What would equal parenting look like in 2023 I wondered as I put A pair of mismatched eyes glued to a yellow wool pompom as part of a DIY chicken fest on top of my son’s Easter hat? His school was having a parade, you see, so I decided to build something myself out of old Macdonald’s bike helmet from his nightmares. A paper egg that looks like it belongs in a PSA on salmonella hazards. A nest made of brown paper and straw that smelt faintly of guinea pig urine. Those squinting chicks with tape over their mouths. I said I did it myself. Is it really? Because if I hadn’t read the newsletter, collected materials, and set about researching this bird monster, would the rest of my family have done it themselves? Can I rely on my partner to do the emotional and physical labor of remembering to make an Easter hat?
Well, in this case, almost certainly. My partner is an elementary school teacher so the special baby craft is perfect for him. But there are many other areas with less load sharing. A new book by Paul Morgan-Bentley The Equal Parent caught my attention. Paul (as it turns out, I can call him that because at 2023 we were working together on our student feminist magazine, Lippy) raises son with husband Robin. As a family with two dads, their egalitarian parenting style looks different than mine. Neither man was fertile (their son was conceived and born via a surrogate) and was not breastfeeding, so in some ways they were able to share the early labor of caring for the newborn more equally than I did. Both took parental leave; first Paul, then Robin. In my case, my partner is not entitled to parental leave (he is a student) and I keep working so as not to lose all my freelance connections and opportunities.
However, there is a lot to be learned from this parenting model. In terms of sleep, Paul points out that the brains of new mothers show an enlarged amygdala — the part of the brain involved in the threat response — so new mothers tend to be the first to wake up when their child makes noise during the night. However, a study by Ruth Feldman, director of the Center for Developmental Social Neuroscience at Reichman University, found (I’m citing Paul’s book here) that “when fathers are the primary caregiver, their amygdala is as large as the mother’s brain, as high as their oxytocin levels.” That’s right. Men’s brains can adapt after childbirth in the same way women’s brains do, if they see themselves as the primary caregiver.
When my son was only a few weeks old, I used to hold him, scream and howl in my buddy’s face, watching this grown, exhausted The man continued to snore, completely unaware. We all know who is the primary caregiver in this family. If I do it again, maybe I’ll sleep in another room. Maybe I’ll insist on getting my son used to a bottle so I can delegate at least some nighttime feedings to my partner. Maybe I’ll take our original arrangement – I do all the feedings, but my partner does all the diapers when he’s home – and take it a step further and have him do the waking, babysitting, burping after feedings, Well relocated it while I got some much needed sleep.