Writer and mother of one Meghan Loneragan believes she's found the new way to save your sanity and rediscover your old self. Is she onto something?
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And there’s no doubt the pandemic, with its on-going lockdowns and isolation, put extra strain on our relationships.
In my world, during the social isolation phase of 2020, my once palatial-feeling home began to look like a prison or an icy demilitarised zone. Locked in with just my husband and toddler for company, I sensed I was set to become a statistic in Australia’s rising divorce rates.
The truth is almost fifty percent of Australian marriages end in divorce and some of the most common reasons cited are unrealistic expectations and lack of equality in the relationship.
And it’s this inequality that was driving a stake through the heart of my own union. We worked together, lived together and are each other’s best friends.
But even in the most well-intentioned partnership, one person usually bears the brunt of what’s called ‘invisible labour’. You know what I mean: school pick-ups, laundry, chores, groceries, cooking, cleaning, social calendar, school fees, bills… you get it.
We both wanted to parent, work, see friends, go to the gym, enjoy time alone and still want to tear each other’s clothes off at the end of the day. Heck, who doesn’t want that?
Instead, we were two ambitious humans with a mortgage, a toddler, a few pets, a mound of laundry and a mountain of tension and resentment.
Something had to give.
I know relationship breakdowns can be ugly, and I don’t trivialise the fallout, but after the dust settles there’s something of a freedom found in the division of duties. An appreciation and respect for each other’s lives where responsibilities are shared 50/50.
My partner and I started to think married people can learn from their divorced friends and family. Sounds extreme perhaps, but, it’s simply absolute equality. Here’s how it works:
If you’re ‘on-duty’, your week starts on Saturday. For seven days, you are the ‘main’ parent. You oversee groceries, cooking, cleaning, bills, activities, homework, playdates, extra-curricular activities and appointments. You are also the port of call for your kids’ rules and sleep disturbances.
If you’re ‘off-duty’, your week starts Saturday morning and for seven days you make dates with friends, read books, sleep in, go to the gym, binge Netflix and work late into the night, if you want to. Emphasis on doing what you want.
Of course, you can support the ‘on-duty’ parent but there are no expectations except that you are an ever-loving and patient parent who is relaxed, with a full emotional cup, ready to relieve your partner when Saturday rolls around.
It’s about reclaiming your individuality, while still enjoying your family unit.
Yeah, we get this a lot. Our answer is usually, ‘neither is squabbling about who empties the dishwasher’.
Ironically, this ‘week-on/week-off’ strategy actually helped me to rekindle my romance with my husband. He is never sexier than when he has cooked us a meal, cleaned up the kitchen and poured me a glass of wine before settling our son to bed. After a long day at work, this is literally the sexiest thing to me.
The burden of what to do on date night is over. If you’re ‘week-on’, you plan date night. If your partner’s ideal date night involves camping near a mangrove swamp, then next week, you get to organise a Michelin-starred meal.
We found that watching the other person take charge served to supercharge our attachment to each other.
When you’re ‘off-duty’, you’re not a ghost. You’re fully engaged in play, bedtime and hug time. You’re just not cooking and cleaning at the same time.
Our son is clear week-to-week on who’s in charge. There’s no military precision about it, just a gentle: “I’m planning dinner this week, what would you like?” or “It’s off to the pool, we can see Mum when we get back.”
Your kids learn that both parents’ time is valuable and time with them is the most treasured and valuable time of all.
“But aren’t you exhausted after your week ‘on’ and being responsible for everything?”
Yes. Definitely. But it’s better than both parents feeling strung out and fighting 100% of the time. Besides, you know you’ll have a week off to recuperate in a few days.
Absolutely not. Clearly we aren’t perfect, and neither is our relationship. But all any of us can do is aim to be better.
This plan helped us to come out of lockdown and bring out the best in each other, the best in our family, and bring us back to tearing each other’s clothes off again (or whatever the married version of that looks like).
As time has gone on we’ve adjusted the ‘rules’ to suit our schedules but, ultimately, having this framework to go from provides a benchmark and a sense of security for how the week will unfold.
Let’s be honest, the world is uncertain enough without adding questions over who’s going to unpack the dishwasher to it all.
“Overall—things that allow a partner to experience and understand the other person’s workload or experience is a good thing.
For logistical reasons, I can imagine this could be difficult for some people. Especially during times like breastfeeding. I recommend couples customise it according to their own stage and lifestyle.
I also think broaching this kind of approach to parenting could bring up issues within couples that might be hard but useful. Such as trust to manage the household, responsibility, handing over control, and what happens if they don’t do the agreed amount, or do things in a way the other parent is happy with.
I can see this approach prompting a lot of people to look inside themselves and having to learn difficult lessons. Such as not being in control and letting your partner run the house in a different way than you would, allow them to make their own mistakes and enjoy their own successes.
It would take time for each partner to learn parts of parenting they haven’t done much of before.
There would need to be room for things not working out well the first time, sticking with it when it doesn’t go smoothly. Each feeling uncomfortable with certain parts of it.
And for the kids not always being happy with it at first and getting used to their parents in different roles.
The main thing I think that is useful about this approach is that it builds understanding and shared experience between partners.
Whether you stay with it or not, to have that experience within the home can serve to increase awareness and discussion and therefore connection.”