Why Co-Parenting is Never 50/50
In May of 2015 I gave birth to a baby girl who had been conceived consciously between friends. Long before I was pregnant we decided that shortly after her birth we would have 50/50 custody of her, and in doing so, would both have time to work, pursue relationships and have time for self-care. I hadn’t known anyone with a situation quite like what we had arranged, but in my late-twenties I had lived with a friend who was divorced and she had a situation that seemed quite ideal. I watched her spend half the week with her son who consumed her life and all her time with the full-time job it is to be with children, and I watched her catch up with work and take time to relax and drink Scotch and watch rated-R movies while he was gone. It seemed like it was a win-win for both of them! So without telling anyone close to me what I was doing, and without any proof that it would work, I set out to create a 50/50 co-parenting arrangement for myself. All I had to guide me was an intuitive feeling that I had a daughter who wanted to be born and that this man who I had known for eight years would be her father.
I could write volumes on what we did well and where we struggled in our early months as new parents. But personally, I feel that the most important piece for mothers and fathers to understand about co-parenting is that when that baby is born he or she is the property, the flesh, of that woman. 50/50 custody is something that happens years later. When that baby emerges from the womb it is still an extension of the mother’s body, to be respected in the same way. It’s what the birth community calls the “fourth trimester” and it consists of the period after giving birth where the baby is still one with its mother even though it’s on the outside. But as a mother of an almost 2-year-old I can tell you that the fourth trimester does not end for a very long time! It does weaken with time, and I remember a definite moment around 9 months when I felt like she was truly her own person. But to be separate from my child for too long a period, brings me an anxiety like no other. Don’t get me wrong, I love and need breaks from her for sleeping, working, writing, self-care, and just sitting still or eating something without someone demanding my attention. But I need her to return to me after a certain number of hours, and I can never tell you exactly what that that number of hours is.
The fact that there could not be an equal 50/50 division between my co-parent and me was apparent immediately after I became pregnant. I assumed I would give an egg and he would give a sperm, and I would carry the baby while he would pay for the midwife. But I quickly discovered that a woman gives 1 million times more than an egg. She gives her blood, her time, her suffering, her sleep, the nutrients from her own bones, the firmness of her skin, and the perkiness of her breasts. Her body is examined my doctors, midwives and nurses, penetrated and torn (and in some cases, abused), and it is she who must walk through the world with the stigma of the unmarried woman with child, because no matter how far you think we’ve come as a society, every medical form in every office still has the word ‘Husband’ on the line following ‘Mother’. After the baby is born, the woman must recover her physical strength and all that she has lost in labor, and she must begin to manage the milk that comes in and the sore nipples and the burning as pee rushes past the common tears of childbirth, and later as her baby gets teeth and her nipples are bitten and her face, neck and armpits are scratched while nursing. Tell me how 50/50 can ever be achieved? These early years are never equal.
The father of my daughter tried to contribute his half and pay for the homebirth, for prenatal massages and visits to the osteopath. He would buy meals for me and provide emotional support and pitch in for rent, and it did help a lot. But as the birth approached, I could feel that he still wasn’t doing enough. Here we were entering into something more intimate than sex itself, and I needed him on board 1000-percent, supporting not just the baby, but supporting me! I needed him to go over and beyond, because I was about to go over and beyond. And besides emotional support and helping out around the house, what can a man contribute except money or things of monetary value? I thought about this a lot, but in a society like ours, its very hard to find an alternative to money.
Our arrangement is closer to 50/50 now as she approaches her second birthday. I appreciate the time away from her to work, write and sleep through the night, and before she returns I’m able to pump milk for her next overnight with her dad and be ready and present to greet her. But as we are moving forward as a family, and I picture my daughter going to school in a few years, I can’t help but also see that 50/50 would be so much better if it was 100/100 for both of us. I’d like us to live on the same property so that we can both be with our daughter every night before she goes to bed, and in that model I’d still like us to share the care of raising her 50/50. Many traditional married couples are also incorporating more equal share of the household and childcare duties (check out the book “Equally Shared Parenting”), like taking turns doing bedtime and morning routines, diaper changing and park outings. This is the vision I have, not only for our family, but for all families, as most married women I know are still overburdened with running the household, taking care of the children, and trying to find time for themselves, their work and their personal lives in the non-existent space leftover after giving your day and night to a child.
Co-parenting is never 50/50 because parenting is not merely about taking care of the child, but about taking care of each other. The man must care for, support and provide for the woman who grows, births and nurses his baby, and the woman must create space for the man to step in as the father and support both her and the child. Co-parenting, just like a marriage, is a relationship that must be carefully tended, because it is the landscape where you will bring up your child. Long talks, therapy, respect, and showing love, are all a part of a co-parent relationship. Safety and love are the most important aspects of any home, and it starts with the safety and love created between the two adults choosing to have a child together. Taking care of each other also means seeing where the other’s strengths are and balancing out their weaknesses. Co-parenting, like any parenting, is about loving your child so much, that you are willing to do the sometimes very difficult work of working on yourself and your relationships until you’ve created the most peaceful and loving environment possible for your child. And in the end, you throw out all your ideas about how it “should be” and show up moment by moment to experience how it really is, sacrifices and all.
Find Lauren’s book, “The New American Family” on Amazon.com.