It seems that in most households where there are two parents, there’s one who does the lion’s share of parenting*. For some this is by choice, and for others it’s through circumstance because the other spends more hours at work. It’s physically possible for one of them to be with the children more than the other. But alongside that physical ability comes a mental responsibility, and it’s that part that is exhausting.
Let me give you an example – taking kids to school. The act of moving a child from Location A to Location B. Easy. Just like a taxi service. But hang on, there are a few other elements to build in, because the person who regularly carries out that task of Taxi Parent also takes the responsibility for knowing everything else about school:
- The Taxi Parent checks if they have homework, reading, a project, a spelling test
- They read the notes put in their bag, remember they need to take in money for a trip, for some charity day, for lunch
- They are the person who makes sure they have the right clothes ready – their uniform is washed, new gym shorts bought, coat and wellies actually come home
- They make sure the child turns up in a costume or non-uniform clothes on celebration days, and on class photo day they dig out the whitest shirt, comb their child’s hair and perhaps clean their shoes.
And so on. And fucking so on.
AND they also become the person who gets to know the other parents; plans time to get the children together outside school; organises helping each other out so one of you can go to an appointment or a meeting that clashes with the school run. The Taxi Parent becomes part of the life saving network we need to call on from time to time, or every Wednesday. They help each other out when one forgets the £1 for a red nose, or that a costume is required TOMORROW and they offer to lend you stripy tights or a magicians hat (they are luckily not using that day).
The other parent, who goes to work very early and comes home very late, probably doesn’t even ponder on these things for a second. Even on the odd occasion they take their child to school, would still ask the Taxi Parent if the child has everything they need because ‘you just know these things’. Because you usually do that parenting task, it is therefore assumed your responsibility even when you’re not there. You’re just temporarily delegating the delivery.
But here’s a really crazy idea. What if it wasn’t? What if the preparation of tasks wasn’t invisibly tied to the delivery of tasks. What if, we could split the responsibility for each task in two? Let’s try some non-parenting examples first….
- A pilot flies the plane, but doesn’t build the plane, plan who sits where, or serve snacks to the passengers.
- The waiter who serves the meal in a posh restaurant didn’t cook the meal – and actually the chef who did cook it, probably didn’t peel all the potatoes.
- The rock star who sings the song doesn’t necessarily write it and play every instrument.
There are teams of people and they work together.
Sometimes the rock star does write the song, because they want to, they can do, and that’s their choice. That’s wonderful.
So can we apply that to pair-enting? It might be possible….
- The parent who puts dinner on the table could be supported by another who plans the meals, does the shopping, or even prepares and freezes a meal at the weekend.
- The parent who dresses the child could be supported by another who puts a wash on, or empties the washer or perhaps irons some clothes.
- The parent who bathes the child could be supported by another who cleans the bathroom (or organises a cleaner if you can afford it)
- The parent who makes sure homework is completed could be supported by the person who talks to their child about their homework topic of Romans or practices spellings while on a car journey.
- The parent who got up early with the kids on Saturday to take them to a sports activity, could be supported by another who gets up with the kids the on a Sunday and gives them an extra hour sleep or a bedside brew.
I know not all of these work for every couple or family, we’re all different. Single parents, I fucking salute you if you carry all this on your own. But are there maybe other ways we can ask each other, friends and extended family to help us with the supporting roles?
Sometimes the parent who takes on the responsibility for tasks doesn’t even think to ask for help from the other, who therefore don’t know it’s a problem until they are sobbing by the washing machine screaming that they just can’t do any more sodding washing – I have definitely been guilty of that in the past – “but he might do it wrong and shrink something!”. Yep, he might. But so might I – actually there’s no ‘might’ about it, I’ve ruined loads of clothes over the years. We learn from experience, and so will our partners.
We can spread the load, we can be part of a team. We might even learn to trust each other – given lots of time and a few mistakes made on the way – but wouldn’t that be worth it?
- I’ll pack the clothes in the suitcase, you make sure we have all the toiletries.
- I’ll buy him new swimming shorts, you take him swimming at the weekend.
- I’ll buy the birthday present, look up directions to the party venue and make sure there’s petrol in the car, and you can take her to the party.
Pair-enting is a gift we can give to each other. Our kids see everyone being part of a team, and of course as soon as they are old enough they can do their own bloody washing. Then hopefully they’ll grow up to create families of their own where pair-enting is just, well normal.