Cultural norms and workplace policies are still not conducive to egalitarian parenting. Yet, they are not insurmountable barriers either. With hard work and commitment, it is possible to structure your parenting roles as an equal partnership. In a separate post, I will talk about things couples can do after the baby is born. But the work really begins much earlier, during pregnancy. The following are some suggestions:
Start early. Would you run a marathon without training for it? Most likely not - and yet, many couples don't prepare for childbirth and what comes after it - or wait till the last trimester to do so. Even if your goal is to enjoy your "last months of freedom" without thinking about what comes next, try to re-frame pregnancy as a time for reflection and hope and an opportunity to connect, dream, and learn together. And yes, parenting is a marathon!
Practice compassion. The changes a woman goes through during pregnancy are astounding, but her partner is going through a huge transformation as well. Ask each other about the changes and the emotions you are both experiencing. Do it often - make it a daily ritual. If you are feeling joy, share it. If you are sad or confused, don’t be ashamed to share that as well. No excuses. If you are too tired at night or too busy in the morning, a phone call during lunch will work just fine. There will be many highs and lows during these nine or so months: the key is to go through them together. Practice compassion for each other to the point that it becomes a habit - you will reap the benefits when the baby arrives.
Plan together. A signature feature of an egalitarian relationship is shared decision-making, and yet, often decisions regarding baby registry, room décor, and even parenting style are considered a “woman’s territory”. Make it "our territory". You might be surprised to learn that your husband has profound ideas on these topics or that your wife actually feels overwhelmed being the sole decision-maker. Involving the dad and respecting his opinion shows that he is not a mere bystander in the process. Showing interest in everything baby-related tells your wife you are there for her.
Read a goofy parenting book. There are many books out there, some very helpful and some terribly dull. One dad joked that the most helpful book is yet to be written: What To Expect When You’re Not Expecting Anything. You may enjoy the goofy jokes in Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads by Gary Greenberg and Jeannie Hayden. In addition to the laughs, this book does an excellent job describing parenting challenges from a man’s and a woman's points of view.
Make a pact. Promise that no matter what happens, taking care of each other, forgiving each other, and respecting each other will be your number one priority. When the baby arrives, there will be a lot of hormone- and stress-induced tension, that is just par for the course! It will be all too easy to get caught in the moment and say things you later wish you could take back. After my baby was born, I found myself feeling – and acting – in ways I had never felt or acted before. I would make statements that in the moment seemed like obvious and undeniable truths, but that I found to be hurtful and unfair later. Without the sleep deprivation and the hormones raging through my body, I may not have found my husband's 20 minute delay at work or an insufficiently-supportive comment to be so enraging. Without the fatigue and the stress at home, he may not have found himself looking for an excuse to stay at work longer. But we did those things and we resented each other for them.
When things cooled off, he would bring me a cup of tea and hug me. I'd bury my face into his chest. "We will care for each other, forgive each other, and respect each other, no matter what."