It turns out that keeping going with a smile on your face and a few comforting sounds on your lips will get you a long way. Sure, changing a nappy for the first time is daunting but after twenty or thirty you'll have a technique nailed down. You'll be an expert in fact, and that's only on Day 3. Being a parent certainly requires plenty of new skills but also presents you with plenty of opportunity to practice those skills. Got a musical instrument that you can't play sitting in the cupboard? Imagine if it screamed every time you left it alone for five minutes or started to smell if you didn't knock out a quick tune every hour or so. You'd pretty soon at least look like you knew what you were doing.
You will never actually know what you're doing, of course, because as soon as you do, then baby will learn a new trick. Just try to look like you know what you're doing, grin as best you can and make comforting noises at baby/your partner/social services/the big pile of poo in the middle of the lounge carpet. You'll get by.
Who's in charge of what? Who does the cleaning? Who does the washing? Who gets up in the middle of the night when baby cries? Who looks after the other kids? Whose turn is it to change the nappy? Who decides whether to spend money on a new cooker? Whose sleep is more important? Who calls the doctor? Who pays the bills? Who gets to go out? Who gets a night off? Who gets to go mad?
The plan is for your partner to go back to work and for you to look after the baby. That's the plan. Except she's on maternity leave for a while which makes life easier but more confusing. You can share together in learning how to look after baby but your roles within the family are blurred.
Bob and Sarah have a baby. They name him Rasputin.
- Bob takes a few days paternity leave and then returns to work. Sarah does all the childcare because Bob 'always has such a hard time at work' and needs his rest and sleep. Bob spends 'his' money on gadgets and nights out with the lads. Sarah extends her maternity leave to a year but is already pregnant again before it's time to go back. She decides not to bother. The plan is no more. Rasputin grows wild-eyed and hairy.
- Bob gives up work in time for the birth and throws himself headlong into the joys of fatherhood. Sarah's stitches mean she can barely move for a fortnight and by then everything is 'under control'. The house is spotless, her shoes are polished, baby is in a routine and Bob has learnt to breast-feed. There is nothing for her to do. She wanders around the house aimlessly in her pyjamas. She returns to work as soon as possible. She doesn't come back. Rasputin grows wild-eyed and hairy.
- Bob goes part-time. Sarah does most of the childcare initially but then she goes back to work part-time as well. Bob looks after Rasputin Sunday to Wednesday and Sarah looks after him Thursday to Saturday. Bills that arrive the beginning of the week are Bob's responsibility and those that arrive at the end of the week are Sarah's. House cleaning is on a ten-day rota; bath nights are at three day intervals. Fights break out over the best place to store the nappies. They polish each other's shoes. No one feeds the cat. Rasputin grows wild-eyed and hairy and gets all his jabs twice just to be sure. Then the power gets cut off.
- Bob gives up work and throws himself headlong into the joys of an internet start-up company with one of his mates. He watches the birth on youtube and then starts the first-draft of that novel. He buys Rasputin an Xbox 360. He wonders why Sarah is always too tired for sex. Sarah goes back to work. Bob wonders how to stop that crying noise. Rasputin grows wild-eyed and smelly.
- Bob gives up work in time for the birth, and household duties are divided up. Bob gets responsibility for healthcare because he will be the one around most of the time in future. He also gets to decide where the nappies are stored, for the same reason. Sarah is put in charge of finances because she's good at that. Most other things are shared until she goes back to work. Even then, she still does the laundry and spends plenty of time looking after Rasputin. Both parents get to go out sometimes and no one goes mad. Rasputin grows wild-eyed and hairy.
Obviously, any of these situations can be made to work but some thought and planning are required. It's not just a case of who does what. Trying to make things 'fair' is impossible. You and your partner have to work together according to your abilities to get things done. If one of you needs more sleep than the other or has a lower tolerance for gardening, you need to work around these things, not tot up scores. What's important is that both parents feel they have equal status, value and respect within the family.
It helps to decide your roles early and work towards them.