Last night Sean held Bobby while I finished unloading the dishwasher with Sally. Sean then asked if I would hold Bobby so that he could put butter on some bread. I went to take Bobby, but Bobby instead threw his arms around Sean’s neck and moved away from me. Sean smiled and held Bobby closer as I offered to butter the bread.
When Sally was born, Sean wasn’t sure what exactly to do with her. My schedule was more flexible, so I ended up caring for Sally the vast majority of the time. It wasn’t that Sean didn’t like playing with her, particularly once she was big enough for peek a boo, but rather that he just wasn’t comfortable caring for her. He was always afraid he would break her, I think. Having already helped raise more children than most women will in a lifetime, I didn’t have this problem. Sally had an obvious preference for me that didn’t disappear until she hit preschool.
With Bobby, though, it’s different. Sean is confident with Bobby in a way he never was when Sally was a baby. In addition to having already gone through everything once before, Sean and I have also been splitting Bobby’s care more evenly than we did Sally’s. Bobby has become a bit of a fixture in Sean’s office, where he is much adored. The result is that Bobby is comfortable with Sean in a way Sally wasn’t as a baby. This means I can run an errand on the weekend without worrying about how well Bobby will be taken care of, and without fielding constant calls with questions from Sean.
I cannot sing the praise of egalitarian parenting highly enough.
I wrote recently about child custody, and that one question judges look at is which parent was more involved in the child rearing. My goal has long been to have the honest and true answer to that question be that we are equally involved. I want it for Sean, and I want it for me, and I want it for Sally and Bobby. After all, Sean gains the benefit of truly being there for his children’s milestones and forming a strong bond with them, I gain the benefit of sharing the stresses of child rearing with a partner I love, and Sally and Bobby gain the benefit of having a daddy who is there for them and invests in them.
Of course, we’re not perfect. Sean works several evenings a week, leaving me to watch the kids. Furthermore, we not infrequently find ourselves on autopilot (we both grew up with stay at home moms). There are many things we have had to relearn, such as when I realized that when we had to leave the house I was getting both children ready to go and getting the diaper bag ready and stocked while Sean … only got himself ready. But we’ve been relearning these things together, learning to truly work as a team and to see the children as equally the responsibility of both of us rather than as primarily my responsibility.
Egalitarian parenting also means letting go. It stung a little bit when Bobby preferred Sean over me last night, at least until I realized that I wasn’t thinking about how Sean must feel every time Bobby prefers me over him (I have the milk, after all). Egalitarian parenting means not assuming that, because I’m female, I automatically know how best to care for children, and not seeing myself as the primary parent and Sean as my accomplice. It means trusting Sean and not micromanaging him. It means not seeing me as the one responsible for the kids and Sean as some sort of glorified babysitter.
But it’s worth it. Every time I watch Sean with Sally, whether he’s teaching her why ice formed on the puddle from this morning or why the moon changes shape, whether he’s helping her pick out a new outfit or getting her a drink of water in the middle of the night, or whether he’s watching dinosaur documentaries with her or showing her how to write her name, my heart melts. And when I watch how much Bobby adores Sean, with his gummy smiles and happy squeals (Bobby’s, not Sean’s), I can’t help but smile. We’re a team, Sean and I, a team with two junior partners.