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Natalie Thomas Headshot

You're So Lucky: The Parenting Double Standard

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I have a fairly modern marriage. My husband cooks, cleans and does laundry. I do, well, a little bit too. Under duress.

By far the most traditional thing I've done, in addition to getting married, is becoming the primary caretaker for our daughter. And, in doing so, I discovered a little modern-day parenting double standard.

My husband took two weeks off for paternity leave. They were some of the most special of our lives. They were also some of the scariest. We spent every waking moment, which was almost all of them, together, inseparable. Every feed and diaper, each tear and tickle, was shared. We were now a team of three. Us against the world.

And then the (real) world bit us back. My husband's time was up; he had to return the the workforce. Despite being terrified of that first day alone, we survived. So did he. Once he returned home, we resumed the shared work. He handled the 1 a.m. shift, I took the 4, each of us laying out a perfectly-placed swaddle for the next, making sure there were clean bottles and enough stored breast milk and supplemented formula. At that point, we were like passing ships. But it worked for us.

Others, not so much. Whenever anyone asked how things were going, I'd answer honestly (what help is the mom who pretends everything is perfect?): That it was the hardest but the best kind of work, we were having some nursing issues and that, yes, I was tired, but I had a good baby and helpful husband. Despite my admission of formula feeding and the backlash it received, it was the last part of that equation that drew the most attention. Almost every single time, my "helpful husband" elicited a, "You're so lucky!" At first, I smiled, nodded and agreed that, yes, I was. Because, I was.

But after several dozen, the phrase started to wear on me.

Why was it just me that was lucky? Wasn't he lucky, too?

We both have a healthy and happy daughter. We both have a supportive, helpful spouse. But I was the lucky one.

Yes, he stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to feed her every night and then went to work. But I was awake at 4 a.m. and then taking care of an infant all day. (And let's be honest, with pumping, cleaning, sterilizing, hormones and all-around new mom anxiety, I wasn't exactly sleeping the other hours!) Yes, I got to wear pajamas, but he got to shower -- when I was the one covered in boogies and spit up! He went to two-hour "business" lunches at fancy restaurants, ordered off a menu and was waited on. I scarfed down half of an old granola bar at 3 p.m. when I finally realized the reason I was feeling faint was that I hadn't eaten since the night before.

Are we supposed to expect less of our "working" partner? Does going to work from 9-5 negate one's responsibilities at home? Is needing sleep exclusive to the workplace? What about raising a human? Being able to function while out and about with your baby or toddler? Making decisions on their survival and yours? One could argue that's more deserving of a good night's sleep and mentally well-balanced caretaker. And, I am!

Come to think of it, luck didn't really have much to do with my situation at all. At least not where my husband is concerned. (We are beyond fortunate for our daughter, her health and easy-going, sleep-loving temperament.) I dated around and did my fair share of field research (and self-improvement). I looked for the right guy for me. And I mean looked! (It's scary out there, kids!) I knew that I needed and deserved an equal partner. I wanted -- and waited for -- 50/50 and not a smidge less. I chose respect. My husband is a loyal, hard-working, generous caretaker -- and I married him. I made the choice to make him my partner in life (and he, me). And the father to my child. We discussed in depth the kind of parents we wanted to be and the qualities that we needed from the other. It was conscious and calculated and "luck" played no part. (OK, fine, him coming into my life might have been somewhat fortuitous but if I, or he, hadn't been receptive or ready, it wouldn't have worked.)

I'm proud to report that our 6-month-old now sleeps soundly through the night. As do her parents. But, during the occasional cold or teething episode, I'm the one who gets up with her. My husband... he's so lucky!