It’s a common refrain of mums group meet ups. Of Facebook posts. Of sisters’ Bitch sessions. Men are bloody useless. It is true, we have much better partners than our mothers did, in that they are partners in parenting, by and large. They can change nappies. They can cook meals. They can vacuum (sort of). They have emotional intelligence. They can hug their children and tell them they love them. They can wash a sippy cup (at times).
But not all partnerships are created equal.
It is the source of a lot of marital stress. It is the source of arguments and resentment. It is the source of a lot of quietly stressed mums with their heads down and bums up not saying a word, just getting on with the job(s).
Because when you have kids, the split of work done by wife / husband (significant other) isn’t 50/50. It probably isn’t 60/40. You’re probably doing well if it’s 70/30.
And often, we have that whole worky work employer type job, as well.
Yes, ladies, you can have it all. A family, a career, and that unique mummy stretched beyond belief misery. All of it.
But in the last few weeks, I’ve learnt something.
You have to step back.
You have to step back, for them to step up.
See, here’s the drill. You become a mum, right. Usually, you’re breastfeeding. This enforces you as the primary caregiver. When the child is attached to your body for 8 hours every day, it is hard not to be.
Then, your partner goes back to work. You look at the yawning stretch of 11-12 hours until they are home, terrified of this small creature you’ve acquired, unsure how you will make it through.
At some point, the making it through changes to rocking this gig. Mostly. There are still days where the next 45 minutes may break your heart and shatter your delicately balanced psyche. But for most of us, we find our mummy groove.
And the three hours trying to leave the house becomes a twenty minute turnaround. And you realise no one’s head will explode if you forgot the sippy cup. Not just this once.
And see, this is where we bugger it up.
We do it because we have to do it.
We do it because we’re terrified of the alternative.
We do it because our husband finding us still in our pyjamas at 6pm with sick in our hair is just not cool.
And our little forward planning brains, our “it’s three hours since he was up, I need a snack, a changed nappy and a soothing car ride” brains, they get hard wired into this stuff.
Our competence creates his incompetence. Let me say that for you again. Our competence creates his incompetence.
Feel free to chuck in a different pronoun to suit your situation.
Because then, on a weekend, for a family outing, you can dress bub, pack a bag, shower and dress yourself and feed everyone breakfast, in the time it takes your significant other to clean his teeth and find two matching shoes. So all of these tasks become your job.
You are so used to clock watching doing complex critical path analyses only seen in manufacturing environments, that you become the time keeper. Meal time. Bath time. Bedtime. These all become your decisions. Your rules to enforce.
And then you start to lose. Because then, not only are you the timekeeper, valet, chef and personal shopper, you are also the fun police.
So I had myself a quiet little campaign. I didn’t really think it through. I’m not that sinister. But I think it’s working.
First, I wouldn’t enforce bedtime.
“Should I put him to bed now, babe?” Hub-in-boots would ask.
“I don’t know!” I’d reply.
And jman would be up until 10pm. And sleep in. And make me late for work.
“He’s making me late for work” my email would say.
“Should I put him to bed now, babe?”
” I don’t know?” I would say.
And jman would be up until 8:30, or 9pm. And we’d manage. He’s always going to be a night owl. But I’m not the timekeeper all the time anymore.
Next, I wouldn’t screw my work up and make all of my days stressful with daycare pickups.
Sometimes it is really hard to leave lectures, when everyone wants to talk to you.
So one day a week, I got the bus. Hub-in-boots had to switch to an earlier start time, and do family daycare pickup. I can’t tell you the mental relief it brought me, to be at work just one day a week where I wasn’t clock watching constantly after 2pm, with one eye on daycare pick up. It is stressful. It hangs over your head.
And occasionally, I became unavailable to start dinner on that day. I would run late, or accidentally visit the shops.
“He was insane when we got home!” He’d tell me.
“Did you pack a pick up snack, for the car home from daycare?”
“There’s a pick up snack?”
“There’s a pick up snack. It makes everything more calm when you arrive home.”
He did the classic planning an overly complicated dinner with a hungry toddler error. He did the sat down when we walked in dinner will be ready at 8 error. I tried, and often succeeded, to not comment. Like iPhones, I do believe eventually husbands have an autocorrect. Like iPhones, the autocorrect is not without it’s problems. Like when I type Judith, and it autocorrects to nudist. This is not a message you want to send to your mother in law….
Next, I planned ahead for Busy times.
I am marking final exams on these dates. These are not daycare days. And you’ll be needing to take leave.
I will be working long hours.
On Thursdays, we go to playgroup. You might like to take him.After playgroup, you’re expected to buy a babycino and a gingerbread man. You need to then do some running around, so that by the time he gets in the car, he is worn out. Got it?
So last week, we had two days of daddy daycare. Three blessed days in a row where I didn’t have to clock watch. Thursday was the longest time I have ever been away from jman in his entire life. 12 hours. 12 hours of not clock watching, going to the toilet alone, actually getting stuff done. I marked about 250 essays over three days. And it was bliss. I wasn’t menu planning, snack packing, clock watching. I was just working.
And here’s the thing. I left home before jman was up. I arrived home and he had gone to football training with Dada for the first time ever. The boys were out on the town til 8:15. Hub-in-boots packed snacks. He packed nappies. He packed warm clothes. They’d done several loads of washing. They went to playgroup. They got their babycino and gingerbread man. They had a great time.
And this week, for the first time ever, for three days in a row jman went to family daycare without a tear. He waved and smiled and said “bye, mum. Mum , car? Mum go work? Bye mum.” Three days in a row.
There has also been a marked difference in hub-in-boots forward planning, preparedness and general confidence with jman. When they don’t see me for 13 hour stretch, hub-in-boots has a chance to try things, stuff it up, correct, try again. Without comment. Without “helpful guidance” from me. And that is important. Because that is how you learn. And I also think it makes a difference when he’s walked a mile in my shoes. Or, at least, a Thursday in my shoes.
So I don’t know if you’ve had similar parenting / partnering issues as I have. But if you have, maybe just make a choice?
Maybe, just get a little bit less competent once in a while?
I think you have to make space for co-parenting. Just get out of the way. Sometimes you are the primary caregiver. But sometimes, you’re just clutter in the way of a whole new way forward.