The phrase “it takes a village” when it comes to parenting is something I’ve realized is so true in my years of raising kids. My husband and I are lucky to have a good local village—a reliable daycare center and friends with kids the same age—but our immediate families live too far away to be part of this group. We both have close relationships with our families, but they aren’t close enough to where we live to be part of our day-to-day activities.
Our parents can help when it comes to needing someone to watch our two girls for a weekend but can’t be there to help with an unexpected sick day in a pinch.
Though we have some local support, it’s different than being able to rely on your closest family members for help. Parenting small children is hard no matter what, but I’m sometimes jealous of people I know who have grandparents to help with weeknight babysitting, assist with activity pickup and dropoff, or just come over for Sunday dinner.
When I had my first daughter, I was nervous about raising her without this support. Now, my husband and I have been parents for eight years and have found a lot of ways to make this setup more manageable—and have benefitted us as a couple:
We need to be experts at contingency plans
We need to always be prepared to quickly enact a Plan B for an unexpected sick kid or daycare closure. When those things happen, we don’t have someone else that can help out last minute. Knowing this, we’ve become very good at quickly changing course from how we thought the day would go to where it headed instead.
I think we’re now more flexible and easygoing people since we learned that sometimes your best-made plans don’t always go the way they are supposed to. We’ve also learned that having a fallback plan means you need to be good at prioritizing your tasks for the day and working ahead whenever possible. If one of us needs to make time for a doctor’s visit in the middle of a weekday, we need to know which of our tasks can be moved to the next day and which ones still need to be completed no matter what.
We each need to pitch in a lot
To keep the household running, we both must be willing to jump in when a contingency plan needs to be enacted. We need to be equally willing to look at our schedules and figure out who has the most time available for last-minute doctor’s appointments. We also both need to be willing to tackle our fair share of the household chores as well as tasks for our children, like dropping them off at activities, playdates, and appointments.
Finding an equal division of labor in the household is a really hard task. We’ve struggled with it for years but are currently in a much more fair place, though keeping the balance will always require our attention. If you haven’t heard of Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play cards and book, I can’t recommend them enough. After years of having the same arguments about splitting up the work at home, this was the one resource that finally made a real difference in our house.
We need to be extremely reliable
A big unexpected benefit of our parenting scenario is that we’ve both become really dependable people, to each other and to those in our lives. Our communication needs to be on point and we need to be good on our word when we say we’ll be somewhere by a certain time. It’s hard enough to come up with contingency plans when it’s for necessary tasks. It wouldn’t be fair to put each other through that just because we had poor time management at work and were unexpectedly late to help out with the evening activities.
We need to be creative about date night
We’re both lucky to have good jobs, but funding full-time daycare for our infant and after-school and summer care for our first grader is really expensive. We don’t always feel like we have enough extra in our childcare budget to get date night babysitters very often, and we don’t have a grandparent nearby to watch the girls for an evening. But it’s still important for us to do things that we find fun as adults instead of having our days always just include work and caring for children. So we have to rely on creativity to keep that part of our relationship alive for right now. We’ve become masters of the at-home date night -which, honestly, can often be the best kind of date night because it’s quiet, easygoing, and low-key after a busy day.
As two full-time working parents of two young kids, sometimes the days can be pretty long and difficult. However, facing them together without our closest family members nearby has made us a very tight-knit duo. If you’re parenting with this same scenario, or about to parent with this same scenario, know that your feelings about its difficulty are extremely valid. But, with a firm game plan in place, you can tackle the challenges it throws at you and uncover some of the unexpected benefits.