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Don’t Split Diaper Duty 50/50 And Other Tips For New Parents From A Couples Therapist

The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, pediatrician-recommended diaper rash ointments developed by a pharmacist and proud dad of 4 kids.

You knew you’d be changing diapers, you probably just didn’t realize how many. It can seem so frequent that you might wonder whether you’re carrying the load alone. Well, someone recently asked the question to a bunch of millennial parents: Do you or your partner change more diapers? And the survey says … yes? In the poll, 95 percent of moms claimed to do more diaper changing than their significant other, while 75 percent of dads insisted they did. In the same survey, 80 percent of women said they’d be more likely to change dirty diapers than their significant other, while only 43 percent of men said the same. So, besides the kid, who’s full of crap?

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Surprisingly, the answer doesn’t really matter. When it comes to happiness, intimacy, and overall relationship satisfaction, who does more matters less than a clear understanding of who does what. So says couples therapist Laura Silverstein, clinical director and co-owner of Main Line Counseling Partners, with her husband — so you know she practices what she preaches. Consider this your free trial session and read on to learn everything you need to know about sharing parenting duties faster than it takes you to change a diaper. Unless you’re lying about that, too …

Recognize That Conflict Is Inevitable
Because humans can’t have nice things, the happiest moment of your life — the birth of a child — is also the moment you’re most likely to call Silverstein to save your relationship from crumbling. That’s because you both now have more work to do and less money to do it with, and are total zombies. “Sleep deprivation is how you torture people. It’s a big deal that everyone’s walking around exhausted,” Silverstein says. Simply put, couples with small kids very rarely avoid conflicts about the division of labor.

“Sleep deprivation is how you torture people. It’s a big deal that everyone’s walking around exhausted.”

dads on playdate with children
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“Nobody is getting any sleep, there’s so much laundry, all those bottles need to be sterilized, and by the way, who’s rocking the baby to bed?” Diaper changing factors in there, too, because, as Silverstein notes, “Babies poop a lot. You can quote me on that.” Thanks — wouldn’t want to be accused of stealing that highly original thought. Silverstein admits she and her husband struggled with the same challenges, but they got through it, and with her help, so will you.

Everyone’s Doing Too Much
Silverstein isn’t surprised by the survey’s results because people tend to see things from their own perspective and thus have a tough time believing anyone else could possibly be working as hard as they are. When couples arrive at her office, however, Silverstein finds that everyone — men and women alike — believes they’re doing more than they can capably sustain. Recognizing that everyone is at the end of their rope is the first step to overcoming conflicts about who’s doing more.

“You come home from work, you’re exhausted, you feel like you can’t go another day without a full night’s sleep, but yet again you have to wake up in the middle of the night. It’s hard not to feel resentment if you see somebody sleeping in bed next to you, but guess what? They’re gonna wake up in 3 hours, too.”

Collaboration > Competition
When you only see things from your point of view, you get competitive, which escalates into arguments, like so:

PARTNER: “I gave up my job to be knee-deep in diapers and laundry. At least you can go to work!”

YOU: “I’m solely responsible for our finances and I can’t even spend time with my kid!”

BOTH: “Worst. Foreplay. Ever.”

Constantly competing leaves couples feeling lonely, disconnected, and dissatisfied, emotionally and physically. Walking that path leads either to “A high-conflict environment or a business relationship where you’re just going through the motions,” both of which sound like they ought to be the road less traveled.

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Instead, Silverstein says, tackle your individual stresses together through collaboration and mutual support. “This new baby is amazing but also really difficult. We both want to be connected to the new life that’s joined our family but also be connected and stay sexual beings with one another. Let’s be in this soup together; you and me against the world.” The team-oriented approach leads to greater happiness and emotional intimacy, which leads to physical intimacy and, after a pep talk like that, multiple championships.

Discuss, Divide, And Conquer
Silverstein affirms, “People have the greatest relationship satisfaction when they both have a clear understanding of the division of labor and household responsibilities. The deciding factor isn’t who does more but the clarity around whose job it is to do what.” So the fairest split isn’t always 50/50.

Silverstein literally gives couples a checklist of every household chore — 136 of them, to be exact — and has them tick off who does what currently and who’d do what ideally. The result can be like that survey: both people think they do everything. But it leads to a collaborative discussion and a clear, equitable plan about who will do what. “Usually, there’s a higher level of happiness once there’s been a discussion about it, while there’s actually less happiness with a 50/50 split because it’s unusual for people to feel exactly the same about each chore,” Silverstein says. Which makes complete sense — if you prefer kitty litter to human waste, but for your partner it’s vice versa, do that. Happy poops for all!

The key is to have a clear, direct, and honest conversation in advance, at a mutually agreed upon time. Nobody feels collaborative when they’re wrist-deep in poo at 3:00 AM. Again.

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Note that Silverstein isn’t simply saying it’s better to divide all the jobs than share some. Most likely, your diaper changing plan will look something like, “I’ll take 6:00 AM since I’m up getting ready for work and you can take midnight since you’re up watching cartoons.” Every situation is different, but if you have a direct conversation about mutually agreed upon expectations in advance, you’ll avoid having the chores, arguments, and dirty diapers pile up.

The following was produced in partnership with our friends at Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, pediatrician-recommended diaper rash ointments developed by a pharmacist and proud dad of 4 kids.