Having a baby changes your relationship, your work, and how you think about getting things done. You've surely heard as much if you're contemplating having a baby or already holding one.
There are no shortcuts to this important personal and professional transition but there are a handful of conversations that will help illuminate a path from here to more peace and productivity.
My husband and I both work full-time and have three super awesome kids. These are the highlights from the conversations we had and those we probably should have had to make this partnership as successful as possible.
What are working parent partnerships?
Entering a working parent partnership with your spouse requires conversations that revolve around two core topics: money and responsibilities. For many people, these are big, weighty, often emotionally-charged topics that don't get any easier when there is a screaming baby on your shoulder and you haven't slept for more than three hours at a stretch for a couple of weeks. To start, I'd suggest initiating these conversations when you're as rested as possible, you've planned in advance to talk about them, and things are relatively calm and quiet around you.
We'll start with the not so easy one--money.
Babies come with a list of new expenses that change the spending side of the family finances but they also spark questions on the earning side.
The first question to discuss is what each partner's ideal preferences would be on going back to work post-baby. This can be a complex discussion because you can't help but address professional aspirations, family values, and household finances all at the same time. And, the lines can blur between these issues and make things a bit more complicated to sort out. There will likely be some amount of disagreement. That's normal. When starting this conversation, it's helpful to be clear first on your personal feelings on these issues but not to feel bad if you're unsure. Big life changes impact the way we feel about all sorts of things, including our careers. The questions below are a starting point that you can work through on your own or with your spouse if you find it helpful to talk things out.
- What are your career aspirations? How do you imagine those changing? Why?
- What choices did your own parents make about working and raising you? What worked and didn't work about your experience? How would you like to raise your own kids differently?
- What's affordable and for how long? Employer benefits are important to consider as well as the long-term impact of income variances on your standard of living and retirement accounts.
If one parent would like to stay home, there will be some decrease in household income. If both plan to return to work, there will be an increase in one of the largest baby-related costs, daycare.
For some people, there is immediate agreement on one or both parents returning to work and that money isn't an issue. For the vast majority of other people, the equation isn't that simple. So, after spending some time hearing and really absorbing what your partner is saying about returning to work, you'll likely need to do some scenario planning. Scenario 1 might be mom returning to work after 12 weeks and the baby starts daycare. Scenario 2 might be mom returning to work after two years and the baby starts preschool. Scenario 3 might be mom and dad get approval to work flexible schedules and the days are split 50/50 with family filling in the gaps, etc. Whatever your scenarios are, a calculator and notepad will be required.
Try to keep this part of the discussion with your spouse focused on the numbers (to the degree you both can) and make an honest effort to see what financial and time trade-offs would be required to make your scenarios possible.
My bonus bit of advice to men would be to avoid trying to manipulate your wife into making one choice or another by suggesting you know her best and know what she'd ultimately be happiest doing. Two husbands I know hit a roadblock when they made similar arguments to their wives. What happened in both cases was that these new moms started to question whether or not they wanted to go back to work--a pretty common reaction to the feeling of holding a helpless newborn that you just created in your arms. Their husbands reflexive response was to point out that, no, they should return to work because they'd gotten so much fulfillment in the past, they'd been so successful, and that they'd be bored at home. Their observations about the past were absolutely true but failed to take into account the possibility that their wives may have had a real, legitimate change of heart. The entire exchange just irritated the wives and started a secondary argument about who knows themselves best. Having a baby does change your perspective, and I think this is especially true for moms. Know that it's entirely possible that your previously career-driven wife may have competing feelings now about how she wants to direct her energy.
The second question to cover is household and parenting responsibilities.
Who's going to take on primary responsibility for which chores? Cleaning, laundry, and shopping are the biggies. Before signing on to one or more chores, you must know that adding one small person somehow doubles or triples the volume and time required to complete all of the above. Choose wisely and outsource as much as you can afford. Also, make sure you say in this conversation that none of the agreements are binding for the rest of your life. Balancing responsibilities for working parents must require continuous adjustments. Sometimes certain people get the impression that just because "you said you'd...," do one thing means that you were willing to do it every day until you die. This is ridiculous. Be open to trying different approaches and be prepared to lower your expectations of what done and done well looks like. My husband and I are five years into parenthood and there are some things that we agreed to early on that are still working great. For example, he does all of the laundry and I do all of the dinner preparation. We both like this arrangement and it continues to work. However, we've gone through about 20 different strategies for grocery shopping and just within the last year landed on one that is working great. We get weekly grocery delivery and we LOVE it.
Work and parenthood are big components within our lives and, while they don't mesh perfectly, they can peacefully co-exist and support each other. There is a lot of joy in working through the challenges of this important transition with your partner. Having these key conversations before and after adding a baby to the mix can help set expectations and make life a little more manageable.