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Up at 4:30am and no date nights: We need to talk about tag-team parenting.

Every morning my husband gets up at 4.30am to go to work. After he leaves the house, I get our two young children up, give them breakfast, get them dressed and get myself ready for work. My husband rushes back in the door at 9am after his morning shift, then looks after the children for the day while I go to work. When I get home at 6pm, he leaves to do an evening shift while I do the bedtime routine and cook dinner.

We are officially ‘tag-team parents.’ The term was coined by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, to talk about parents who work different hours from each other in order to manage childcare.

When we first started working like this, it seemed like a great idea. We could avoid the extortionate childcare costs of long daycare (often around $140 a day where we live), and both get to spend quality time with our children, who are two and five. And in many ways it IS great; our children spend most of their day with one of us, they know their dad is as hands-on as their mum, and see that both parents need and want to work.

But it’s certainly not easy. Family time is limited, and it means both of us solo parent for most of the time we’re with our children. That means little down-time, and minimal couple time. I can’t remember the last time my husband and I went on a date or even had more than a few minutes snuggled up on the sofa together.

Side note… what’s the sexiest thing in the world? Sharing the mental load, of course. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

But tag-team parenting is not an unusual phenomenon. Childcare costs in Australia have risen by around 145% since 2002, according to a HILDA [Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia] study, and data shows that although four out of five workers would love flexibility in their roles, flexibility within jobs hasn’t changed much since 2001. These statistics mean many families have no option but to tag-team their parenting duties.

Catherine, 39, and her husband Marcus, 40, do an extreme version of tag-team parenting with their four-year old daughter. Catherine is a self-employed lawyer and her husband works away on oil-rigs for weeks at a time.

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“We arrange it so when my husband is away, I don’t take on much work, and when he’s back I work full-time and he does the childcare until he goes away again,” she says. There are pros and cons to their situation. “We both get to spend quality time with our daughter, and she sees that we both go to work,” says Catherine. “It also means we are reducing our child-care costs.”

Reduce childcare costs
“We both get to spend quality time with our daughter, and she sees that we both go to work.” Image via Getty.

On the other hand, “it makes it difficult to plan things [as a family] and it’s often unrealistic for me to run a business only in the times that my husband is doing childcare.” She says: “We’ve just about made it work for us. If we didn’t do it this way then it would probably be stressful for different reasons. For example, if we were both trying to finish work on time to pick her up at the end of the day that would be really tough.”

This fear of not being able to work flexibly, or not having flexible childcare, are two of the drivers of tag-team parenting – and something our society desperately needs to change, says flexible working advocate and author of Her Middle Name Is Courage, Heidi Dening.

“Flexible childcare arrangements would allow so many more benefits for families,” she says. “It would help parents find times to work that would be beneficial to their company, as well to their colleagues’ calendars, and of course, any other responsibilities or activities they have to fit into a week. It would be a win:win:win scenario.”

Employers need to be open to change as well. “Flexible work is crucial when it comes to balancing work and family time,” says Heidi. “It allows parents to be more present. Employers need to realise that embracing flexible work arrangements opens the door to an incredible pool of talent. Employees might not fit the traditional business-hour model, but can be skilled, experienced, productive and adaptable.”

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Having flexible, affordable childcare options, and flexible work arrangements would give families the opportunity to reduce the stresses on them. Tag-team parents are particularly in danger of not getting any alone time, or any time as a couple – neither of which are good for the family dynamic, says CEO at Relationships Australia NSW and clinical psychologist, Elisabeth Shaw. “For working mums, getting time alone without any other demands can be critical before attending to any other expectations,” she says.

“Parenting can be a time where couples believe they should have enough in the emotional bank from before children to last them. This may or may not be the case – so making sure you maintain a connection over and above caring for the kids is really important. Dedicating time to your relationship is good for the whole family in the long run.”

Although tag-team parenting works for us at the moment, it’s certainly not the easy option. It’s saving us money but means we’re having to work extra hard at everything else. And at some point, that might not be worth the cost.

Do you and your partner tag-team parent? If so, let us know how you manage it in the comments below.


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