meeting in the middle
“My husband Mark and I moved from a one-bedroom flat to a three-bedroom house a few months before our baby was born, and that ‘double’ transition was actually really tough” says Laura, mum to Elodie, three. “I honestly think Elodie was around 18 months old before we worked out how to take care of the household and a child, without arguing!”
“There were a lot of rows in the first year because I felt that Mark didn’t pull his weight and seemed to assume that, because I was at home with the baby, I was taking care of household stuff. In hindsight, that was pretty unfair, but when you’re at home with a new baby, even doing the washing up is a monumental task, so when he’d come home and leave a dish in the sink I’d get so annoyed. Plus you spend a lot of time basically ‘incapacitated’ - breastfeeding and stuff – and that’s when you really notice how much needs doing around the house!
Mark did have to up his game a little though, and when he started asking what needed doing as soon as he got in from work, I just appreciated it so much."
"When I went back to work, things evened out a little and now we’ve just slipped into our ‘jobs’ without even realising. I put Elodie to bed while he cooks, I wash up while he takes the dog out etc! We got there in the end.”
deciding who does what
“My partner and I both run our own businesses and both work four days a week,” says John, dad to 18-month-old Billy. “As soon as we knew we were going to become parents, I insisted we sat down and talked about who would do what, right down to whose responsibility it would be to pay what bill! Everyone would like to think something as trivial-seeming as housework would never be a huge deal to your relationship, but actually, I’ve seen a lot of couples who have really struggled to get this stuff right and it can cause a lot of tension.
It wasn’t too difficult really, as we each have stuff were happy to take on (I don’t mind cooking, while Jason is happy to do piles of laundry) and, while it sounds pretty clinical it really does work for us!”
no matter how you’re dividing and conquering, you’re not alone…
sometimes it’s possible to fully share the load with shared leave...
“My husband and I were lucky to share parental leave - I was primary carer for the first six months, then Gareth was for the next three,” says Alicia, mum to Mason, two. “I work from home so thought it would be perfect as when Gareth took charge, I would still be around to breastfeed and see Mason whenever I wanted. It turned out to be much more difficult than I expected. Gareth kept asking me to help with things like loading the car or just watching Mason while he showered and I got really resentful that I never had that in the first six months!
But I also kept catching myself giving Gareth advice which, in hindsight, was probably unfair on him. As a result, I think he felt I was silently monitoring how he was ‘doing’ as primary carer, which made him feel less confident.
I’d definitely do it again though and recommend shared parental leave to others, as having Gareth completely understand the realities of being at home with the baby has been invaluable, not to mention I’m sure there’s been some important bonding between father and son. But of course, I think no matter who takes leave or how long they are off work for, looking after a baby during the first few months is always life changing, bringing both challenges and life-affirming moments.”
but shared leave isn’t often possible…and juggling a baby with the 9-5 can be tough
“When I went back to work after maternity leave, I honestly felt like the only mum out there that would still be working five days a week, but it just wasn’t financially viable for me to work part-time,"says Lucie, mum to three-year-old Leo.
“At first it was really horrible, just feeling guilty all the time. My head wasn’t in my work and I was just racing home to see Leo as quick as possible, feeling like I wasn’t doing either ‘job’ - parenting or my paid employment - very well. But it definitely got better – he actually loves nursery, which is a huge help, and once I got back into work I gained in confidence and stopped worrying about my performance all the time. I’m still working full-time, but have negotiated some flexibility so my hours fit in with Leo more, plus I’m actually expecting my second son in a few months, so am looking forward to time at home with the family again.”
Whatever you and your partner’s set up, there's going to be highs and lows before you settle into your groove. Just remember – no matter how unconventional your method seems, whatever works best for your family is always the best option.