Co-parenting or sharing the role as primary caregiver or “stay at home parent” is becoming more and more common. Traditional gender roles are being replaced with parents who share more of the duties at home from housekeeping, to child care, to who the primary breadwinner is. As research shows, millennials are taking a different approach to parenting than generations before.
As my husband and I navigate this new world of parenting and caregiving for our children, we’ve found ourselves in a position where we share the role of primary stay-at-home parent/caregiver to our son. Both my husband and I are very fulfilled by our roles as parents but also find a lot of value in our role as professionals outside the home. Because of this, we decided to find a way to share staying home with our son, along with bringing in an outside caregiver through a part-time nanny.
While I know our situation is in no way unique, it’s not unusual for me to get questions or looks of surprise when I tell people that my husband is usually the one who stays with our children when I’m working. To be honest, I hadn’t put a lot of thought into our situation because it’s what works for our family. But after recently reading about the unique role many millennial parents are finding themselves in and getting so many questions about our situation from others, I thought it would be interesting to see my husband’s perspective on this shared co-caregiver role.
I asked him some questions about sharing the role of “stay-at-home-parent”. Here are his responses:
How would you define your role? And/or do you feel pressure to explain to others why you stay home with our son part-time?
I don’t feel the need to define my parenting role for other people because I still have a full-time job. My variable hours give me the opportunity to be with our son for a couple hours in the day or sometimes be with him all day. And then I have the opportunity to finish my work after he goes to sleep.
I do what I can to make sure our daily schedule works. I think you (Chelsea) have to work harder to make sure we have coverage with our nanny when I’m not available. I don’t lock myself into the definition of “stay-at-home Dad” because we co-parent as much as we do. It’s only when I sit back during a day off work and look at the opportunity to spend time with Henry and the personal attention he gets that I ever consider myself a stay-at-home parent. But I think I probably don’t define it because our schedules are all over the place.
Pre-kids, did you ever think about how much you would stay home or even if it was a possibility?
I considered it as a possibility. I think it became a bigger part of our life when I was working so much in residency. When I was in residency there were times when you certainly didn’t seem as happy with the fact that you weren’t working. And now you’re doing so much better that I think it is so important for your personal and professional success to work. It’s now became an important part of our life that I spend time at home, you continue to work, and we continue to actively balance our life.
Do you remember how we both came to the solution? Or do you think it was sort of the natural evolution of our care-giving roles?
It was a process. You basically told me you wanted to work three days a week. And we decided we would make it work. You found a nanny who could come in a couple days a week to help fill in the gaps for us. I think it’s something I considered, but I think having seen how much happier you are when you’re working, we made it a priority.
What are some of the biggest challenges of sharing this role as caregivers?
I think it’s definitely difficult to be primary caregiver for a child. So I think, my hardest challenge is probably meeting all the demands if you’re (Chelsea) working a lot. If I’m the primary parent for several days in a row, I start to get a little worn down, particularly because we set a pretty high bar to educate him daily, read a lot, and ensure he is active every day with different activities.
Do you feel like it’s hard to balance it all?
I think it can definitely affect my ability to spend time on my continuing education and I think it also makes it difficult to maintain a consistent exercise routine. Some of that’s based on my work schedule but I’m hopeful that will improve with the school year starting. I definitely put those two things on the back burner to do family and parenting things.
As we try and balance all of this co-parenting, do you feel like our traditional gender roles are kind of thrown out?
Yes. Growing up, my mom was a working professional and my dad had a more “stay at home parent” role, even though he was also working. He had to adjust his hours particularly when my mom was traveling. I was exposed to a household where the woman ended up being the breadwinner. So that’s something I’m comfortable with. I don’t look at certain gender rolls – you do this or I do that. There are things I don’t mind doing and other things I have a hard time doing. I think it just naturally falls that way. That obviously ebbs and flows based on how much I’m working.
We have struggled and been challenged at times where I feel like I’m caring too much or I can tell you feel like you’re caring too much. Then I think we have to have a conversation to regroup.
Is it personally fulfilling to you to share this role?
I think it makes you (Chelsea) a happier person to work and parent and that’s important. I think it is important to be involved in our children’s lives because I think we can provide good lessons. I think we can provide structure and support and consistency for our kids.
It’s hard from my work perspective to share this role at times. It is definitely a challenge, but deep down I’m happier and I think it is better for him, too. I love our son, and I love spending time with him, particularly as he grows and has new skills. He and I have full conversations now, which is pretty cool. I look forward to seeing all the upcoming development he goes through.
Would you say your role is unique or different than other dad’s in society, or do you feel like our situation is becoming more of the norm?
I don’t think it’s the norm based on historical trends, but I would say it’s becoming a lot more common. I still think there are lots of households that have very traditional male and female roles, but I would say it’s a lot more common for men to be at home and taking care of their kids.
I think there are probably a lot of households where people have a work routine that’s not totally set in stone. There may be someone who works in food service and works unusual hours. Their hours aren’t totally set, and there’s another parent that works a structured part of their day, all to make things work as parents.