to sharing all aspects of our life as a family.

©Copyright 2007 Marc and Amy Vachon

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