I was raised by a stay-at home-mom and a full-time working dad; he was probably around as much as gainfully employed people with Church callings can be.  But my mom was the boss, no doubt about it.  She shaped our days and our world.  I always anticipated being a stay-at-home mom myself.  As did everyone else at Church.  No need for a married woman to do anything else, right?

Yet since my first child was born, my husband and I have patched together our time free from various jobs (part and full-time) and schooling (part and full-time) to find that what we do is much less stay-at-home-mom and stay-at-work-dad and much more something that is becoming known as equally shared parenting. And I love it.  And stay-at-home-mom, while the norm in proclamation-loving homes, seems like a lesser model of parenting.

First, I believe stay-at-home-mom to be a modern invention and luxury; I think you will agree if you reflect for a moment about families of ages past.  Agricultural families did not have stay-at-home moms.  They may have had moms who took there kids around with them to work nearer the home than older kids and men.  But the women in pre-industrial societies do not stay-at-home the way we think of it.  Industrial age families often worked together, or women did work that could be accomplished with children underfoot or on laps.  Stay-at-home-moms are relatively rare in our modern world and are the product, perhaps, of excessive wealth.  [Of course, ruling classes lived differently from normal people, and I am referencing historical normal people].

Since stay-at-home-mom is not the norm in the world, it is hard for me to believe that this is some sort of heaven-presented gospel-level way of arranging parenting.  It is a way that works for such a tiny percentage of the world population, I cannot imagine that children incur harm in being raised by other types of parents.  So, I reject an idea (not often articulated, but bubbling beneath the surface) of stay-at-home-mom as an eternal and essential characteristic of good parenting.

Now that I have laid out my bias’, let me tell you what I have discovered about equally shared parenting (again, I was not out to rock the boat, I had planned at being a stay-at-home-mom, but this unfolded instead).

1–Child comfort.  Often, children develop a preference for a particular parent to whom they turn in times of crisis (scrapped knee, severe disappointment, wet bed, what have you).  Generally speaking, this is the parent with whom they spend the most time–in the case of stay-at-home-moms, it is most often the moms.  This prefernce can not only cause hurt to parents (how awful not to be able to comfort your child, because no one bu Mommy will do), but it can also cause considerably more work for that parent.  Not great for anyone.  Yet, when both parents are equal caretakers of their kids, the kids will accept comfort from both of them.  They have a previous history of being comforted by both of them.  They have a history of being dependent on either of them.  Let’s face it, although a child genuinely IS dependent on the breadwinner, they do not have much of a concept of that.

2–Expertise.  Both my husband and I can basically do anything.  I learned in our first such interaction, that when he is caretaking, he needs to do it his way and I needed to keep my suggestions to myself.  Consequently, we have developed different ways of accomplishing our basic childcare tasks, but who cares, as long as it gets done?  I feel so bad for the many women I have heard complaining that their husbands can’t put their kids to bed “right” so they just keep the kids up until mom comes home from book club.  Or there was my friend who left her 9 month old child home with dad for the first(!) time for 5 hours, and when she called him on her way home, he reported having eaten a sumptuous lunch and expressed surprise that he was supposed to have fed the baby, too [I probably would not believe this story had I not witnessed her side of the conversation].  If everyone practices, everyone gets good at things.

3–Favored spheres.  We all have some things we prefer doing.  While my husband and I are primary caretakers about an equal time over any given week, we do have some specialties.  He always trims the kids nails and cuts the boys hair.  I shop for and lay out clothes for the kids (at my husband’s request) even on the days he bathes and dresses them.  He is better at getting the tangles out of our daughter’s hair patiently.  I plan and execute the best outings, but he is better at playing with them in the house.  The kids probably eat better under him than under me–he has no sweet tooth and I cannot compete with that.  But I decorate a better birthday cake.

4–No monopoly on fun.  Sometimes the working parent becomes the grumpy (tired) parent at home.  Sometimes they become play parent and ruin the calming-down the stay at home parent has been implimenting.  Over the years, though, it would be a shame for these roles to become fossilized.  When we share working, we also get to share being the fun one.

5–Empathy.  It is sometimes shocking for the non-primary caretaker parent witness a 2-year-old’s meltdown and they then try to treat that two-year-old like they are ten (“hey, snap out of it”).  Often, the working parent is just out of the loop on normal behaviour for their own chirdren at any given age.  When you share parenting, you both become adept at handling the kids, but you also experience much lass blame, because you know a meltdown could as easily happen on your watch.  It goes the other way, too.  It is hard for the stay-at-home parent to understand why the working parent wouldn’t want to come RIGHT home and spend their precious hour and a half before bedtime taking over for the parent at home.  Because the stay-at-home parent may have spent much of the day fantacizing about being at work with adults, it is hard for them to remember that working with adults can also be tiring and coming home to kids at their crankiest hour may not be that attractive an option.

Well, I could probably go on and on.  I really love seeing the relationship my kids have with their dad, because I know the depth of it has been developed through the many hours of loving service he offers them.  They absolutely know he loves them because he spends so much time with them.  I hope the same can be said of me.  I think equally shared parenting embraces the spirit of the Proclamation better than the one-at-home one-at-work model of parenting.  What do you think?

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.  Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.  Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

from A Proclamation to the World