Imagine you are riding a bike up a hill. The hill isn’t that steep, but it isn’t flat either. You shift down into second gear and have to stand to pedal at the same pace. Once you get to the top of the hill, you look back, and you think, “Wow. I’m kind of out of breath. That was a longer hill than I thought.”
Now imagine that you attach a bike trailer, one of those really snazzy fancy ones with seats for two kids, to the back of your bike. You head up the same hill but instead of easily pumping up the moderate hill, the hill suddenly looks massive, and your progress slows to a crawl while your leg muscles scream with every pedal forward.
At the top of the hill, you don’t look back or reflect on your accomplishment, but you collapse into a heap and wonder how you’re going to do it again tomorrow without killing yourself.
The thing is, when you bike every day with a bike trailer full of two kids, you get pretty good at handling the turns and hills. Your leg muscles get stronger, and your cardiovascular stamina improves. You are so adept at biking while dragging two kids along that the moment you bike solo again, you feel like you are Lance Armstrong.
When one parent is biking solo and the other parent is biking with a full trailer, the entire bike ride can feel one-sided. One person is carrying the bulk of the parenting load. Sure, the bike trailer parent is more experienced at pulling the bike trailer and therefore is a bit more familiar with how it works but s/he wishes for a goddamn break every once in a while.
When both parents each take one child, they are reducing the stress of one parent, but now both parents are tired at the top of the hill. This may seem like a more equitable way to parent but may result in both parents feeling drained all of the time since nobody is taking on the full load to give the other a rest.
My husband took nearly eight months of parental leave when our daughter was born, and we split the kids—I kept the baby nearby because she was nursing and my husband took the toddler off to play. It resulted in exhaustion on both of our parts, and we were less able to cope with daily stresses.
Snarking, crabbing, and shorter tempers came with the 50-50 split.
In our situation, we are living abroad for my husband’s job. That means that the bike trailer of parenting is usually hitched to my bike. After the parental leave experience and discovery that 50-50 was causing more stress than it was helping our partnership, we have transitioned into a division of labor that acknowledges the stress related to pulling a full bike trailer every day. We rarely split the kids 50-50 now and we hand over the full bike trailer so that the other parent can rest and recuperate.
During the school year, we have prioritized time for me to bike solo on a regular basis—to get away from my familial responsibilities so I can feel like a whole person again. I routinely meet up with my friends, volunteer in the community, and I work on projects that exercise my brain in ways that are a complete departure from my usual mom-role. It has resulted in enough “me time” to give me the strength to continue to pull the full bike trailer up the hill every day.
Biking, like parenting, should be fun, and adventurous but it can also be arduous and stressful. Take an assessment of who is pulling the bike trailer of parenting more often and figure out if changing the division of labor every once in a while is feasible.
Everyone’s leg muscles deserve a break, and that next big hill will be easier to manage if you’re feeling refreshed and rested.
Read more about parenting in other cultures in Knocked Up Abroad featuring 23 parents in 24 different countries.