It’s a month before your baby’s due date, and you and your partner are ready! You have discussed and scrutinized every detail of your baby’s upcoming life. And not just once but twenty times. You’ve discussed what name will best represent your baby’s future personality, what kind of delivery you want, what diaper brand you think is best, and you’ve even discussed whether your baby would benefit from being a vegan. But, have you sat down and discussed one of the most important topics: your parenting roles?
Have you taken the time to discuss how you and your partner plan to balance your parenting duties once baby comes? Or better yet, have you discussed what parenting roles you believe are a father’s responsibility versus the mother’s? This is particularly relevant if one partner is more traditional in their viewpoints and another is more egalitarian.
The Importance of Defining Parenting Roles
This may seem unnecessary, but I promise you it might be one of the most important things you and your partner can discuss—even more so than if your baby should be a vegan. Because as wonderful and magical as new babies are, they can add a lot of unexpected stress and change to a marriage or relationship—especially when you have no sleep in your system.
I will never forget the day my best friend called and told me how irritated she was with her husband for not helping her in the night with the baby. She said, “I’ve never been so frustrated with him. He used to never make me mad. And now that I’m not getting an ounce of sleep, I want to throw a baby toy at him.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the normalcy of the situation. However, it just shows why taking time to talk about things before the birth of a baby is useful!
How to Define Parenting Roles With Your Partner Before Baby
Here are some tips for getting started with this discussion. Sit down. Get comfy. And ready to talk. Try not to be defensive with one another, but instead, take a learning stance in your responses to one another. The last thing you want to do is make your partner feel like their thoughts are wrong.
Step 1: Define What You Witnessed as Normal Growing Up
Ask each other what roles you witnessed in your own family for a mom’s role versus a dad’s role. Our own family experience is what defines our sense of normal. And whether we realize it or not, we often recreate those roles. But if you disagree with how your parents did things in parenting, you must be intentional about changing them.
Answer questions like this:
- Do you believe men and women equally share the role of childrearing? If yes, why? If not, why? (This question is huge in getting realistic expectations set early on!)
- If not, are there certain things that only a Dad does?
- Are there certain things that only a Mom does?
- Are roles flexible based on circumstances or rigid? This means that if one parent has been up all night with baby, does the other naturally step up to laundry and cooking even if that hasn’t been their traditional role? Or do you feel that no matter what is going on, it is always the father’s role to take out the trash, etc.?
Step 2: Talk Through Your Expectations For Your Own Family’s Roles
Now that you’ve discussed what you saw growing up, discuss YOUR expectations with your family. Are there things you loved about the way your family did things? Are there things that you disagree with, too? This is a great time to discuss these things and get on the same page with your partner, especially if you expect some things to go a certain way! Because unmet expectations can lead to frustration.
If your husband comes from a more egalitarian family and you are from a more traditional family, you need to discuss expectations.1 “I do not feel you need to get up with the baby at night if I am breastfeeding because I would rather have you rested to let me sleep the next day.” Versus “I absolutely want you up in the night with me the first few weeks we come home because feeling your support is important to me even if the baby just needs me.”
Step 3: Discuss How You Would Handle Challenging Circumstances
As new parents, you may not know all of the parts of parenting a baby, but you have some idea of what to expect. Here are some common challenges to expect that are important to talk through:
- Female Recovery Post-Delivery
- Tackling Breastfeeding
- Finding Time to Sleep
- A Colicky Baby
- Keeping Up with Laundry
- Getting Cleaning Around the House Done
- Deciding Where the Baby Sleeps
- Finding Time for Love and Intimacy Post Baby
- Managing In-laws Wanting to Visit Your New Baby
Is there anything you think will be especially hard on this list? If your husband tells you, “I do not want your mother’s input on how to care for our baby. I want you and I to figure it out.” This is important to know beforehand, especially if your mother plans to stay with you for a few weeks!
Or if your husband says, “I think the baby should sleep in her crib from day one,” and you were planning to have her in a rock-n-play in your room, this is a good thing to discuss. You might want to negotiate and say, “If that is important to you, then I need you to get up and bring her to me every time she cries because I don’t want to have to leave the room continually.”
Communicating when things are not in the heat of the moment allows for better compromise and hopefully less conflict once baby comes! It is impossible to make an exact plan until you’re in the thick of it, but any amount of mental preparation helps. So, take some time in the next few weeks to review some of these things. You won’t regret it!