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Equally Shared Parenting and Breastfeeding? Is That Possible?

I often find discussions about work-life balance to be frustrating. They so often focus on how women are trying to take care of their children, take care of their elderly parents or in-laws, pursue a career, manage the household and find some time to go to the gym or have a girls night out. For men, discussions about work-life balance seem to be more about whether they can get in a second round of golf on the weekend or whether they need to "babysit" their own kids.

I'm exaggerating, perhaps, because I do know a lot of involved fathers. But as I said years ago and as I've said over and over again on this blog, feminism isn't just about women being able to to everything men can do. It is also about men being willing to step up and take on a lot of what women are doing and have been doing forever. Once upon a time, I wrote:

The problem with feminist mothering is that it either pushes for women to be freed from the shackles of motherhood (by making it easier for them to put their kids into day care) or it pushes for concessions in the workplace for women (more maternity leave, more sick leave, breaks and accommodations to pump breastmilk at work, etc.).

While I don't think there is anything wrong with pushing for those things, I think we need to push for something more, something different.

We need to push for a society that values family and parenthood. One that recognizes that role that parents play in raising the next generation. One that recognizes that fathers, like mothers, may need to strike a balance between their career and their family life. One where women don't feel that they have to be an equally uninvolved parent in order to reach their goals, but where they can ask their partner to step up too.

Why aren't men asking for more paternity leave? For daycares in the workplace? For flexible work schedules so that they can pick their kids up at day care or take them to soccer practice? More often than not, it is because men (and their bosses) just assume they'll be able to continue working as they did before they had children, whereas women end up playing the balancing act and asking for concessions.

That, plus I've heard so many people recently say that equally shared parenting is impossible if the mother is exclusively breastfeeding. I know that isn't true, both because it isn't what I've experienced and because I know many other families who have worked it out.

But with both of these things, just saying "it can be different", isn't enough. We need models, examples, trailblazers, real families, real workplaces.


Let's Start With Theory

We'll get to some real stories in a moment, but first I wanted to start with some examples of how equally shared parenting could work in a family. To begin with, a few assumptions:

  • This post is for people who have a desire to strive for equally shared parenting and where both parents are engaged in that goal. If you or your partner isn't into to it or if you have a deep seated belief that mothers need to be the primary parent, this post isn't for you.
  • Both paid work and unpaid work have value and are (for most families) a necessary part of life. They are both work. Some people like one kind of work more than the other and there are many different ways that the paid and unpaid work can be split in a family, from equally shared to hardly shared at all.
  • Parenting involves both work and fun. Some parenting tasks are more work than others and some are more fun than others. Equally shared parenting where one parent does all the work and the other one has all the fun is not equally shared parenting.

With those assumptions in mind, here are some examples of how the paid work, unpaid work, and parenting could be shared in a family with a breastfed baby. I'm giving three examples, one where both parents are working and the baby is in child care, one where the mom is at home and the dad works, and one where the dad is at home and the mom works. Obviously, there can be many variations on this and you can swap in and out different household chores depending on who likes to do what (or who dislikes it least!) and there can also be situations where both parents work part-time or some other arrangement, but that would turn this already long post into a book!

Example 1: Double Income Family

Let's say both mom and dad have a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job. Here is an example of what a typical weekday might look like. The important thing in this example is the dad taking care of daycare drop off and pick up so that the mom can fit pumping breastmilk into her day without having to lose work time to do so.

Example 2: Stay at Home Mom, Working Dad

The second example shows a stay at home mom and a working dad. In this example, the morning and evening routines are important for giving the dad time to bond with the baby. The majority of the paid work falls to the dad and the majority of the unpaid work (housework) falls to the mom, but the baby is a focus in both of their days.

In cases where one parent stays home and the other parent works, the weekends become an important balancing point. It is a time for the working parent to spend more time with the baby and for the stay at home parent to get a break from parenting and be able to have some time to themselves or at least time to do some errands without bringing the baby along.

Example 3: Stay at Home Dad, Working Mom

The next example shows a stay at home dad, with the mom working full-time and exclusively breastfeeding. That means the mom needs to find time to nurse the baby and fit pumping at work into her schedule, while still getting some time to herself. The dad needs to build in a break from parenting and have an opportunity to get out with his friends.

Balancing Parenting Time, "Me" Time, and Couple Time

When looking at a parent's free time, once paid and unpaid work is done, I think it is important to strike a balance between parenting time (or family time), "me" time and couple time. In our home, that has meant that we each have activities that we do with the kids on our own, we each have activities that we do by ourselves, and we try to find time to do things as a couple. When the kids were little, doing things as a couple more often than not meant doing things at home (e.g. watching a movie together), but as they get older we are able to do more things alone together outside of the house too (lunch at a restaurant while kids at school, dinner with friends while the kids spend an evening with their grandmother).

My examples above showed one night of the week, but for me, ideally of the seven days of the week, each parent would get 2 days of "me" time to have the chance to see friends or exercise or participate in some sort of activity while the other parent cares for the kids, which leaves another 3 days of the week for the family/couple to do things together. Sometimes that may be a planned activity and sometimes it may just mean an unscheduled evening where you can get caught up on the housework. The important thing being that everyone gets a break, everyone gets time with the kids, and that the family gets to do things together.

That's nice, but show me some real life examples!

Okay, so that was the theory. The reality, in our home, has been a shifting one. Who does which part of the parenting and who does which part of the paid and unpaid work has changed in some ways over the years and stayed the same in other ways. We've both had time as the breadwinner and both had time at home with the kids. We've both done laundry, but for the most part I've made meals and he's cleaned, I've taken care of the finances and he's taken care of car and home maintenace. Shifting back and forth is something that has been possible because we  both made shared parenting a priority right from the start.

But you don't just want to hear from me, so I asked some friends and fellow bloggers to tell their stories. Here they are:

Parenting Politics...In My House at The Mamafesto

The Ebb and Flow of Balance in Our Family - It's Not "Fair" on Karen's Chronicles

Life with a Sleepless Toddler: Musings On Our Equal (or Equitable) Shared Parenting on Birthing Beautiful Ideas

A House Divided on Late Night Plays

Shared Parenting: Is it a 50/50 Split in Your House? on The Eco Chic Blog

With a Baby On My Back at My Points of View

Now it is your turn

What does equally shared parenting look like in your home? Share in the comments here or write a post on your own blog.

Did you find it impossible to share the parenting duties equally if you (or your partner) was breastfeeding?

What questions do you have about equally shared parenting?


« Target Canada Confirms Breastfeeding Support | Main | Delicious Kefir Flax Pancakes: A Sunday Breakfast Tradition »

Reader Comments (45)

It depends on your definition of "equal." We don't keep track of who spends however many hours doing housework or caring for the kids. And if you did count, you would probably find that I do more housework and laundry and childcare, simply because I work part time and he works full time. But the only reason I'm the one that was home with them as babies and toddlers, and not him, was because he has greater earning potential than I do. That's another subject, but not one necessarily tied to gender--my career of choice does not pay well regardless.
When he is not at work, he is definitely involved. And certainly capable of doing the things that I usually do.

March 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

We do consider ourselves equal partners. Exclusive breastfeeding is important to us so during the first year I am physically with the babies more. We are parenting these kids for a lifetime, though. The schedule for the first year is a tiny piece of the story. We parent equally over the life of the child; at different times one may be more hands on than the other.

March 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenM


Yes, I completely agree.

That said, I do think it is important for the father to make the effort to bond with the baby, even when the mother is exclusively breastfeeding. That doesn't have to be bonding via bottle (as many people think). It can simply be cuddling, playing, getting dressed, bathing, etc. In other words, everything except feeding!

March 10, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

For us the roles have changed several times. I EBF all four kids, but we both worked full-time until the first was 3.5 years. We worked opposite shifts for a while and then worked power shifts four days a week with grandparents babysitting so we still split the care pretty evenly.

By the time our second was born, I was a SAHM. Naturally, more of the home duties and childcare fell to me. However, the house not being clean or dinner not made was never complained about ever. He always says I have a full time job too.

For a couple of years even more was added to my plate when my husband took on a second job. He was working 60-80 hours a week. It's only been recently that he went back to 40 hours and our fourth was born in Dec. This time around, he's working from home. I'm nursing, but can easily get out to run an errand or get together with friends. It's so easy when we are both here. And the kids are old enough to help out around the house now too, so it's easier all around.

March 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

My husband is currently the SAHD because that works for us financially. I pump at work and also feed her as soon as I get home while DH cooks.
I put on washing in the morning as I leave and he does what he can during the day. This may change with number two but at the moment it works perfectly for us.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNerolie

We both work fulltime, and our roles change several times over the years. Right now, I am in charge of feeding the children (including breastfeeding and pumping), daycare drop offs and send off and weekday meals. He takes care of weekend meals (cook or takeout, his choice) laundry, household cleanups and maintenance. Our tasks usually overlaps. Grocery shopping ( scheduling this is important as it enables us to avoid last minute dash to the store or eat out because we have nothing to cook) is done on the weekends with children. I am quite happy with the "equalness" at the moment, but we still need to work abit on "me" time for both of us :)

I do have one feedback as I glance through your "schedule" though. We find it not practical to cuddle/play with children as soon as we arrive home . We usually have a transition activity before we sit down to play , usually that means a shower for us. That takes away the stress of work and traffic from the day and allows us to really enjoy ourselves. Our dishes are also done when the children are taking their baths, as we will have 1 parent supervising or bathing with the children. We also normally also do the "talk to spouse" part with the children around. My kids are 1 and 6...

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrexxd


I think each family needs to find what works for them. In my case, I had a long commute and much of it was not in traffic as such, so I had time to wind down while listening to the radio on the way home. When I walked through the door, my baby wanted "mama" right away and my partner needed a break right away. I needed to be prepared for that.

I think that certainly talking to your spouse doesn't just happen when the kids are in bed -- we talk as we make dinner, as we eat, as we get the kids ready for bed and so on. I just wanted to mark some time for the parents to have time to be with each other alone, which I think is important too.

March 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

Our parenting is fairly evenly split. When we had one (who was EBF to 6 mo while I was off on mat leave), my husband took care of most of the baby-related activities not related to feeding when home plus he cooks, while I clean and do laundry.

When I went back to work with him, we split parenting pretty evenly, and still had time for each other and our individual projects/friends.

Now that we have a new addition, he takes the lead with the toddler in the mornings, cuddles and bonds with baby in the evenings, and still takes care of mealtime for the family. At the moment neither of us have a lot of "me" time, but that is getting better as baby is sleeping longer and getting herself into a routine, and the toddler is becoming more independent.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLori

It is too late for me to practice this but you are so right when you say that feminism is not just about women being able to do what men can do. My husband is a physician and did what he could to help but ultimately the " house" and kids were my responsibility. Cooking was my realm as well.
Since I grew up in a family of divorce women did everything!
I am now a grandmother and still do it all so I encourage women to find a more shared parenting style if possible.
Great article.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLorette Lavine

I am at home with our 10 week old and almost 3 year old and my husband works outside the home. Our parenting is much more equal with this 2nd child than it was when our 1st was born. It goes something like this:

Husband gets 3 year old dressed and ready in the morning while I nurse the baby and get him dressed and ready

I spend the day with both kids, typically pumping one bottle sometime during the day so that I can eventually get out of the house.

When he gets home, he takes the kids and I cook (not out of obligation, but because I enjoy it), go to the gym, go grocery shopping, something away from the kids.

He puts the 3 year old down for bed and I get the little one down (again because of nursing)

On weekends, he'll often take one or both so I can get some time off.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

Looking at this again...I know your schedules are just examples. But the midnight bedtime is late! I'm not breastfeeding babies anymore, but in my current life, I get up anywhere from 5am (for prework gym trips) to 645 (non work days, to get the kids ready for school). My husband is up at 7ish. We go to bed usually no later than ten, usually earlier. I think sleep is one of the most important things to consider when trying to find balance. I learned long ago that I am a better mom and wife when I am rested. Sometimes that means leaving the laundry for the nex day so I can go to sleep.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

My partner and I co-parent equally. For us, "equally" doesn't necessarily mean exactly split down the middle. We don't really spend any time working out or worrying about or thinking about how to make things even. For us, it evolved naturally; when there's a problem, we talk to each other immediately. None of the issues surrounding child care or home care are fraught for us, so we don't resort to nagging/ passive aggression/ holding things in, etc. (Which is not to say our lives are perfect or without conflict.) in any event, I think it's important for people to realize that breastfeeding doesn't create inequalities, and neither does one person staying at home. I had long maternity leaves - 7 months both times ("long" by American standards), and my husband worked. I did more of the night duty because I could nap during the day. As soon as he came home from work, I would hand over the baby and the baby was essentially "his" through bedtime. I pumped, so my husband bottle fed the baby every night, so he could be in charge of the entire routine. I made dinner, which I find very relaxing. Now my husband lives far away and for part of the year he only comes home every other weekend. So obviously, I"m doing all the child care and home care during those times. But whenever he's home, he takes the kids so I can have a lot of 'me' time, and he cleans. Furthermore, he takes on all of the practical burdens, by which I mean he pays all the bills (for both households), calls the insurance companies, manages the finances, makes doctors' appointments, all the stuff I hate doing and don't have any mental energy for. We are buying a house, and he has done all the leg work with the mortgage broker, the inspection, the repairs, etc. I know how much work that he takes on for us. So I don't feel resentful about what I do.

The other thing I wanted to say that we take the long view on balancing things. I believe 100% in equal parenting and that co-parenting starts from the beginning. But I also think if you start at a good foundation (one of respect and involvement) there's nothing wrong with periods of disproportional burden. Like, I was home with the baby, and did all the nursing, so I was the primary care giver. But in a couple of years the babies will be grown up and then I can move into a phase where I am working longer hours and he picks up the slack. Etc. For me, equal parenting is the recognition that maintaining a family, running a household, and taking care of oneself is a team enterprise. Respect is at the core of that enterprise - respect for oneself and one's time/career/interest/health, and respect for one's partner and his time/career/interest/health. It doesn't have to be about - I took out the trash so you have to do the dishes (or it can, if that's a system that works for you). I don't need things to be even, just fair & respectful.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin


Sleep is absolutely important. If you look carefully at the schedule, I have the nursing mom in bed at 11:00pm. She nurses and then drifts off to sleep, which would have her sleeping by somewhere between 11:15pm and 11:30pm, depending on the baby and the mom. I also have her staying in bed to nurse the baby until around 7:00am, so even though the last 30 minutes or so isn't "sleep", it is still rest.

Now you could obviously take the whole thing and shift it by an hour if you are an early to bed, early to rise family. Or you could prioritize rest over some of the evening activities (whether that be chores or couple time or me time).

March 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I really appreciate this post - this is the model that my partner and I at least aspire to. I have an AMAZING husband who's working round the clock to parent, earn an income, and keep the household running. Our schedule looks something like the dual-income model above - though not completely. I would love for breastfeeding to not feel like a deterrent to equal parenting; it still does for me (I have a 6.5-month-old), mainly because I've struggled with low milk supply since my son was three weeks old. In order to keep our breastfeeding relationship going and supplement with as little formula as possible, I spent 8 weeks using a supplementary nursing system (if you've used an SNS you know what a nightmare and time suck that is), and since then I've had to pump between 4 and 7 times a day, both to keep my supply up and to express enough milk for the bottles we need now that I'm back at work. Breastfeeding has been all-consuming; because food issues spill over into so many other areas - sleep, namely - I'm the one with the privilege/burden of doing most of the nighttime parenting. (NO WAY do I get to sleep from 11 to 6:30 these days!) The older the baby gets the more things even out, but I thought I'd just mention how quickly that tight dual-income schedule can get thrown out of whack the minute there's a nursing issue that comes up.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnne


I agree that taking the long view is important. It always seems so short sighted to me when people insist, for example, that a dad must share in the feeding right from the start. If that is what a family wants, after the danger of nipple confusion has passed, that's perfectly reasonable. But if that isn't what they want, it also doesn't mean that equality is impossible.

March 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I'm also a big fan of 'seasons' in life and I think it's important to take that into account too. With 2 kids under 3 (and the eldest having just weaned a month ago) the most efficient way to divvy things up is for me to do the majority of the parenting duties. It's the season of Mom.

In return, DH does more of the housework in addition to being the sole earner, and he gets out of the house more for personal time. We both know that as the kids get older, their needs will become less and less tied to me, so the pendulum will swing. He'll do most of the soccer runs, and I'll get more girls' nights than he does boys' nights. By the time they're 18, I expect it will all even out.

If we were striving for a daily tally of equity, I think we'd constantly feel unbalanced, but knowing that it's a lifetime goal and that right now is just one segment of the lifetime, to me, makes it a much more achievable goal.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKrissyFair

It's so great to see our family's experiences laid out in black and white like this. My husband and I definitely share parenting and other chores equally, and I exclusively breastfed each of our three kids. He stays home with the kids while I work full-time, so our days looked a lot like your Example #3. I'm a morning person, which has meant that a lot of my "me time" is a daily thing, usually about an hour to read, online shop, or do emails/FB before getting ready for work, and then having a much earlier bedtime. He spent the day babywearing, bottle nursing, and running the household, geting regular "me time" through sports in the evenings and on weekends. Almost 12 years into our equal parenting adventure, I can't imagine doing it any other way - and having many female friends who struggle with getting their partners to want or be able to share parenting duties equally, I know how lucky I am!

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Just letting you know we're a real life blogging couple that's made it work for 5 years. Two babies entirely breastfed by bottle from my SAHD husband. :)

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStacy

Um, how can you talk about equally shared parenting without addressing the most crucial hours, the ones between midnight and 6:30 AM? I'd say our parenting is pretty equal during the hours you listed, but those missing hours are where it all breaks down.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

Perhaps this is off in the other blogs linked, but what would a possible schedule look like if the mother was unable to pump but still wanted to breastfeed exclusively?

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterb

For us it probably balanced out when you include housework, tho the parenting side has definitely fallen more on me especially in the first year or 2 of our guys' lives... especially since I'm the at-home parent. But for the first year or so after each of our boys was born my husband took over almost all the household chores, and still does a good bit now. Also, as the boys have gotten older he's taken on more of the parenting duties so it evens out more. It's worked well enough for us so far... Thanks for this post, btw, and for the concrete examples of how a couple *can* balance the family/home life more evenly, even if the mother is breastfeeding.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarcy


I think that depends which of the three scenarios you are talking about. I assume you're talking about the one where the mom is a stay-at-home mom and the dad works?

If a mom can't pump (I know some moms have trouble letting down to a pump, but that can usually be resolved with the right support), can't afford a pump, or doesn't want to pump, she could try hand expressing.

Alternatively, she could just ensure she is always there to feed the baby. That doesn't mean that she can't take a break between feeds and that her partner can't be involved in everything except feeding. It is harder, because she can't really go too far for too long, but the dad can cuddle with the baby, wear the baby in a sling, take the baby for a walk between feeds, bathe the baby, play with the baby, change diapers, dress the baby, and so on.

The mom can go for a short run, do gardening outside, have a friend over for a visit, take a nap or a bath alone, watch television, have a coffee at the neighbour's house and more.

March 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting


I think that depends a lot on the baby and on the family's sleep situation (co-sleeping versus baby in a crib in a different room).

Our babies generally slept pretty well as long as they were in bed with us. Sure, I'd have to roll over and nurse for 5 minutes a few times per night, but I got used to that and didn't feel like it was a big issue.

When our son was going through a rough phase at night, we worked out shifts. I would nurse him if need be, but if he didn't fall back to sleep, whoever's shift it was got up and left the room and tried to rock him back to sleep while the other parent got some rest. The shifts were something like 10pm to 2am and 2am to 6am. During the time that I wasn't on shift, I'd make sure I was sleeping so that I was somewhat rested when it was my shift (and vice versa).

March 11, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I wish I'd had this to refer to when my youngest was tiny. She's 2.5 now, and this is the second week of my husband being on his own three nights a week from 7-9:30 pm. It's an amazing feeling to have two hours after work by myself, then gym and a drive home. It had gotten to the point that no matter the situation, hubby assumed the littlest would be with me. A schedule like this, if I'd thought to make one, might've helped -- if only to help him see the disparity in our "me" time. Let's say he thinks we share the work equally, and I don't.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercatcreeks

I agree with the theory behind your post 100%. Parenting is a two-person job and more fathers do need to step up. far too often we see otherwise responsible men who shirk the responsibilities that come with being a father. I understand, it can be frustrating, unrewarding at times and plain-old no fun. However, all that is only temporary. Once you contribute to the happiness of your child by helping mold them into a healthy adult almost all quickly realize just how important it is. The universal response at that point is "I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world." Children are a blessing, not to mention the fact that they are the future of our country.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBill DeMarco

Looking at it from a more concrete perspective one should consider that in Ontario (Canada) the presumption of custody (responsibility) for children is joint until such time a court orders otherwise:

Children's Law Reform Act of Ontario


20. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this Part, the father and the mother of a child are equally entitled to custody of the child. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 20 (1).

20. (2) A person entitled to custody of a child has the rights and responsibilities of a parent in respect of the person of the child and must exercise those rights and responsibilities in the best interests of the child. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 20 (2).

20. (3) Where more than one person is entitled to custody of a child, any one of them may exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities of a parent on behalf of them in respect of the child. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 20 (3).

So, if we are going to talk about "shared parenting" we should really examine the definition properly prior to setting forward a daily schedule possibly.

The majority of custody and access orders brought forward on Application to the court in Ontario are resulting in full joint custody and equal access/residency (shared parenting).

So, looking further into what the court is ordering and how they are applying truly what defines "shared parenting" it all boils down to the parental residency schedule.

The most common for children who are still breastfeeding (under the age of 3) is known as the 2-2-3 residency schedule. It is a simple schedule that follows this pattern on a 2 week cycle:


"2-2-3": two consecutive and fixed days with Parent "A" (Monday/Tuesday), two with Parent "B" (Wednesday/Thursday) and then three days through the weekend with one of the parents (Friday after school to Monday morning) alternating between parents every weekend."

So, to simplify the schedule, as a court does in a number of cases involving young children even when parents are living together. The article states the reason for 2-2-3 being:

"the proliferation and popularity of 2-2-3 in recent years is due to a few factors: The increasing number of women in high-stress, high-paced jobs means we are increasingly seeing cases where both parents are out of the home most of the time; the increasing number of men willing to make sacrifices at work in order to bring their children into school in the morning or pick them up early in the afternoon means more cases where equal time is feasible;"

Which seems to be the underlying thread of discussion on this site for the past few posts. 2-2-3 is easy to setup and doesn't have to be just done in a situation of seperation. Couples living together can implement this easy schedule. Children know what day's either parent is responsible, parents know and everything is simple.

You could apply dinner schedules (who makes dinner) to a 2-2-3 schedule, pickup/drop off from daycare/school, etc... You don't have to actually do "everything" but, you can even agree that on a 2-2-3 schedule Parent A on Monday/Tuesday does pickups and parent B makes dinner!

Rather than go down to the granular argument of the day, possibly aligning the parental schedule in a 2-2-3 would make everyone's life easier and reduce stress and arguments.

If two divorcing parents can do it... Two parents living together should be able to with ease. Even the most high-conflict situations can be managed on a 2-2-3 schedule in separation and divorce.

Just a thought on simplifying the whole argument...

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSharedCustodyReality

Oh gosh... looking at your examples makes me cry tears of frustration. If families could actually work this way, parenting/marriage/life would be SO much better. But I know so few partnerships that actually manage to work so harmoniously. I know for me and my friends, we feel so much anger, resentment, and hopelessness when it comes to this subject. My husband is a great dad - one of the best I've ever seen - but we do not function well in terms of division of labor.

In our situation, my husband has ADD, and does not work effectively. He also owns his own business. So his hours are wacky - he can be on a shoot from 6am to 10pm, and then work in his office until midnight. On non-shoot days, he works until 6, comes home by 7 to put kids to bed, and returns to work until 1am or 2am. Our kids are horrible sleepers and I'm typically up at least 3-4 times a night dealing with one or both of them. Often he's not even home to help, and if he is, he's dead to the world b/c he's exhausted from work. I get resentful b/c I need to wake up at 7am with the kids and get them out the door to preschool while he often sleeps in until 10am. Then I need to work at every free moment to get everything done, b/c if I paid the sitter for all the hours I'm working I wouldn't net anything from my freelance work (ie, I need to rely on her for 3/4 of my working hours and cover the rest at night when kids are in bed so I can "bank" my pay rather than pay 3/4 of it to my nanny). I have no free time, I'm burnt out, and yet I don't want to give up my career b/c it's important to me and I'm looking ahead to the future when I don't have 2 small kids who are totally reliant on mom.

To be perfectly honest, this did factor in to my decision not to breastfeed my second child (a small factor, way below the nerve pain and PPD issue, but still) - knowing that my husband would go back to work the day after I gave birth, and that I'd be essentially on my own with a demanding toddler, freelance work, and a high stress level... it just didn't seem possible.

The particulars of our situation are rare, but I don't think we're unique. It would be great if marriages could work this way, and I wish men would step up. But so many don't. I think it sucks that women have to be the ones to "choose" between work and parenting - if we choose to prioritize work, we are "unnatural" in some way; for men, no one blinks an eye if they are part-time dads.

I'm ranting, but this subject is VERY heated for me, personally, at the moment. And I'm torn, b/c I agree with you that it is entirely possible to have shared parenting and still breastfeed, but it requires that you have a husband who is really evolved, progressive, and dedicated to making it work - AND he has to have a job that allows for some flexibility. Not all of us are in 9-5 jobs that allow for paid breaks to go to the gym; not all of us can afford babysitters to have couples' time; not all of us are in healthy marriages. I think we should be striving for what you've laid out here, but need to remain conscious that for the majority of us, it probably won't play out this way.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFearlessFormulaFeeder

Fearless Formula Feeder:

I understand that each family and each person is unique. I can't go into each home and force things to be equal, nor is that necessarily desirable. But I think the fact that women are almost always the ones on the short end of this stick shows how much more work feminists have to do.

I understand that there are people who have irregular or inflexible work schedules or other challenges that they are dealing with, but when the burden of those problems almost always falls to the woman, we still have a very big problem.

So when I fight for equally shared parenting or at least try to show that it is possible, it isn't because I don't recognize those problems. It is because I think that men need to play a bigger role in dealing with those problems and not just assuming that the woman will do so.

Where I live, there seem to be more evolved men (or something else at play, not sure) and that has resulted in a lot of families with children in day care or school staggering their work schedules so that the dad brings the children to daycare/school (or waits home with them until the school bus arrives), while the mom goes to work earlier. The mom then leaves work earlier to be there for the kids at the end of the day, while the dad works later (or vice versa). So couples end up doing a 7 to 3 and 9 to 5 schedule. That requires employers that are accepting of that, of course, but I think that comes about when more men start asking for it or insisting on it. Once there are enough employers offering that flexibility, then it becomes the norm, and it makes it easier for other people to ask for the same thing.

All that to say, yes, I understand the challenges. I'm not saying it is easy. But I am saying it is important. Not just for breastfeeding (that is a side factor that nags me in this whole debate), but for equality and fairness.

March 14, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

I miss getting updates in email. So I'm late to this post.

My husband stayed home for almost six years and kept up the duties as he works part time now. I wrote a post about him last year because people didn't know how I worked full time and still managed to write a book and run a nonprofit on the side - answer, husband who does everything I don't.


March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Rose Adams


You can still subscribe via e-mail, you just need to update your subscription! I sent you an e-mail letting you know how. Or just click on the subscribe button in the top right corner of the blog.

March 15, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

We're still working at finding the best balance for weekends, but example #2 looks pretty similar to our lifestyle right now.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJane J

In our house, equally-shared parenting means we both give it 110%, and when one person is struggling, the other picks up the slack. Which usually means that I'm drowning in an ocean of depression and my husband is doing 80% of the work on top of working full time. But, on a good day, we share everything 50/50. Or something close to that.

This hasn't always been the case, and we've been through some really rough times because of fights over housework and such, but in the end, it's about taking care of the other person and your family and just simply doing what needs to be done.

Right now my husband is super sick and has been in bed all day and wowza, it's really hard to do everything. I always realize exactly how MUCH he does when he can't do anything.

And as for a breastfeeding baby, I had quick nursers, so really, my nursing didn't take much away from Noah's ability to parent our infants. I usually did 95% of the work for the first couple months because I really love newborns and they kind of scare him. He always did a ton of snuggling in those early days, though. :)

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen Wilson

I think this is such an important topic! I admit there are times when I'm envious of stay-at-home moms who drop their kids off at my kids' preschool but when I realize they are all pretty much doing everything regarding housework and childcare (as they've revealed on a playdate or two) I realize how lucky I am. My husband and I work different shifts and we're lucky to have a very involved and wonderful grandma. I usually get up to nurse the toddler but every other day will come back to bed afterwards and hubby gets up to do breakfast duty. I work from 8:30 until 3ish when hubby hands off kids to me either at work or we meet at preschool and then he works from 4 to close (at a restaurant so this can mean as late as 2 or 3am sometimes) Since he's working at night and I am very strict about a 7:30 bedtime for my 2 and 4 year old I get what I consider enough me time (ie watching lame T.V., reading, internet, working out.) We don't get a lot of couple time due to this arrangement but we get a nice whole day of family time on Friday when both of us are off. We split cooking, laundry and cleaning in half for the most part although hubby is more fastidious about that than lazy 'ol me :) I do most of the bill paying but we have gotten into habit of having finances talks every month, he does most outside work on yard and house. All this from a guy who grew up in a very patriarchal, traditional country! He is great with kids and does most of the rough and tumble play, and I do more of the reading, going on playdates, music class stuff. It works for us and I think more men need to realize and see how much more beneficial this is for the kids in the long term.

March 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKellie

Oh and just to add...I nursed both kids (still nursing #2 who is 2 and 5 months.) With #1 I only worked partime but with #2 I work full time and pumped when he was an infant until he was about 20 months old. It definitely depends on how flexible your job/boss is though as I have several teacher friends who say there's no way they can pump at work.

March 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKellie

I look forward to reading all the different stories!

We have been a double-income family most of our son's life (partner has had some unemployed periods) and one thing jumped out at me from your description: The important thing in this example is the dad taking care of daycare drop off and pick up so that the mom can fit pumping breastmilk into her day without having to lose work time to do so. I realize you're not saying this is the only way to do it, just an example, but I want to explain why we didn't do it that way: Given the choice between an extra pumping session or an extra time nursing the baby, I much preferred nursing--easier and more cuddly! We were fortunate to find childcare that was literally right on the bus route between home and work, so dropoff and pickup did not add much to my commuting time beyond the actual time I spent nursing.

The really important thing in this example is that the dad is taking care of SOMETHING so that the mom can fit pumping breastmilk into her day without having to lose work time, or sleep time, to do so. In our case, my partner negotiated flextime at his job so that he could wait until we'd left the house to shower, dress, and eat; this enabled him to be responsible for dressing our son each morning and taking care of him while I was getting ready. He also took on most of the household stuff that had to be done during business hours. Baby and I kept a pretty regular schedule, while Dad worked various-length days totaling 40 hours a week. He also became the lunch-packer as soon as baby started eating solids. It worked well for us.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter'Becca

I think the practical logistics is often where ideas break down, so it's these are important discussions with partners.

I found the examples quite fascinating in that they were all about one child. I do think that the first kid is where we set the foundations of how we parent with our partners, so it's important. But it gets so much more complicated the more kids added to the mix. There are no times to simply cuddle with baby, instead it's more like nurse baby while older kids put pijamas on and nurse baby while reading books or eating food, or try to keep screaming toddler away from breast while I shampoo the older kids hair. And 'me' time becomes more precious and I can't imagine having the time for each of us to have 2 personal nights a week, our life wouldn't work - probably because of our opposite shifts arrangement right now.

I have 3 kids (7, 4.5 and almost 2) who've all been exclusively breastfed for over 2 years each (well, almost for the third one). Throughout that time, my husband and I have navigated a variety of roles where either one of us was home full time with the kids or we both were in some full time/part time combination with school or freelancing. We divide jobs by who is at home to do them. For example, I am a better cook (he agrees) but because he is at home now, he does most of the cooking. Our m.o. has been to fill in whatever role needs filling, do what needs doing, playing to our strengths ideally, but ultimately, just keep the boat afloat. Throughout all this, I have pumped for each child at work until they were 18ish months, and for the first one when I went back to work at 7.5 months, he brought the baby every day for a lunchtime nurse session until she was year - and I also pumped another 2 times a day. When I am pumping, I basically work and pump during the workday and that's about it. And when I travel for work I leave a stash in the fridge/freezer. It's frankly a lot of work, but I do it willingly because I am committed to it, and it works. Our arrangement is not without challenges, lately we are basically working opposite shifts - I work days come home and after dinner, the kids are mine evenings and mornings while he works freelance. We split night duty: I handle the baby, he handles the two olders. When we've had to deal with night terrors (and with kid2 that lasted SIX months!) we took shifts during the night so that we both got at least some sleep. If it's a busy work time, we can miss each other, so we call each other at 10am to talk.

And then there's the weekends, where things can break down again. We've tried a number of things but we keep coming back to a system that's worked well for us: in addition to the above weekday arrangement, husband (stay-at-home) has Saturdays off all day to do as he needs to: rest, work, hang out then does bedtime that night. And I as the full-time job parent have the day to connect with the kids. Sundays we are together in the morning, then kids to grandma in the afternoon for time for parents together. It's all a careful balance, but highly doable and not 'equal' in a bean-counting way, but certainly 'equal' in an equity way, and that is I think the best measure of equality, that the partners feel they are indeed partners.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarla

After reading through your post, I've come to realize that my wife and I actually have a pretty good routine going. I guess the first clue would have been that we rarely fight about household duties or night's out with friends. We split up the chores equally, although she is an at home daycare provider, so she gets a little more done during the week while I am at work. We'll usually work it out on the weekends that one of us will take the kids out for a couple hours while the other gets the cleaning done. It's a great way to get some one on one time with the kids as well.

The one area we are really lacking in is taking time to do things as a couple. We have been working on it but not nearly enough and it's so important. Thanks for this post, it was very informative!

March 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris R

In our situation, there is precious little "me-time", and I'm a stay-at-home mom. However, my husband does help out a lot, feeding,cuddling, cleaning up and bathing the babies. We barely have enough time to talk to each other, but that is what we do once we have time alone. Girl's/Boy's night out is a thing of the past. It hasn't existed since we got married. We only visit friends with children now.

March 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCherry

I read this post awhile ago, and while I normally love your insights, this one missed the mark with me and has been on my mind.
First, I agree with the comment above about multiple children and this falling apart. As a stay-at-home mother to three children (4, almost 2 and 3 months), there is no time where I have breaks. Currently I have the 2 year old napping, the baby asleep in a wrap on me, and the 4 year old is watching TV (not ideal) while I make dinner for tonight. My husband is excellent at parenting and sharing where possible (including night wakings for the older two), but where it all falls apart for me is the idea of who is doing the 'mental' work. Something I read by Andrea O'Reilly really resonated with me-
" mothers, even with involved partners, are the ones who do the maternal thinking: the remembering, worrying, planning, anticipating, orchestrating, arranging and coordinating of and for the
household. It is mothers who remember to buy the milk, plan the birthday party, and worry that the daughter’s recent loss of appetite may be indicative of anorexia. And while the father may sign the field trip permission form, or buy the diapers, it is the mother, in most households, who reminds him to do so. And delegation does not equality make." (O'Reilly, not sure on the date, sorry).
And this is where this 'delegation' of roles falls apart for me. It looks good on paper, but MUCH harder in practice. And, a simple example of how a role sharing could look like on paper negates that mental work (in my opinion).
Also, the demands of the stay at home parent and how it is not equal was demonstrated to me yesterday as I was very sick and still had to watch my kids, while if my husband was sick he would call in to work and rest while I watched the kids. Anyway, I think there is a lot of depth here to explore and I hope you do explore it in the future!
Anyway, gotta go, the 2yo just woke up!

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin


Thanks for your reply.

On the first point, you're right that I did use the example of one child (a baby) in my post. I couldn't possibly cover every possible scenario and every possible age without writing a book on it and I do think that the newborn stage, with the first child, is when patterns and habits (good ones and bad ones) get established. I think if one parent (usually the mother) takes on everything with the first child except an occasional break, then it does fall apart when the second child arrives. The firstborn still wants mommy all the time, the newborn needs/wants mommy all the time too, and even if her partner wants to help, it can be hard to truly take on half instead of just being a helper.

Which brings me to your second point. I've read/heard that from Andrea O'Reilly before. I don't disagree that it usually happens that way, but my point is that it doesn't have to be that way. You're right that delegation doesn't equal equality, so I think there need to be certain parenting and household tasks that are entirely the responsibility of the father. I never worried about whether there were enough clean cloth diapers, because I wasn't the one washing them. Now, my kids aren't in diapers, but they are in school uniforms. I don't worry about or wonder whether they have enough clean clothes for school (just as my partner doesn't have to worry about whether they have food for their school lunches). We each take on both the mental energy and the physical energy of the tasks we're responsible for.

It is similar to politics. Having 50% of seats in a Parliament filled by women doesn't mean that women are making 50% of the decisions. If they are just there to raise their hand and vote for the things that the male leaders in the party decided on, they are just helpers/pawns. The same is true at home. If men are just doing what they are told to do, instead of taking on part of the responsibility, then the mental effort will still lie with the women.

For things to change, men need to be willing to take on responsibility at home and women need to be able to let go. That doesn't necessarily come easily for a lot of people, especially if they grew up with something different or especially if they started off their journey as parents on an unequal footing.

April 2, 2013 | Registered Commenterphdinparenting

My husband and I truly share our parenting responsibilities at this point in our lives. It wasn't always so. I too was in the position which Erin describes, where my husband was doing some of the physical work, but all the organizing, the mothering, was my job. And I was working a full-time job outside the house as well ... recipe for disaster.

We (I) tried to rectify things by working less, and this did help to give me some breathing room, but it seemed to be creating more free time for my husband than for me. He started taking up more hobbies outside of the family, and I would be working just as hard, only doing more unpaid work. And I found that I missed the working place, I wasn't really involved anymore at work, plus I felt bad not earning an equal part of our family's income. Also, if my husband should die or leave me, I would be in a very vulnerable situation with virtually no career of my own.

So after a year of me working half-time, I went back to working 30 hours a week, and we decided my husband would do the same. This was not easy, because he works in IT and everyone (all young males, of course) at his job works 40+ hours a week, but in Belgium every parent has a right to 'parenting leave', so we decided to use that right for my husband to work part time. This situation has finally created the equality I was looking for. My husband was already open to 'doing his part', he was responsible for the shopping and he's always the one to organize a sitter for example, but with this move towards equality in paid and unpaid work, I feel that the 'true parenting' has been equally divided, both in labor and in enjoyment. My husband was also surprised to find that being there to pick the kids up after school, doing homework with them and just being home has tightened his bond with them enormously. Before the kids were 'work' to him, now they are more part of his life and a joy, because he is doing more of the nurturing.

At the moment I am home on maternity leave, and will be until our forth is 6 months old. During that period, my husband will work full-time (need to make ends meet) and I will do more unpaid work around the house, but when I go back to work, we will go back to each working 30 hours a week and truly sharing our parenting responsibilities and joys.

I guess what I want to say is that while it doesn't come easy, and each period in life will mean adapting how you go about tackling things practically, equally shared parenting is possible, is rewarding for parents (mums and dads) and sets a good example in gender equality for your kids*.

My daughter (5 years old) had to circle certain tasks or tools (reading a bedtime story, using the computer, driving the car, mowing the lawn, cleaning the house, making dinner, using power tools, ...) in red or blue according to who did what around the house as a task at school, and she circled everything in both blue and red. When my husband and I saw this we were quite proud of ourselves, because had she done this 5 years ago, it would have been very different and had we done it for our parents, it would have showed an even more traditional role pattern. We have made a difference in our lives, but also in how our children perceive life. My daughter will probably expect her husband to bake pancakes on Sunday mornings and to do the laundry while she goes to choir practice, and without feeling vaguely guilty or like only half a mother/wife for it. And my sons will feel it's natural for them to cook and take their children to school, without feeling like a softy, and they will not think their colleagues are slaves to their wives for cooking a meal or doing the laundry.

June 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSaartje

I so wish everything were as neatly divided in my household. I do sometimes wonder if my choice of mates was the right one. He and I have a very different attitude about what needs to be done, what can be put off for another day, and what is optional.
My husband works 12 hour shifts four or three days a week. During the days he works, he really only has time to eat and sleep once he comes home and before he leaves for work. On his off days, he rests... Which I am resentful of. My little one and I wake up at 6:30 am just like my husband, and the little one goes to sleep at 8:00pm, which is also the time my husband gets off work. Yet, I don't get days off. I work 12-14 hours per day, seven days a week. I am constantly behind on chores (dishes, laundry, organizing, tidying, making phone calls for bills, etc.), but still don't really get much "me" time. I make a point to give myself 45 minutes after my little one goes to sleep every day to do whatever it is I feel like doing that day, but that's pretty much it.
Right now, I'm both feeding myself, my son, and typing this LOL. Every moment of every day is taken for me.
I wish it were more common to experience "equitable parenting", but for my family, it is not.

July 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia B.

When my son's oldest child was born, his mom was breastfeeding and home on maternity leave, but baby seemed to "bond" really easily with Dad, so when he was home he did most of the cuddling and diaper changing and baby care. In fact, my daughter in law commented, "It's a good thing that I'm breastfeeding or I wouldn't even get to hold our baby boy when Dad is around." Of course, my oldest son was very excited to have his first child, and when he was young, I often thought that he would like children since he seemed to have lots of fun with the little ones. Our youngest daughter was born when he was 13 and he has always been ready to step in and give her a hand when she was younger and needed it.

March 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGloria

Example 1 is almost exactly what we do, creepily so!

August 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTash

What type of schedule would you suggest for two stay at home parents (Stay at home forever not just for the first couple of months). I'm pregnant with our first, and we think we know how we plan to run things, we agree on everything in parenting to an annoying degree lol, but just wondering what you would suggest, to see if you have any better ideas, since you've already been a parent obviously.

February 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaire Robinson

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