Here’s a statistic: Something like 90% of a baby’s diapers are changed by it’s mother, regardless of whether the baby’s father reports being “very involved” in child care. Even when couples report that they try hard to be co-parents and be equally involved in their child’s care, Dads have a tendency to err on the side of playtime and an ever more pervasive tendency to brag later about how much baby maintenance they do.
This came up at a meeting with my post-doc advisor at Children’s while we were talking about the design of a study. The lab is very interested in how kids’ experience with different people, places, etc. can influence their development, so the question of what kind of time kids spend with Mom and Dad is highly relevant. Erin was pregnant at the time of this discussion, and I remember silently vowing to not leave her stuck with all the dirty diapers. This was well before we had any sense that anything unusual was going to happen…we were still just overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to be a dual-career couple with a newborn. Teamwork, I figured, REAL teamwork had to be the only way to make this work. Erin & I are both very defensive of each other’s careers and try to make time for each other to get important things done…we got through writing our dissertations that way, we’ve made it to the finish line when racing against grant and conference deadlines that way, and I figured it had to be the best way to take care of Blaise. Typical parental investment statistics be damned! I was going to change a lot of diapers. Now look, Erin’s changed more…but I do think we’re not so near that 90/10 split I mentioned earlier, even if we’re also not at 50/50.
On a typical day, we trade off morning and afternoon shifts, which is a great way to maintain parity. It also encourages serious optimization of your time. When Blaise naps on a work day, the first thought is always “OK, how much time do I have and what can I do?” Laundry is quick to get started, GO! Eyetracking analysis needs 30 minutes and I can easily stop halfway…GO! Coffee! I made coffee earlier! I should drink it! GO!
It works out pretty well, really, but it wears you out…and then, you go to work.
Yesterday though, we did something we hadn’t really done before and it was awesome. I’d spent a lot of time last week working long days at MIT, leaving Erin flying solo, so Thursday was my day with Blaise. Just the two of us, with lots of time to take care of what she needed done, play with whatever we wanted, and do household chores without playing beat-the-clock. Here’s a great game we developed:
1) 1. Dad builds a city out of busy blocks.
2) 2. BLAISE DESTROYS
3) 3. Dad attempts to rebuild Neo-Tokyo in the wake of disaster.
4) 4. BLAISE DESTROYS
5) 5. Dad builds a series of ranch-style houses that are less prone to earthquake/giant baby damage
6) 6. PETER RABBIT DESTROYS
Awesome. Seriously, it was great fun and Blaise was extra-cute all day. I also do still occasionally stop and marvel at the fact that we can take care of Blaise. It was often hard to see through the tangle of tubes and wires how we were going to be able to do that without a lot of professional back-up. Being able to spend a whole day with her with no back-up is pretty great, even if she doesn’t always want to nap.