Friday, August 1, 2014

Two Parents, One Baby: Sharing Work With Love

My wife is amazing. If I let her, she would do everything herself: feeding and caring for the baby, cleaning the
house, cooking, working, and probably fighting crime in her spare time. Her outsized sense of duty would likely make her run herself to exhaustion, then to feel bad in her hospital bed because she couldn't do more. This is why it is my job to make sure that she doesn't do as much as she thinks she should.

This post was typed one handed because the Koalid would
only sleep while in my arms.
I am writing this around 6 AM, which is not a time that I get up when left to my own devices. However, around 1:30, a certain Koalid woke up hungry. I handed the hungry baby to the parent with the functioning, milk-producing breasts and returned to sleep. At 5:30, I woke up again to find that Amy had been running a marathon of feeding and changing for the past four hours. The Koalid was crying and wailing. I did not know when I woke up that Amy had been at it for four hours, but I could tell she was fatigued, so I took the Koalid and had Amy get me a bottle so I could feed her. She took the bottle and calmed down somewhat.

Now, here is the amazing part. Amy, who went to sleep at 12:30 and got up at 1:30 when the Koalid started crying, felt bad that she had, in her words, "dumped the baby" on me at 5:30 because I, who also went to sleep at 12:30, hadn't gotten much sleep either.

At its core, taking care of a baby as not terribly difficult. You feed. You burp. You change. You make sure she doesn't fall into couch cushions. The complexity is that you must do this 24 hours a day with no break longer than 135 minutes. This is why parenting is ideally a two or more person job.

There are two basic ways that you can share duties. You can do it by each person worrying about themselves and their own needs or you can do it by each person worrying about the other's needs. In both cases, the work ends up being split somewhat equally, but in the latter, it is much less contentious and more loving.

Looking for a good cute baby image to indicate you
approve? Why not this adorable thumbs up baby?
If we were each worrying about ourselves this morning, Amy would have woken me up saying "it's your turn." And I might have grudgingly taken her, objecting that I had already done thus and such. In time bitterness develops, both towards the partner who may or may not be pulling their weight and towards the baby who causes all this work.

The much more pleasant alternative which Amy and I have chosen, is to each worry about the other. I woke up because I heard the Koalid's cries, and, once awake, I sensed Amy's frustration. I forced blood into my brain and offered to take the baby, not because it was my turn or because Amy expected me to, but because I knew Amy was out of steam and needed to be relieved. I can do this because I know that she feels a similar duty to take over for me when I am spent. Further, taking on her burdens feels like an act of love rather than an act of duty or capitulation.

Our division of labor is equitable, but we do not waste energy on resentment at doing work which is not "our job". Instead, we feel love for each other and the Koalid as we work together, growing closer and doing what must be done as a family.

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