This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Co-Parenting and Partnership

In my last post, I mentioned that I am extremely lucky to have a husband who is both a partner and a co-parent.* I wanted to describe exactly what that means to us, and how we each got to that point.

I was raised in an extremely conservative evangelical faith [i.e. Crazy Cult], which discouraged women from having careers or advanced education. It placed men as the "head of the household" with an emphasis on "women obeying their husbands." Meaning that men worked, women stayed home and raised children, and deferred to the "wisdom" of their husbands in their decision-making. Even as a child that idea completely repulsed me. I never imagined myself getting married and filling some sort of "traditional" role of wife and mother. I couldn't imagine myself ever letting a man have that kind of control over me. With my eventual rejection of Crazy Cult also came the rejection of those "traditional" gender roles. The rest of society told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. Our teachers, TV and other media, and the feminists who had burned their bras all told us we could be more than just wives and mothers. I grew up believing that. I grew up wanting that.

With Husband I found the perfect match. I was attracted to him from the moment I met him. He was witty and charming, and a lot of fun. He likes art, theatre, opera, and gourmet cooking. We each had our own career goals. I was working towards law school, and he was taking the prerequisite science classes to eventually apply to medical school. Our personalities matched very well. He has never let me walk all over him, but at the same time, he didn't try to control me either. We were happy being ourselves and individuals, while also sharing our lives. The perfect balance: an equal partnership.

Husband proposed in 2004, the weekend after I took the LSAT. Later that year, he decided he no longer wanted to go to medical school. He would be almost 30 when he started and he decided he couldn't be both a medical student/resident/fellow/attending (at least in the specialty he wanted to pursue) and be a father. That's right: my husband is the only man I've ever met who gave up his career goals to be a father. I tried to talk him out of it. I told him there was no reason why he couldn't still be a good father and a good doctor, I even told him he shouldn't give up his career for children that didn't exist. But he wanted to devote more of his time to being a parent, and couldn't do that while pursuing the career he wanted. So he chose a less-demanding career instead and is working towards becoming a nurse practitioner. (I periodically remind him that it is never too late to change his mind; if he wants to go to medical school, I will gladly support him.)

I wouldn't have married Husband, and certainly not had a child with him, if he were the kind of man who thought being a father didn't include changing a diaper, giving a bath or rocking a crying baby. Or if he were the kind of man who thought that it was okay for me to sacrifice my career in order to have a family but not his. Or if he were the kind of man who thought a mother was abandoning her children if she worked outside the home. Instead, he is the man his parents raised him to be. A man whose mother had her first two children while in undergrad, didn't take any time off to do it, and not only finished her bachelor's but eventually got a master's; additionally, she had her third child (him) in West Berlin where his father served in the Army. A man whose oldest sister has a successful career, two kids and a husband who is a stay-at-home dad. A man whose other older sister has just recently reduced her work hours in her very successful and lucrative career to spend more time with her two kids (and still makes more money than her husband), and has a fantastic nanny with degrees from much more impressive schools than I attended. A man who is very proud of me for finishing my master's degree and attending law school, and thinks I do a remarkable job of holding it all together (and doesn't judge me for curling up into a ball and sobbing hysterically at least once a semester). A man who this past semester worked full time, took two graduate nursing classes, and cared for a newborn. A man who never once thought taking care of his daughter was a woman's job instead, but rather his privilege. In turn, he wouldn't have married me if I were the kind of woman that expected a man to take care of me, and not stand on my own. He wouldn't have married me if I weren't driven and motivated in my education and career, and didn't want to work.

I have heard many women say that a father could just never love a child the way a mother does, and can't take care of them the way a mother does either. I don't believe that's true at all, and I think it's disrespectful to all the men who are spectacular parents. And I want to know why no one tries to make men feel guilty because they work outside the home? That's the real question. Why does Law School Mom state that it matters whether she or a nanny takes her kids to school, but makes no mention of her husband in that scenario? Why do we as mothers put all of the guilt on ourselves (and on other women) instead of equally between both parents? Why is his career important, not to be inconvenienced by taking care of children, but hers isn't? Why is she a bad mother for working, but he's a good father for providing for his family? These double-standards are harmful for all parents, and perhaps the work environment for all parents, not just women, would improve if society expected men to take a more active role in all aspects of parenting, instead of viewing it as an abomination. Just because I'm the one with the uterus doesn't mean all of the responsibilities of child-rearing fall on me. Having full responsibility ends at delivery.

To Husband and I, co-parenting means both of us being equally responsible for the care of our child. When Cora was born, Husband took a nine week paternity leave to take care of her. When I started back to school full time four weeks after she was born, he got up with her during the night, and cared for her during the times I was in class. I don't feel like I'm a bad mother and not bonding with my child because my husband does an equal share of the parenting, and sometimes even more than half. Since he went back to work, I'm on my own three nights a week. He takes over when he gets home from work in the morning and lets me get a little more sleep. On the days he doesn't work, he takes care of Cora during the day while I'm either in class or at work, and gets up with her at night if she wakes up. He takes her to all of her doctor's appointments, whereas I handle all the bill paying/fighting with Evil Health Insurance Company and Incompetent Medical Billing Agencies. We divide the tasks that way because those are our areas of expertise, and because that's what our schedules allow, not because any gender role dictates as such.

*I like to use the words "parent" and "partner," because I don't think gender matters. A parent is just a parent. (If a child has two mothers, does that mean there is double the guilt for working outside the home, whereas if a child has two fathers, there's no guilt? Just a thought.) But this is another blog topic entirely.


Andrea said...

As En Vogue used to say: whatta man.
They're a limited edition, and I'm glad I got myself one too :)

LawSchoolMom said...

My husband is an awesome parent who would love to pick the kids up from school. We are not putting his career ahead of mine, but the reality is that I have more flexibility than he does because I work from home.

Googie Baba said...

Ha! Two moms does equal twice the guilt. Truth be told, neither of us should feel guilty. We live in Boston and its just a two income kind of a town.

And I think you are very fortunate to have the partner that you have.

PT-LawMom said...

Great post. Sounds like you caught a good one. Why *shouldn't* he have to make sacrifices to be a good Dad? Women do it all the time. I think it's awesome that he made that choice, seeing the importance of a bond with his future children. :)

Dee said...

It seems these men are actually becoming less limited as we women begin to avoid choosing men who insist that we choose either to give up our career or walk alone.

Dee said...

I like that this blog does not allow anonymous comments.

thelongroad said...


It's not just a working women's dilemma. It's a working parent's dilemma.

I think more and more men understand this and feel the way your husband does (including my husband).

Tranny Head said...

Law School Mom sucks an egg. That post pissed me off to no end. I mean, when you're a single parent with an infant and you're in law school (like I am), you do what you have to do. Moreover, refusing to enable comments? What kind of lawyer doesn't allow people to make a counter-argument?

She's the reason people hate lawyers.

lawmom said...

There are good guys out there! I have no reservations about going to law school. My husband is the better parent, he hates when I say that, but it is true. He has more patience and more energy than I have. Monkey adores him and is 100%a daddy's girl. I am a happier/better mom when I am busy and pursuing my dreams. It is quality not quantity.

Kathryn said...

Great post! My husband and I co-parent as well. He has stayed at home with my son since his birth. I've never bought into that subservient wife role. We're equal partners and equal parents.

Cee said...

That's great that your husband wants to equally share parenting responsibilities- I love that he gave up his career for it too.

I grew up in a traditional household too- I had a stay at home mom. Part of me wants that for my own kids because I truly feel that I got something different, maybe better than my friends who went to day care and after school programs. But I agree that Parents should share the parenting duties and complement each other's parenting strengths. Hopefully together the two will fulfill all of a child's needs.

Cee said...

I'm not knocking day care at all, it works great for some people. I think I will feel that guilt too if I decide to use day care in the future. But I also love that my own family gave up a second income so that one parent could always be available to feed, to counsel, to discipline. There are pluses and minuses of both life styles. It truly is a personal choice and the right decision is different for each family.

Really, the parent is in the best position to make the best decision for the family. I always thought I would want to stay home but now I've realized that there are good compromises/alternative available as well.

DaddyMan said...

It's awesome to hear stories like this. I left my computer training career to take care of my infant twin girls and 4 year old preschooler and haven't regretted it for one minute. I still work part time for diaper money, but the laughter I get when I spent time with my children is priceless.

Not to mention we get to go to the park all the time! (well, when the weather is good enough for the girls to be out in it!)

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Howdy. I comment on this post at Daddy Dialectic, a blog about co-parenting written from the dad's POV.

Amy said...

Hi! I just found this blog entry from Daddy Dialectic and LOVE it! My husband and I are also dedicated to equally shared parenting, and he also purposefully changed careers to create a more balanced life with time for eventual kids, wife and just plain fun.

Our website is completely devoted to equal parenting. Come on over! And please write to us...we'd love to get to know you!

-Amy (and Marc)www.equallysharedparenting.com

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