7 Tips for Dividing Responsibility With Your Spouse

It seems a common theme among new moms I meet.  We think we’re going to stay home with the baby and suddenly we will become the household’s greatest asset.  The house will be spotless, the fridge always stocked.  All Dad will have to do on Saturday is mow the lawn.  Then we will all get in the car and go to the petting zoo, because everything is taken care of at home.  That dream dies somewhere between instantly and immediately after bringing the baby home.  As wives, we all want to help our husbands out and divide responsibility.  We want to find a way that neither spouse bears the brunt of sleep deprivation or burnout.

It can be especially hard on the family when one parent works a lot.  Sometimes my husband leaves early for work and returns home late and doesn’t even see Bugaboo.  Other nights, he comes home right before bedtime and wants to play with her, which pushes her bedtime back.

Here are some tips for dividing responsibilities so everyone can have their share of family and relaxing time.

Give Your Husband Space

It’s easy to pounce on your husband when he first gets home from work.  You’ve had a long day with the baby, and it’s time for some backup.  And if you’re not the one doing the pouncing, the baby is!  No matter how young they are, it’s hard on children when their fathers are away at work all day.  If your husband works long days, it’s possible there may be days that he doesn’t see the children at all.  Bugaboo always makes a beeline to my husband when he walks through the door.

It’s important to give your husband space when he comes home.  Let him have dinner or a snack, go through the mail, and generally detox from work.  Discuss with him how much time he needs after coming home, and learn what he needs to accomplish.  I know that my husband needs to pet the dog, change clothes, and eat dinner when he gets home.  I can talk to him while he does these things, but I am still in charge of Bugaboo during this time.

Agree to give him a certain amount of time – such as a half hour – and play with the baby in the nursery until that time is up.  (Just don’t let the baby know that her daddy is home, or there will be tears!)

Some days, for whatever reason, I just have to deposit Bugaboo into his arms as soon as he comes through the door.  Those days are uncommon and shouldn’t be a huge disruption to the family routine.  Help your husband know that you have worked hard to give him his free time every night you can.  You just need to drop the baby and leave some days.  Perhaps you can use a special signal, such as hanging a toy on the door handle, to alert him that this will be a night where he takes the baby immediately.

Responsibility for the Bedtime Routine

After my husband gets situated, he moves on to baby duty.  On late nights was that he would come home right before bedtime and want to play with Bugaboo.  So I put him in charge of the bedtime routine – it gives him face time with the baby and takes the pressure off of me to worry about what time she’s getting in bed.  While he goes through Bugaboo’s bedtime routine, I can clean up the kitchen and Bugaboo’s play area, read, and generally have some time to myself.  He will change the baby, put her in her pajamas, walk her around singing to her, and give her a bottle.  This allows us to keep up the habit of giving her a daily bottle and helps us transition away nursing to sleep.

Once the baby is calmed down, he hands her to me to nurse to sleep.  While I’m nursing, he’s able to go back to his post-work routine or get started on whatever project he’s working on for the night.  Then, when the baby is asleep, we can both relax!

Responsibility for Nighttime Feedings

Ideal Solution for a Stay At Home Mom

My general philosophy on nighttime feedings is that I should grow up and handle them all myself.  If Bugaboo wakes up multiple times during the night, I have the option of going back to sleep during her first nap (or sleeping in if the baby blesses me with that option).  However, my husband doesn’t get to nap during the work day and has to get up early for his long commute.  So my goal is to sneak into the baby’s room whenever she cries at night, nurse or rock her back to sleep, and then slip back in bed without ever waking my husband.  He’s a heavy sleeper, so this is completely possible.

Easier said than done!

The Husband As Retriever

When Bugaboo cries, it’s like an alarm going off that you want to hit snooze.  My brain is muddled, and sometimes I feel so tired it hurts.  I groan while nursing the baby back to sleep because I’m worried about falling asleep and toppling off the bed.  It literally hurts to try to be awake when my body is still very much asleep.  In the mean time, my husband is mostly snoozing next to me, and I resent him for it.  Nice, right?

Our division of responsibility does work for us, even if it’s not the ideal housewifey solution I had hoped for.  When the baby cries, my husband gets her, changes her diaper, and hands her to me.  I nurse her to sleep, and my husband takes her back to bed.  He gets to take a catnap in the middle of the process, and I don’t have to prowl around the house like a zombie.

I’ve found that getting up quickly to retrieve the baby or plug her pacifier back in does not affect your overall feeling of well being the next day the same way spending 15 minutes awake to nurse the baby does.

Bottle Feeding Solutions

Of course, if your baby is bottle fed, you can be a lot more creative with responsibility for nighttime feedings.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Alternate the feeding.  If your newborn goes to sleep at 9:00 and wakes at 12:00, 3:00, and 6:00, take the 9:00 and 3:00 feeding and give your husband the 12:00 and 6:00 feeding.  Theoretically this gives you each 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  As your baby wakes less each night, continue to alternate.  If your baby only wakes once during the night, alternate the days.
  • Take responsibility for the weeknight feedings and give your husband weekend feedings
  • Allocate feedings to your husband before midnight and take the after midnight feedings.  This allows him to have some uninterrupted sleep right before he has to get up for work.  In addition, you can leave him to bond with the baby and go to bed early to make up for the time you will be getting up with the baby overnight.  As your baby grows, you may not have a lot of pre-midnight wakeups, and you may want to re-think this strategy.

Responsibility in the Morning

For the same reason that my husband takes care of the bedtime routine, he also takes care of the baby in the morning.  For a while, we were doing a morning bottle feed, but when my husband’s commute grew longer, we switched the bottle to night time to give him more time to sleep in the morning.  We can tell when Bugaboo is up for the day because she sings to herself.  If we have time, my husband brings her into the bed with us to play for half an hour before he has to get up.  Then I feed her while he gets dressed for work.  While I get dressed and make the bed, he changes her diaper and dresses her.  This gives him some last minute face time with her before leaving for the day.  Usually by the time we go through the morning routine and he leaves for work, we have only about 45 minutes of play before our first naptime.

Responsibility for Diapers

Our strategy for changing diapers is pretty easy: whoever discovers the poop gets to change it.  Never leave a dirty diaper unchanged.  Ever.  If you or your husband has a special aversion to this duty, then negotiate with an extra bottle feeding or some additional free time during the week.

Blow outs and wiggly babies create special exceptions.  Of course, when you are alone you do what you have to do.  But when your baby wants to squirm and roll all over when being changed, you may have to call in help.  One of us does the actual change, while the other will bring a plastic bag to remove the dirty diaper and then entertain the baby with a toy until the area is clean.  In the case of a blow out, you may also need your spouse to help take off the dirty clothes, run and get clean clothes, and clean the changing pad before you can finish.

Free Time for Mom

I didn’t want to be a stay at home mom who walked away from her kids on the weekends, saying, “Husband, you are in charge now.”  On the other hand, I needed a break, too – being a mom is a 24/7 job!  So I told my husband I wanted three hours off per week (and on holidays) – every week.  About half the weeks, I play in the Fox Valley Orchestra, and he watches the baby when I go to practice.  Other weeks, I take my computer and go to the library.

This arrangement works even when he has a busy weekend with yard work, homework, and an extra high workload.  I start my three hours once the baby is napping so he can continue to get his own work done during that time.  In other words, the first hour and a half of my free time is just the time the baby would be napping anyway.  The only difference is that I get out of the house, and I don’t have to worry about when she wakes up.  Please find a way to get out of the house!  Even if you are just reading a book or working on the computer – something you could do at home – the change of scenery is a great way to regenerate!

The best part about this free time – chocolate chip frappes from McDonald’s!

Mom’s Responsibilities

It’s not all about finding ways for your husband to pitch in, though.  In fact, I really thought I would be taking care of a lot more around the house.  My philosophy on chores around the house is, if I can do it, I should do it.  This includes most inside the house chores such as sweeping, doing the dishes, and dusting.  It also means taking care of errands despite the fact that my husband loves to go grocery shopping.  My husband will take care of outside chores such as mowing the lawn.

We do a ton of laundry, and my husband is in charge of taking it from our bedroom, putting it in the washer, the dryer, and then bringing it back.  I’m in charge of folding it and putting it away.  I would much rather take care of the entire process, but – spiders!  Since the laundry is in the basement, my hero of a husband braves the spider filled lower level.  If you can get a main level laundry room, by all means do!  It will save your husband time he could be spending with the children.

We used to be drowning in chores every weekend, but we came up with a system to keep the house put together without overtaxing us.

We’re All Family

Although these divisions of responsibility work for us, the most important thing is to remember that we are all family.  We are trying to make sure that Bugaboo has good memories of her parents and spends quality time with each of us.  The last thing we want is for either of us to get burnt out because then we couldn’t take care of Bugaboo the way she deserves.  When our divisions of responsibility cease to work for our family, then we will change them.  You should allow yourself similar flexibility.

How do you divide responsibility when caring for your young children?


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