Moms & Dads Absolutely Can Be Interchangeable

Sheri Reed

family sunset dockOn Motherlode, Lisa Belkin raises the question: Are men and women interchangeable when it comes to parenting? I've discussed this question many times, mostly because my husband's and my interchangeability is something we strive for naturally -- it's who we are as individuals and as parents.

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked when heading off on a business trip or seeing a show in the city, "Who's watching your kids?" The question always startles me, especially when it comes from a person who knows I'm married to the father of my two boys. "Um, with their father," I try not to scoff, and often that reply is met with responses like, "I could never leave my husband overnight with our kids" or "my sister never goes anywhere because she can't leave her kids."

Other mothers have their own stories. I'm not here to judge what's right for other women. However, that kind of irreplaceability is NOT what I signed up for when I decided to become a mom.

Now obviously, I feel that I have an irreplaceable role in my sons' lives. I am their mother. No one can replace a person's mother. However, it has never been my goal to be their "main" or "critical" parent on a daily basis. What occurs naturally between a mother and her babies is one thing. Of course, when I was breastfeeding, I was clearly the favorite parent. Even now, my youngest prefers for me to read to him at bedtime. There will always be things that I am the better parent to handle (I am so fun!); however, there are just as many things that their dad is better at handling (he is so calm!). This is due, in part, to how we've chosen to raise our kids together, as well as separately (sort of).

Early on in our boys' lives, my husband and I naturally leaned toward interchangeability through a combination of choices, preferences, and priorities. I pumped breast milk from the get-go, so that I would be free to go shopping or to coffee with a friend when the time came that I wanted to separate from my babies temporarily and do a little something for myself. I am well trained at watching out for my own emotional health because I've lived in this body long enough to know how ugly it can get if I don't. The plus side is, of course, that my husband knows he is a capable and meaningful parent on his own, from time to time.

We have also always shared playtime and parenting tasks like diaper changes, getting up in the night, and mealtimes but have each also claimed ownership of a few other childcare responsibilities. My husband, for instance, has always been the "owner" of bathtime. This gives him a good amount of bonding time with the boys and frees me up to do things I need to do. I actually know a family where the father has never ever bathed his own child. That's his and his wife's prerogative, but I think he's missing out. Sharing in daily rituals with kids can be so good for everyone and, in our case, it's also good for our relationship.

Because I went back to work a few months after maternity leave both times, there came times when my husband had to be home with one or both boys while I worked and vice versa. And even today, now that the boys are both in school and sports, we have to be interchangeable in order to tackle the onslaught of pick-ups, drop-offs, and kid shuffles each day of the week.

I chose to have my babies with a man that I love and with whom I wanted to raise a family. It has never been my plan or my hope to be the favored parent because I know what that means in terms of my own autonomy and in terms of my husband's relationship with his kids as well as our relationship with one another. Big picture, I want to raise our kids together, but I also believe in the necessity of being interchangeable. Of course, this also works with many other preferences and priorities in our lives -- my need and desire to work outside of motherhood, the flexibility and close proximity of our jobs, and both of our desires to continue toward our individual goals and maintain relationships alongside marriage and parenthood.

Honestly, I can't imagine having it any other way in our family. Parenting is simply too big a job for me to not want to share and share often. We have plenty of tough times and our differences, but I'm just so glad that we have this gift of shared parenting -- partially by luck but mostly through our choices -- because this is the way we always imagined parenting could be for us. And it is!

Are you and your husband/partner interchangeable in terms of parenting? If so, do you prefer it that way? If no, do you wish you could be?


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