Whatever type of coupling you’re part of, traditional mom and dad gender roles are getting tested, big time. And much of this tussle begins immediately after the baby comes home. In today’s world, if Bill Gates does the dishes and Mark Zuckerberg can take 2 months away from running Facebook for his baby, it’s hard to argue that your dear husband — or partner — can’t change that dirty diaper. Not only does co-parenting give you a much-needed break during maternity leave, but it is also a hugely important investment in laying the groundwork for your dual-career future. Don’t spend all your time during maternity leave getting good at feeding, bathing and clothing the baby only to keep on doing everything (or 80% of it) after you go to work unless this is a conscious, family decision. Taking over all child care simply because you’re the mom is not fair for you, your partner or baby. If that’s what works for your respective career demands and family, it’s obviously fine, but doing so without thinking it through is a quick recipe for big-time burnout and marital stress.
Ally, an attorney at a law firm in Chicago shares her (pretty common) story. Ally and her husband both had big careers and intended to keep it that way. But because Ally had a wonderful four-month maternity leave whereas her husband didn’t, it meant that she was the one who became a real pro at feeding, burping, changing and soothing her baby to bed.
Even though her husband took some time off and was usually home for the baby’s evening routine, Ally still ended up putting their baby to bed most nights during her maternity leave.
Well, when Ally went back to work, she couldn’t always make it home for bedtime. And when she couldn’t be there, her husband — no surprise — had difficulty putting the baby to sleep the same way she did. This frustrated him and it made her feel guilty and anxious about not being there.
The lesson here is that even during maternity leave, you may want to consider your routines and “start as you mean to go.” We know it can be hard to let go, especially when you’re so fresh on those new baby skills yourself (and damn proud of them!)
But giving dad a chance to get his hands dirty (um, literally) can be a really good thing for you, your relationship, and your baby.
Here are 5 tips on how to empower dad to do more (starting from when you’re on maternity leave):
1. Let them mess up.
Everything is new to everyone, and there’s no way for your partner to get confident, much less comfortable, with taking on their share of parenting if they feel like their walking on eggshells.
2. Don't hover.
Tempting as it may be to get all managerial and tell them “the right way” to do things, don’t hover. As Mac Caveng, a new dad who took an 18 week paternity leave, explains, “Let [dads] develop their way of doing things even though you know that there are far simpler ways to change a diaper, let him do it and come up with his routine, like you probably had to.”
3. Leave them alone.
Leave them alone with the baby. Seriously. We know this may feel like the last thing you want to do. That’s biology and instinct kicking in, and we know it’s hard.
So start by taking a walk around the block for fresh air, or getting coffee with a friend. Physical separation is something you’ll need to get used to if you’re going back to work. Giving dad some solo time is as good a place to start practicing as any.
4. Ask your partner to take their full parental leave.
If their employer doesn’t offer paid leave, cobble together whatever you can afford between unpaid leave (typically under FMLA) or saved up vacation days.
As Eric, a new dad in Brooklyn, puts it, “In order for our society to progress, men need to see for themselves how challenging and enriching it is to be caring for your child alone.”
5. Be patient.
Be patient with yourself, and be patient with your partner. Be patient with yourselves as a couple entering a brave new — sometimes stressful, sometimes beautiful — world of being a new family and co-parents.