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Our Biggest Challenge in Parenthood (so far): Negotiating Responsibilities.

February 4, 2021

Filed in: Family, Marriage

Time to read: 24 minutes

Michael and I brought our son Shai into the world Summer of 2020. Like most parents reading this we spent a lot of time preparing for his arrival – we read all kinds of books, listened to many podcasts and asked all of our friends with kids all about what life would be like. Michael and I had very little to no experience with newborns so we needed all the help we could get.

True story: Shai’s diaper was the first diaper either of us ever changed.

One thing we didn’t hear a lot about was how couples were managing the division of responsibilities between them once the baby was born. Who changes the diapers? Who wakes up at night? When can we take care of ourselves?

I heard a lot of mothers saying “it is just easier if I do it all” or “he doesn’t know how to soothe the baby” with an undertone of resentment and a lot of fathers checking out of the newborn phase because they felt there was nothing for them to do since they don’t lactate – and well, babies can be boring. We didn’t find anything out there describing how couples were navigating this and troubleshooting strategies over time.

We both want the freedom to spend time away from our family as individuals – many of the things we love to do are not baby friendly and require time away from the home; outdoor adventures, trips with friends and retreats or seminars to expand our knowledge. The narrative that I was hearing from friends and the general population was that this is something we would need to sacrifice for a period of time (around 18 years haha!) – specifically me because I am the primary caregiver.

I really wanted to know, did we have to sacrifice completely? Or, could we ensure this wasn’t our story? I realize that some level of sacrifice is impossible to avoid and at the same time I had to believe that there was a way to be amazing, engaged and present parents while still maintaining your own autonomy and individualism.

Brené Brown talks about 3 different kinds of families: parent-centered, children-centered and family-centered families. The first is one where the family unit compromises and conforms to the needs of the parents – think about a parent with a career that is demanding and inflexible, the second is a family that dedicates all their time and resources to the children – making sure the kids can be in any extracurricular they desire, and finally the third is a family where each member prioritizes the needs of the whole vs. the individual members – the kids and parents get to do some of the things they want but not necessarily everything. We want to be a family-centered family.

That means we need to get to a place where the responsibility sharing feels fair and has the flexibility to evolve as time goes on. It is important to note that fair is not the same as equal. Fair to us means that there is as little resentment as possible at the end of the day which is not the same as changing the same number of diapers or watching Shai for the same number of hours. We wanted to work together to find that sweet spot of where we both felt supported regardless of how the tasks themselves stacked up.

Even though I am the primary parent – mostly responsible for Shai and his needs – it is also important we make sure I have the space to take care of myself (eat well, workout, see friends etc.). If Michael didn’t get a chance to practice taking care of Shai a few things would happen: I wouldn’t be able to enjoy time away or fill my own cup and Michael could feel completely out of his league taking care of our kids without me.

This was the beginning of our negotiations.

2 week old baby Shai

Our relationship is one of the things Michael and I have worked the hardest on in our lives and we are really proud of the strength in our marriage. We have amazing support and resources to work through conflict, we have rituals in place that allow us to communicate our needs and frustrations safely (read more about that HERE) and because of this we figured “how hard can navigating this be?”

This was tough. 

When push came to shove, navigating the division of responsibilities between Michael and I has been the number one most challenging part of parenthood so far. We experienced more tension in the first 7 months of parenthood when it came to this issue than in all our years of being together combined. All the time we spent working with a relationship coach and building of communication skills was really put to the test.

Before Shai was born we had our responsibilities more or less figured out – I covered cooking, taking care of the dog, Michael handled our finances and we each did our own laundry. All of a sudden when our newest roommate Shai moved in, a whole new layer of responsibilities was added on top of an already full life. We quickly realized that even though a newborn doesn’t do much there is still so much to do – for both parents. Feeding, swaddling, soothing, diaper changes and tummy time just to name a few. To add to the challenge, Shai’s needs change on a weekly and sometimes daily basis – naps get shorter or longer, he starts rolling over etc. So who is on diaper duty? Who covers bath time? How do we divvy it all up? We stumbled through this in a not so graceful way. I hit max capacity which was unsustainable, Michael struggled giving up his independence and we butted heads until finally things started to work.

As I am writing this Shai is 7 months old and we have been through 5 iterations of dividing responsibilities:

#1 – 0-4weeks

Both Michael and I were off of work for the first 4 weeks. I was still recovering from a vaginal delivery and bonding with Shai was my number one priority where Michael could workout and move more easily. I was (and still am) breastfeeding and in this period we were not introducing a bottle so I was responsible for each feed. At this point since we are both home and not working there was not as much of a clear need to define who is responsible for what.

Adee:

  • Hold, play with and bond with baby
  • Feed every 2-3 hours and build up milk supply
  • Swaddling and soothing
  • Recovery
  • Cook/arrange food

Michael: 

  • Swaddling
  • During the night change the baby’s diaper after each feeding
    • This really helped me feel like Michael and I were in this together and I wasn’t the only one waking up throughout the night.
  • Bonding
  • Make it a point to take care of the baby and get Adee to practice self care minimum once a week (nails, see friends etc.) 

#2 – 4-10 weeks

At this point Michael is back at work and I am still on maternity leave. I can move more and begin physical therapy for recovery. We realize that Shai can now go a full night with no diaper change (the changes were waking him up) so it is not necessary to have Michael wake up for changes. This changed the division of responsibility and made it important for us to have more clarity. We started incorporating 1 bottle per day to give me a break and allow me to get some sound sleep in the mornings.

Adee:

  • Responsible for baby during day time and most evenings
  • Feeding outside of one bottle a day
  • Pump once per day due to giving a bottle
  • All feeds in the middle of the night
  • Recovery

Michael:

  • 6-9am every morning, including weekends (give 1 bottle in this time)
  • Thursdays from 4pm until bedtime (give 1 bottle in this time)
  • Help out with cooking and household chores

#3 – 11 weeks -4 months

Shai started sleeping in his nursery during this time period and began sleeping until around 7:30am which meant Michael taking the baby from 6-9am no longer made sense. We needed to re-negotiate to make the division fair again. This is where we started feeling some friction between us – I was starting to get resentful and Michael was resisting some aspects of providing support feeling like I was asking for too much (more on this below). I am also starting to come back to work slowly – around 20 hours a week.

Adee:

  • Responsible for baby during day time and most evenings
  • Feeding outside of one bottle a day
  • Pump once per day due to giving a bottle
  • All feeds in the middle of the night

Michael:

  • Any morning where Shai wakes up early (1-2x per week)
  • Monday and Thursday nights from 4pm until bedtime (1 bottle in this time)
  • After he is finished working the first thing he does when he gets home is spend 30 minutes with the baby to give me a break
  • Entire day from morning until bedtime on Sunday – meaning he is responsible for the schedule, either giving the baby a bottle or bringing him to me for a feeding
    • More on the impact of this below

#4 – 4 months – 5 months

In this stage I am back to working around 25ish hours per week (we have someone that helps with the baby 4 hours, 4 times a week) and have definitely pushed my limits in terms of my capacity. I want to do it all – be with Shai, workout, eat well, see my friends, be the best wife, best boss and take care of our home – I start getting overwhelmed. Michael and I realize that him helping out more than we have already decided with the baby is not what would be most helpful to me and instead actively looking for ways to help around the house – make sure diaper bins are emptied, dishwasher is unloaded, counters are cleared, changing stations are stocked, dog is fed etc. The little things add up to a lot! Michael really stepped up here and began actively looking for anything to help out with outside of his baby time.

Adee:

  • Responsible for baby during day time and most evenings
  • Feeding outside of one bottle a day
  • Pump once per day due to giving a bottle
  • All feeds in the middle of the night

Michael:

  • Any morning where Shai wakes up early (1-2x per week)
  • Monday and Thursday nights from 4pm until bedtime (1 bottle in this time)
  • After he is finished working the first thing he does when he gets home is spend 30 minutes with the baby to give me a break
  • Entire day from morning until bedtime on Sunday – meaning he is responsible for the schedule, either giving the baby a bottle or bringing him to me for a feeding
    • More on the impact of this below
  • Searching proactively for anything around the house to do that would be helpful.

#5 – 5 months – 7 months

Things change yet again. All of a sudden Shai’s sleep has regressed and he is waking up between 1 and 5 times a night – on average 3 times. I am exhausted and needing to recharge any opportunity I can. I remind Michael how helpful doing the small things around the house is and he now takes full responsibility for arranging child care. We started sticking to a sleep schedule with Shai so that we can have more structure in our day and this has Michael taking Shai in the mornings again.

Adee:

  • Responsible for baby during day time and most evenings
  • Feeding outside of one bottle a day
  • Pump once per day due to giving a bottle
  • All feeds in the middle of the night

Michael:

  • Wake up at 6am and take the monitor, wake up Shai at 7am and spend time with him until 8am.
  • Monday and Thursday nights from 4pm until bedtime (1 bottle in this time)
  • After he is finished working the first thing he does when he gets home is spend 30 minutes with the baby to give me a break
  • Entire day from morning until bedtime on Sunday – meaning he is responsible for the schedule, either giving the baby a bottle or bringing him to me for a feeding
    • More on the impact of this below
  • Searching proactively for anything around the house to do that would be helpful.
  • Coordinating with childcare

Look at those little feet!

Oh boy, getting here was a bumpy road.

The tension between us was palpable and in many moments I had no idea how we would get through it. It is truly difficult to understand until you are in it how 24/7 being a parent really is. I was sleep deprived and irritable, Michael was mourning the freedom he once had and there was this baby that needed us to get it together. So we kept trying, messing up, apologizing and repeating the cycle until there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Obstacle #1: I don’t ask for help and Michael doesn’t know how to help

Michael wanted to help but he didn’t know how. He would come into the room and if I was with Shai he would continue about his day waiting for me to ask for help. What I really wanted was to not have to spend even more energy asking/explaining it to him – I wanted him to step in and help on his own. This could be taking the baby and seeing if his diaper needs changing, holding him and asking if I worked out already, asking where he is at in the schedule (just ate, getting ready for bed etc.) and offering to put him to sleep or play with him.

I was getting in way more reps with the baby than Michael so it was “easier” in the short term for both of us if I just told him exactly what he could do, or did it myself. What we both want in the long term is for him to get the opportunity to try, make mistakes and figure it out without me stepping in. Not asking Michael to help led to a bad habit of leaving things to me instead of him understanding the baby’s needs on his own. It also was not fair for me to expect Michael to step in on his own without initially explaining/supporting him.

Obstacle #2: I had 9 months of preparation

It took me a while to be compassionate to the fact that my life changed the moment I got pregnant. It was right then that my choices were not just about me but incorporated how they would impact our baby. I had nearly 10 months to prepare for Shai to be here where for Michael the change was overnight. One day he could do whatever, whenever and then the next his level of independence completely shifted.

Going through a big transition like this it felt like we were leaving an old version of our life behind – almost like a death that needed to be mourned. I had my time to grieve the loss of “life before kids” and Michael needed his as well. Any resistance to taking on more responsibility was normal – this is a big change and it was important for me to give myself and Michael grace vs. blaming him or resenting him for not getting with the program immediately.

Grace looked like me being okay with the fact that I had to ask Michael to do things 3 or 4 times before he really absorbed it, allowing him to make mistakes and fumble without making him wrong or trying to “save him” and moving through any missteps before building resentment.

Obstacle #3: Only being responsible/engaged when you’re “on duty”

Creating a schedule was an amazing option for us. It provided clear periods of time where I knew I was not responsible for the baby and could focus on myself freely. However, one issue that came up for us was that this schedule created an expectation that could be interpreted as black and white. 

One night I was in the nursery reading Shai a book when Michael came home from work, ran upstairs and with a huge smile on his face he greeted us “I missed you guys!” He spent the next 10 minutes or so talking to us, trying to make Shai smile and then started to leave. As he was on his way out I asked him if he could put the baby down to sleep so I could make myself something to eat and all of a sudden his body tensed up, he took a long pause and then looked at me and said “But it’s not my night.” 

My internal dialogue in that moment was something like – “Oh hell no! That is not how this works.” It took a lot for me to not absolutely lose it in that moment – more on why that type of reaction doesn’t work later. Instead of chewing his head off , I ended up looking at Michael and laughing – I teased him to make light of how ridiculous resisting the request was. “So you’re saying that you’re only a dad when it’s your night?” slowly he softened up and even laughed at himself. 

IMPORTANT: I already know enough about how to communicate with Michael that it was safe for me to tease and bring humor to the situation. This is so different for every couple – for you that may actually result in more conflict or tension. This is just what works for us.

It was important to be clear that being a parent is a full time commitment and you can’t only be engaged when it is your “turn” to be responsible. We are a team that works together all the time picking up slack where the other person can’t keep up. A schedule is a guide not something to live by. 

After narrowly avoiding my wrath Michael understood. So much so that soon after when Shai had a particularly hard week of sleeping and I was clearly exhausted he offered to take the night shift. Not only did he end up doing so but it was his idea to sleep in a different room with the baby monitor so my entire evening could be disruption free – I would have definitely woken up each time Shai made a noise through the monitor and probably spied on what they were doing until he was asleep again. Nights are not “his shift” and still, he could see that I needed additional support where he had some spare energy – it may have been the sleep deprivation talking but in that moment I fell more deeply in love with him.

As I write this we still have our schedule and yet we also look for ways to support each other. Michael leads wilderness adventures (Soul Searching Adventures) that take him out of cell reception for a week at a time – I watch Shai gladly so he can pursue his passions. When my girlfriends are spending a weekend away together, Michael offers to take Shai overnight so that I can be fully present and have fun. We are not perfect but we are definitely getting the hang of it.

Obstacle #4: Keeping score

You are always going to be better at keeping score of your own efforts vs. your partners. It is impossible for you to know all the things that your partner is doing to support you and the family – many of those things go on without you even noticing. It is also impossible to quantify the value that each person’s effort brings. For example, how do you quantify breastfeeding in comparison to someone going to work? Can you really assess the value that cooking a meal brings vs. rocking the baby to sleep? Even if you could, would it be worth it? When we are our best selves we choose to believe that it all evens out in the end – and if it feels unfair that is a time to have a conversation about it so we can either gather more information or bring things back to fairness.

All of the new things that have come up since Shai was born have shaken up the roles and responsibilities we have in the family. This has forced us to recalibrate and that has not been the smoothest transition. There were moments when Michael would get finished with work feeling like he carried his load and helping out with the baby outside his designated time was unfair, while I felt that I was with the baby all day and him not helping was unfair. We were missing each other and this was leading to discomfort and tension. This is brand new for us and it has required slowing down, dropping our defenses and really hearing each other out so we can find a middle ground – not just once but over and over again.

Obstacle #5: Getting angry doesn’t help

This is more of an obstacle that I faced and not so much Michael. My natural instinct when I feel wronged is to get loud. I want to scream, make Michael wrong and express my anger and frustration in a way that hurts him. I am hurting so I want him to feel it too. What I know for sure is that in our dynamic that kind of reaction never gets me the results I am looking for. My goal is to reach understanding and for us to be able to hear each other, empathize with one another and on the other side be more connected. When I attack – what I get is defensiveness, self protection and anger thrown right back my way.

It has been extra important for me to stay calm and express what is happening for me solely from my perspective without any blame, shame or judgement. When I do this, the space that would normally be filled with him protecting himself, getting defensive or even angry with me for being angry was now available to see where he is accountable or have an open dialogue. I try to avoid using statements like “you make me [inset emotion here]” and instead focus on just my own feelings “I feel sad when…” I will also start off with where I am accountable – where is it that I could have shown up better? Did I make clear requests? Was I snarky in my tone? In every conflict there is always something I am responsible for and opening with that almost immediately softens Michael up.

This is a constant work in progress for me – add in sleep deprivation and changing hormones you have a recipe for snarky and spiteful moments. The longer I have worked on it the more easily I can notice the boiling inside me. As soon as I see it I try to call it out – 

“Hey Michael, I just want to let you know that I am feeling overwhelmed and really tired. Right now I think it would be really easy for me to get pushed over the edge”

“Babe, I am frustrated and I don’t even know why”

By calling it out Michael can brace himself and also be more careful about what he is doing that could potentially lead to conflict. 

Daddy time <3

So what did we do about it?

The list of obstacles goes on and on. While this has been by far the most challenging period of time in our relationship the truth is we asked for it. We don’t want this to be easy – where is the growth in that? We want the challenge because on the other side of it is a more loving, trusting and beautiful relationship.

So what did we do to get through it?

#1 Check in on each other, a lot

This is more than just “how was your day?” This is about checking in on how we are feeling, if there are any frustrations or resentments building up, are there any requests we would like to make. Checking in often (minimum once a week) helps us avoid things building up and festering which often turn something easily resolved into a much larger issue.

Our code words for initiating this type of check in are “is there anything unsaid?”

First, It is important that when we do this we keep a few things in mind:

  • Everyone needs to feel safe
    • When checking in on each other – and really searching for anything going on – we are opening up the possibility of tough conversations. This is actually what we want. We want to pull out of each other what is bubbling below the surface without it boiling over in hurtful and unproductive ways. In order to do this we have a few agreements in place that allow us both to feel safe:
    • First, there is no making wrong. We speak from our own experience and express how we are feeling without blaming the other. “I feel sad when…” instead of “You make me feel sad when…”
    • Second, we make a commitment to regulate ourselves and not get defensive. These conversations are tough enough to initiate on their own and if someone gets defensive and closes off it is a recipe for making it much harder to bring up anything in the future. 
  • Make an appointment
    • A good rule of thumb to make it easier for both of us to stay regulated is to ask beforehand if this is a good time to have this conversation and allow a “no”. A no needs to be respected both ways – the giver of the no only says no when they are certain they cannot be present or would be better served settling some emotions before engaging in conversation, the receiver needs to trust the partner’s no is for the better of the relationship and remember it is not personal.
    • If someone says no they need to identify a time in the future where they will be available. This makes sure that everyone shows up prepared to be open, calm and present.
  • Take the check in seriously
    • This is our chance to really express what is coming up for us. If we notice ourselves wanting to say “I’m fine” and move along because it feels easier in the short term – we snap ourselves out of it! It is a choice between short term discomfort and long term low level resentment which will manifest into something greater – we always want to choose the former.
    • We take the time to look inside and search for anything that wants to be shared from as small as cleaning the dishes to as big as relationships with our in-laws.
  • Don’t initiate before bed
    • For us this is a recipe for things being left unresolved and both of us unable to sleep. We are better off waiting until the next day when we have more energy and space.
    • We remind each other “I love you more than I am frustrated with you” and head to sleep.

If a check in does not occur spontaneously in the week we have a weekly ritual that we are committed to on Sundays. We call this our relationship board meeting and it includes a lot more than just this check in. This ensures we will never go longer than one week without checking in on each other. If you want more detail on exactly how we set up a weekly meeting for our relationship read THIS ARTICLE.

#2 Ask for help often

For me:

This is a big one. As someone who has historically had a hard time receiving support and asking for it, this was definitely challenging. Sometimes it is easier to just do things myself vs. asking for help and I prefer that, however, there is a difference between that and burning out. 

I have often assessed my own value from how much I can “do” so accepting that I cannot do it all and asking for help was something I had to learn the hard way. I want to be the supermom, business owner, awesome wife and friend while also taking care of myself with exercise and nutrition all without breaking a sweat. For me, this was impossible while maintaining my sanity. It was a big mistake for me to not ask for help, often. Once I started asking and got specific with what I needed it made a world of a difference. 

One day a friend of mine asked me “if someone you loved needed help and they told you exactly what they needed, how would it feel to be able to provide that support?” my answer was that it would be a gift, which means that not asking Michael (or others in my community) to step up and help me was taking that gift away from him/them. Most people (including Michael) may not know exactly how to help and there is some discomfort stepping into someone’s life trying to support without knowing if you would be doing more harm than good. I began trying to be crystal clear on what would be of service to me – including when I just needed space. 

Some of the things that were helpful to me:

  • Cleaning of any kind. The floors, unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash etc.
  • Laundry
  • Making sure the baby changing stations were stocked
  • Holding the baby while I worked out, showered or cooked
  • Homemade meals
  • Just being with me and listening to how my day was
    • This one was more helpful than I imagined. Having people allow me to talk all about diapers, nap time, my recovery even if it was so irrelevant to them helped me a lot.
  • Helping me hold boundaries when I wanted space and fewer people around

When I really felt like I could not articulate the help that I needed – I would try to say that: “I need help and I am not sure what exactly I need.” Then I allowed people to try and was sure not to criticize any of their efforts. If they did something that was especially helpful, I would point it out and lay the praise on thick.

For Michael:

Michael had a hard time asking for help but it was different than my struggle. For him he felt that because he was responsible for Shai way less than I was it was not fair to ask me to help when that time is my “off time”. I have found that this mindset perpetuates a negative cycle – Michael doesn’t ask for help when he is responsible and then because of this feels resistance when I ask for help – the main person that suffers is the baby. 

We need help when we need help and we are on the same team. Our main priority is taking care of Shai to the best of our ability and if that means I need to give an extra hand my best self has no hesitation. I made a commitment that if I felt the asking became too much I would bring it up in our check ins.

#3 Take care of ourselves

Taking care of our individual needs is top priority. We know that if we are taking care of our own emotional, mental and physical health then we will be able to show up as better parents and partners. We know that Shai is best served with parents that take care of themselves and prioritize their relationship with one another.

For Michael taking care of his needs was easier as we had decided that I would be the primary caregiver – plus he is a professional at self care where I am more willing to push it off. In our situation, he could still do his morning routine and workout without much issue. Taking care of my own needs has been more difficult. I am waking up 1-7 times a night, feeding 2-4 hours a day, putting the baby down for naps and all else that comes with taking care of him – all while getting back into work.

This is where Michael made it his priority to help me get enough space to take care of myself. Here are a few ways he has helped me do this:

  • Take the baby monitor out of the room in the morning so I can get some sleep without it – I cannot sleep deeply when the monitor is in the room.
  • Take care of household chores like dishes, groceries, filling up changing stations and taking out the trash.
  • Sitting with me to go over the schedule for the week and together finding space for working out.
  • Encouraging me to leave the house when he is responsible for Shai (or he leaves the house) so I can get my nails done, see my friends or even just spend some time alone.
  • Taking Shai for a walk so I can cook without distraction.

Having Michael dedicated and engaged in my personal care has made it so much easier for me to keep it top of mind. It would be too easy for me to push that to the side and in many ways society/media has glamorized the sacrifice of motherhood. In our relationship we have adopted the mentality that dad supports mom so that mom can support the baby – especially at this point in Shai’s life.

#4 Make time for our relationship

Taking care of Shai has required Michael and I working as a team more than ever before. If we go too long without connecting as a couple, tension starts to build and our teamwork breaks down. We heard from all the books, podcasts and conversations we were having that a baby was going to put a lot of strain on our relationship – something like you lose 80% of the time you spent together. We made a commitment from the start that we would carve out time for our marriage as if it was an entity of its own.

A few of the ways that we have done this:

Don’t forget about sex

  • Sex the way we knew it took a while before it got back to normal and for everyone this process will have its own pace. We have remained committed to our intimacy and it has been a game changer for us in staying connected and moving through conflict when it comes up – I wrote a whole article on sex postpartum HERE.

Date night

  • Every Tuesday night is date night. Whether Shai is with us or not we take this evening to spend time together as a couple and make it special. Some weeks we get a babysitter for a few hours, others we use the time to go on a walk or make a picnic in the park and Shai comes along. We get out of our workout clothes, I put on a little make up and we enjoy one another.
  • For more in depth information on how we set up date night and some creative ideas if you have a baby read HERE.

Relationship Check in

  • Head back to #1 and read it again! We have a standing weekly check in – we started this before we got pregnant and it has been a lifeline in the most challenging of moments. Read all about how to create a relationship check in HERE.

Random hugs and kisses

  • We really make an effort to hug and kiss each other as often as we can. A small little reminder that we are a team, we love each other and everything is okay. For example, when I get downstairs in the morning Michael is already working so I head into the office and give him a big hug and kiss or when he takes a break in the day he finds me and gives me a big hug for no reason at all. These moments are super special.

#5 Put yourself in your partner’s shoes – specifically the primary caregiver

Initially when we were trying to figure out a fair split of responsibilities it was made harder because Michael will never fully be able to understand what it is like to be in my role. He can’t make milk to feed Shai, he doesn’t have the hormone changes that come with postpartum, his body hasn’t changed at all, he sleeps soundly almost every night and the list goes on. 

One thing that really helped him begin to grasp the difference between what has changed in my life vs. his is when we implemented “daddy day”. You may have seen this in the negotiations at the start of this article – this is one day a week (for us it is every Sunday) where Michael is 100% responsible for the baby from morning until night. This means that he keeps track of the schedule, he does all diaper changes, brings the baby to me for feeding or gives a bottle and covers all play/nap times. After one full day it gave him a taste – even though it is still not a full taste – of what it is like for me every other day. This helped him not only have empathy but also see ways in which he could be more helpful because on those days he is looking for me to help.

In order for this to work fully it required that I make a commitment to him. On those days I was committed to being gentle if he got the schedule wrong, allow him to make mistakes, avoid stepping in to make things easier and truly give him the chance to figure it out on his own. I also was readily available whenever Michael did need my help even though it was not my day. 

It won’t work for all couples to do this every single week – for us it does. However, I do think it is worth trying even for just one day so that there can be some understanding of each other’s perspectives. Was Michael super pumped to do this? No. Are these days going to be something he looks back on and is so grateful for? Absolutely, I have no doubt. Something I heard a while back that has stuck with me is how human beings fall deeper in love with things that we take care of. In a world where we hear so much about dads feeling disconnected from babies in the early stages Michael is falling so deeply in love with Shai and truly getting to know him. 

#6 Give each other as much appreciation as possible

Amidst the chaos it has been really easy for each of us to feel unappreciated. We have this human that was born into our lives and added on a layer of responsibility to an already full life we were living. As we started this process of dividing up responsibilities it felt like one was asking the other to do “more” and not noticing or appreciating how much we were already doing which led to bitterness and resistance. It is also worth mentioning that words of affirmation is high on our love language list (#1 for Michael and #2 for me).

It can go without saying that we appreciate each other (I often have heard – he should know I appreciate him!) and in that same vein I don’t know anyone that has overdosed on explicit appreciation. During a time where we can get so focused on the task at hand and really push our capacities as we learn new skills, taking some time to clearly tell Michael that I appreciate him has been a great way to minimize tensions and frustrations. It is really hard to be angry with someone when you are tapping into your gratitude for them.

We have made a commitment to give each other appreciation often and using as much detail as possible. For example:

  • Adee to Michael: Thank you so much for taking Shai on a walk this morning. It gave me some time to cook breakfast freely and I feel so refreshed because of it.
  • Michael to Adee: I am so grateful that you wake up with Shai in the middle of the night. I know it is really hard on you, I don’t know if I could do it as gracefully as you do, and it has allowed me to be well rested – thank you so much.

We love each other, but in the moment when I am hungry, the baby is crying because he had a poop explosion and I notice the trash hasn’t been taken out – I forget for a second. Appreciations go a long way.

What now?

It feels like this is just the beginning and what stands out the most for us is our gratitude for Shai. He is already helping us grow in our relationship and commitment to one another. As we have taken these negotiations seriously we are building a deeper trust and love for one another that I can’t even begin to explain. We are improving our ability to show up for each other, listen to each other’s wants and needs as well as kindly challenging the other to step up into a greater version of themselves.

Ultimately this is our experience and it will continue to evolve. My hope is that this initiates some conversations in your relationship and leads to strategies or tactics that work for you and not for us. Maybe you read this and think “I would never do it that way, I would do it this way instead” or “I never thought of that, I want to try it”. That is the thing I love most about parenthood – you get to do it your own way and there is no right or wrong about it.

comments +

  1. John says:

    Amazing article (though a bit long). Love the topic and can relate so much to it.

  2. Miriam says:

    Love this post. As someone who is starting to think about having kids, I love the details & things that worked for you both – so helpful for my husband and I to talk over before the baby even gets here!

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