How to encourage equality at home
I'm a coach and a couple of months ago a new client (not Samantha Cameron) passionately described how ridiculous it is that women are assumed, by their partners, to be The Oracle when it comes to children - particularly in the early days of parenthood when in reality you're both learning together. Here I offer some pointers on how to get your partners contributing (more) to family life, particularly on the thought front because that can be more wearisome than the graft of doing. (I'm sure David is a dab hand on the baby front judging by that confident one-arm hold).
Equality isn't dividing things down the middle; it's an attitude. Equality is when you both recognise the need and see the merit in deciding together how you can best manage the totality of your lives. So how do you cultivate this liberating approach? I have three suggestions for you to have a crack at:
1) Empower your partner - ask his opinion and act on it
Think about how you feel when a colleague you respect asks for your view or pointers on how best to do something. It puts you in the driving seat, makes you feel important and involved. Now apply that logic to your partner and consult him on matters related to the children.Try putting these questions or other more relevant ones to him: How will we work out the best childcare solution? How are we going to manage the house when I'm back at work? What are we going to do about Tommy's behaviour? If he guffaws and rhetorically retorts "how should I know?" or something of that ilk then press on with a smile and "I want to know what you think, I've got an inkling you'll come up with something I haven't thought of." This is the first step in a partner realising they have a part to play and can add value. When you get a useable response take a sizeable chunk of his idea (if not all of it) and have a go with it. Better still, suggest how you could both set about implementing it. I suspect David Cameron would be delighted to offer up an opinion on anything other than the state of the economy and our fractured society right now.
2) Cultivate capabilities that are his speciality not yours
My husband became master bather of our first born from the beginning of parenthood. It was a discrete experience that could be his alone without any recourse to me, especially since he was the first to be shown when we were still in the hospital. He did it well and I frequently told him that but was careful to avoid thanking him for his help because after all, caring for our son was and still is a joint responsibility. What aspects of your family life could become his charge? Researching holidays? Taking Tabitha to Tumble Tots? Inventing weaning combinations? Pick up on what he does well and reinforce it by commenting on it and how it helps keep your lives ticking along nicely. When it's clear who 'owns' a task it cuts out the need for nagging for help which brings me onto point number three.
3) Divvy up domestic chores; let him crack on as he sees fit
If equality is an attitude it doesn't make sense to divide domestic chores down the middle, especially if you are in the home more than he is. However, if you look at the sum total of your lives - that's including work responsibilities - and see you're still contributing significantly more than he is, it's time to whip out the family organiser and look at what it's reasonable for you to drop and him to pick up. Once agreed who's doing what you really ought to have the common decency to let him carry out 'his' jobs the way he thinks best. Our husbands are not monkeys and there's nothing more irritating than a nit-picking micro-manager. In our house this means if Nick cooks, I get out of the kitchen.
Have a go at these three things and notice how less of the thinking and doing falls to you over the weeks and months. Incidentally, I discovered via Wikipedia (my oracle), the irony of mothers being seen as The Oracle: in classical antiquity only one was a woman, the rest were men. Ridiculous!
Jessica Chivers is described as the Thinking Women's Coach and coaches women to achive what's important to them professionally and personally. More information and tips are available in her book Mothers Work!, published by Hay House. For more information, visit www.jessicachivers.com. She is running a blog on the issue of equality and parenting so if you want to participate, join the discussion on her site. Jessica will be speaking at the Workingmums LIVE event in Manchester in November.