Parenting: It’s a Partnership

I don’t think either of my grandfather’s ever changed a single diaper. Not for their own kids, or grandkids. I think my father can count on one hand how many diapers he’s changed in his 60 years of life.

Growing up I didn’t think much of it. That’s the environment I grew up in. My mom stayed at home with my brother and I, and my dad went to work. My mom did most, if not all, of the cleaning, cooking, and nurturing.

I remember when my first son was born, having an overwhelming amount of anxiety that his very life was in my hands. Not just because my body was creating the liquid gold for this beautiful child, but also because in my experience, babies were the mother’s responsibility. Sure – I’d get help from my husband. But at the end of the day, this was on me. And that was a lot to process.

To my delight and surprise, my husband blew me away with how he showed up as a DAD. When I asked him to change a diaper – he did it! When I needed a nap, he was there to take baby off my hands. 

It didn’t take long to become clear that the person I married was not the same as the men in my family who stayed mostly “hands-off” when it came to the kids. And with that realization came a whole lot of relief. I needed him to be my partner, and that’s exactly what he was. This wasn’t just something I had to figure out. We were going to figure it out together.

mom and baby with changing pad

A Shift in Roles & Responsibilities

In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a huge shift in gender roles and responsibilities. More and more women are tackling jobs outside the home and building careers. And many men are opening up to the idea of being a stay-at-home parent. In 2016, dads made up 17 percent of all stay-at-home parents in the US. It’s not an outrageous number, but it shows progression.

As each new generation becomes more removed from the ideologies of the last, we’re beginning to see more instances of parents sharing the responsibility of raising kids. And with so many families having both mom and dad working, there really is no other option than to share the load.

 So, what does that look like? It can look a lot of different ways. Here are a few key things you can focus your efforts on to make your parenting partnership solid.

baby in a floor seat

Photo Credit: @annajoyzobrist

Chart it Out

It works for kids – why can’t it work for adults, too? If you live with your co-parent, sit down and make a list of all the tasks that need to get accomplished on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Some of these tasks will be chores related to the home, and some will be things like taking the kids to soccer or bringing baby to their well-child visit.

Once you have your lists in front of you, discuss who has capacity for what, and when you’ll plan to do it. Work together to determine who will need to do what so both parents can feel balanced and supported. You can try out your new “plan” for a day, a week, or a month. Be flexible and try different combinations until you find what works best for your family. Even if you don’t live with your co-parent, there are several great online tools and apps at your fingertips like WeParent, Cozi and Parentship – to name a few.

baby on a play mat

Photo Credit: @mckenziestorck

No More Mr. Bad Guy – Doling Out Discipline

It’s one of our least favorite things to do as a parent, but it’s also one of the most important things. Our kids need to learn cause and effect. They need to experience making choices that have consequences. And it’s our job, as their parents, to make sure we follow through and discipline (when warranted) to prepare them for real life.

So, what do you do when neither parent wants to be the “bad guy”? I’ll tell you right now. Get over it and DO YOUR JOB. The whole “bad guy” thing doesn’t really work when you’re a united front, so your best approach for success is to be on the same page with your co-parent about how you will discipline.

There can’t be hundreds of rules at one parents’ house, and no rules at the other parents’ house. If the consequence for not cleaning up their toys at mom’s house means they get those toys taken away for 24 hours – help your child out and give them consistency by making that the rule at dad’s house, too.

 Work together to figure out what style of discipline you can both feel comfortable with, and make a conscious effort to be consistent, no matter where you are, or what parent is in charge.

baby and mom on a changing pad

Avoid Undermining Your Co-Parent

Whether your co-parent is your best friend, or someone you’d rather not spend much time with – the truth is – you inevitably are bonded together for life through your child. It’s important to show your child that you can be respectful toward one another, even when it’s hard to do.

If you and your partner or co-parent don’t agree on something, take it into the other room to discuss privately. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in parenting is airing all of your dirty laundry out in front of your kids. If you hate the way your co-parent handled something, find an appropriate time and place to discuss. Don’t start a full-on assault at the dinner table.

And if it happens, sit with your children after everyone has calmed down to make sure they’re OK and give them space to ask any questions they might have.

Another thing to avoid is swooping in to handle a situation that is already being handled. Show your partner or co-parent that you trust they can follow through on their commitments by giving them the space and freedom to handle things themselves.

Build in Breaks

This one is a bit easier when you co-parent and don’t have your children 100% of the time. For all you parents out there who do – let me say this loud and clear – you must give yourself BREAKS.

Maybe Dad has Tuesday nights for himself, and Mom has Thursday nights. Figure out together how you can build in breaks for both of you, every week. Whether it’s an hour or four – do it. Take your break. Spend a little energy on yourself and don’t feel bad about it.

We have to put our own oxygen mask on before we can put one on someone else. I’m sure you’ve heard the quote before. But it’s true! If you want to be a good parent, you have to start by taking care of yourself. The better you feel, the easier it will be to navigate all the challenges parenting throws at you. So be honest about where you’re at, and what you need. Your partner or co-parent should also feel safe to communicate where they’re at and what they need, too.

baby in a portable bassinet

Do Your Best

A final word: do your best. There’s no one-guide that tells you everything you need to know to be the best parent on the planet. You can’t always be prepared for some of the things life throws at you. But you can make a commitment to yourself every day to do your best.

And you can make that same goal with your partner or co-parent. They say it takes a village…so work together. Depend on your people, and make sure your people can depend on you. If you can keep your kids’ best interests in mind, your parenting partnership can thrive!

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