A Roadmap for Sharing Parenting and Making it Work
Autor: Rachel Cooper Fuente:

When a woman gets pregnant, she considers whether to work full-time, part-time or stay at home with her newborn child. A new mother who wants to continue working is usually overwhelmed by the task of finding quality care for her infant. There are lots of choices today, including nannies, au pairs, in-home day care or a day care center. But, another option is available and often overlooked. Fathers can stay home, work flexibly or part-time.

Most mothers are exhausted and feel stuck with too much to do. Today's women can, and should, ask their husbands to help more so that they can also enjoy personal fulfillment. Even if a woman chooses to stay home with her children, she can live a more balanced life by having her husband share the household and parenting responsibilities.

Julie Shields's new book, How to Avoid the Mommy Trap, is full of practical suggestions about encouraging a father to share the day-to-day child care tasks, improving the entire family's quality of life. Shields encourages men and women to discuss work and family issues before marriage. Before getting pregnant a couple should look into child care, research employer's family policies and secure flexible work schedules. Maternity leave, paternity leave, flextime, telecommuting and working from home are all options that can make work and family life easier. How to Avoid the Mommy Trap provides a step-by-step guide of how to negotiate a flexible schedule with your employer. If finances or company policies don't allow the father to work reduced hours, you can work out a regular arrangement of time off whenever it makes life easier.

Julie Shields interviewed marital counselors, child care workers, negotiation experts, employers, child development experts and parents to find out how to create family balance. She found that the happiest families had created parenting arrangements that took every family members needs into account. She describes some couples who have divided their parenting tasks in unique ways. Following are some examples:

Rebecca works three days a week as a website designer and her husband has a home-based business and fits his work hours around her schedule.

When Andrea took a high level position in the Clinton administration, a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," her husband took an 18-month "career-break" and worked part-time from home.

Susan is an economist for an international organization whose husband works part-time. She worked part-time for her first year as a mother.

Donna is a Foreign Service officer who job shares with another mom. For the first two years of their daughter's life, she worked full-time and her husband, a corporate attorney, stayed home. Then they swapped and she stayed home for two years while he worked full-time. Now, Dad remains very involved even while working full-time and Donna works part-time.

Janey is a stay-at-home mom whose husband does a large share of the parenting, shopping and cooking in their house.
The book examines research that indicates that children with highly involved fathers are more advanced, confident and sociable than other children. Dads who spend more time caring for their children develop closer relationships with them, have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce.

The author recommends that a woman leave her husband alone with the children and refrain from criticizing how he does things. When men learn how to feed, diaper, bathe and care for their children early on, they become competent and comfortable with their parenting skills. Some women lock themselves into being the "Super Parent" because they don't give their husbands a chance to parent their own way. If you are overwhelmed and feel you are in "the Mommy Trap," it's not too late. Just take a step back, and figure out what you want to change.

Julie Shields is a lawyer and freelance writer. She negotiated a flexible work schedule and has changed the paternity leave policies in the State Department. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in McLean, Virginia.

Rachel Cooper is Washington Parent's proofreader. She lives in Laytonsville with her husband and two daughters.
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