Equitable sharing of responsibilities when baby is born
The birth of a baby leads to sweeping changes in the daily lives of parents, requiring them to adapt their pace and lifestyle to a growing list of tasks. In addition to all the care they must provide to their baby, dirty clothes and dishes to be washed will pile up. Parents soon discover all the tasks related to their new role.
The importance of sharing responsibilities for new parents
New parents must ensure equitable division of labour and sharing of responsibilities in their household. This is important to avoid psychological and physical exhaustion in one of the parents, or even postpartum depression. The physical, hormonal, and psychological changes that occur after childbirth make the mother more vulnerable if she does not have proper support. Task sharing must therefore take into account her need for rest and adaptation.
A fair sharing of tasks also allows each parent to fully enjoy their baby, appreciate their new role, in addition to allowing the baby to grow up in a more equitable and serene environment and building a strong parental team.
By the way, just because one of the parents stays home with the baby does not mean that they must bear the burden of all household chores. Taking care of a baby and ensuring their well-being takes time throughout the day. Fair sharing of tasks remains important in order to establish a family balance. The parent who cares for the baby at home also needs time to rest.
Sharing the mental load
In addition to household chores, it’s necessary to plan out familial life: drawing up the week’s menu, making a grocery list, registering for daycare, making doctor’s appointments, etc. This is called “mental load,” that is, everything that has to do with family life planning.
Although mental load is not as concrete as the tasks to be done, it can cause mental fatigue and stress. The parent with the larger mental load may feel discouraged and overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. A heavy mental load can also lead to problems with sleep, anxiety, and depression.
In order to better share the responsibilities of everyday life, parents must share equally not only the tasks to be done, but also the planning and organizing (e.g., medical appointments, vaccines, recreation, meals, parties, etc).
If you are a single parent, ask someone you trust, such as a friend or family member, to take care of your child from time to time to give you some respite. You don’t have to do everything on your own.
How to share responsibilities fairly
Here are some ways to help you or your partner not feel overwhelmed:
- Take a moment to discuss the tasks to be done and determine which ones should be prioritized. For example, is it essential to clean up now or should you rather get ahead and start preparing tonight’s dinner?
- Split tasks based on the free time each parent has. For example, if breastfeeding takes a long time or one parent has to be away for work, the other may agree to do more household chores. You may also seek outside help for certain tasks (e.g., a housekeeper, friend or family member who comes to help prepare meals).
- Draw up a list of tasks together to free your mind and distribute the work fairly.
- Share tasks according to individual needs where possible. For example, if one parent needs a lot of sleep, the other can take care of the baby when they wake up in the morning. If one of the parents needs a bit of exercise after spending the day sitting at work, they can choose to walk their baby in a stroller, vacuum the place, or take care of outdoor tasks.
- Divide tasks according to preferences. This will allow you to enjoy small moments of pleasure. For example, if one parent really likes to cook, the other can take care of the baby during meal preparation. If one parent likes to watch certain programs on TV, they can multitask by doing the laundry and folding clothes while watching TV.
- Focus on being teammates rather than comparing yourselves. Be mutually grateful for what the other person is doing. Since each person is different and has their own set of strengths and challenges, one parent can take care of the baby’s medical appointments, while the other takes care of purchasing clothes.
- Try to plan a schedule that leaves personal time for everyone. This allows you to refuel your energy to feel motivated to take on the challenges of everyday life.
- Take turns caring for your child (e.g., during bath time, bed routine, feeding if possible) to give the other parent a chance to perform their tasks in peace. At other times, take care of your baby together to bond as a family.
- Let your partner take care of the baby in their own way. As long as your child is safe and you agree on the basics, do not criticize each other. Learn to trust and accept the differences.
- If you are experiencing frustrations, discuss them with your partner. It is better to express needs and feelings of inequity than to point fingers or complain. For example, you can say: “Could you do this or that?,” rather than accusing your partner by saying, “You didn’t do this or that.”
- Take occasional breaks to spend quality time with your partner. Plan an outing or a relaxing moment on the couch. Discuss your feelings. Couple time is essential in order to think of something else than parental tasks, strengthen your couple, take stock of situations, and make changes as needed.
- Contact your CLSC to find out what services are available for new parents. In some regions, community organizations offer respite services and offer parents housekeeping support, among other things.
Things to keep in mind
A fair sharing of tasks also allows each parent to fully enjoy their baby, appreciate their new role, and build a strong parental team.
To better split the responsibilities of everyday life, you must not only share tasks, but also the mental load.
Sharing of tasks can be done based on the free time each parent has, as well as their preferences, needs, and strengths.
Scientific review: Nathalie Parent, psychologist
Research and copywriting:The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2022
Photo: GettyImages/Orbon Alija
Useful links and resources
FERLAND, Francine. Petit guide pour parents épuisés : vers un quotidien plus serein. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, coll. “Parlons Parents,” 2021, 168 p.
PAQUET, Joanne, and Nathalie PARENT. Du post-partum à la dépression : renaître après la naissance. Montreal, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2014, 136 pp.
PARENT, Nathalie. Enfants stressés! Tout ce qu’il faut savoir pour aider votre enfant à grandir sereinement. Paris, Michel Lafon, 2019, 240 p.
DESCHÊNES, Guylaine. L’art de concilier le travail et la vie personnelle. Montreal, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2013, 216 pp.