Is it fair to expect equal share? Parenting roles and ratios

Is it fair to expect equal share? Parenting roles and ratios

This one is doing my head in a bit. My previous blog on Extreme Night Waking really struck a chord with many mothers who have lived or are living through severe sleep deprivation but a person called me out on it saying that basically my article asked only of the mother and not of the father. I’ve read and reread the article and run my experience through my head so many times now to see if at any turn my husband and I could have better ‘shared’ these sleepless nights and I have come to the conclusion that yes, we could have but I honestly don’t believe that by sharing the sleep deprivation we would have achieved better or happier outcomes for me, my husband and also crucially, my baby.  

Prior to having my first baby, I decided that I would breastfeed and did all the research I felt I needed to make it a success and luckily for me, my baby and I, after a short learning period, took to it like ducks to water. I joined ABA, I fed on demand, I didn’t introduce a bottle in the early weeks (he ended up refusing it completely when I did try), I kept my baby close at night so I could respond quickly to his nighttime needs.

Breastfeeding worked for us.

 It was just as well I knew enough about feeding and knew the right people to contact when my confidence in my knowledge wavered to be able to stick with my extremely demanding high needs baby who fed frequently around the clock from day one. If I knew any less or trusted my body any less, I would have no doubt worried about my supply and ability to ‘fill’ my baby as his constant waking signalled to some who knew less around me that he needed ‘top ups’ with formula. He didn’t. 

You see, for him and the vast majority of breastfed babies, nursing not just feeding was as crucial to his wellbeing and survival as air. He NEEDED the extra human contact, the cuddles, the pressure, the skin to skin, the suckling, the sound of my heart, the sound of my breath, the feeling of my chest rising and falling to keep him centred, relaxed and at peace in a world he found absolutely terrifying from the day he was born. As a newborn, noises, sudden movement, the feeling of air on his body as he was changed or bathed, the feeling of falling asleep, the feeling of being put down alone frightened him out of his skin. You could feel the ‘wire’ within his tensed, scared little body and his alert eyes did not miss a beat. The boob and my chest were his safe place. They were home. As he grew, he slowly (much more slowly than a less high needs baby) adjusted to the world and his confidence and joy at experiencing all the wonders of life began to blossom. And still he had his safe place.

Even now, as a weaned toddler, he finds great comfort in my arms. He loves to stroke my chest as I hum and sing him to sleep. And, although now others can put him to sleep and be with him at night, if I am around, he still wants and needs me.

This high needs, breastfed baby is also fathered by a loving and committed dad who also works a high stress, high responsibility job with long hours. This dad, like all new dads, has had to make huge adjustments and sacrifices to his life as well as his mum. Does his life solely revolve around his children? No. Does mine? As a stay at home mum, yes, it pretty much does. Does that mean I should be doing more of the child related work than my husband? Yes and no. When he’s at work, I absolutely do. When he’s at home, no, he parents our children alongside me. 

At nighttime though, just as in the day, if the baby needs or wants boob, then that’s all on me. And for a substantially large amount of the time, boob is the answer to nighttime wake ups. If the boob is failing and other methods need to be employed, then my husband always helps with one or the other baby/ toddler. He’s been on many a late night pram or carrier walks around the neighbourhood. He’s rocked in the rocking chair, paced the hall, he always gets the Panadol or tissues, drinks or any other random nighttime call out. He cleans up vomit, changes poonamis, bathed a poo covered baby at 2am. If the baby or toddler wake for the day at the Sparrow’s then he’s onto it. Anything and everything, just not the boob.

So, while I wouldn’t describe our load sharing as 50/50 and yes, this man who is responsible for many other people’s lives in his role at work, does get more sleep than I do, I would call our mutual parenting ‘fair’. His contributions are different to mine but our family needs his ‘work’ as father every bit as much as they need my ‘work’ as a mother. We are a family, we are a team and this is not a competition or a drive to make sure that the painful parts of parenting such as sleep deprivation are evenly shared/ suffered for the sake of ensuring we appear to not be loading me down in favour of the man of the house.

Let’s face it, mothering through breastfeeding is very work intensive for the mother. Only I can do it. Wanting to mother this way does not mean I am a glutton for punishment nor does it mean I cannot vent when my mothering style leaves me exhausted. I am following my heart as well as my babies.
If my husband had tried to maintain a 50/50 share of the nighttime waking with my first, 50% of the night would have involved an extremely distressed, exhausted baby wanting nothing but to be at his mother’s breast. My poor husband would have had to endure our baby’s distress every night, knowing that the one and only way to calm him was at home stressing not sleeping because she knew exactly what her baby needed. What a disgusting situation for all of us.

So while it may seem all very modern and up to date to expect that a father bear his ‘fair share’ of the sleep deprivation, it must be asked if it is the right choice for the family involved. If the babe settles easily for dad, then maybe it is a viable option but for families such as mine it simply does not meet the criteria of, is it safe? Is it respectful and does it feel right?

Working out what works for your family and your situation and meeting and respecting the needs of everyone involved is by far the safest and best route to follow.

I would love to hear how your family shares the load and in particular nighttime parenting.
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