On Being the Co-Parent

Thanks to Danielle Perelman for this amazing photo.

At this point in Rudy's life, Corey's the primary parent and I'm the co-parent.  One is not better than the other- It's just the way it works for us.  I want to talk about it a little because our family isn't the norm, but I suspect there are a growing number of families who can relate to this post.

As a family, we always knew that it made more financial sense for us for me to continue working and for Corey to take parental leave.  Before Rudy was born, we worried about how the other electricians on his job site would react to his taking parental leave.  We were pleasantly surprised when, aside from the odd "maternity leave" jab, the guys were pretty supportive.  I had no idea I would face my own stigmas as a mom who "rushed" back to work.  We were even more surprised when Corey encountered his own in the world of new parents, where so much is geared towards moms.

Thanks to Michael Budd for this photo. xo

The first time I described Corey as the "primary parent" the words stung me.  The implication that I was parenting on a lower tier really hurt.  Of course, what I meant was that he does the day-to-day stuff and I make an effort to make sure my time with Rudy is quality time.  This means that Corey may know more about her routine or what she likes and dislikes at any given time, but it also means that he and I make an effort to communicate constantly so that I'm always up to speed as well.

My schedule tends to be dynamic so if I'm around, I'll often take over a feed or play time so that I get to experience different parts of Rudy's day.  I feel lucky for this because many parents who work 9-5 jobs don't get this.  There's a downside though and my days are often LONG.  Often, I'm not home for bedtime and occasionally, I'll miss all her waking hours but as she gets older, I'll be able to facetime with her before bed and I know she'll understand that we take the bad with the good in life.  Hopefully, she'll know that I'm working so hard for our family and especially for her.

I think the fact that I'm not always around has made me far more committed to breastfeeding than I ever expected to be.  My supply was never great, and we supplemented with formula from day one, but the first time she refused to breastfeed at all, I cried.  I have now been pumping for weeks to store enough breastmilk that she can have an ounce or two each day this fall, for the first few weeks of daycare.  Knowing I can give her something that nobody else in the world can has felt special and empowering and, despite my disdain for pumping, it has kept me going for months.

Still, I have moments where I feel the pain of not being the primary parent.  I'm usually reminded when I can't find something in her diaper bag, don't know what dose of medicine she takes, can't answer all the questions at her doctor's appointments or when I'm not the one she reaches for when she's upset.

I've bypassed so many of the markers we are conditioned to use to measure our worth as mothers that I have been forced to redefine what being a good mother means to me.  Whenever I hear that little voice in my head, which is fed by our society and tells me I'm not "mom enough" I think of my responses:

I hated pregnancy.  Yes, that's true... but I carried Rudy safely to term and worked throughout so that we could remain financially healthy.  My body may not have loved being pregnant but it grew a very healthy baby.

I had a c-section and never even tried to deliver naturally.  Sure, that's true as well, but I got my baby out safely after a tough pregnancy and I did it on my own terms.

I never breastfed exclusively.  Also true, but I willingly gave her formula without a second thought when she was losing too much weight.  I invited her dad to share the bond of feeding her because I knew that I wouldn't be around for many feeds and it was important for her to establish a routine with the person who would.  I also tried to breastfeed for as long as I could even though I didn't enjoy it but when it was time to stop, I didn't let it take away from my self-worth or my enjoyment of my daughter.

I went back to work within weeks of Rudy's birth.  That's also true but I work to provide for my family and one day, Rudy will learn that her parents worked as a team and played to their own strengths and that she got the more patient and cuddly parent at home for the first eight months of her life.

She doesn't cling to me the way other babies cling to their moms.  But I'm lucky there too.  It would be so hard to leave her if she weren't so independent.  She's my little firecracker already.

When I see Corey with Rudy, I know we made the right choice and I know that each day when I come home from work, my patience has been restored and I can't wait to play and snuggle with Rudy.  In that way, working has made me a better mother because I take so much joy in the time I get with Rudy and Corey gets to bond with her while I'm at work and focus his attention on renovating our house while I'm home!  There are many days where I can list "tummy time" as a highlight.

Or music class!

One day, Rudy may ask about her first year of life and I'll happily explain that I loved spending time with her but I also loved my work and that her dad happily (and unselfishly) postponed his own career for eight months so that one of us would always be around for the important early months.  I'll tell her how good it made me feel to come home to her smiles and babbles and how lucky she was to have such a "hands on" dad who made up silly songs just to make her giggle.

The thing that has made our situation easier is my partnership with Corey.  Despite the fact that he's doing far more of the parenting right now, he keeps me informed and we both get an equal say... even if we disagree.  (Recently, we were in negotiations over when to begin solid foods.)  He never treats me as the lesser teammate, which has made all the difference!  I may not always be home for Rudy, but I certainly chose her the best dad!

I've read so many judgmental articles lately bashing both working moms and stay-at-home moms and I think it's such a shame that we feel the need to boost our own choices by chipping away at the choices others have made.  I have working friends and stay-home friends and, guess what?  We all work damn hard!  While Corey and I may be more relaxed about some aspects of parenting, we have friends who identify as attachment parents and we think their kids are great... just like Rudy!  I think it's important to remember that feminism gives us all the right to chose our own path based on what works for us and our families.

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