Division of Labor -- Sharing Household Duties with a New Baby

Becoming a stay-at-home mom sort of happened to me, rather than being something we thought about, decided upon and planned for. I was put on bedrest early in my pregnancy and forced to quit a job I only started three months before. Fairly new to the area (I moved to Dayton just five months before becoming pregnant), I didn’t know of any reliable babysitters nor was my mom available to drive 600 miles every day to come watch my new baby.

And even if I had someone lined up, who knew if I would be able to find another job right away after the baby came. Or, if would be lucrative to work after I paid the babysitter.

When my daughter was born my husband stayed home the first few weeks to help out with her and my care. With the cesarean section, in the very beginning I was limited to what I could do. Luckily I had prescription drugs to help me cope. I remember panicking when I ran out of the pain pills that not only eased my sore stomach, but made everything around me much more tolerable, pleasant and rosy. I also panicked when my husband went back to work. Up until then we had devised a nightly schedule where he would sleep for three hours and I’d be on baby duty, then I would sleep for three hours and he would be on baby duty. It was a system that worked and we were both fairly well rested as a result. With him returning to his job I had to brave most nights (save for Friday nights as Saturday has always been my sleep in day) alone.

Luckily the baby got the hang of sleeping through the night by the time she was about a month old. We had this elaborate system of bathing her, then feeding her, then swaddling her, then putting her in the bouncy seat and then finally in her crib that was quite a production, but always worked. By her one month birthday, our baby was a terrific night sleeper, putting in at least 10 hours a night before rising each day.

At first not much was expected of me. I had a newborn, after all. I spent most of my days on the couch with a Boppy pillow around my waist and a baby nursing at my breast. I watched lots of television and called my sisters and mom every day. Sometimes I would get to switching over a load of laundry during my day, but more often than not, I didn’t. An avid cook, I also became a huge fan of cutting corners after having a baby. Instead of making gourmet meals of homemade pesto and pasta with wine, I got really good at boiling frozen raviolis and topping them with Prego. Taking care of the baby, doing the occasional load of laundry and throwing together a simple dinner became my responsibilities. My husband would take care of the rest (earning a living, paying our bills, serious cleaning jobs, grocery shopping). I was overwhelmed, yes, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as other new mothers had made it out to be.

After about two months of this routine, I was able to take on more. So I began going to the grocery store, too.

And then I started to throw into my routine a weekly scrub fest of the bathroom or kitchen, which ever needed it more. One thing that they never tell you in the baby books is that just when you get into a routine and accustomed to certain procedure, your baby changes and demands something different, something more. When she was a newborn she probably slept half the day, and it was very easy for me to take it very easy, as a result. So just when I started to feel comfortable taking on more, she also needed more from me.

My husband, a great help in the beginning, now wanted “down time” when he came home from work. I, on the other hand, saw his coming home from work as my opportunity to get a break and pass the baby off to someone else. Where was my down time? I began to fantasize about every crappy job I’d ever had and how wonderful it was to get out during the day and associate with other adults about something other than nipple soreness and poopy diapers. But this was my life. And though while I was pregnant we made a pact to never fight in front of our kids, we would bicker almost nightly about the division of labor in our household with our daughter stretched out across my lap. Yes, he did make the money, but I was raising our child. True, I was doing his laundry, but he made sure all of our bills were paid.

It’s so simpleminded but accurate - the quirky things that initially attract you to someone end up driving you insane in the long haul. I had always loved doting on my sometimes helpless husband in the past, why did anything I did for him now seem like such a hassle? Was I not cut out to be a stay-at-home-mom, or even a mom or wife, for that matter? Always confident in my abilities before a baby turned them upside down and changed the rules forever, I wondered if my life would ever be easy again.

On top of all of this, I felt incredibly guilty and incompetent for having all these complaints and doubts when so many other women somehow managed to work full-time, raise multiple children, and run a household, with or without the help of a spouse.

Growing up in the post-feminist 80s, on shows like "Cagney and Lacey" or even movies like Working Girl, I was sure I would have it all. Instead I was approaching my thirties without much in the way of career fulfillment and now at home with a new baby, obsessing over whether or not my husband did his fair share around the house. A career aside, I was adamant that I would not over-compensate in the domestic sense despite my lack of financial independence. I thought of other ways to make a little money on the side, including some daytime babysitting for other moms, selling my daughter’s clothes and gear that she outgrew, plus rare to occasional freelance writing.

The financial rewards have been tiny, but it’s nice to know that $50 bucks in my purse is mine to blow at Target, free and clear.

My daughter is over a year now, and I’m still at home with her. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be with her every day and every night, if I choose. I think even despite the bickering and the financial sacrifices we make because we only have one income, my husband is thrilled to have me home, too.

We’ve learned that the division of household chores will never be equal, but it always evens out.

Megan Kerns is the stay at home mother of 1-year-old Penelope Mae. She is originally from Kansas City, Mo., but currently lives in Dayton, Ohio, with her husband and their two cats.

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