There are so many kinds of moms you can be, there are endless possibilities. The cool mom, the together mom, the messy mom.
The mom of multiples, the mom of an only child. The working mom, the stay-at-home mom. And perhaps the most elusive of all moms: the truly happy mom.
Our culture loves to talk about happiness. What is it? Who has it? How do you know when you’re really happy, and how do you know when you’re not? As a mom, I feel like this is extra true when you’re raising kids. It can be so easy to get caught up in the happiness of your children that you may not even take the time to get caught up in your own vibes.
I’m always on a quest to create and nurture a genuinely democratic household. For me, democracy is happiness. In practical day-to-day terms, this means a home in which everyone does their part, everyone supports everyone else, and, at the end of the day, we all can feel reasonably solid about how we lived our hours. Does it happen every day? Of course not. But the goal is that it does happen more often than not.
One way I have found to successfully foster a real lived experience of happiness in my home is to break down every parenting responsibility and split them evenly with my husband. And when I say break down, I mean it: You guys don’t even want to know how many hours-long conversations we’ve had over our kitchen table, writing down everything that goes into caring for our one (just one!) child, discussing appointments and education and lessons and activities and friendships and pickups and drop-offs and who will do what, when, where, why, and how.
These conversations are not always easy, and we have both had our feelings hurt. But I think these conversations are always necessary, and I know that they’re what makes happiness work for us — and work for me.
What I mean when I say "evenly"
When I talk about splitting parenting duties evenly, I mean it: a total 50/50 split. This doesn’t mean that this happens every day, week, or month, but it does mean that if it’s not happening several days in a row, I’m going to say something. Because let’s be real: Even though I also work, and am also in grad school, I am still the one who picks up the parenting slack. Hashtag mom life.
What our conversations are usually about ...
Our kid has a few things we really have to make sure we think about each month. These include doctor and specialist appointments, free activities that he’s signed up for, stuff we’ve paid for him to do, school, and all his socializing (because he is a butterfly). It gets tricky because, as his mom, I’m the one who is still making and setting a lot of these appointments and dates. Most of the parents of his friends contact me first, and I’m usually the one spending my Thursday night looking through events and offerings to see if there are classes he might want to try or whatever.
So a lot of the time, our conversation is just the two us sitting at the table with the paper calendar (I’m a stickler) and our phones, making sure we both have each other’s schedules right and know what our kid is doing that month. Easy, right?
And how those conversations usually go ...
Ha! About half the time, the conversations actually are easy, but that’s only because we are nearly 11 years into parenting our kid and 13 years into being married. We know how each other works.
But the other half of the time, the conversations are still messy, and sometimes they’re just flat-out hard. It can be really challenging when you feel like you’re giving as much as you can for a goal, and the person you love and who also shares that goal feels the same way. So we have come up with a system that works — most of the time.
Step 1: Individually decide what you can definitely do.
We like to each go through the list after we’ve made it and mark what we know we can do. So if I know I can take our kid to all of his chiropractor appointments, I mark those. It might so happen that my husband can also take him to the appointments, but I’ll get to that in a second.
I like to do this because it gives you a sense of accomplishment right off the bat. You’ve committed! Or you’ve at least theoretically committed to the idea of committing. That’s cool.
If we’re being honest, I also like this because making lists and breaking down something that feels huge into smaller, more easily accomplished sections is one of my favorite things. It’s probably the Capricorn in me.
Step 2: Compare your lists.
Once you each know what you can reasonably handle, compare and contrast your lists and see what makes the most sense. When we do this, we’re trying to balance a few things: our energy after a workday, what allows all three of us to spend the most time together, how much time we spend driving around, and what allows each of us to spend solo time with our kid. Your own priorities will probably be different, but working it out together always helps us.
Step 3: Commit your plans to paper.
I am a BIG fan of physical paper planners. I know people love to use their phones for everything, but I don’t. So while I’ll put some stuff in my phone’s calendar, I live and die by my color-coded, sticker-adorned Passion Planner.
Once we have each figured out what our splitting of duties will be like, I write it alllll down. Each member of the family gets their own assigned color each month (which also supports my gel pen habit that I can’t/won’t quit). It makes me feel super accomplished to see everything written out, and it also makes me feel like it’s possible to actually pull it all off.
My husband used to be a phone calendar guy but just switched to his own paper planner this year. We’ll see how it goes!
Remember: The best laid plans don't always work out.
So after all of that accomplishing and planning and color coding, there’s an unfortunate reality you kind of have to accept: All the planning in the world doesn’t help real life. Inevitably, stuff pops up. One of you works late or has an assignment you forgot about, or your kid is sick, or whatever.
We have both worked on being emotionally and mentally able to roll with the punches on this one, but I won’t say it’s not hard. I am still the default parent for just about everything, and it can be a challenge to be OK with that some days. I’m busy, too!
Other ideas for 50/50 parenting
It’s important to note that while this works for figuring out who will do what and when, there are a multitude of family-related duties that you have to attend to. I have usually been the one in our family with a more demanding work schedule, so for years we’ve tried to have doctors and pharmacies call my husband first for appointments and questions — but unfortunately, it almost never works out that way.
For us, figuring out a schedule for everything we do and our kid does has been the biggest priority. We already split housework evenly, and everyone in our home helps take care of the pets. Our biggest hurdle with 50/50 parenting is definitely around the daily hustle of getting here and there. So what works for us in that context may not exactly work for you, but hopefully, some of these steps will help you reach a jumping-off point to figure out what does.