Discussion: Backing off to let your partner in

(I apologize to single parents out there for boring you two days ina row with topics that don't apply to you. But maybe at least you can feel some schadenfreude about not having to deal with this on top of everything else about kids?)

Many of the commenters on this post about relationships changing after becoming parents mentioned that there can very easily be an imbalance in the relationship if one parent has or stakes more claim on being The One Who Knows How to Do Things.

I'm going to generalize here, so if your story doesn't fit this please don't be insulted--instead tell us how you avoided the stereotypical scenario. The story usually goes like this: The "primary caretaker" (yes, it's a dopey term, but it's what I'm coming up with right now to mean "the parent who does the most care from the start") stakes claim either on purpose or out of a sense of duty or just because to practical and emotional knowledge about the baby. Maybe she read everything she could get her hands on during pregnancy or the paper chase. Maybe she's just always the one keeping track of stuff for the couple. Maybe she's just been holding the baby for 95% of the time since birth because after all that effort to grow and birth the baby she's not letting anyone else hold him (I can relate to that!).

But for whatever reason, one parent usually ends up being the one who learns the baby faster, and combined with the fact that that parent is probably the one who's also done more research on babies and their issues, a huge knowledge imbalance develops. I wrote a post about this in June about how raising a child is such a high-stakes proposition and how that affects us emotionally (36 comments! You should read them).

So, what do you do about this? Do you just give in and go along with it? Or do you make a conscious effort to shift the balance? I'll tell you what I did, but then I really want to hear what you all did. If you're the primary caretaker, did you think about it and realize what was happening? If you're the non-primary caretaker, did you let it happen or did you try to do something about it? What would you do differently?

I knew going into having my first child that I didn't want to be the Keeper of All Knowledge about the baby. I saw the way my parents operate with us kids, and really did not want to be stuck in the same roles my parents were. And I knew it wasn't anything my parents had planned. In fact, they had gone to extreme lengths to have my dad in the room when I was born (not at all the norm yet in that part of the country when I was born), and they were fairly modern for their time. But my dad's job made enough to support us so my mom didn't go back to work, and my dad had grown up being "taken care of" (read: coddled) by his mom, so the predictable happened.

I really did not want that for my family. We did split things from the beginning. I nursed, and my husband did everything else. But as the days wore on, I could tell I was starting to feel like I was the only one who knew what to do when the baby cried, or the only right way to soothe him, etc. So I forced myself to let the baby's father be his father and make "mistakes." It was awful for me at the beginning, and the only way for me to deal with hearing the baby cry while my husband tried all sorts of things I knew weren't going to comfort the baby was to leave the apartment. It was physically painful for me to let my husband try to soothe our little guy when I knew I could do it in a snap, so I couldn't be there while it happened. I spent a lot of time wandering the aisles of the grocery store while the two guys learned each other.

It was so worth it, though. After a few weeks I could leave and not give them a second thought. Of course they'd be fine together. My husband could do the bedtime routine, so I still went to my book club and other evening outings. And then when my husband was laid off for 15 months there wasn't a huge scramble to integrate him into the family, because he'd been doing most of it all along. When our second baby was born it was much easier for both my husband and me to share him from the beginning (except for the fact that he wouldn't take a bottle, but we learned from that, too).

I do feel like there's an imbalance in our relationship with regards to a lot of the logistical stuff (sorting and sizing the clothes really kills me, for example), but my primary concern was that we be able to switch in and out with the kids. And we can and do. So I figure either the other stuff will be worked out in the next few years, or I'll somehow deal with the resentment that I'm always the one buying the birthday presents.

What did/do you do? Is it working for you? Are you the primary caretaker or the caretaker who needed more experience at the beginning? What practical advice would you give a couple that was trying to work toward achieving more equality in caring for their children (knowing that sometimes there can never be time equality because of work schedules, but you can strive for competence equality)?