Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Adjusting Your Childcare Needs

By the time your baby is born, chances are good that you and your partner will have discussed the issue of childcare responsibilities in depth. Even if one of you will be staying home with the baby, you will want a clear delineation about whose responsibility it will be to take care of what tasks. Many couples alternate feedings or have specific times to take care of baby. You may want to try something with more flexibility or add household chores to the mix. Perhaps one of you will be responsible for cooking dinner each evening and the other will clean up after dinner.

Still once your baby actually arrives, you may find that the parameters you set up are not working out for you. For starters, many women who plan to go back to work after baby is born decide in those first few weeks or months that it is not what they want to do after all. These women determine that they are more interested in being at home with their new babies. Making this kind of major decision means sitting down to renegotiate the baby duties.

In other cases, something may not work as planned. Perhaps Mom was going to breastfeed on demand, meaning she would take care of that responsibility without Dad, but that schedule may not work. Instead Mom wants to go to a feeding schedule, which opens the possibility of Dad taking on some of the feeding duties. In our case, we slowly moved from a system in which my husband got up during certain hours, and I had other hours of nighttime duty. Over time, my husband got up less and less, and I was stuck with all of the nighttime waking or feeding.

These kinds of baby care issues can build resentment if you are not careful. You should plan to discuss the issue with your partner when neither of you is angry or upset and you are not in the throes of dealing with the issue. In our case, for example, during the middle of the night when I was getting up for the umpteenth time, it was not the best moment to bring up the nighttime routine.

Set aside a time when you will be relatively free of distractions and when neither of you will be defensive or distracting. Tell your partner calmly why you think it is not working the way you currently are handling the situation.

Try to focus on your feelings. Remember that you are not keeping score, so there is no need to say that you have handled 17 dirty diapers in the last three days and he has handled only 2. Instead you should focus on that you feel you are doing more than your share of the work and that you need some downtime.

Acknowledge what your partner is doing right. Perhaps she leaves a mess in the nursery every time she changes the baby, but she always remembers to pack the diaper bag for you when you will need it. You should not try to make your partner feel as if he or she is not doing anything right. Instead you should focus on how he or she may be able to change a few things to make life easier with baby.

Try to come up with a schedule or new plan that will work for both of you. Perhaps your partner has some gripes as well. Address them at this time so that the two of you feel you are making progress. Also be willing to make some changes to help your partner out. He may feel, for example, that he needs 15 minutes to be alone with his thoughts after getting home from work. Learn to honor that request so that both of you get the downtime you need.

Remember that raising a baby is a tough job, and you will need to transition often in the first couple of years. Your baby will not keep the same schedule for long during this time, which means that you will need to reassess childcare arrangements frequently. Making sure that you do so with your partner, yourself, and your baby in mind will help you to make this time better for everyone.

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