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6 Ways to Achieve Parenting Equality

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By the time I had my first son at 42, I had watched most of my friends become parents. I had also watched them battle with their spouses over childcare and housework and who was doing more, who was doing it wrong and who wasn't doing enough. I was grateful that my husband and I had always had a similar attitude about housework, laundry and the like—we each just did what needed to be done with one of us picking up the slack if the other one was particularly busy, tired or sick.

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I know it seems incredibly simple when it's written like that, but it has always worked for us. Sure, there are the occasional times when one of us may feel like we're pulling more of the load than we'd like, but things seem to quickly right themselves. And the same has (mostly) been true of our sharing parenting duties. We've achieved a level of parenting (and partnering) equality that many friends have commented on. How do we do it?

1. We don't keep track of who is doing more.

He does as much as he can; I do as much as I can.

To me, being equal partners means doing as much as each of us is capable of doing. My husband works a full-time job outside the house, I'm a full-time freelance writer with more flexibility in my schedule. So yes, I'm going to be the one taking the kids to and from school, managing the mornings and afternoons and usually making, or at least starting, dinner. But Jay hits the ground running when he gets home, juggling childcare and household duties before he's even changed clothes. He does as much as he can; I do as much as I can. And at the end of the day, almost all of it gets done.

2. We're content with someone else doing it differently than we do it.

I see this issue with other couples—he does things one way, which isn't the way she prefers, and rather than leave it alone, she goes behind him and redoes it. This results in one task taking twice as much time, since they've both done it, and him feeling like he shouldn't have wasted his time in the first place. I didn't want to be the mommy who was on duty even when Daddy was around, so I've never held to rigid "rules" about how things must be done. Neither of us is particular about most aspects of housework and childcare, and in the process of accepting each other's differences we're also teaching our kids that there is more than one way of doing things.

3. We do what the other one doesn't want to do, but we don't take advantage of each other.

I couldn't tell you the last time my husband dusted a surface. I honestly don't think he sees dust. Rather than complain about it, I do the dusting. Likewise, I'm happy to wear every last thing in my closet (and let our kids move into the next season of clothing, if necessary) rather than haul all the laundry downstairs, wash it, dry it and haul it back upstairs. So my husband does 90 percent of the laundry (though I will happily fold it and put it away), including changing the sheets on my oldest son's bunk bed (which kills my back) and remembering to wash the kitchen rugs. Neither of us complains about what the other one doesn't do. We just do what needs to be done and move on.

4. When one of us needs a break from the kids, we take it.

Taking those much-needed time-outs makes us better parents—and partners.

I'll admit this is usually me, especially after a long week of full-time childcare. Come Saturday, I'm ready to sleep in until 9 and let my husband cook breakfast (and he does and it's glorious). But he has his moments, too. Jay is usually the go-to parent for middle-of-the-night wakeups, so after two or three of those in a week, I'll grab the kids and take off for a couple of hours on the weekend so he can take a nap or just have a little quiet. We all need breaks from parenting and recognizing that in each other has been important for us. Taking those much-needed time-outs makes us better parents—and partners.

5. When one of us needs help, we ask for it.

Whether it's running an errand, getting dinner started or putting the kids' lunches together, if it's something one of us needs help with, or needs the other one to do, we just ask. I admit, this has always been a tough one for me. I'm fiercely independent and have a "must do all the things" attitude more often than not. But when I find myself brooding over having done something that Jay could have easily done (had he known it needed to be done), I realize I only have myself to blame.

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6. If we're both feeling overwhelmed, we do what has to be done and leave the rest.

There are days where neither one of us can do anymore and there are still things left undone. The kids don't get out of their pajamas all day, dinner is whatever combination of leftovers we can find the energy to reheat (or pizza), the yard goes an extra week without being mowed, and we just coast for a day or two until we've caught up on our sleep or caught our second wind. And it works out. The kids are healthy and happy, the parents are happy and not bickering over chores or childcare, and life is good, even if it's a little messier than usual.

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