Can You Ever Really Share Childcare Equally?

14/06/2012 15:29 | Updated 22 May 2015
Can you ever really share childcare equally?Alamy

I have it all planned out. My first baby will be born this month. My partner has four weeks paternity leave, supplemented by saved-up holiday. Then he will have Mondays and Tuesdays off work while I carry on working (from home) and he looks after the baby. He works a late shift on Wednesdays and Thursdays leaving me all day to work in complete silence from my upstairs office and also works on Saturdays, leaving us Sunday to rest. What could possibly go wrong?

How my female friends have laughed when I've told them of our grand plan. "You'll spend all your time breastfeeding and won't be able to do any work," one said, "Your partner will be coming up every five minutes to ask you things," scoffed another. "Do you really think you'll be doing ANY work for the first six months?" screeched another one, rolling around on the floor in hysterics.

The fact is, I have to. We can't afford for me not to work and I can't afford to lose my carefully built-up client base. Having six months off work as a freelance writer isn't quite as easy as waving goodbye to your colleagues with armfuls of presents and easing yourself back after the honeymoon period.

I'm prepared for the hardship it might entail but I have to find a way of continuing work. My partner is keen to share childcare with me. He thinks he's up to it. I have no doubt he is. He's already changed more nappies in his life (more than two) than I have (0) and he's very calm and patient.

So why will it be so hard? Says one friend, "Breastfeeding is basically bloody hard work and though lovely in many ways, is physically and mentally (though you don't quite realise this as it happens) pretty taxing. Basically, it's a job."

I had fondly imagined expressing at the beginning of the day, fobbing the child off to its dad who could lavish food and attention on it for the rest of the day while I bashed out several masterpieces. No? Says my friend Louise, "Expressing is a slow and laborious method of milk production. Plus, if you're breastfeeding, when are you planning on expressing?" Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that.

Keith Kendrick, became a full-time house dad to three children, aged nine, six and three, after he and his wife swapped roles at the beginning of the year following redundancy.

He says, "It sounds rather Utopian to me, but perhaps you can make it work if you plan it like a military operation, with lots of tactics, strategy documents and lists at the beginning of the week. But in my experience, all the best-laid plans fall to pieces the minute one of your mini-fireworks – aka kids – goes off."

He adds, "Children don't adhere to timetables and dictates. They make mess when they feel like it, they vomit when you least expect it, they pour juice on carpets without explaining why. All these things have to be dealt with there and then – they can't wait until it's your partner's turn to take charge."

He says, alarmingly, "When my wife juggled being a full-time mum with working from home she got very little work done during the week and often had to work evenings and weekends when I was there to take over: it was the only way she could find the head space."

But another male friend, Charlie, says you just can't generalise: "You have to deal with what life throws you." He works from home as a copywriter and shares some of the childcare of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter with his partner, who works part-time. "You'll make it work because you have to," he says.

"If you try to work out an arrangement and don't leave open the chance it might not turn out that way, it could get difficult. I can't imagine a situation where one person would do everything. I'm lucky that I work from home and can see my daughter whenever I want to."

I am confident that our Utopian 50/50 arrangement will be a success. Ask me again in three months (though I might not answer your email within my usual five seconds...)

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