This Is the Conversation You Need to Have with Your Partner Before Becoming Parents


It doesn't have anything to do with where the kid sleeps, trust

by Stephanie Kaloi

once upon a time i was a perfect parent

I spouted off a whole lot of stuff about parenting and kids before I had a child; I now recognize like 97 percent of that stuff as ideological garbage. But acting like you know everything is a great coping mechanism for when you’re about to enter into an arena you’re a little terrified of, and I’m not alone in my pre-parent (somewhat misguided, but deeply felt) ideas about how I would parent.

Here is the truth, though: This is how two peacenik pacifist parents end up with a seven-year-old who loves pretending to shoot everyone and blow things up (and who has mastered making a machine gun sound with his tongue, but is not remotely interested in turning that skill into fluent Spanish). It turns out that actually having a kid changes everything you thought you knew, and that most of us are spending a lot of our pre-kid lives asking the wrong questions about what parenthood is.

Since we had our kid several years before most of our friends started even thinking about babies, we’re now experiencing the parenthood of our friends through a different lens: that of the somewhat-experienced parent. Don’t get me wrong—we’re not experts; we’re only through year seven of this parenting program. On top of that, we’re experienced with only our child—my child at two isn’t your child at two, and he’s certainly not your child at two plus your new baby combined. I might have advice that worked for me, but it doesn’t mean it will work for you.

You want an example of the kind of questions that don’t really matter? Before our son was born, I remember having numerous discussions about whether or not we would make our own baby food, whether or not our child would co-sleep (trust me, co-sleeping has nothing to do with how independent your child is or isn’t), what nicknames were okay for our kid (who cares?), and what we would absolutely forbid our family from calling him (…). You know, things that aren’t wildly important in the grand scheme of things, because it turns out you don’t have much to do with what food your kid likes, co-sleeping is a lifestyle choice, and nicknames? I don’t even care. You know what I do care a whole lot more about? Having a partner who is truly one hundred percent invested in all aspects of this parenting thing. That is at the top of my list.

So today, I’m offering up the questions we should have asked a lot earlier. These are the conversations that I recommend my friends who are thinking about kids really get down and dirty in discussing with their partners. Because no, you can’t solve problems before you have them. But yes, you can set yourself up for more sanity further down the line.

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Will Your Partner take on 50 PERCENT of the RESPONSIBILITY?

Until I had a child, I never understood what it was like to share my body and mind so fully with someone else, nor did I understand how fully one could really need another adult around just to get an hour or two to totally clock out. While I know that not all partners can drop their careers when a baby happens, I also know that all partners need to be prepared to be as available as the parent doing the primary caregiving. For a lot of people (I’m looking at you, dudes), that’s a hard thing to commit to. Doing this often takes serious compromises (like slowing down your career track, or working a punishing second shift to help make ends meet). But you know what else takes serious compromises? Raising a kid.

It doesn’t matter if one of you is working out of the house and one of you is home with the baby: you are both human beings. You are both working. You are both equally valuable and you both need to be at your best to perform. My husband and I didn’t arrive at our version of what 50 percent responsibility looks like easily, and I have had to wage many a battle and instigate many a discussion to get here (and I haven’t always been right every single time). I’ve had to point out, time and time again, the many ways women are expected to default to doing All The Things with little to no assistance from their partners—aka the people who also live in their houses.

My husband and I didn’t have these conversations before we became parents, but we should have. We should have sat down together and said, “You know what? It doesn’t matter what color co-sleeper we get. It does matter that we both are fully invested in being there for each other as partners and as parents, and for our child.” And then we should have figured out what the hell we meant by that.

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Do You Both Know How To give (And RECEIVE) Emotional Support?

One of the most important things you need to do before a child ever sets a tiny toe in your home is to establish emotional support in your relationship. Maybe your husband doesn’t express his feels that often, or maybe your wife isn’t into labeling her own emotions, but whatever, I don’t care. When you’re new to parenthood, waking up in the middle of the night to feed a baby is an emotional experience unto itself. Holding a screaming one-year-old while his molars cut through means everybody’s crying. The first time your kid has a fever over 103 degrees you’re going to freak out. What do you need to get through that? Figure out how to have those emotional conversations now (hell, bring in a therapist, or some good books to help you if you need to). Because if you’re trying to figure out emotional communication on extreme sleep deprivation, you might not be at your best.

And another thing? Emotionally supporting one another doesn’t all of a sudden become important if you have kids—it matters all the time. The onus of responsibility isn’t only on one of you, and each of you needs to know the other is there. I think tending to our emotions is just as important as tending to our bodies, if not more.

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Do You Fully Trust Your Partner? (If Not, Why?)

Additionally, you need to figure out how much you actually trust your partner. I know! Since you married them, you’re going to tell me “I trust them a hundred percent!” But then when I ask you if they’re always on point when it comes to safety, or if they always nail it when it comes to getting the right groceries from the store… you might well say no. And then you need to work on it if you find out the amount you trust them is not very much, or if your trust varies based on the situation.

When it comes to your baby, your child, you need to make sure you’re comfortable with your partner handling parenting without you. I don’t mean in a tragic way; I just mean that sometimes you’re going to need or want to be somewhere besides where your kid is, and sometimes your partner will be the one with the kid. This is a good thing! Ask your partner to have an equal role in feeding and/or diapering your kid, or to alternate taking your kid to doctors’ appointments—with or without both of you there. If there are two parents involved at home, there can be two parents involved at the doctor, at school—wherever your kid goes.

Similarly, if you can’t handle the idea of your partner watching the baby for a few hours while you’re not there, you need to sit down and figure out what the issue is. As someone who stressed about that last one for a few months before realizing how ridiculous I was being, let me tell you this: The relationship my son and my husband have is beautiful, but it only became beautiful once I backed off and let them actually have it. Being Mom doesn’t mean you’re always right or you know best, whatever your hormones and the Internet may tell you. Sometimes that feeling you get that tells you the baby will be scarred forever if he or she doesn’t see you for three hours? That feeling is lying to you. If you want a supportive partner who is also a compassionate, on-point coparent, treat him or her accordingly.

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Are You (Both!) Willing To hire help when you need it?

You know something else you should probably talk about? Whether or not you want to hire help once you have a kid, and what kind of help. An au pair? A housekeeper? A once-a-week nanny? A night nurse? ALL OF IT IS FINE. I’m of the opinion that if you can afford it and you’re paying a living wage, you should go out and hire all the help you need. There is zero shame in hiring someone to do the night feeds in your house, so you can wake up rested and be a better parent/employee/spouse/human. There’s no fault in hiring someone to clean up your house because you’re so damn busy. There’s nothing wrong with using meal delivery services because you work forty to fifty hours a week, or using them because you’re home with the kid(s) all day every day.

If there is one gift I would go back and give myself (besides the ability to recognize that any birth is magical, no matter what it looks like), it would be the knowledge that it was totally fine that I paid a babysitter to come watch my child in addition to enrolling him in half days at preschool five days a week so I could get work done. Because it was. Whatever that looks like for you, do that. Don’t question it, and don’t listen to anyone who says you should. You can always un-hire help if it turns out you don’t need it, right? So go for it, and don’t let anyone (especially not your most progressive friends, since they can, surprisingly, come out the hardest against this) subject you to any moral tirades for doing so.

Again: livable wage? Check. Good working conditions? Check. Do it.

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this will look different for everyone

Okay, now take everything I said above, swish it around, and throw it away. I mean, consider it, but also know this: What works for me, in my household with my husband and my child and my life experiences, probably isn’t going to work for you. But I do encourage you to take what I’ve said and figure out how it translates to your life. It’s not realistic to expect that every household can have two partners with work schedules that make it possible for them to both be with the kid(s) the same amount of time—I get that. It’s not even desirable for everyone. That’s cool.

Another thing? When it comes to parenting, I don’t know most things. But I do know that staying sane, loving my partner, and having the mental capacity to legitimately enjoy life are all profoundly important to me, and I know that those things came much more easily after having a series of long, hard discussions with my husband.

The days in which women did everything at home and men did everything outside the home (and the idea that anything that happens outside the home is infinitely more important, harder, and more intense than anything that happens inside it) are gone. They’re finished; they’re done. It’s not radical to establish equality in your parenting relationship, so… go for it. Demand it. Make it happen, and reap the hell out of those benefits.

If you have kids, what parenting advice do you regularly dish out? If you don’t have kids but think you might one day, what are you totally freaking out about?

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • Eenie

    Good choice of Miranda Bailey for the trust section!!! ❤️

    • stephanie

      RIGHT? I love her.

  • LJ

    I might be the only one… but I found the giant GIFs distracting when I was trying to read the article…. I am currently halfway through it, and I am totally into it, but my eyes keep flickering and it’s kinda annoying? They’re funny though….

    • Elizabeth

      Not the only one, I hate GIF’s, hah. Mostly I get by with these articles scrolling as quickly as possible and trying to make the gif not show on the screen when I stop to read, although I have at previous points in my life disabled them from playing at all.

      • LJ

        I definitely had a harder time absorbing the article because I couldn’t finish more than a sentence without flickering up or down the screen…it took away from the writing for me. Maybe just put all of them at the end if APW wants to use them? idk.

      • Jess

        I always size my screen so that I don’t have GIFs visible. I don’t mind them, but I do find they make text hard to read.

        How do I make them not play!?

    • CommaChick

      Between the GIFs and the video ads, my page just stopped scrolling and froze for a while until my computer could catch up. I’m not a fan.

    • AP

      I’m so glad you mentioned this, I thought it was just me. I was trying to read last night on my iPad and the gifs were so huge and distracting that I couldn’t finish the article and had to wait until I got to a computer today.

    • Eenie

      I’ve noticed in general in any picture/gif heavy post I get really tired of scrolling when I’m on mobile. I personally liked the gifs this time around though :)

  • The only general advice I will offer if asked is “every child is different so expect a bit of trial and error. Failing strategies doesn’t make you a failure as a person, it just means you haven’t found the thing that works for you and your kid.”

    We did have every single conversation you mentioned here because I had a lot (A LOT) of fears around parenting that needed to be set to rest before we decided to try. We talked about if he was willing to take time
    off to be home with us and how we’d maximize his paid leave. He assured me that he was willing to shoulder the burdens when
    my 100% (which feels to me like 70% for anyone else) was 50%, when my
    crippling moved to higher levels. We discussed if he was willing to make our family
    the Number 1 priority over and above anything else. I had to face my
    fear of trusting another adult with serious life decisions, and overcome it. We had to discuss, and budget for,
    childcare because we knew that we don’t have free help anywhere.

    As a result, the first year of parenting, as hard as it was physically and contrary to all possible expectations, was possibly our best year of marriage yet. We were totally on the same page in terms of being partners, we supported each other to the best of our abilities. We felt stronger than we ever had as a team. We’d learned that we could roll with the punches together, that when we’re both sleep-deprivation-drunk we can still survive and keep our newborn and dog alive. Despite losing our childcare for several months, we were able to agree on a compromise solution that worked as well as possible for both of us, not just one of us, and we will likely survive to see Year Two.

    • NolaJael

      One of my dad’s favorite lines when we were growing up was, “We tried one thing with [me, the oldest] and it didn’t work so we tried something different with [my sister].” That quashes a lot of fairness fights, and now, as an adult, I appreciate the humor AND honesty.

      • That is SO true, though! I mean, we try things with JuggerBaby and if it doesn’t work, we try something else. I assume we’d do that with any and every kid :)

  • Leela

    I’m afraid of basically everything about pregnancy, birth, and parenting, but there is one thing that stands out. I have severe emetophobia (a debilitating fear of vomiting). I have had it all my life, and yes, it is a real phobia, and it goes way beyond the idea of “ew, throwing up is gross.” I’m actually in therapy for it because it started to ruin my life.

    My husband is super supportive, but my phobia is the main reason that we have not had kids yet. I am downright terrified of morning sickness, and I am just as terrified of parenting a sick child. I’m afraid that I will not be able to physically and emotionally care for a vomiting child. Like, maybe I’ll just leave the house and not come back. Just today I asked my therapist if it was possible that my phobia was somehow magically preventing conception, like some kind of special mental birth control (spoiler alert: mental birth control is not a thing). Does anyone else have this phobia?

    • Sarah

      Yes! About 10 years ago. It was pretty debilitating, as I was convinced that most foods had the potential to be contaminated and would make me throw up, so I kind of didn’t eat for like, an entire semester of law school. Unfortunately I don’t have any good advice for you, though. I am a parent now, so it worked out for me, but 1. baby is only 3 months old and hasn’t vomited yet. I am not sure how I am going to handle taking care of her when she does if all I can think about is avoiding catching it and 2. I never vomited during pregnancy (did have mild nausea) and 3. the phobia slowly wore off after some therapy and life changes. 10 years out and I still have a mild phobia, but not anywhere near as bad as it was before. I realize that might not be possible for someone else. The only thing I can say is that maybe you will rise to the occasion? Maybe hard work at therapy and/or a life change and/or some time will help? I know it really super sucks though, and I can’t say whether it will get better. I will offer internet hugs instead.

      • Leela

        Yes on the food thing. I finally started therapy because I was afraid to eat at all. The irony is that the more afraid I was the thinner I got, and everyone was telling me I looked great. I’m doing intensive exposure therapy and it is exhausting and frightening. It helps to hear that someone with this phobia was able to make it through pregnancy!

        • Sarah

          I hate that I loved how skinny I was when I was struggling with this. Like, how fucked is this world that looking weak and sickly is good for women?

    • gipsygrrl

      I am so feeling for you and wishing you luck! I have a milder form of this phobia, but it still seems like no one gets it and it’s still embarrassing/bizarre to explain it to anyone. FWIW, I didn’t vomit once from morning sickness. And my kid has only barfed one time so far (aside from spit up, which is totally NOT the same thing or nearly as bad as vomit). And I find that while I’m in the moment (caring for the kid, cleaning it up), it’s not bad… it’s like I go on auto pilot and just deal with it without thinking about it too much. It’s thinking about it later, and mostly worrying about it happening next time that’s the hard and unhealthy part for me. That’s still an issue. But caring for your baby in the moment while it’s happening? My mommy instincts took over and we dealt with it just fine. Hopefully its the same for you!

    • Annelle Hughes

      I’m so sorry to hear about that, I didn’t know that was a thing! I hope if you do get pregnant you are one of the lucky ones! Some women don’t get morning sickness at all, some get more than their fair share. I’m 20 weeks now and feel nausea often, but have yet to actually throw up. I know that doesn’t help the phobia if you’re afraid it will happen but you may get lucky! Wishing you the best.

    • LittleOwl

      Sending support! Although not quite your situation I’ve always had the same fear. I would absolutely lose it in elementary school when other kids were sick, and it took me so long to realize that other people don’t have the same reaction as me. In college I would be afraid to go to parties in case people might be drinking/sick from alcohol.
      I used to work with small children and I had the same worry that I would be paralyzed with fear/unable to help if a student was sick. I was SHOCKED how quickly I adapted. As gipsygrrl said, in the moment you just do what needs to be done. Sometimes I would need a moment once I was out of the situation, but the reality is that you survive and each time gets a little easier. I worked with students that were so sick, we always had a special bucket and calming section of the classroom in case a student was nauseous. This sounds silly, but Maybe if having children becomes a reality, you can map out the worst case scenario in your head so you’ll know what to do (i.e. If my child gets sick on an airplane and there’s nowhere to go, I’ll use my gloves to clean with the flight attendants’ help, change/buy a new shirt…)
      I still struggle with some aspects (TV/movies) but overall, trust yourself that you’ll do what needs to be done!

      • gipsygrrl

        I think the special bucket and game plan is a GREAT idea. I had read about a mom who kept something like that (a big pitcher and paper towels) in her car and I think I’ll get one for home and vehicle as well. The idea of having a plan and supplies at the ready makes me feel calmer just thinking about it. Thanks for sharing.

        • Leela

          Yeah, my phobia is severe enough that I would not be able to have a bucket around, because seeing it and knowing why it’s there would give me a panic attack.

          Whenever I express my fears about this phobia, people either 1) laugh, or 2) say “it’s different when it’s your kid.” What if it isn’t different for me? It’s a hell of a gamble to have a child on the off chance that it will in fact be different for me when it’s my own kid throwing up.

    • Kate

      I’m in therapy for a severe medical phobia (Drs’. offices, needles, bloodwork, the works). Sending good juju. I have no clue how I’m going to manage to have a kid ever unless I completely avoid the doctor the entire time.

      The worst is DH saying, “It’s only for nine months” and “I’ll be there with you at the doctor so it’ll be okay.”

      No.

      No it won’t. *shakes fist at his big chewbacca doo doo head*

      • Fear of ___

        So I don’t have emetophobia or a medical phobia, but I do have a different one (that most people think is RIDIC) and I am totally with you on people saying “oh, it won’t hurt you” or “it’s more afraid of you than you are of it” – yeah, thanks, I haven’t heard that one before. Ugh. I’ve been thinking about some therapy but I’m…afraid of it.

        • Leela

          I SO hear you. People tend to think my phobia is hilarious. They laugh a lot when I tell them about it, and usually say things like “well, no one LIKES doing it.” Some people will tell a “funny” story about throwing up and then look surprised when I react the way that I do.

          It’s hard to have a debilitating phobia that is so often used as a comic device.

          No matter what your phobia is, if it is impacting your life, it is real and it is not ridiculous. Sending love and support your way. For years I was too scared to start therapy because I didn’t know how much I’d have to face. Also, a lot psychologists don’t really know how to treat phobias — they often see them as social anxiety, which is totally different. Therapy has been scary but totally worth it for me. I’m happy to talk more about the process if it would help you.

          • Her Lindsayship

            After reading your comment, I told my fiancé that I think I have a mild case, and his reaction was literally “well, no one LIKES throwing up”. >:( I think my case is mild because it hasn’t really impacted how I live my life, and I have so much respect for the struggle you’ve been fighting. But yeah, I can imagine how much harder it’s made it that people don’t take it seriously. Keep up the good work!

          • Leela

            Sigh.
            :)

      • Lily

        It’s awesome that you’re being proactive about dealing with the phobias in therapy, that sounds like something that could significantly improve a part of your quality of life! I’ll suggest that for pregnancy, midwifery care might lessen some of the medical stuff surrounding prenatal care. It’s not 100% needle free, but fewer white coats at least. You can also look into independent birthing centers, which tend to be as non-invasive as possible for both prenatal care and delivery. Best of luck!

        • Lisa

          This is something I’ve actually considered. I don’t have what rises to the level of a phobia, but I get very anxious about having needles stuck or left in me. (My heart is racing right now just thinking about it.) The idea of being in a hospital for several days with an IV stuck in my arm makes my stomach turn. From what I understand, there’s less medical intervention with a midwife practice. Please someone correct me if I’m wrong!

      • Leela

        I hear you. People really don’t understand phobias. I’ve even had psychologists tell me to “just get over it.” It really hurts when people say the worst possible things when they’re trying to help you! And people also really don’t get how phobias spill over into everyday life. Like, my phobia impacts ever aspect of my life: what I eat, where and when I eat, where I’ll go, whether I can take the subway on a given day (sometimes I just can’t). And everything else I’m afraid of? It can be traced back to the phobia. Flying, boats, crowds = airsickness, seasickness, germs germs germs. It’s really hard for me to travel, and at certain points in my life it’s been impossible to eat because all food seems “contaminated”– hence the lifelong designation of “picky eater.”

        I’m sorry you have a phobia too, but I feel a lot better hearing from someone in my boat (which is not on the water, obvs, because of seasickness).

    • Kelly

      Oh man. YOU GUYS. My people.

      Yes, I have this phobia; yes, it’s gotten to the point where I also had trouble eating for spans of time and did lots of other weird stuff besides.

      Like some of the others below, the thought of having to care for a vomiting child was (as literally insane as this sounds!) one of my main fears about actually having a child, or children, and now that I have an almost-thirteen-month-old … it’s still something I think about / worry about at least once a day.

      THAT SAID. Like some of the other commenters below, I also made it through pregnancy without once throwing up (and I experienced what was otherwise, I think, a fairly average level of morning sickness in terms of nausea and fatigue). PLUS, my son has puked on or around me quite a few times in his first year of life, including when he was actually sick, and I want to echo what the others said below — in the moment, you just deal, albeit probably with a bit more adrenaline / panic / dread in your system than the average person. The worst part for me, so far, has been the fact that I tend to dwell on it and worry about it in quiet moments — it’s never (so far) seriously impacted my ability to care for him and be there for him when he is ill, which I take it is the root of your fear (and the thing I’d be most worried about).

      So, solidarity. And my two cents of experience from one year out on the other side.

      • Leela

        Thank you! I do weird stuff all the time. The weirdest thing I’ve done was pretty weird: a child threw up right in front of me on the street a few blocks from my apartment. I went home, stripped off my clothes, and sat in the shower until my husband came home — about 45 minutes. Then he had to convince me that I did not need to throw away my shoes and clothes.

        Therapy is helping A LOT…but I have a very real fear that I would react that way even around my own kid. That is, assuming I could get through pregnancy. My phobia is weird in that the few times in life I’ve thrown up, it’s made the phobia worse rather than better. My brain doesn’t learn that it’s not dangerous and scary.

        • Natalie

          I have thrown away clothes and shoes that I wore because I vomited while wearing them. No vomit on them, but the association was enough that I had to get rid of them. I had no idea there were other people with this problem. Thank you for sharing.

          • Leela

            Solidarity to you. When I was about 7 I got sick in my bed, and I refused to sleep on those particular flowered sheets ever again. I would scream and cry if they appeared on my bed. I also wouldn’t tell my mother why I couldn’t sleep on them, because even at that age I knew I was being weird; I knew the sheets didn’t make me sick. It drove her crazy.

            And don’t even get me started on food associations…

    • laddibugg

      I do! And that was my fear before getting pregnant. But luckily, I threw up ONCE during my whole pregnancy because of something I ate. I did have morning sickness, but it was all nausea. i did throw up during labor, but I was so out of it I barely remember.

      I also have a, uh, poop phobia. Like, I HATE when a piece of tissue has failed…i start freaking out. But oddly enough, I am fine with changing baby’s diaper so I hope I’ll be ok with him vomiting. I’ll get back to you when he starts solids.

    • Natalie

      Thank you so much for this. I had no idea this was a thing, but I’m pretty sure I have it (a milder form than you). For about a year stress was giving me an upset stomach, and I was so afraid of vomiting in public (or anywhere other than at home, alone) that I stopped going out, worked more from home, stopped taking road trips. I’d have panic attacks in the car over fear that I was going to be carsick (even though I have never in my entire life been carsick to the point of vomiting). It’s calmed down some, in part because I dealt with some food intolerances that were causing my stomach pains, but I still struggle with it. My husband and I want kids soon, and my biggest fear about pregnancy is the morning sickness. Having to go to work with morning sickness and vomit at work. It’s terrifying to me. I have no idea how I’ll handle that. I have no advice to offer. But thank you for bringing this up and giving me a place to realize I’m not completely alone.

      • Leela

        You are not alone. For me, it helped to find out that this thing has a name, because that let me know that I wasn’t the only one who had it. Phobias are under-researched as far as mental health issues go, and this one has barely been researched at all. It’s a hard phobia to treat because it’s often misdiagnosed as anxiety (especially social anxiety). Unlike a lot of other phobias, exposure therapy is a problem… for pretty obvious reasons.

        I hear you and I respect what you’re going through. I’ll say it again: you are NOT alone.

        P.S. Speaking of names, sometimes I’ll talk about my phobia like it’s a (really annoying) person. Like, “UGH, I couldn’t get on the train because Emet showed up when I walked onto the platform.” It adds some much needed humor to the situation.

        • Kender

          So of course you can’t do exposure therapy via actually throwing up, but could you do exposure therapy of thinking about / looking at it, rather than doing it? Like start off by just being able to talk about it in a safe place while working to keep your breathing calm and your heartrate down. Then escalating, while practicing calming techniques and anxiety management, to other people describing it, seeing a photo, eventually watching a video clip. It probably won’t fix it, but it might get you used to managing it well enough to feel able to cope if your child does throw up, at least long enough to help your child and deal with the problem. I don’t have that particular phobia (thankfully, since I’m chronically ill and sick a LOT), but I have an anxiety disorder, and taking things in small steps while practicing keeping myself calm has helped with some of the things I get very anxious about.

          • Leela

            Yes, I’m seeing a therapist who takes that approach. It’s helping a lot, but I have a long way to go.

  • sofar

    A friend who is also a mom was telling me this the other day: Have a conversation about your Love Languages before you have a kid, because it has HUGE implications for how you parent together — not just how you love each other.

    For example, her husband’s love language is touch, while hers is acts of service. In the midst of the stress of caring or a baby, she was so annoyed that her husband kept trying to hug her and coax her onto the couch for cuddles while she was thinking, “OMG I don’t have time for that garbage. Why aren’t you helping me wash bottles, fold laundry, do dishes??” And he was thinking, “She seems so stressed, and when I’m stressed, I want a hug, so that’s what I am doing. Also, why won’t she hug me anymore?” The idea to take 5 minutes to be held didn’t occur to her and the idea of taking charge of a chore didn’t occur to him.

    Obviously the assumption that “household chores are for women” was obviously playing a role here too. But, even so, probably have a discussion with your partner of how you want to be loved when you have a child together.

    • janie

      My love language is acts of service and my fiance’s is touch, and this was SPOOKY to read. Do you have my apartment bugged?? :)

      • Meredith

        I have a theory that every man’s love language is touch. haha! My husband’s is, and all couples I have talked to about this have said the man was touch. Mine is also acts of service, but the other women I’ve talked to have been all across the board.

        • Kalë

          My boyfriend’s is slighttttlyyyy acts of service, although he scored almost equally on all the languages (-_-), while mine is gifts!

        • Laura C

          I haven’t had my husband sit down with the love languages questionnaire, but I’m guessing he’s equally touch and words. But other than that, the scenario in sofar’s comment could be us a lot of the time these days. Although when I get to a certain point of stress he has learned to go into the kitchen and investigate the dirty dishes scenario. Which may not even be what’s stressing me out, but I recognize it for a good-faith effort and, shoot, having the dishes clean certainly won’t hurt my stress.

        • rg223

          My husband’s is Acts of Service. Verrrry much so. If he’s stressed or sad, he does NOT want me to hug him (mine is touch and quality time (tied), so I have to go against my instinct on that one). Honestly, I think some of your friends are thinking of touch as sex, and that’s why a lot of men think theirs is touch, when really it’s something else. I think it helps to think about what you want when you’re sad/stressed, rather than happy.

          • Laura C

            My father is an acts of service lunatic. Like, if we hadn’t found an acceptable moving service for our cross-country move he was going to get a UHaul and drive our stuff from MA to CA himself.

          • Rebekah Jane

            Um, do we share fathers? Mine has literally driven from VA to GA every time I’ve ever moved so that he and my mother can personally ensure that I’m settled in a new home.

          • Lisa

            My parents do this every single move my sisters or I have done. It’s intense but pretty helpful most of the time!

        • Jess

          My dad’s is Acts of Service and my mom’s is Gifts. We should take the test and figure it out – it’s way easier to identify in other people than it is in myself.

        • Meg Keene

          My husbands is primarily acts of service. Thank god, mine too.

        • Her Lindsayship

          I feel like a person’s primary love language can change. At least, I definitely noticed while I was taking the quiz that I would’ve leaned a lot more heavily on touch in my previous relationship (with a man whose love language was definitely not touch). My fiancé is so touch-oriented that I’m pushed in the other direction, like I completely take our 24/7 snuggle party for granted.

          • Meredith

            That makes a lot of sense!

          • I’ve been realizing this too! My ex-husband was definitely touch, and I felt like it was maybe 3rd for me, behind quality time and acts of service. But in my new relationship, with someone less touch-y, I’ve been feeling like it’s much more important to me than I thought!

        • stephanie

          Both of ours are quality time! But I agree that they can definitely change.

        • We’re the opposite. :) Mine is touch, and my husband’s is acts of service.

      • Michela

        Same!!

    • Mary Jo TC

      I think this is important. I’ve noticed that my love language is words, and my husband sucks at it, or at least he thinks he does so he never tries. His language is acts of service, so he feels neglected when I let the house get a mess, and when he cleans I don’t see it as an expression of love, but just something that has to get done, and maybe even a passive-aggressive reproach to me for not cleaning first. Both of our secondary language is touch, which is usually our saving grace, except not when postpartum body means no sexy time.
      This also impacts your relationship with your children as they get older. My older son is 3 now, and he shares my love language of words. If he feels ignored he says, “I want mommy talk to me,” and whenever he’s upset or has been scolded he says, “I want mommy say a nice thing,” I recently told my husband that improving his use of words as a love language is important not just for my sake but for our son’s. He says he actually has an easier time expressing love in words to our son than to me, for some reason. I guess that’s good for our son’s sake, but for me, sigh.

      • Julia

        Oh, I so feel you! My love languages are touch and words, and my husband is an acts of service person. Over the course of our relationship he’s gotten much better at saying “I love you” or giving me compliments, but it’s really amazing to me how much of an effort he needs to put in to come up with something nice to say when it’s so natural to me! I could easily come up with praise or words of affection for him 10 times a day (and I often do) but for him, it’s a real struggle. It’s actually kind of fascinating, but also, le sigh.

    • Annelle Hughes

      My love language is touch and my husbands is acts of service. After I read the book the time he fixed the blinds when I told him I wanted some loving attention made SO MUCH MORE SENSE. At the time I was like WHY ON EARTH IS HE FIXING THE BLINDS RIGHT NOW????? and royally frustrated about it but he actually was trying to show his love. I think a lot of it is how we are raised since that is his whole family’s love language. He has gotten better about giving me the touch I need but its definitely not “natural” for him to do that.

      • rg223

        Solidarity from a touch/quality time person with an Acts of Service spouse. I’m like, “It’s great our apartment is clean, but I could just use a hug?”

        Also agreed a lot of it is how we are raised. My husband is Asian and acts of service are a given, so I think that contributes. Although it’s a gift-giving culture too, but he doesn’t care about gifts at all, so maybe that part is flawed!

        • guest

          Are you me? My Asian husband is very much an Acts of Service guy who doesn’t care about gifts. I think the non-touch thing is culturally related for him.

        • Natalie

          Haha. I am exactly the opposite of you. “Why are you hugging me when I’m upset that our house is filthy and I’m sick of cleaning?”

    • Her Lindsayship

      Yeah, no kids here, but my fiancé’s love language is touch and I can RELATE to your friend’s reaction to cuddles! But recently, we took the quiz thing to learn about each other’s love languages and discovered that my primary one is words of affirmation. Since then I’ve noticed his efforts to compliment me and tell me nice things about his feelings for me. <33333 The extra love feels great, but the pointed effort is where he's really winning.

    • Meg Keene

      I feel like acts of service is the love language for all new moms. I WISH I WERE KIDDING. That seems like it should be a joke.

      • sofar

        That’s probably the truth! I can’t think of any mom I know who would take hug over a delivered/cooked meal, an empty sink or a changed diaper.

  • Kalë

    Not a parent yet, but the best parenting/relationship advice I’ve ever gotten is so simple – ask your partner what they need! In my relationship, this means about once a week, one or the other of us finds ourselves asking, “Is there anything you need me to do for you?” Could be around the house, could be emotional, could be whatever. I imagine this would work well for parenting needs, too.

    • emilyg25

      Also the flip side, which I’m still trying to get my partner to do: Tell me what you need! Just tell me. Basically, just talk all the time about all the things.

      • Ashlah

        My husband promised to “use his words” in his vows because of how often I say it to him.

        • NolaJael

          I LOLed. Good for both of you.

        • Kalë

          Words! How important they are, and yet how elusive, sometimes.

  • lildutchgrrl

    I don’t know a lot of parents of young children, and age/stage matters because of the economic climate, so I’m throwing this out there: How do you afford daycare? My coworker who has 3 kids under 3rd grade and works full-time and is a single mom would be the logical person to discuss this with, but when the subject came up and I said, “I just don’t know how anyone affords it,” her response was, “No one can afford it, but you do it anyway.” What does that even mean?? ‘Cause what I meant is, “I do not make enough money to pay the basic monthly bills and also pay for childcare at the listed prices.” (Also, I know what she makes because we work in public service, but I don’t discuss actual $ numbers of my budget with coworkers.) Are people taking on credit card debt? A second mortgage or loan? Babysitters need to be paid in cash, right?

    • Eh

      We can only afford to have one kid in daycare (full day/full time) so we are waiting until she is in school to have another (or almost in school). Money is tight. We don’t qualify for any subsidies (we do get a small check from the government every month). The daycare she goes to is really nice and a reasonable price.

    • Daycare prices shocked me when I started checking into daycare for our baby. We wound up going with the cheaper option, but there were definitely some that were as much as our rent, and that was for one child. I feel very lucky that we’re able to handle the cost without hardship (just means less eating out and spontaneous spending) and I had the same thought as you – how do you lower income parents afford it? That the US doesn’t have free childcare for all kids is criminal.

    • Brittany

      Practically speaking, I would imagine with 3 kids and a single income, she qualifies for government assistance for childcare. We didn’t and it forced one of us to quit our jobs to care for the baby (daycare is higher than our mortgage for 1 kid where we live).

    • Amy March

      Well, for your coworker my thoughts are: child support, family help, cutting back on those basic monthly bills, lower daycare costs once some of them are in school, using up her savings, etc.

      • lildutchgrrl

        I expect much of that is true for her. The underlying question is really, “How will *I* afford childcare [when I become a parent]?” and not many of those options are available to me. And yet I have a stable job paying better than the market rate.

        So far we’ve worked out that one parent will be at home most of the time and will work part-time opposite the other’s schedule — so that we don’t need full-time outside childcare. We’ve lived on half my income before, admittedly while renting for less, so we know how to cut costs and economize on the day-to-day stuff. We’ll probably put less into savings, but it’s not smart to stop altogether. There’s just no way to come up with an extra couple thousand dollars a month, which is what I’m seeing for infant care or for a couple of younger kids in my area. And yet I know people who work full-time (making both a lot more and somewhat less than I do) and have full-time childcare… so it has to happen somehow.

        • Amy March

          Even right outside NYC, where I live, there are plenty of day cares that are significantly closer to one thousand dollars than two for infants, and in home day care, which is often not the kind with a website, is often cheaper. I don’t mean to minimize the cost, exactly, but those kinds of things- moving a half hour to be closer to the cheaper day care, stopping savings even though you know it isn’t the smartest, are the ways people do it.

          • Meg Keene

            It really depends. Those are not the prices in Oakland, though I wish they were.

            But yeah, you pay less into savings. Or nothing into savings sometimes. People quit their jobs. It’s obscene that this is the system, but it’s the system.

          • lildutchgrrl

            Yes. Oakland. I have heard good things about childcare referrals from Bananas, though. http://bananasbunch.org/

          • Meg Keene

            Banana’s is great, they also offer great classes.

            I’ll also say that it’s very popular in the bay area to do things like nanny care, or various hippy types of preschool. Pretty much all of those are more expensive than plain old center based daycare (which is sort of looked down on here). In home daycare can be cheaper (though it isn’t always), but the quality is spotty.

          • Lisa

            My SIL lives in the Bay Area, and I think she’s been through two or three different in-home daycares for my nephew. It’s significantly cheaper, but they can change the rules or decide they have too many kids, which can also put parents in a bind. (I think one of them the lady decided she had too many kids and only wanted to work with younger babies so they had to find a new daycare for him pretty quickly.)

        • Laura C

          Some people send their kids to daycares that probably aren’t what you’re finding in your initial searching — in-home places, for instance. Which are probably cheaper but they can be really hit or miss, totally amazing or downright dangerous, and it’s harder to find info to assess them.

    • emilyg25

      There are a lot of different set-ups out there. In-home daycare tends to be cheaper than a center. And off-the-books babysitter or neighbor who takes in a few kids even more so. A lot of folks have family help.

      • laddibugg

        Yep. I feel sometimes when folks ask this they only think of traditional day care centers.

    • Meg Keene

      It’s basically just very very expensive. Here in Oakland one kid was slightly less than our rent. Two kids is more than our (now) mortage, by quite a bit. But the flip side is one of us quitting work is more expensive, both short term and long term.

      This is why smoke comes out my ears when people say “babies are not that expensive.” I MEAN. Sure nursing is free (other than my TIME, which could otherwise be used to make money), but one way or another childcare is unbelievably expensive, particularly if you don’t have family help.

      • stephanie

        Also! All the gear that usually comes with breastfeeding is not typically free. Depending on your insurance, pumps may or may not be provided. Bottles and bags for storage have to be bought. Lanolin and breast pads, purchased. Etc etc.

        • Laura C

          I think pumps come under Obamacare now? Though I guess some insurers might still try to argue that a manual pump counts as all they need to provide, which NO.

          • stephanie

            Yeah, I’ve had friends (in the southern US) who have had to deal with that. The ACA says you should supply them, but some companies have monopolies in states and try to do what they want. :/

          • Lily

            The actual *pump* is usually covered under ACA plans, but the very necessary gear is not: replacement parts, pumping bra, some type of cooler/insulated bag to carry milk home, storage bags/bottles…breastfeeding is *NOT* free, unless you are a SAHM who never wants to freeze extra milk.

      • lildutchgrrl

        I think comparing childcare to housing costs is a good way to look at it. We took on our mortgage with the 33% rule of thumb in mind (Bay Area norm means 40% isn’t unreasonable but I’m at about 30% of gross income), and childcare could easily be more than the mortgage. I consider myself in pretty good financial shape: no car loan, student loans, or credit card debt; saving into retirement and for a rainy day (and, y’know, for kids). I just don’t have a second mortgage payment sitting around every month.

        Thanks for the reality check in Oakland numbers, Meg.

        • Cellistec

          Yeah, our friends with kids (here in the Seattle area) say childcare “costs the same as rent.” I was floored when I heard that. No wonder so many of my new-parent friends have gone from dual-income households to single-breadwinner households. It’s just cheaper for someone to stay home until the kids start school.

          • Meg Keene

            It depends. The long term numbers say that’s not actually the case. The earning power a woman loses staying home for 4-5 years is astronomical. It averages something like a million dollars over the corse of a lifetime. So long term, you’re better off working even if it’s break even or taking a loss. It’s not always feasible, but in a pure numbers way it’s a better long term play.

          • Alexa

            I’m so glad to have seen this point a couple of places (and I think here at least once or twice before). Our first child is due in November and looking at daycare centers around us all of the options I’ve found so far (that aren’t government subsidized, because we aren’t eligible for that) work out to approximately breaking even with my salary. In general I want to work at least part-time for my own mental health, but it’s nice to be able to remind myself that there’s most likely a long-term financial upside as well.

            Although thankfully the only pushback I’ve gotten (outside my own head) is from a random 4th grade student telling me I need to “stay home for the baby,” and it’s easier to find that amusing than upsetting.

          • Julia

            YES. I always get so, so, SO angry when people say, “it makes more sense to stay home because otherwise her entire paycheck would go to childcare”. First of all, why is it her paycheck that’s going to childcare? And yes, 99% of the time people who say this are in fact referring to her paycheck, not her male partner’s. Second of all, this line of thought completely ignores the earnings power that she’s losing, not just during the years she stays home but also for decades afterwards.

          • ML

            Well since it’s usually not possible or practical for two people to change to working part time, it is the lower-paying parent’s salary that will be subtracted from the family income. And yes, for messed up reasons that is often the woman’s. But I don’t see why people saying that should make you so angry. For a lot of families, that is the reality. For me, I was so ambivalent about my job, staying in it just to have all the money go to childcare did not make sense at all. For some of my friends, their male partner is in the same position. Not everyone can afford to worry about earning potential later on… If there is simply not enough money coming in each month, there just isn’t.

          • laddibugg

            I supposed Julia is the type of person who believes in one bucket of money for couples, as opposed to separate buckets. In that case it’s not ‘her’ check, it’s ‘x dollars from our combined income’

          • ML

            Yes, but you have to consider how the money gets in that bucket. Unless both people can reduce their income by x percent, then it is either going to be at the cost of one partner’s income or the other’s. Maybe I’m missing something?

          • Cellistec

            Good point, Meg. It’s a crappy choice to have to make either way. How about some government-subsidized childcare? No? Ok, fine, we’ll keep having to choose between short-term survival or long-term prosperity. Sigh.

    • LJ

      In my city people who have only known they’re pregnant for a month are coached to put their kid onto a daycare waitlist. It’s that competitive, let alone any cost. I don’t have any family close by, neither does my fiancé, so god knows what we’ll do. nanny share maybe? Ugh. Thankfully that’s “future me”s problem…

      • I definitely got that advice, and I was semi-shamed when I didn’t have a daycare spot for our baby when I was only 14 weeks pregnant! Some of the daycares in my city have 2.5 year waiting lists for their infant rooms, I was shocked at that.

        • AB

          I got a call last week about a spot opening up in a daycare we had put our son on the list for a full three years ago (he is now 2.5). We couldn’t get him into ANY daycares as an infant, and ended up with a nanny for awhile (which was great!). Some cities are just an insane failure of daycare supply and demand.

          • clarkesara

            So, like… how do you find out about this stuff in advance?

          • AB

            By talking to other parents, reading local parenting message boards or neighborhood listservs, basically finding ways to tap into the wisdom of those who have been there before. I crowdsource many parenting decisions!

      • Kaitlyn

        Haha yes, I went to daycares when I was 5 months pregnant and they did not have any infant openings available until a full 12 months in the future, when my child would have been 8 months old. Was put on waiting list for any earlier openings, but the waiting list was already several unborn babies deep.

        • Alexa

          I’m probably wrong, but part of me thinks I’d almost prefer that explicit response at this point, since right now every daycare center I’ve talked to just says they aren’t sure if they’ll have availability for an infant in January or not, but they can put me/us on a list…(baby’s due in November & I’m expecting/hoping to go back to work in early January.)

          • Kaitlyn

            Yes, it is much better to know so that you can make alternate arrangements. Although that being said, what I was told may have been similar to what you were told, but I just interpreted differently — they said, we know we’ll have a spot in August (I’d been hoping for April), and we can guarantee you the August spot if you place a deposit; anything sooner than that, we’ll have to wait and see how the waiting list goes.

      • We also didn’t have family nearby and were on a wait list for the first year of JuggerBaby’s life and expected it to be another few months before ze could be in so we ended up doing a compromise of half-him and half-me care broken across the whole 7 day week. We were lucky that we had the flexibility for that but we were VERY ready to get daycare started when they had an unexpected slot open up a couple months earlier. It’s worth talking to people you know with small children to see if they have recommendations for in-home places that tend to accommodate referrals, or might open up before the larger institutions do. I have a few friends who nanny shared because they couldn’t get into a daycare and that was awesome for them. We tried that but just could NOT find a competent affordable nanny. It’s helpful to have a list of options to try, because some may turn out to be a poor fit.

    • stephanie

      My son qualified for Head Start (he has a mild disability), so we took full advantage of that. It wasn’t my dream hippie flower preschool, but it was free (!) and meant he could go every day of the week. There was no way that was happening otherwise!

    • Jenny

      I think there are a few things. 1. Shopping around for a daycare that you like and feel comfortable with (prices in my area for an infant under 1 year range from 1300-1700). 2. Looking into forms of assistance, government, employer, non profits etc. Even if you don’t qualify for daycare assistance, maybe you’ll qualify for food stamps, or help with utilities, etc. 3. Looking for any way to make big cuts, moving to a cheaper apt./part of the city (only applies if you are renting likely) 4. We are students, so we basically have the cost of childcare rolled into my husband’s student loans, and we also get considerable daycare scholarship money.

    • laddibugg

      you don’t do traditional day care….you do in home situations (which might not have to be licensed if the person only has a few kids).

      We can’t really afford ‘real’ day care right now. My parents are watching the baby, and I’m fine with that for the moment, though I think he’s totally gonna be spoiled like I was.

  • Michela

    Overall I loved this article and, comfortingly, all of Stephanie’s suggestions are real conversations my husband and I have had to help ease my anxiety surrounding parenting. I just wish it didn’t start out with the idea that what little I know about parenting is “97% … ideological garbage.” While I’m certain this is true, it makes me feel even more unqualified and unprepared than I already do. I’ve noticed this attitude in lots of parenting articles, not just this one, so it’s certainly not a pointed criticism, more of an observation about the tone some conversations can take between parents and non-parents. It’s anxiety accelerating to reach towards what feels like a safe space (parents who know vastly more than I do! Women who can help ease my anxiety!) and have the feeling I’m being laughed at for being so clueless- I know I am, that’s why I’m here!

    Does anyone else feel this way? Or is my anxiety making me sensitive?

    • Amy March

      I don’t think anyone is laughing at you, or telling you that you don’t know anything about parenthood. But what I see time and time again is people knowing all the answers and making all the judgments about how parenting will go when they don’t have a kid (actual examples: My baby will sleep through the night at 4 months. I will never use a stroller. Baby food is poison. Obvi my angel will sleep through brunch always.) and then their children actually arrive and turns out they, too, are humans with thoughts about their lives.

      If you’re looking for answers to how parenting works, I think that does tend to increase anxiety, because if people are being honest with you they probably are going to tell you they had no idea what they were doing until they were doing it. I don’t think that means it’s a bad idea to read all the things and get all the ideas if you want, as long as you’re open to them being possibilities instead of certainties.

      • Michela

        To clarify- I meant the laughing at us comment more as a figure of speech; that’s the vibe I get when I read “you have no idea what you’re in for” and “throw all your ideas out the window” etc.

        And you’re totally right about why the tone might be addressing some non-parents who think they have all the answers. I wonder how many non-parents reading articles like this are like the ones you described, though- knowing all the answers but not even having a kid. Theoretically, those people don’t need to read articles like this because they already know everything! Ha!

        My comment was more about tone, and I only made the observation because I’m quite certain I’m part of the target audience for this piece- non-parents who wants to know how to prepare- and the intro sort of had me feeling judged a little. I know I don’t know everything. I’m not the kind of non-parent you described (though I know they exist, I’m friends with some of them!), so I wanted to deliver my observation about a trend I see in articles like these as a whole. While it’s true that reading articles like this might increase anxiety for some, research decreases anxiety for me, and I consider reading articles + comments on parenthood research so it was a bit disappointing to seek lowered anxiety from a safe space and have my anxiety increased. I’m just one person, though, and I know this article wasn’t written just for me, so my comments are mostly just respectful observation.

        • rg223

          I feel like the broad-strokes “you can’t possibly IMAGINE what it’s like to be a parent and no amount of reading can help!” is both limiting and untrue (Which is not what this article is, but possibly is what you are talking about). Parenting is like any other big life change. Yeah, you don’t know what it’s like to live in Alaska unless you live there. But if you’ve visited Alaska and read about Alaska and have taken time thinking and talking about life in Alaska… you aren’t completely clueless about the northern lights. I think it’s more that you can’t predict a) your child’s temperament and b) how you’re going to react to it, or how you’ll react to sleep deprivation or anything else that may happen. But getting a general sense of child development and how you might want to parent? Totally doable (That’s my experience as a new parent anyway).

          • stephanie

            I agree… to a point. But I think the best gift a new parent can give him or herself is the gift of flexibility, and being open to the possibility that you might change your mind, that you might do something differently, that things might go in a way that you didn’t anticipate. I can’t overstate how fascinating it’s been to go through 7 1/2 years with a kid, and to see all the ways he’s challenged and changed us. Yes, you can know how you want to parent, and you can have an understanding of child development, but when you’re holding your crestfallen 4 year old who is dealing with bullying, or you’re teaching your elated 6 year old the importance of knowing how to celebrate but not gloat, or you’re doing any number of things.. it gets tricky, it gets hard, and you come up with a lot of things on the fly. I only imagine this intensifies as children age.

          • rg223

            Sure, flexibility is totally important! I just think there’ a difference between having things all planned out (which is not great, as you have said), and having a little background knowledge and tools so that you CAN be flexible and able to come up with things on the fly. I’m not saying you have to read parenting articles and books and research to be a parent in any way, but for a research-y kind of person, I think it would be reassuring to have some knowledge to fall back on. I do think the background knowledge has helped a lot in my parenting so far. But it’s different for everyone of course!

      • Meg Keene

        I think this is totally true. I also routinely find myself hiding the ball and understating how hard parenting is to my non parent friends. I’m not sure why that is. It’s some combo of not wanting to scare people, not wanting to look like I’m asking for pity (I’m not), and an intense social pressure to feel like I’ve easily got it all together. I think part of women’s work is trying to hide the strings, and not show how it’s done. “My house is effortlessly clean every time you come over because it’s always this clean!!!”

        So yeah, sometimes I’ll slip, and a non parent friend will say something like “OMG that sounds like you have no downtime!!!” and I’m like “Oh god you have no idea. And you have no idea because I’m intentionally hiding it from you.”

        • Mary Jo TC

          OMG you nailed it. That “intense social pressure to feel like I’ve easily got it all together.” In some ways I find this social pressure more burdensome than the chaos of parenting itself. And I hate the way it isolates me and makes me feel like I can’t admit my reality to anyone else because I have to “hide the strings.” Thank you for putting words to this.

    • emilyg25

      I actually disagree with that point. I have strong opinions about parenting that reflect my carefully thought-out personal values, and having a kid really hasn’t changed them. In fact, most of the time it’s only made me feel more strongly about them. My husband and I parent about 90% of the way we thought we would before we had kids.

      • Michela

        It’s comforting to hear that your values remained even through the tricky, complex challenges of parenting. Thanks for sharing.xo

      • Meg Keene

        I think early on we parented about 90% the way we thought we would. Now with two kids and four years in, it’s maybe more like 30%, if that. HA. SOB. One of our kids, at least, is a delight but not easy. And we really need to follow their lead.

        So yeah, I’d say other than the values of flexibility and feminism, most of the other stuff got thrown in the trash. YMMV.

        • Kara E

          Interesting. We parent pretty much how we thought we’d be parenting (with a very strong willed sweet 3 year old who has slept through the night maybe 12 times). Maybe that’s because we both had things thought out and talked out in pretty broad brushstrokes rather than specific tactics, but it’s pretty close to what we figured things might be like. Probably, I’m a bit more anxious (at times) and a bit more patient than I thought I might be (lots of deep breathing) and my husband is more nurturing and gentle-discipline oriented and less “fun” than I thought he might be (I was worried he might be all good cop and me be all bad cop but it’s pretty even). I’m so grateful to have him as a parenting (and everything) partner.

          Most of our pre-parenthood conversations had to do with backing each other up (not undermining each other) and looking out for one another, especially when we hit our limits. We just need to plan more “us” time. Date nights take planning (not to mention $$$) — the neighbor kid is just starting to babysit (and she’s only $), but needs to be home early!

      • stephanie

        So, first, I mean.. I’m hyperbolic, and was trying to speak to the fact that no one should beat themselves up if they find themselves doing things they never said they would do. Our values are the same, because we are the same people, but many of the day to day minutiae of parenting is different than what we thought it would be. We are, in broad strokes, the types of parents we thought we would be. But the details of what happens every day? The way our son has interests we never thought he would because surprise! he’s his own person? That’s the stuff that’s different. I made many “my kid will never do X, or my kid will never like X” comments, and he does and likes all of those things. I have found, in our parenting journey, that flexibility is key. The same thing that works at 6 months doesn’t work at 16 months and that new tactic doesn’t work at 2, and nothing is the same at 3, and so on.

    • Ashlah

      I don’t know if I necessarily feel the same way as your describing, but I do find myself getting weirdly defensive sometimes with articles about non-parents. Because I already know that I don’t know what parenting is like? I don’t make any of the assumptions or statements like the examples Amy March provides below. I accept that shit is probably going to happen in unexpected ways, and you can’t predict what it’s going to be like, and all kids are different. I read a lot about parenting (enough to know that reading about it isn’t the same as doing it!), and it feels like non-parents are all lumped into this stereotype of someone who knows nothing and assumes they know it all. So I do sometimes get frustrated with the “You’ll see…!” style articles (which this isn’t, really) because I feel like I’m more aware than we’re given credit for.

      I mean, when I read this article, my first reaction was that I felt good and ready to parent with my partner because I feel like we’ve been discussing all this stuff for ages. But when I went to comment, I hesitated because it feels so unacceptable to suggest that you know anything or are at all comfortable with your hypothetical parenthood. I can imagine people reading this very comment, shaking their heads with a smile, and saying, “She has no idea…”

      So maybe I’m being too sensitive too :)

      • Michela

        You totally nailed it- I hesitated commenting too because I thought “this article isn’t for me or about me” until I thought “but I’m the non-parent they’re writing to, so it is for me!” Again, I’m calling out my anxiety at the forefront and acknowledging my reaction to the intro (not the article on the whole) might be in response to anxiety I already have surrounding parenting. It isn’t APW’s job to sort through that mess- that’s for me and my therapist- but it’s comforting to hear you’ve felt similarly to parenting articles geared at non-parents.

        • stephanie

          I mean, if it helps, I’m only talking about myself knowing 97% garbage before becoming a parent. Having said that.. parenting, I think, is absolutely something you learn as you go.

          • Michela

            Fair point- I know I’m sensitive and I think I’m projecting. And yea, I’m sure it’s almost entirely a learn-as-you-go sort of thing. Too bad that makes me anxious beyond belief..

          • stephanie

            And it totally made me anxious beyond belief, too! I’m 7 years down the road and just now realizing “OMG, I have no control over who this kids becomes.” I can guide him, but control? Nope.

          • Michela

            Ha! Knowing it can be a delayed realization helps, actually. I’m terrified I’ll freak out while pregnant when I literally can’t even go on a walk to clear my head without bringing baby with me.

            How did you move past that anxiety? Any tips?

          • JC

            This doesn’t help with any of the anxiety of the moment, but there’s something so laudable about seeing an adult raised well by parents who did guide and couldn’t control. (I’m tooting my own horn here, because the adult is me.) My mom and I were just talking about my sweet baby cousin, who at six months weighs the same as I did at two years. I became very, very ill before turning two, and I didn’t recover to a healthy eating habit (3 full meals a day) until I was about 12. It’s still hard for my mom to think about because all she could do was hope that I would eat a little more the next day and try to teach me to listen to my body’s needs so that I could take care of myself. But no one would look at me now and say, “That woman must have been a sickly child.” I’m happy and healthy and definitely can take care of my own body, and my parents made that happen in the face of forces outside their control under circumstances they never would have chosen.

          • stephanie

            This comment means a whole lot to me, especially this “I’m happy and healthy and definitely can take care of my own body, and my parents made that happen in the face of forces outside their control under circumstances they never would have chosen.” and it’s because of the challenges my son faces that are different, but… thank you.

          • JC

            <3 You're so appreciated here!

      • stephanie

        “So I do sometimes get frustrated with the “You’ll see…!” style articles (which this isn’t, really) because I feel like I’m more aware than we’re given credit for.” I’m glad you said that! I tried REALLY hard to NOT write a “you’ll seeeee” article because I hate those, and they also frustrate me. This is meant to be a both firm and gentle note that… what you think you know now may not be the truth. I mean, what I think I know now about my kid 6 months from now is probably not true. Every time I think I know him, he changes! They’re like that. ;)

      • stephanie

        Also, for what it’s worth, I value the advice and thoughts of my friends who aren’t parents as much as the advice and thoughts I get from other parents.

        • KEA1

          As a childfree-by-choice person who happens also to like kids a lot and know *a lot* about them, but who has been dismissed (very rudely and viciously) for “not possibly being able to understand,” THANK YOU.

    • Cathi

      It’s not just you! I have the added bonus of currently being six months pregnant and pretty much every article sends me deeper and deeper into a pit of “oh god oh god what have I done.” I read the lines about the 97% ideological garbage and feel relieved since I have spared zero thoughts to things like making my own baby food or whether I’ll swaddle her in purely unbleached organic cotton so maybe my mind isn’t cluttered with said garbage.

      And then I read things that seem like my husband and I are on the right track, we’ve been talking about the right things (even if we haven’t done extensive car seat research)! And THEN I’m supposed to throw that all out because every baby is different and every relationship is different and has anyone mentioned how HARD it all is?

      …We’re all going to be okay, right? We all can do this?

    • Jenny

      I found the co sleeping/formula/ etc kinds of questions actually pretty helpful to talk through, but not as a great now we’ve decided and we’ll stick to it come hell or high water. I think the earlier in parenting those questions occur the better, so like are you ok with formula, are you ok with bed sharing with an infant, daycare or nanny or talking time off. Having those discussions is good I think (provided you still agree to be flexible), the more distant, how will we discipline, public school or private school things are probably better discussed in broad strokes and tabled until you get to know your kid.

      Generally, I think it’s best not to be dogmatic with most things parenting, but saying, hey I think I’d like to try babywearing, or baby led weaning first is probably good because well, you have to start somewhere. But giving each other the space to say, I want to use the stroller more, or I can’t handle worrying about him choking I want to go to purees is also really important.

      • Mary Jo TC

        I think the non-lactating partner gets zero say in whether they’re ‘ok with formula.’ It doesn’t involve that person’s body, so they can’t overrule the person whose body is involved, and if they even try to disagree or pressure that person in any way, someone needs to shut them up quick before they get slapped. If nursing isn’t working for the one whose breasts are involved then the question becomes, ‘do we feed this child or starve him/her?’ And then you have to be ok with formula.

        That said, it is good for a woman who plans to breastfeed to think through how committed she is to it, the circumstances under which she’d give it up, and the intermediate steps she might try before giving up.

        • Jenny

          So I think a lot of times the Internet, and APW comments specifically, seem to indicate that the pressure to breastfeed comes from a partner, or external. I personally didn’t experience that, and none of my friends who are mom’s who I’ve talked about it with experienced that either. I think it’s actually especially important for the lactating partner to talk about when formula is ok, and specifically talk about support.

          It was helpful for us to have the formula discussion because going in I was all, I’m going to try breastfeeding and if it doesn’t work I’m fine supplementing, but in the days after I was killing myself to make breastfeeding work and on the 10th day of no more than 1.5 hours of consecutive sleep my partner was finally like, when we talked about this you said you were fine with supplementing if it wasn’t working, but you are killing yourself and I don’t understand why. It was that conversation that jolted me away from the voices in my head, the hospital, and the Internet saying I was failing as a mom for not “trying harder”. I agree that the non breastfeeding partner’s role is to support the breastfeeding parent, but if we hadn’t had that conversation my partner would been stuck in the position of trying to figure out how to support what I really wanted when I was least able to rationally talk about it and decide.

          I think the best thing you can do is have a this is what I care about and what I want to prioritize and what I am and am not willing to sacrifice to make it happen.

          • Mary Jo TC

            I understand this situation, and I’m glad it worked out for you. I guess I jumped on your ambiguous wording about who exactly had to be ok with formula. I hope it is indeed rare that non-lactating partners pressure or guilt mothers about breastfeeding. A scene like what you describe is not pressure at all, but a partner helping a mom remember what she had decided for herself months ago in a more rational frame of mind.

        • E

          My mom says that one of the main reasons she breastfed me and my sister was because my grandma, her mother-in-law, back in the mid-80’s insisted that it was the best and would help us avoid the long list of allergies our dad has. I’m not sure how much pressure grandma put on my mom, or if it was just info that my mom wouldn’t otherwise have known (and neither of us has either significant allergy, so perhaps that’s part of the reason why!).

      • Michela

        This is great advice. We also have the added complication of growing up on different continents, which necessitates deeper/more frequent conversations about such things because we’re starting from such different places. I always thought it was better to start those conversations early, provided we remained flexible as you said, but then I second guess myself when parenting articles essentially say “forget it, nothing can prepare you” (again- not talking about this specifically, just parenting articles in general). I like the distinction you made about opening conversation with specifics- thoughts on formula, co-sleeping, etc.- while remaining flexible with broader stroke issues- schooling, discipline, etc. Thanks for sharing!xo

    • ML

      A lot of people say things like, “don’t bother reading any books! You’ll throw out all that info once the baby is born!” and stuff like that. I just don’t get it. Read, talk, listen– all that will help you figure out how you want to approach parenting, both ideologically and practically. I felt anxiety about my cluelessness too, but surprisingly I did not feel clueless once the baby was born. Overwhelmed and tired and emotional, yes. But you only need to handle one stage at a time (just start with “how to care for a newborn”, then you will become more and more in tune with your child and build on your knowledge as you go. There’s no reason to fear that everything you thought you knew will go out the window. Some things you CAN learn from a book/class/another parent.

  • I love your questions Stephanie, and they are the same questions that my husband and I talked through extensively before we decided we were ready for a baby. It was really important to me that he knew that I wanted us to share responsibility, and he wanted me to know that he wants his time & freedom to spend with our child without me hovering. Getting everything out in the open felt so freeing and I feel so much confident going into this parenting thing.

    Also, the hiring help bit is so key. When my husband was on board with us getting a cleaning service, I almost cried. Folks underestimate how crucial having help can be.

    • gipsygrrl

      “Also, the hiring help bit is so key. When my husband was on board with us getting a cleaning service, I almost cried. Folks underestimate how crucial having help can be.”

      Yes. And it’s hard these days not to FEEL BAD for hiring help. It’s like there’s a stigma sometimes against it – like we should be able to do the chores ourselves or it’s a poor money-value judgement to hire out. But that’s just crap! We all have so much to do these days. Hiring help makes all the difference sometimes.

      • Meg Keene

        I’m really working on this. Because paying people a living wage to do a job is NOT A BAD THING. And it is not humanly possible for me to do everything.

        In fact, I really should hire more help than I do. So I’m working on that.

      • AtHomeInWA

        The conversation I have with my guy is:

        “We aren’t paying money to have someone clean the house. We are paying money to not have to fight about who cleans the house.”

        That’s a good investment if you ask me!

  • driftless

    I’m really appreciating all of the advice both in the piece and in the comments– keep them coming! My husband and I aren’t planning on beginning ttc for a year or a year and a half, but it is still something we talk about regularly, especially because we both have baby fever something fierce (and I’ve also got anxiety about so many pieces of pregnancy and parenthood, let alone fertility). So, thanks all for all of this!

    • LittleOwl

      Yes! Same timeframe. I find I go through a few months where I am so certain and confident, and the next few months I’ll be like “no no no we need more time as a couple” or worry like crazy about fertility and give up the idea completely. I’m with you!!

    • clarkesara

      I’m in a similar situation (engaged and planning to start trying, or at least not trying not to, pretty much right away), and wondering if there’s a community as strong as this one out there to talk about this stuff? Like babycenter is to The Knot as ????? is to APW, if you know what I mean?

      • Jenny

        I would say, no there isn’t. But I’ve found a lot local parent groups to serve a similar function. There is a Facebook parent posse group near me, is got all kinds of great info on daycare/ schools/ kid free activities etc. it’s also a great place to get advice and its moderated well and you can message the moderator if you have a question you want posted anonymously. Similarly there is a meet up group in my area for 2016 babies. I think online communities for parenting are tricky for a lot of reasons both logistical and financial, but I think there are some great groups in real life out there.

  • Emily

    These conversations apply to those of us who have (or are considering) taking on stepchildren too. In my case, my husband was a much more experienced parent than I was. Now he’s been a parent for 17 years where I’ve been a (step) parent for 6 years. We have conversations about our household where he will say that he doesn’t feel the way I do about something (often a child’s behavior) but he remembers when he did.

    It’s helped me to realize that parents mature in parenting as much as children mature in living.

    • stephanie

      Absolutely! I tried to be really careful in my phrasing—this applies to ALL types of parenthood.

      • Emily

        I appreciate that! I didn’t mean to imply that your phrasing was exclusive. Mainly I was trying to get at the fact that our parenting experience time isn’t the same. I often realize what a young parent I am and appreciate how much more mature his skills are.

    • Jess

      This is one of the most terrifically comforting comments on parenting I have read. -Signed, Someone deeply afraid of parenting.

  • Chris

    One of the most salient things I heard pre-parenting came from this website: “You can either be tired and mad about it, or just tired.”

    Two months into kid two and back at work, I’ve rephrased this as “I can either be unproductive and mad about it, or just unproductive.”

    Works for me. . . .

    • Meg Keene

      OH GOD I WROTE THAT. I remember that. Yeah, I usually vote just tired. And sometimes unproductive. With two and one not sleeping through the night STILL and one waking up at 5:30 and a company to run, I have learned to operate on way less sleep than I need.

      Edited to add: parenthood is so damn hard sometimes, but I’d never choose to undo it. It’s also magical. And I swear one of these days it will get easier.

      • Chris

        That’s why I’m still reading (when my wedding was in 2011).

        Seriously, Meg, I know that sometimes running a company is just about keeping the lights on and making sure all your employees can eat, but I hope you know that this little corner of the Internet has been educating, comforting, and informing people about a whole lot more that just weddings for a long time.

        • Sarah McClelland

          I want to up vote this about a million times. It’s so true, Meg!!! What you are able to put into the world, even exhausted, has improved and informed my relationship with my husband SO, SOOO much.

  • Laura C

    One thing for me is there’s responsibility for the baby and responsibility for everything else in our lives. Division of housework was an ongoing effort for us, and it still is. I was worried that would translate to taking responsibility for the baby, and that’s been much less true than I worried. But while my husband does his share of diapers and night wakings and, while he’s home less than I am, takes the baby for the first two hours of my work day before the nanny arrives and he leaves for work … that hasn’t translated to suddenly being more on task with other stuff to make our lives run smoothly, and all of that is more work/I have less time and energy to deal with it. As I mentioned in another comment, he responds to my most stressed moments productively, but overall it’s been really interesting how separate his responses to the baby’s needs and the ongoing needs of the household have been.

    But like I say, ongoing effort on the other thing, and I am really glad he is not one of these fathers you hear about who’s there to play with the cute happy baby but disappears when there’s a dirty diaper.

    • TeaforTwo

      Yes, this.

      My husband is not great at being on top of household stuff, and it is an ongoing issue in our relationship. I worried before the baby came that he would take the same approach to childcare, but have been really happy to see how hands on he is with our son.

      But because I am breastfeeding, and nit pumping, I am still with the baby waaaaay more hours of the day, and unable to do as much housework/cooking/etc. He is more open to being told what to do now than before the baby, but it would still never occur to him to run the laundry without being asked, and I don’t love feeling like I am barking orders from the rocker.

      • Jenny

        One thing that helped us with this pre kids was that when someone was doing something (picking up, getting laundry, doing dishes, etc) we would ask “is there something I can do to help?” Once a kid was in the mix, this became HUGE! While I was breastfeeding, or he was bathing the kid, or rocking him to sleep the other would ask what they could do. It felt less like orders and more like part of a team. We also try to only say things that really need doing now, not like, well I guess you could dust, and sometimes we would say why don’t you go nap while I do this. Hoping you find something that works for you!

  • macrain

    We have a four month old and have a cleaning service come once per month. My husband was completely against it but I begged. I knew that it would save my sanity if I could look at those dust bunnies in the corner and be like- welp, they’ll get cleaned eventually, even if it’s not me who gets to it! It’s an extra monthly expense for sure, but to me it’s worth it’s weight in gold. It also frees up time for me to be with my son. When I’m home with him I don’t worry much about household chores, besides laundry and of course the daily cleaning and sanitizing of my breast pump parts.
    Once a month means that things still get pretty questionable sometimes, but just the knowledge that someone is for sure coming on this pre determined day somehow frees up space in my brain to not worry about it.

    • Natalie

      When I was a teenager my mom, after working full time hours as an adjunct professor for years, finally got a full time, permanent position. She celebrated by hiring a biweekly cleaning service, and her happiness level just about doubled. I know that even as soon as we’re in a position to be able to afford it, with or without kids, I am doing the same. It makes such a big difference in the stress levels not to fight or feel guilty or be unhappy about the dust and dog fur and dirty showers.

  • emilyg25

    These are excellent! Although when we were engaged, a long-married friend of mine said, “You don’t give 50%. Some days, it’s 50/50, some days it’s 90/10. You basically always give 100%.”

    Also, I think conversations about things like co-sleeping can be useful because they suss out things like personal values (independence and self-sufficiency, community or family first, etc.) and priorities that are kinda important. Also, they can reveal rigidity in thinking that would be good to start tackling sooner than later.

    • stephanie

      I do agree, but… also… from my very real, personal, lived experience, co-sleeping has nothing to do with independence (yours or the kids), and is usually wrapped up in a larger parenting discussion. I Think that your last sentence is SPOT ON, but would definitely argue against the first thought. Not that those conversations DON’T matter, but I think.. (as a family that co-slept for years, and a mom of an incredibly independent child), it’s easy to get LOST In those conversations in ways that aren’t healthy for anyone.

      When it comes to what you feed your kid, where your kid sleeps, what your kid wears, what kind of diapers your kid wears, etc, I am very much a “You love your kid? No one is hurting your kid? You feel healthy and supported? Ok, then do what makes you feel that” kind of person. Not on all Big Parenting Topics (I have very firm beliefs on two of the very big ones but I won’t mention them by name, lest I start a debate), but definitely feel that way on a lot of them.

      • And then there’s this nonsense with moral judgments and perceived risk to the child: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/22/490847797/why-do-we-judge-parents-for-putting-kids-at-perceived-but-unreal-risk
        smh.

        • raccooncity

          THIS ARTICLE. I sent it to my critical child welfare prof. We talked a lot about this in class and now there’s science backing it up a little.

          Protip: make sure not to miss the brief mention of how things went when they looked into gender differences in this effect. Would love to see this study performed looking at differences in the parent’s race as well.

      • TeaforTwo

        Yes x1000.

        I am also not sure how possible it is to have those conversations ahead of time, since so much changes when you get to know your actual kid, and yourselves as actual parents. In general, I think if there is a debate about it, it means that parents have been doing x or y and loving their kids and it has been fine for a long time.

        I found breastfeeding really overwhelming in a way I hadn’t expected, and became much more open to the idea of formula than I ever would have imagined, for example. I didn’t care about co sleeping until our kid showed up and wouldn’t sleep unless he was on my body and now I have strong feelings about it that are mostly strong feelings about ME getting to sleep. Etc. Etc. Etc.

      • rg223

        I’m reading Emily’s comment as being more about getting on the same page as your partner about values in parenting and what meaning specific issues have for you both, rather than larger “conversations” (meaning: with people you are not co-parenting with) about co-sleeping and independence/interdependence. If one parent has a strong stance on an issue and the other doesn’t, or if an issue holds a lot of meaning to one parent and a different meaning to the other… that’s an important thing to find out in advance! I’m trying not to put words into anyone’s mouths, so I’ll just say, I think you are talking past each other on this a bit.

  • AB

    Here’s one thing I wished we had discussed, but I just didn’t know enough to anticipate: We both decided to continue working full time after having kids and worked through the logistics of selecting childcare and how to manage our work schedules around pick-up and drop-off. But we didn’t talk about what we would do when childcare fell through. Here’s the thing: kids get sick and sent home, nannies have family emergencies, weather happens and the daycare shuts down, even while your job keeps going. Many families with two working parents still need a default primary caregiver, who can take unexpected days off of work or leave work suddenly to take a sick kid to the doctor. I’m sure many people are able to share this role, but that hasn’t been the case for us for a whole host of perfectly sound reasons related to the nature of our jobs. I just wish I had known to hash that out more fully and on purpose rather than falling into the pattern once our first child was born. It has led to some resentment that we are honestly still working through.

    • NolaJael

      YES. A mother from my church turned me on to reading about the idea of the “default” parent and it changed my understanding of how habits and patterns are made. I think there’s a tendency in our culture to have the “best suited” person do a job, even if they’re only a little ahead on the learning curve. I’ve read that even the few more weeks/months of maternity leave that women take can set couples who initially wanted to be 50/50 parents into years of unequal labor because the mom “knows the kid better.” So a *slightly* more flexible job can turn into *always* taking off when a kid is sick.

      • AB

        Yep, and each individual decision seems small and made for good reasons. Like, I can easily reschedule that meeting to accommodate a doctor’s appointment. Or my job allows me to work from home, so I can stay home when the kid is sick and get in work during naps. But when it starts to add up, I realize that I’m the default parent and never felt like it was a proactive decision we made together.

        • Cellistec

          Plus I think it can have a snowball effect: if you’re the one on call for kid stuff because your schedule allows it, at some point you’d have fluency with said kid stuff that your partner wouldn’t (short of sharing experiences via Vulcan mind meld). And then it just makes sense for you to keep doing it, even if your partner is available. Total emotional labor trap. And yet I can see how the friction of delegating some of that emotional labor to escape the trap would be too much to deal with some days.

          • AB

            This is our experience exactly. It is a hard cycle to break, and I totally haven’t figured it out yet.

          • stephanie

            This absolutely, absolutely happens. We try so hard not to let it, but it definitely does. The default parent is very real.

      • Emma

        Yes this is sooo true. I worked for a family as a nanny and the mother was very much the “default parent” which made absolutely no sense logistically (she was studying a very intense program and had a commute of 1.5 hours each way, while her husband had a secure job 10 minutes away). But she was always the one who left when a child was sick or I was sick. It made me realise that I really don’t want that to be the case when I eventually have children.

    • gipsygrrl

      This is a really good point. And kind of along with that “who is the default caregiver” question is the issue of emotional labor. Like, who makes the doctors appointments when the kiddo is sick? Who plans the birthday parties, buys the cupcakes and remembers everyone’s allergy restrictions while also remembering to put the kid in the shirt that your mother-in-law bought?

      Not that you can answer all of these questions ahead of time, but it seems like one parent (often the woman in a hetero scenario) is the default doer of these things. The emergency pickups, the default caregiving, etc. It’s just good to keep that in mind and talk it over as it comes up or if things start to get way out of balance.

    • BSM

      This is an excellent point, and I never thought about it. Thanks for bringing it up!

    • Cellistec

      Yes, this is something I think about too. As confident as I am that my husband wants to be an equal partner in parenting (we don’t have kids yet), I have generous vacation time and family leave, and he’s a teacher, so he gets summers off but has almost no PTO during the school year. Which means that most of the year, I’d be on call for childcare SNAFUs or sick days, and during the summer my husband would. It might sound balanced that way, but I can see resentment building up over time, with both of us going through stretches of feeling like we’re doing more than 50% for longer than we can sustain.

      • AB

        It is really hard when your honest aspirations for equal parenting bump up against job realities. For example, my husband can’t work from home and I have a job that is very flexible. So that means I default to taking on sick days and doctors appointments and things. And it makes sense since he’d have to burn vacation time if we switched and I value that vacation time for you know, vacations… but it is just not really the equal parenting situation I had imagined.

    • LJ

      This is a great perspective. Does anyone have experience where one spouse is an independent contractor and one an employee? I am a regular salaried employee with benefits and sick leave and everything, and my fiancé is a contractor in the photography industry. It’s easier for me to take days off logistically and financially as I wouldn’t take a pay hit, but I am very mentally opposed to being the one whose career is always the one bumped to second place. If he takes a day off suddenly he can be seen as unreliable and it can affect his ability to obtain future employment, plus he would miss the income.

      • stephanie

        So! My husband has always been an employee and I have always owned a business AND been an independent contractor for others the entire time my son has been alive. The difference? I’ve been an independent contractor for two women, they’re both moms, and they both Get It, and I still have struggled with feeling like I’m failing work if I need to take off a day because my kid is sick, or something comes up and I can’t work. My income hasn’t been impacted by it, but I think that’s largely because I have been an independent contractors for feminist women. I don’t think I can be SUPER helpful, but feel free to bounce questions off me!

        • LJ

          Thank you! I work in a small-c conservative workplace but lots of women here so they have adequate and a-bit-more-than-the-legal-minimum-of-resources available….. But fiancé works in an industry that is very male dominant and not at all aware of any of these issues. Some people are dads but I would bet that 98% of those dads aren’t default parents. It would really hurt his career to have to “flake out” (as they would see it) for his kid on a semi regular basis. But stepping away for a call for 15 min… That’s much more forgivable as the other person who replied suggested.

          • Tuppet

            I’m in a male dominated industry and I totally get that taking time off or working fewer hours because of kids would be flaking out. One day in the not so distant future, I’m going to have to work out how to ‘flake out’ without just ending any possibility of a career (my husband is in the same company and one of us loves it more than the other). Our discussion right now is basically how do we shift a corporate culture from within, and is it reasonable to do so for this industry and for one person.

          • LJ

            It’s not for one person, it’s for anyone there in the future :) but yeah, I personally look at that large-scale shift and go “UGH” and decide to think about something else instead.

            Jenny’s reply, above, may work great for you as well.

      • Jenny

        You might talk to your husband about being the one to develop a stable of babysitters/nannies/drop in childcare. That way when its his turn to “take the day off” he makes the calls and arranges pick up/drop off at the emergency care situation.

        • LJ

          A+!! This is an excellent suggestion. Being the default parent for some school days doesn’t always mean that they have to leave work- just that they have to take a few min away on the phone to coordinate stuff. Love this!

    • Mary Jo TC

      So true! I have plenty of sick days at my teaching job, but I find it really stressful to be away from the classroom because it’s more work to prepare for a sub than to write a lesson plan for myself to teach. (And that’s assuming a sub will even show up.) But I’m still the one who needs to take the sick kids because husband has fewer sick days than I do, and while it’s less immediately stressful for him to be out of the office and requires less preparation, he still has to meet the same sales quota and his manager is much less understanding than my principal. Sigh. This is something I didn’t think about before having kids either, but it’s important!

      • Ella

        My theory is that most principals are more understanding with family stuff than most other bosses, because teaching is such a female-dominated career, and females are far more likely to be the primary/default caregiver, so they’ve gotten more used to it.

    • E

      This is what worries me most about having kids, because currently my fiance’s job (which he loves and is a huge step up from his previous job) has long periods of having zero flexibility for something like emergency childcare, while mine has a lot more on a consistent basis. But not only do I like my job and not want to have to be the one taking the brunt of all childcare work, I actually make 50% more than he does, and my job includes our health insurance, so my job is more important overall for our household. I’m hoping that by the time we have kids, my parents will be retiring and can be persuaded to move close to us for at least emergency childcare support

  • Michelle

    Hihi–very relevant article, coming from the parent of a 5 week old (who is currently napping on my chest because he won’t sleep anywhere else–goodbye doing anything productive I thought I would do postpartum! Ha!)

    One other thing that came up for us right away was how to make medical decisions about your kid in stressful situations. We were prepared and had discussed routine newborn care, things like circumcision and vaccines and the like, but what we weren’t prepared for was having to admit our two-day old into the hospital for a fever and possible infection. We were totally overwhelmed in the ER and in the days afterwards while we were admitted and ended up in a few circumstances where we could have advocated better for him and for ourselves, but had no idea how to do it (especially when between my 40 hour labor+c-section recovery+admission to Children’s hospital we had not slept in 5 days).

    In retrospect I would have asked for time to make decisions, asked for no new resident physicians to give my baby exams he didn’t need, and taken the time to discuss all of those things with my husband before asking for them so we knew we were on the same page, instead of us just blearily staring at each other going, “yeah, sure, whatever you think we should do.”

    If I could go back and do it again I would tell myself that it’s OK to kick everyone out of the room, take a minute to cry, ask all the questions (twice even if you need to) and ask for some time if you can to discuss as a parenting team. Kids are accident prone, and get sick often, and I don’t think any parent will be spared the eventual health scare, but ours came a little sooner than we were planning on our parenting journey, and it was a rough lesson to learn that unless you abandon your people-pleaser-don’t-make-waves tendencies, there’s no one else who will stand up and advocate for your kid. I definitely felt like I grew into a Mamma real fast in those few days.

    • stephanie

      “If I could go back and do it again I would tell myself that it’s OK to kick everyone out of the room, take a minute to cry, ask all the questions (twice even if you need to) and ask for some time if you can to discuss as a parenting team. ” As someone who has a kid who has had so many medical experiences that have been downright scary (he has 3 conditions), YES to this a million times. It’s so scary to find yourself in a situation you never anticipated and that feels like has to be answered and solved immediately.

      But yes: all of our medical experiences have DEFINITELY shaped the mom I am today.

    • raccooncity

      Not advice for you specifically, but for anyone in a hospital feeling overwhelmed (ESP. parents who often feel like a pair floating alone in an ocean) – this is the time to lean on family and friends for some things.

      But also… (this is Canadian-specific, I guess.) ask about talking to the hospital’s spiritual care person or the unit social worker. Not many people know these services are available and they can help you deal with some of the feelings you’re having about your hospital stay and (especially in the case of the social workers) can help with the logistics parts, and perhaps help you learn the words to advocate for your child with doctors. At the hospital where I work, social workers are available on all units M-F, 9-5 and the spiritual care team is there 24/7. However, each hospital is different but it’s worth asking.

      • Sarah McClelland

        There is spiritual care in US hospitals too- I was a chaplain before we moved! Most larger US hospitals will have a chaplain on call- and chaplains are trained to work across religious belief spectrums.

        • raccooncity

          I didn’t want to throw out this advice to US folks because I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t add an extra cost burden for people that might not make it worth the care. I have no idea how things work down there.

          Here, all those things in hospitals are covered so there’s no reason not to ask, just most people don’t know it’s there.

          • Sarah McClelland

            No extra cost burden that I am aware of… I know grants paid for my program, because cases in which a chaplain was part of the care team were rated with higher satisfaction, and better healing(go figure!). And my training was to take care of spiritual needs with no religious pressure exerted.

        • raccooncity

          Also: YES – the spiritual care folks here are always able to work across all spiritual beliefs. They generally call in a person from whatever religion if religious, not spiritual, care is asked for. Luckily in the city where I live we can get basically any religious needs met fairly quickly.

  • clarkesara

    Just talked to my fiance about the 50/50 childcare splitting thing and he did not take it well. (As in, was kind of insulted that I would bring it up, which I guess is an improvement over thinking a woman’s place is in the home, but, like, still. This is an actual feminist issue, bro.)

    • Jess

      Argh. This totally happened to me. R usually does 50% of the stuff around the house. If I’m cleaning, he is cleaning also. If I’m cooking and he’s home, he’s chopping onions or washing dishes. Other nights, he cooks. If we’re doing just about anything, we’re either doing it together or trading off doing it.

      The first time I brought it up (relatively angrily), “I’m really worried that we’re gonna have kids and I’m going to be left doing everything” his immediate reaction is, “Why would you think that? When have I shown that I would do that?!”

      Could I have been less accusatory and been like, “I’m really feeling a lot of pressure from people we know to be capital-M Mom, and I’m not comfortable with that. I’m also really nervous that your model for parenting was vastly different from mine. Can you reassure me that we’re aiming for equality here?” Yes, I totally could have.

      But also? This is a serious issue! I shouldn’t have to tip toe around Man Feelings.

      • clarkesara

        SAME! That’s exactly how the conversation went down. I wasn’t even frustrated, because I was really just reading and thinking and we were hanging out so I just asked in a completely open and neutral way. But, yes, he immediately went to it being a judgment on his domestic skills (he’s amazing and honestly I think he might do more household stuff than I do), when it was more from a place of me watching how this tends to go down in other families, and realizing that Second Shift is a bonafide feminist issue so there’s really no reason to think this couldn’t ever be a problem for us. Sensitive man feelings indeed…

        • Ashlah

          Seriously, it’s an important thing to talk about! I get the immediate defensiveness (I don’t like it, but I can understand where it comes from), but hopefully he’ll come around. Could you maybe send him some articles about how egalitarian relationships still sometimes struggle to stay that way post-baby, so he can see why you’re worried? That it’s not just how you perceive him, but that this is an issue that afflicts a lot of couples if they don’t consciously prepare for it?

        • Amy March

          Well, at least you can check “provoke fragile sensitive man tears” off today’s vagenda of manocide.

      • LJ

        Man feelings are a serious issue in so many ways. I am consistently surprised by them. I play on a coed and a womens basketball team, and the coed team has consistently more drama because of Man Feelings. The womens league is SO CHILL…. it’s almost funny.

      • E

        Man Feelings, oh my goodness that’s an excellant phrase. I’m planning to have a convo with the fiance about his Man Feelings this weekend because of a convo we had last weekend that just made me angrier the longer I thought about it.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I hear you, I tried to have a very pre-emptive convo with my fiancé about this too. I don’t know if he was insulted, but he did have this reaction of ‘OF COURSE we would split the work equally duh’ and I was like… not really though? We didn’t even have an equal conversation just now?

      This is salient for me in this moment because wedding planning was something we definitely thought would be split equally, but I guess we didn’t go into detail about what that meant. And now here we are, and I’m doing 90% of the research and 75% of the reaching out to venues. I’m just way more freaked out about not finding a venue than he is, and I’m shouldering ALL the emotional labor of constantly thinking about it and saying when it’s time to discuss things, what we need to think about next, etc. Meanwhile he feels like he’s helping because I’m not actually making decisions without him. I kind of feel like it’s too late to turn around the venue search labor-split fiasco, so I’m telling myself that later parts of the planning will be left 100% up to him and I won’t even think about them. But going back to what Stephanie wrote about trust, I honestly don’t know if I trust that he’d actually do what he says after the way he’s been absent in the venue search.

      Sorry for the rant! Apparently I needed to vent…

      • raccooncity

        I think this ties in tightly with the ‘trust’ section – I did a lot of the wedding work at first because I wanted it done completely in a certain way. Later, I became very busy and passed the torch to spouse. He did a lot differently than I would, and decided some things didn’t matter where I would have assumed they mattered a lot. Anyway, stuff got done badly by what my standards would have been at one time, but actually the wedding was awesome and he did a great job by doing 100% of the things he thought were needed. He wasn’t bad at weddings, or lazy, I was just invested in far more detail than he was, and it turns out I didn’t need to be.

        I’m certain this comes up for parents along the same gender lines all the time.

        • Eenie

          I would also add that caring about a wedding is a lot harder for some people than caring about their own marriage or child. Some similarities with how to handle conflict and work load, but I wouldn’t necessarily predict everything based on this one life event.

          • raccooncity

            True. I think I’m one of those people in some ways, because once I handed over the work I had ZERO areas where I cared how he did things. I was like “yours now, i don’t care how this turns out” – a lot of my stress was about what people would think about the wedding, not how it was for myself or some other reason.

            I very much doubt I’ll be that chill about 100% of his parenting choices.

          • Eenie

            Yup, I agree! I think planning the wedding with him (in which he did close to 50% of the work, but most of that work being in the weeks leading up to it or the day of) actually made us trust each other more. Because I cared so little, I could let him do his thing and if it didn’t turn out ok it wasn’t a big deal. Most things turned out perfectly fine, or worked themselves out. I was completely checked out planning/logistics wise after the ceremony and he really stepped up there in crisis mode. He also recognized that a lot of the things I nixed or stood firm on contributed to the day being less stressful.

            It’s helped in our marriage so far that he can do things himself and solve the problem if it doesn’t go well (or let me know so we can tackle it together).

          • LJ

            SO TRUE I care 10% of my total “amount I could possibly care” about my wedding, but 99% care for marriage and children…. it makes me actively angry to have SO MANY people ask me about a party (i.e. wedding) and NO ONE ask me about fiance and my plans for the future. This trend/the WIC pisses off every bone in my body. This is why my fiancé is planning most of the wedding. Which he decided he didn’t need when he realized the time and money involved. So now we’re team-efforting a tiny ceremony while both pushing back at parental pressure to throw a family reunion. BAH

          • Lisa

            I totally get this stance, and I’m of two minds about it. It definitely feels silly in some ways to ask about the party, but it’s also a less fraught place of discussion for more people. It’s easier to have a surface discussion about the merits of a buffet vs. plated dinner or which colors to choose than to try and hash out a future parenting philosophy.

          • LJ

            I totally know it comes from a good place, it’s just been very overwhelming. I hate the sexist “brides love planning weddings” statement of belief of the western world….. I do not like planning it, but I am learning to tolerate it. I do not want to talk about it with people who aren’t paying for it or being married by it about it…. why can’t we talk about weather instead of this overpriced party? haha….

        • Her Lindsayship

          This is advice I keep reading on feminist sites, and while I’m sure it rings true for a lot of situations, it puts me a little on the defensive. The whole idea of ‘your partner is actually trying to help and your high standards are stifling them’ just doesn’t smell right to me. Anyway, in this particular situation, it’s not that he doesn’t do venue research the way I do… it’s that he doesn’t do it.

          I wrote another rant out and then decided to broach the topic with him again instead of venting to strangers about it online. :) But I do think that for later stuff, like finding a photographer for instance, I’m just going to say this is your job, I’m not going to check up on it or even think about it. And if we end up with no photographer, I can kind of deal with that. But we can’t end up with no venue!

          • raccooncity

            I in no way think that my high standards were stifling my husband. It’s that they were stifling ME. The feminist angle of this is that women care a lot more about weddings and childrearing perfection than men do because we are FORCED to. I believe it’s somewhere in the middle – letting go of my own expectations allowed me to enjoy an amazing wedding that “lacked” many things I thought I needed (which were really just things that society made me feel that I needed, but my husband, as a man, was free of having been raised with those expectations).

            On the flipside, we both had an idea of what was important to us, and accomplishing that was much harder than he had expected it to be, and thus doing it helped him realize a lot of the pressures that were on me that he wasn’t facing day to day. Folks (esp. those on his side) still called ME to ask about the wedding and I said “sorry, i’m not the go-to person”, usually because I literally didn’t know the answer. Sometimes he didn’t get back to those people, and while that was very bad, he learned quickly that I wasn’t a full time safety net (i.e. doing the job for him in action but not in theory).

            Anyway, the point is that I don’t believe at all that my expectations stifle him. 90% of the time when it comes to these gendered tasks (All Joy and No Fun has a great chapter on this stuff re: parenting), he is blissfully unaware of the extent of those expectations. It’s more that they stifle me from letting go of the task. Which is the real problem.

            But most of all, you’re the only person who can decide whether your expectations are fair or not, and “a venue” is clearly a realistic expectation for a wedding, so there’s no need to feel defensive about what is important to you, since that’s something you get to negotiate between yourself and your partner. You guys do you guys.

          • Her Lindsayship

            I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of societal expectations that affect me and not him. That’s a good point. I hope I didn’t come off judgy to your comment – and thanks for the thoughtful reply! A lot to keep in mind as we go along. He definitely isn’t getting the constant reminders I’m getting from the world that make me continue doing the emotional labor…

      • clarkesara

        Yep. Wedding planning is very much NOT being shared equally, despite the fact that if anything he does more cooking, cleaning, domestic stuff in general. But he clearly has little interest in event planning, so he just doesn’t do it, and acts distant enough about most of it that I’ve honestly thought maybe he didn’t want to have a wedding. God forbid that would happen with our future kid, even though, like I said, he is generally good on domestic tasks.

        • Her Lindsayship

          Same same same! I have no answers but I really hope things improve on your end!

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  • laddibugg

    “if you can’t handle the idea of your partner watching the baby for a few hours while you’re not there, you need to sit down and figure out what the issue is.”

    I was following a post in a babywearing group and someone asked a question about dads wearing, and one of the moms made a statement about how her babies NEVER EVER go anywhere with out her and her hubby never has the kids alone. I mean yeah, everyone has reasons for doing stuff but that felt so weird to me.
    I do think I am more used to our baby and more tuned into to his needs than dad, but I ‘trust’ him for a few hours, and I think if he had to spend days alone with him he’d be ok.

    • Sarah McClelland

      We’ve talked some about this… And I know I have some growing to do. My thought is that the baby will go with me for the first little bit when feedings are every couple hours because pumping is a PITA. Which is not to say I won’t trust my husband with our kiddo.

    • Ashlah

      It’s so important to both me and my husband that he bonds with and gets comfortable with our baby early on. We’re making a conscious effort, and have discussed concrete plans surrounding parental leave, to keep me from becoming the default parent from the get-go. My male boss is still totally uncomfortable when his wife leaves him with their elementary and middle school age children for a weekend, and I don’t want that for our family.

      • Lisa

        We’ve talked about how my husband wants to be really active in our hypothetical kids’ lives and possibly take over the primary parenting responsibilities. However, he’s super uncomfortable around babies, and when I made a comment that we should offer to babysit our friends’ kid once after the baby is born, he completely balked at the idea of looking after it and learning to change diapers. I hope that he’ll rise to the occasion once it’s his kid, but I worry that, by having the smallest leg up on him, I’m going to default to being the primary parent without us having ever discussed or planned for that.

        • laddibugg

          My guy LOVES babies and kids. He babysat for some of our friends’ kids before our little one came and while he was between jobs.
          As I mentioned above, i totally trust him, but he’s almost too attentive. He wants to jump up every time baby is crying, even after 5 months, and I’m more like, let’s see what’s going on first lol.

        • Ashlah

          I definitely get that concern. My husband is super uncomfortable around babies too. I’m not super comfortable, but I’ve sort of forced myself to get used to them as people around us have had them. My husband would react the same way to a babysitting suggestion, but frankly I wouldn’t want to do it either! We’re both counting on the idea that it’s different when it’s your own, and that plenty of people figure out babies when they have them, even if they were never into it before. I think the fact that our husbands have both showed interest in being involved fathers means (hopefully) that they’ll make the necessary effort to do so, even if it’s scary at first. (Because of course it is!)

          • E

            My fiance is also definitely not comfortable around babies (but in the worried he’ll break the baby sense). I’m more comfortable around them, but I’ve never changed a diaper and because I have so little experience with kids I wouldn’t jump at the chance to babysit just because I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s someone else’s kid. Watching baby in the next room while mom and dad cook/clean/et c. but are nearby is totally fine though. With your own kid, presumably you’d learn a bit more about kids in general before they get here, and also you get to decide what’s appropriate (so how long is baby allowed to cry when you want her to nap? With your kid, it’s whatever you think is appropriate, with someone else’s kid it’s their rules)

        • Hope

          My husband had never changed a diaper in his life before our baby was born, and didn’t like to hold babies. I was really scared of exactly what you describe here. However, once that kiddo was out, he jumped in 100%. I was so incapcitated after my normal vaginal delivery that he HAD to do most of the non-feeding babycare in the first few weeks. Now, at 8 months, we both watch her 3 days a week and work the other 3, so that eliminates the “default,” for which I am eternally grateful.

        • Jenny

          Well just in regards to changing diapers, the nurse in our maternity ward looked at my husband and was like, have you ever changed a diaper before, answer no, well come on over you’re about to learn because mom needs all the rest she can get. My husband is definitely way better with our kid than he was with kids before, so it’s definitely possible.

    • Oh my gosh I can’t imagine how that would wreck our marriage if I did that with PiC. When ze was a few days old, he took zir to get a jaundice check, and shopped at Trader Joe’s and Costco so I could nap. He takes zir every morning and every weekend to the park, to the playground, to whatever. I have never had a moment of doubt that he would and could do this because he is her other parent.

      We have different styles because we’re different people but I didn’t come with the magic wand of always being right because I’m the mom so he parents the way he parents and I do things my way (I would TOTALLY use that wand for other things, though). If the kid is healthy and fed (clean is an iffy proposition), and safe, all’s well.

      And my husband didn’t have much experience with babies, other than a few family babies he’d meet once or twice, either. It’s all about the willingness to figure it out, I think, and being flexible when things don’t work.

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