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

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Different Is Right for Us
by Juli

My husband, Russel, and I are navigating the world of sharing parenting as he stays home with our son, B.  I'm a full-time sociology PhD student, and Russel works part-time as a consultant in a web application developer position.  I take my student role very seriously and treat it as a 9-to-5-and-often-weekends-and-evenings job; my goal is to go into academia when I'm done so I know that I have to treat it this way to be a viable competitor in a very crowded and demanding field.  At the moment, Russel is trying to figure out what he wants to do next, career-wise, once B starts preschool - we're planning to have him start when he's 2 1/2, next September (so he's 18 months now).

Russ has been home full-time with B since he was 6 weeks old, which was when my maternity leave ended and I went back to work.  Before you gasp at the awful work/life arrangement in this country (and I do just that, often), I actually chose that timing.  I truly hated being at home, even during that short time, and was always itching to get back to work.  Our arrangement has been trying at (many) times, but it generally has worked well for us.  But of course, that's just the child care side of the story.  We've been working on equally sharing - or, if not equally sharing, logically dividing - the rest of the work that comes along with having a home together, a child together, and three big needy cats together.

My work used to be very flexible, so I would work at home a lot in order to aid in my goal to exclusively breastfeed B for his first year.  (I also did a lot - a lot - of pumping in various places, though thankfully in an office when at work.)  Russel and I would divide the child care not by specific times but more by whatever popped up at the time.  I still can't decide if this was a good idea or not; I think that in retrospect given the amount of attention B has always needed it was what we needed to do at the time.  B is what you might call an "attention-seeking" child, to put it nicely: he's very bright, and as a result would prefer to spend every single minute learning something new and taking more objects apart rather than, say, eating or sleeping or getting his hands out of the toaster.  He spent much of his first year of life not napping at all and being generally frustrated at not being a theoretical physicist yet.  (Okay, by this I actually mean, being annoyed at first that he couldn't sit up, then that he couldn't stand up, then that he couldn't walk, then that he couldn't talk, etc.  Every single basic milestone was a gut-wrenching feat of frustration and anger and perseverance.  Now it just annoys him that he can't read yet, so he spends much of his time learning letters and how to tell time.)

We moved to Los Angeles three months ago so that I could begin my PhD.  Unlike our previous arrangement, I now leave for school at 8:30am and come home at 5:30pm.  In the evenings, after dinner, Russel starts his work and works until about midnight.  During this time, I deal with bath time, bed time, entertaining B, and evening clean-up; B goes to bed around 10-10:30pm.  This gives me another hour before bed to do some more work.  B gets up around 6:30am (after visiting us once or twice at night, usually) and we start our day around 7am.  While I'm in classes, we're committed to this arrangement.  Once I'm in my third year and "just" working on my dissertation, we'll likely change things around again.  At that point, Russ will likely have a job outside the house again, B will be in preschool...and life will be quite different.

Once I finish my PhD, we will have to move to wherever I get a job, hopefully a postdoctoral position and then a faculty position at a research university.  Russel is still working out whether he wants to go back to school while we are in one place for five consecutive years, whether he wants to focus on his art or his computer background (he's really strong in both; combining them leads to parts of both fields in which he's not interested), whether he wants to find a position that will allow him to continue working from home or not, and whether he wants to work full-time at all or actually work part-time and work on his own projects part-time.  Wherever I need to go for my career, we will go - although of course always with the caveats that Russ needs to be able to find a job there, too, and that B will be happy there (whatever that exactly means - though we know he needs a lot of stimulation, so cities are a better bet for all of us).

The hardest part for me about all of this has been constantly feeling like I'm doing this whole parenting thing "wrong".  It wasn't until I realized that, wait a minute, for us this is working, for B this is going well, that it occurred to me that we were doing it differently, not wrong at all.

Our life is not a conventional one, and we feel that every day: when Russ gets asked if he's simply babysitting, when I get asked when I'm planning to quit my job to be home with my child, to give two mild examples.  The most difficult part for us has been trying to figure out how to practically work all of this stuff out without any role models from which we could draw.  So I'm committed now to writing as much as I can in a public forum so that someone else out there who is doing this can find some kindred spirits, as they say.

I'm keeping track of my commentary on our parenting adventure at http://thebbt.wordpress.com; there are other contributors to that site as well although their comments are not on parenting, but my posts are written by a nickname of "US".  We also have a family blog at http://www.philipsimonthomas.com.

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