Why, when you throw a kid into the mix, does it all seem to fall apart? Some of the reason is due to the sheer number of new chores at hand. Sleeplessness doesn’t help. And when one partner can handle less sleep than the other, the imbalance will be as obvious as the bags under your eyes. Then there are the basic biological differences: Moms quite literally carry more weight. Moms give birth. Moms breastfeed. Moms have 9 months of hormones, backaches, morning sickness, and, did we mention they give birth?
Given all this, sharing parenting responsibilities 50/50 is not the way to do it. For one, it’s likely impossible. Second, it misses the emotions that are tied to the work — feelings that may shift from day-to-day. A house that divides and conquers well constantly reassesses emotions and preferences, physical ability and mental stressors. This means thinking about every task as a separate entity and then asking: Do either of us love doing this? Does either of us loathe this thing? Is either of us more capable? Are you too tired to move right now? Only then can you make a fair division of labor.
Needless to say, this all takes time. Given that, new parents should start right away with a schedule that is set but flexible, thought-out and dynamic. In the first few weeks of a child’s life, establish a habit of communicating clearly and sharing parenting responsibilities, write down schedules, and be willing to tear up anything that doesn’t work. Here is a sample of some of the major tasks that will have to be on your schedule along with how to assess and divvy the task. This baby-raising thing works best when you work together.
- A Day of “Rest”. Sure, you need to feed the baby, you need to change diapers, you need to comfort them, but you don’t have to be planned to-the-minute just yet. Take the day to get your bearings, to give into a bit of the chaos, to get yourself ready for the division of labor to begin. Make sure you go over often, look at your child and realize, wow, this is happening.
- Feeding Baby. If mom is breastfeeding, this may be a one-person job right out of the gate. If that’s the case for the duration of babyhood, dad needs to support her, find ways to comfort her and take on other tasks. More likely, whether you two are feeding the baby pumped breast-milk or bottles of formula, dads have the opportunity to be involved with the direct feeding. And they should. This is a prime bonding opportunity for parents, and since newborns eat 8-12 times a day, you’ll both get ample opportunity to do just that.
- Shopping for Formula. If you’re going all-in on formula or supplementing breastmilk with formula, you’ll likely need to make that call by day two and go on the most important shopping trip you have yet undergone as a parent. While it’s smart to consult with your doctor before you proceed with the formula purchase, there are things to look for: Basically, you’re looking for a formula that is pediatrician-recommended (by yours) and is similar to a mother’s milk. Something like Enfamil® Enspire™, an innovative, non-GMO formula that has two new components found in breast milk, making it Enfamil’s closest ever to breast milk.
- Diapering. Baby will go through upwards of 3,000 diapers in the first year. The math is really quite simple: Diapers will come and go at a breakneck pace and as such, this is not a chore that one parent should take on. This is one where you get a pass to split it as close to 50/50 as you can. You should have received a good changing/diapering training session at the hospital, and by day two, it’s the time to get familiar with diapering mechanics and the myriad colors of newborn poop. Baby will pee pretty much all day, so change the diaper every 2-3 hours or if they’ve pooped, which happens roughly three times a day.
- Comforting. If you’re lucky, baby conks out on their own, and you just lay them in the crib. If you’re less lucky, you’ve got a baby that cries a lot before they fall asleep, and this is where you start to master your comforting game — rocking, walking, bouncing, singing (softly). Baby may be more comfortable with mom in the beginning, so for the sake of sanity, this may be something she has to do. But it’s essential for dad to get a lot of baby-cradling time as well because the benefits of skin to skin contact are not limited to mom and baby.
- Sleeping: There is no better advice in life than "sleep when the baby sleeps." The good news is that they sleep roughly 16 hours a day. The bad news is their eight hours of awake time occur whether it's day or night. You can’t expect to get a full eight hours of sleep for yourself at night and, honestly, “sleeping when baby sleeps” is a bit of a joke (adult bodies don’t always cooperate). One solution, especially for the first few weeks, is to treat your home like a hospital and split parenting duty into shifts. One of you takes the night shift, the other the day, then you swap every two days.
PRO TIP: SHOP FOR FORMULA BY INGREDIENTS
Look for immune and brain-supporting ingredients like Lactoferrin and MFGM. Also, make sure the formula has expert-recommended levels of Omega 3-DHA.
- Morning Meeting. Don’t forget to take notes! Sleepless minds have this thing where memory retention is, well, poor.
- Feeding Baby. You’re getting the hang of it already.
- Cleaning Bottles. If you’re bottle-feeding, you’re probably out of clean bottles already. (It’s only day three — we know!) Get used to cleaning bottles multiple times a day. Because it happens so often, like diapers, both parents should know how to do this properly and split the task.
- Diapering. You’re one day and a dirty dozen in. They sure pile up, don’t they?
- Feeding Mom and Dad. Remember eating? It’s easy to get lost in the chaos and forget to feed yourselves. Don’t. If you’re too exhausted to make yourself something, order in, unless you’re blessed with some lovely people in your life who’ve dropped off prepared meals that only need to be heated up because they’ve been there. If cooking is a passion for either mom or dad, with their consent, the cook in the family may indeed take the lead here. As with all chores that are lopsided, be sure to find a counterbalance. If dad cooks an extra day, mom can take an extra shift on bottle cleaning, or vice-versa. This is part of the negotiation that will make things in weeks two, three, four and so on run that much more smoothly.
- Bathing. For the first few days, you might not feel ready for a bath, so give your newborn a daily "top-and-tail" instead, wiping down their face, neck, hands and diaper area with a wet hand towel during a change. You’ll do this daily, and it’s cute and very fun (the warm water is known to bring first smiles), so you two will be fighting over the task. Split it evenly.
PRO TIP: HAVE A MORNING MEETING
Think of the morning meeting as your war room. Sit down together over a much-needed cup of coffee and map out the day. Do visits from friends or parents need to be coordinated? Do you need groceries? Does the kitchen need to be cleaned? Plan together to divide up the physical and emotional labor and get on the same page about what a completed task will look like.
- Morning Meeting. You might be tempted to skip this meeting. Don’t! If it’s getting boring, get better coffee. The communication is essential.
- Feeding Baby. By now, you’re probably recognizing signs of hunger on the baby: Opening their mouths, sucking on their fingers or moving their heads from side to side are all potential sides of a need to feed. Be on the lookout for others since all kids are different.
- Cleaning Bottles. If you are having trouble with any aspect of bottle cleaning — fitting sponges in the bottles, finding the counter space to dry them — know that this is a place full of gadgets. Do a bit of shopping for great drying racks, bottle cleaning gadgets and towels for you.
- Diapering. It’s only day four, and this is probably already an old habit.
- Feeding Mom and Dad. Is the designated chef pooped? Is there no real designated chef in the family? There’s never been a better time for artisanal, healthy frozen foods than now. Look online for companies that have chefs, use a variety of foods, real ingredients you can see — oh, and ship to you. It couldn’t be easier.
- Walking the Baby. Day four and you’re definitely stir crazy already. It’s good to get out of the house, and lucky for you, babies tend to like motion and leaves on trees (once they get their eyes on them, they tend to fix their gaze and fall into a trance). Either way, a walk in the stroller around your neighborhood will either put them to sleep or introduce them to the weird wonders of their new world. This is a great daily (maybe more than once a day) thing for whatever parent needs it. It’s not a life-saving essential for the baby, but it’s bonding, it’s good for parent and child, and it’s a little bit of breezy sanity.
PRO TIP: SCHEDULE AN EVENING MEETING
If the morning meeting is the war room, the evening is a state of the union. Check in with each other and, this is essential, talk about how you feel. What went well today? What needs improvement? And since these days are a heady blur of emotions, hormones, sleeplessness and bliss, express gratitude for your partner.
- Morning Meeting. Sorry, but listening to the news together does not count as a morning meeting.
- Feeding Baby. If you want a warm bottle, don’t microwave it. Instead, put it in a pot of warm water just up to the nipple collar until it’s lukewarm.
- Cleaning Bottles. Toss on a short podcast for the chore, and it will soon become something you really look forward to.
- Diapering. You’re officially a pro.
- Feeding Mom and Dad. One more option for your meals: Try something a bit easier than from-scratch home cooked meals and a little more fresh and satisfying than frozen foods: Meal kits are everywhere now and deliver fresh food that’s usually chopped and ready to compile. There are instructions too, so this is for any parent — no real skills in the kitchen needed.
- Bathing. If you want to graduate to a small bath, try to fit one in a sink. Having the bath higher up can make it easier to deal with the wee one.
- Walking Baby. Walking a baby in a stroller totally works, but it’s sort of missing the point of bonding. Keep them close with a baby wrap, sling or buckle carrier. Wraps keep them closest but have a bit of a learning curve, slings are just as close and easier to fasten, and buckle carriers are a bit bulkier (and hold baby less close) but the easiest to get baby in and out.
- Tidying Up. Little splatters of milk on couches here, greasy dishes resting safely on the kitchen counter – you’ve been home 72-plus hours, and today’s a good day to tidy up. Define what "clean" looks like to both of you so that, when it’s done, you’re both happy.
- Evening Meeting. Remember, this is not a confessional, but a support group for each other. Feel free to pull some emotional punches (and take them to a therapist).
PRO TIP: DON’T LET ONE PARENT SCHEDULE CHECKUPS
The AAP recommends baby’s first pediatric checkup be a least five days after birth, so be sure to get on your pediatrician’s schedule by today. Scheduling doctors’ visits is one of the many pieces of emotional labor most often done by wives and mothers. For this first task, turn the tables and let dad do the scheduling. Next time, rotate: It’s important for both parents to have familiarity with their baby’s doctor’s offices.
- Walking Baby. It’s fun to explore your area in those wildly early hours when you and baby are up, but the rest of the world is doing this thing you’ve heard about called sleep.
- Morning Meeting. This is also a great time to make a little something to eat together, even if it’s just toast and fruit with your coffee.
- Feeding Baby. By now you’re probably getting the hang of how to hold baby so they’re comfortable while they’re feeding. If not, try switching arms, getting a new seat, standing or walking while feeding.
- Cleaning Bottles. Did you realize most bottles are dishwasher-safe?
- Diapering. What was life like before disposable diapers or when you had to hand-wash your cloth diapers?
- Doing Laundry. If you’ve made it this far without doing the laundry yet, congratulations — and sorry. But since you’ve probably got more onesies with spit-up on them than ones that don’t, and since your clothes have probably taken a few direct burp-up shots, today’s a good day to run a load (or two) of wash. You may have learned about blowouts by now, too. But you don’t want to run a load of wash every time you catch one of those, so a good trick is to keep a bucket partially filled with stain remover and water to soak dirty clothes in before you’re ready to throw them in the wash.
- Feeding Mom and Dad. By now, a long-term plan is probably formulating. Get it on paper.
- Cleaning Baby. Fighting over who gets to do this yet?
- Evening Meeting. Check-in. Affirm. Praise. Repeat.
PRO TIP: DO SOMETHING FUN TOGETHER
Whether it’s a trip to the park or a daytime beer at a bar, go do something that gets you out of the house and makes you feel ever-so-slightly human, together. If you have someone who can watch baby for an hour or two, take them up on that. If not, no problem. Just strap baby snugly into a chest-born carrier, and go. Think you can’t sit down and eat at a restaurant? You’ll be surprised how womb-like the low-roar din of waiters and diners sounds to your baby, and how soundly they (likely) will sleep through it all. Just cover your baby’s head while you’re eating, and don’t drink a hot tea or coffee. Also, enjoy.
- Morning Meeting. Check-in. What’s on tap?
- Feeding Baby. This is one task that will take many forms over the next couple of years (from bottle to solids to food-tossing toddler-dom) but will never end. So, find a way to enjoy it.
- Cleaning Bottles. Only five-plus months until the baby is ready for solids.
- Diapering. They pile up quick.
- Feeding Mom and Dad. You know, one of the great things about the modern world is that you can have groceries delivered to your door.
- Cleaning Baby. You don’t have to bathe every day (and it can, in fact, dry out their skin), but you need to keep their heads and tails clean.
- Evening Meeting. Having trouble communicating emotions? That’s the sleeplessness kicking in. Use the age-old therapy technique and lead with a few “I feel…” sentences. You probably feel a lot now.
PRO TIP: FIND YOUR BINGE
If you haven’t noticed already, you have more down time than you expected. Yet, you’re pretty tired. No better time than now to catch up on streaming shows or movies on your watch list. Put together a list of what you want to watch, and dive in. Keep it light and fluffy — or at least avoid TV series with death and destruction, and definitely no heartbreaking kid stuff. Maybe a nice, pleasant baking show?