Today's guest post - on the theme of shared parenting - comes from Jenny Baker. Jenny is the director of the Sophia Network and has been married to Jonny for nearly 25 years. They have two sons.
I grew up in the Brethren church which had very clear divisions of labour along gender lines – men made the decisions and women made the tea. My mum and dad had a very traditional, and very happy, marriage with mum giving up her job as a teacher when she had children and dad working long hours as the breadwinner. As a teenager considering what was modelled at my church, I found myself on a pendulum swing – one day thinking ‘if that’s what God wants for men and women I don’t want anything to do with God’, and the next thinking ‘if that’s what God wants then I’ll put up with it because I want to follow Jesus.’
At university when I was in a relationship with Jonny, who is now my husband, someone gave us a book called ‘Marriage as God intended’ which had incredibly prescriptive roles for men and women. That was the clincher for me; it just made me determined never to get married because I knew that constraining myself into those roles would make me slowly die inside.
Fortunately, the church we were part of put on a series of evenings exploring what the bible said about men and women, which made me rethink all I’d previously taken in through osmosis as a child. It was really liberating to discover the full equality and partnership that’s described in the bible and to think through what the redemption that Jesus won on the cross meant for
relationships between men and women. It also transformed my thinking about marriage much to Jonny’s relief and we’ve now been married for nearly 25 years.
We talked a lot about what a marriage of equals would look like in practice, and from the start shared all the domestic work that comes with being an adult, as well as both finding work. After all Jonny had cooked, cleaned, washed clothes as a student and it seemed bizarre that I should suddenly do that for him once we were married as if he were a child and I was his mum. We decided that if and when we had children, we wanted to share work and parenting too. I think it was really important to make those decisions early in our relationship and to be intentional about sticking to them. I can remember feeling incredibly guilty when Jonny ironed his shirts because something in my gut said that I ‘ought’ to be doing that for him, even though rationally
it made sense that we should each do our own ironing as both of us hated doing it. That feeling soon went away, but it would have been easy to give in! As one of the slogans of second wave feminism says, the personal is political – what we do inside our homes and the way we organise our relationships does affect the time and energy and attitude we have to engaging with the world outside it. So many women do the ‘double shift’ of being employed and running the household and then wonder why they are exhausted.
We had children quite early in our marriage when we were both youth workers with YFC. Although I loved my baby, I struggled with being at home on my own with him on maternity leave. So when Joel was about three months old, Jonny and I started to job-share. We ended up working three days a week each, and found a child minder for one day a week so that we could have a team day for the meetings we both needed to be at. Harry was born a couple of years later and slotted into the pattern. We had quite set routines which suited us; whoever had been at home would cook the evening meal so that we could all eat together early evening then the parent who had been at work would bath the boys and put them to bed. We were fortunate to have a management committee who gave us a six-month trial to see if it would work, and having made the decision to rent rather than buy a house, we were able to live off one salary between us. Both of us benefited from being fully engaged parents and having the stimulus of work, although I know Jonny was lonely at times as there weren’t many other dads doing the same.
We moved to London when the boys were three and five, and as they went to school we changed jobs and increased our hours until eventually we were both working full-time but in flexible situations which meant that one of us could always do the school run while they needed that. Working in the Christian charity sector has given us more freedom than other sectors so we’ve been fortunate in that sense. We had to be very organised about our diaries and discuss trips away before committing to them, to ensure that one of us was able to take care of the boys and at times we did do the ‘tag-team’ parenting thing where one of us would get home just in time for the other to go out. For us, mealtimes were really important as a foundation of our family life and we’ve really valued the discipline of sitting down together around the table every day, taking time to talk to each other. And we had to recognise that there would be seasons when one of us was incredibly busy at work and the other would need to pick up the slack at home; but then a few months later it would work the other way round.
And the boys have turned out fine. Now 19 and 22, they haven’t grown up confused about what it is to be men as some people predicted. They are both quite different in terms of temperament and interests, and I am hugely proud of them. And very grateful that we made those decisions early and stuck to them.