Sharing the Load - Done Is Better Than Perfect
In these emancipated times (leader of the US not withstanding) most of us who are working parents are lucky enough to have partners sharing the load. And the load is pretty big, with nursery runs, laundry, shopping, cooking, entertaining (kids and friends), and of course performing well at work too. But although my partner can put the laundry on, feed the kids (sandwiches count, right?!) and share the domestic work 50:50 ... is the emotional hard work split the same way?
For all his fantastic fathering, my partner isn’t aware of the kids’ vaccination schedule, nor does he have a calendar alarm to remind him what day is Show and Tell, and when to take more nappies in to nursery. He doesn’t make sure that there are always snacks in the cupboard or check to see if their shoes are getting too tight.
All of which makes the choice of life partner as important now as it was for Lizzie Bennet - and it’s a sentiment echoed by powerful women around the globe. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, famously said, “The most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry.” And she goes further in her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. “When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” And, apart from the fact that I’d expand this excellent guidance to include same-sex couples, it’s spot on. Sexiness is taking out the bins. It’s hugging poorly kids, doing bath-time and cheering on from the sidelines of the football pitch. The way I feel about my partner has changed with children, and explains why THAT Athena poster of a chiseled hunk posing with a tiny baby sold so well. The ability to nurture is very sexy indeed.
Sandberg tells of how she had to tweak her parenting to adapt to sharing the balance with her husband, accepting that her way is not the only way. It’s advice I try to remember when the boys have had a fantastic day with their dad, but ate in McDonalds, or when I get back from a few days away to find their nails untrimmed, and hiding half the park underneath. The key thing is they are fed, warm and happy. The rest is all just stuff - unimportant detail. It’s important to remember that, and especially poignant as Sheryl lost her husband in a freak accident. A year after his death she posted a message on social media, admitting how little she’d understood the life of a single mum. "Before, I did not quite get it. I did not really get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.” It’s hard enough when there are two of you - hats off to all the single parents out there.
I wonder though, if as women, we can ever turn off the voice that reminds us to take in the PE kit, or wonders if their kid is eating enough fruit. You’d think so, because there are gay dads out there doing excellent jobs, and I assume someone is trimming nails, buying snacks and washing the PE kit on time. But in my family, which is a married man and woman with two kids, it’s definitely me who carries the emotional load despite choosing a mate that Sandberg would approve of. I was the primary carer for a year, taking maternity leave and enjoying being at home with a baby, but perhaps that lined me up to be the primary emotional carer too.
But actually, does it really matter? So what if I’m the one caring about their vitamin intake, or if their lips get chapped in the wind. If I’m the one remembering their vaccinations, that’s great, because all that really matters is that they get them. Ok, it’s stressful having so very many balls in the air, but my partner takes on other worries and household tasks - from organising the broadband to cleaning the gutter. These tasks might not keep him awake at night, but they need doing nonetheless. As Sandberg says, “Done is better than perfect."
*And an update on this piece following the Daily Fail take down of us mums who make fun of our occasionally chaotic parenting. IT IS OK to feed your kids fish fingers. IT IS OK to sometimes be on Instagram. IT IS OK for your kids to have stains on their tops, and to miss the odd bath. What is NOT ok is to betray the sisterhood in the ultimate way and question our love for our kids. We love them. We also love gin, our partners, wine, our girlfriends, and eating left over fish fingers. And we are bloody good parents. #solidaritea