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Sharing the Load

Clear Agreements
Once you come together on basic principles, agreements about actions are pretty straightforward, especially when you use the negotiation skills you've already learned. Here are some practical solutions that have helped many families, including those in which the parents are already sharing the load fairly and the real issue is only how to work together even better.

Apply organizational principles. A family is an organization, and many of the same approaches used in other organizations will work in your home as well. First, you could create a base schedule that guides your week, knowing that you'll almost never stick to it perfectly. For example, if you're staying home while your husband works, he could agree to get home by 6:30 most nights and you'd agree to have already fed the kids so you two can have dinner together.

In your base schedule, build in breaks that are fair for each of you. One dad said to Rick: My wife gets Wednesday night "off," while I take care of the kids. I'll get up early on a weekend morning and go for a hike with a buddy, getting back by 12 or so. I think about that hike all week, like she thinks about what she'll do Wednesday night. It's a lifesaver.

But be sure to take your break when it comes! Many mothers feel like they have to overcome an invisible gravitational field to lift out of their orbit around their children. Remember that you deserve and need this time to yourself, and that your children will benefit from a reinvigorated mother when you get back. You might also arrange to take some of your time off with your kids as long as your husband assumes the major responsibility for caring for them. For example, Rick's idea of a dream vacation is a trip to the mountains with a buddy and no kids, while Jan's is a week in the sun somewhere - with her children nearby while Rick watches them.

Second, we suggest you distinguish between responsibility, which you both share for the family's overall well-being, and individual accountability for specific tasks. Then create a basic understanding of what you are each accountable for:

Who does what when? You could write it down, and if you have to, post it. Just walk through your day mentally and think about what would help things go well. Could you get the kids dressed while he showers, and then he feeds them while you shower? Would he rather clean up after dinner or put the kids to bed? Should you pick up take-out food on Tuesday nights? The details are usually not that hard: most of it is just being good roommates, and there are many tips for a smoothly running household in women's magazines or various books.

Coordinate with each other. Check in before making plans like committing to a golf date for the weekend. Rick and Jan got a big lesson in this just a few days after their first child was born, and Jan describes what happened: Our good friend. Bob, was coming to visit, and Rick mentioned they were going sailing Saturday. I was dead tired already and asked in disbelief, "You're going to leave me home alone for a day with a baby while you play around?" Rick was startled. In the past, he'd go off with a friend, and it was no big deal. But now what he did really affected the baby and me, and he had to take us into account. He took a long, slow breath and it was like a lightbulb went on. Then he said, "You're right. Now I need to ask."

Keep things in perspective. It's the overall performance that matters. Nobody's perfect, and overreacting to small lapses can undermine a general spirit of cooperation. See if you can let your husband do housework his way; for example, unless dishes are getting broken each night, don't hassle him about how he loads the dishwasher. As a general rule, let the person who is doing the task be in charge of how it gets done.

Try to be flexible and creative for the greater good, which includes him feeling positive about being fully involved in child care and housework and you feeling less stressed. If he suggests paper plates for most weeknights, maybe that's not so crazy. Perhaps you both can live with a semimessy kitchen until Saturday morning, when you spend an hour together cleaning it up, drinking some coffee, and talking.

Children are passionately unpredictable in their nature, so it's a good idea to cut each other some slack. For example, a mother told this story: We were going somewhere, and I was getting Marion ready while Frank was on the phone. He came in and snapped at me because we were running late. He hates that, and he is Mr. Punctuality at work. But a child doesn't always follow a schedule. He should know that, because if he's the one trying to get her to cooperate, we never leave on time! Or better yet, step in and help out instead of judging the other parents performance.

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From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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