howwekeepthingseven_sized

When we were home with a brand-new baby for the first time, my husband and I made one mistake that outshone all the others: Throughout the day, the week even, we would go tit-for-tat on who had done what. I changed X many diapers. You were only up X many times with her during the night. The list went on and on. The tension between us began to grow.

Soon we realized that keeping track was not only impossible to do, but also breeds anger fast. I was sick of fighting over things we would never be able to quantify. Even in my most irritated new-mommy moments when I knew I had done a hell of a lot more than he had that day, I stopped keeping score. It took some work, but we soon developed a system of evening things out. Rather than counting diaper changes or lamenting the fact that I’m the only one doing laundry around here, I realized instead that a big conversation with a breakdown of responsibilities would be better.

After spending the first few months bickering a bunch about who was doing what (“I’m home with her all day, doing everything” was met with, “I’m out there earning money for the home” — YIKES all-around), we did sit down and have that important conversation. I was able to list my grievances outside of the moment of stress, so I didn’t get screechy or pissed off. He was able to shed some light on his own justified exhaustion but also see my side.

Together, we made a list of chores and divided them up in a way that is not exactly even, but more fair. We listened to each other and we stopped keeping score. I no longer nagged him to take the trash out, for example, because it was on his list now so he just did it. And when he did happen to forget and I mentioned it, I was certainly never met with a whiny “I did the dishes last night!” as per usual.

On weekends, my husband started pitching in a lot more without being asked. There was now an understanding between us that when he was home from work, the childcare needed to be closer to 50/50. But if a football Sunday passed and nary a diaper had been changed by him, I bit my tongue. Because I knew that first thing Monday morning, I’d find the kitchen sink emptied of dishes and a hot cup of coffee waiting for me. We had a rhythm — finally.

Making things feel more even in the home branched out beyond chores and baby responsibilities into the day-to-day of life. Before we had a baby, my hubby and I were both very social and liked to go out together and separately with our friends. From happy hours to concerts and movies, there was usually something up at least every other week. And we used to be able to set this up so that we were both out on the same nights and spent the other ones home together. Now that we’re parents, we have to go back-and forth.

When we were keeping score, Mommy was angrily batting a zero as Daddy headed from the office to the local pub when it suited him, since he knew the babe was taken care of and that was that. I knew I “could” have a girls’ night if I wanted one, but the timing and scheduling never seemed to work out. Every time he took a deserved night to himself, I was pissed off instead of happy for him.

Once we had our chat about making things more even, an unspoken understanding surfaced between us. He still goes out, but then he prompts me to next. He proactively creates the opportunity for me to meet up with a friend the following week, instead of throwing his hands up in the air and just saying, “Well, you can go out whenever you want to!” which we moms know is total BS.

And it goes for spending, too. Since he works outside the home and I make a much smaller income freelancing, we used to bicker about the spending. As he was earning, he had free reign to splurge on things he needed, and I was always too nervous or stressed to ask if I wanted something outside the usual expenditures. Learning how to create new boundaries of fairness so that we both get out what we’re putting in also means financially. My husband recently went on an extravagant golf weekend with his buddies, so I get the next fun splurge, and we planned it all ahead to eliminate any stress on the budget.

Now that my husband and I have thrown away the score card, our marriage is so much better. It isn’t about who did or spent exactly what and in turn, what the other one will do and spend. The fact is, parenting is messy stuff. No matter who is the primary caretaker or how the chores are broken down, one person will always be putting out a bit more on a given day or in a given year. But by giving each other the breaks we need and pitching in evenly at home, my husband and I have found a happy place. Our communication is better and the bickering is way down.

There will always be Sundays where I look at him and wonder why in the hell he hasn’t gotten off the couch for the past three hours, and he will never understand the price tag attached to my hair highlights, but we trust each other to be reasonable and we create the space and small joys the other one needs when they need it. We might not be perfect, but I’m happy with our score.

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