Parenting Team Planning 101
Achieving balance in parenting is one of the toughest aspects of family life. It’s so tough, many parents often back off from addressing their differences directly and operate in parallel universes of “if I want something done right, I’ve just got to do it myself”. There are times when one parent struggles with a child and the other swoops in to miraculously solve the problem. But the satisfaction of a smug “I told you so” only lasts so long, and feeling undermined in parenting is never fun. When parents argue over who’s approach is right, when parenting becomes a competition rather than a partnership, it’s even tougher. One scenario or another, we’ve all been there.
But all is not lost if a couple’s core values are in sync, and their connection is still fueled by mutual respect and admiration. If you’re the kind of couple who want to approach parenting with shared responsibility, desire and skill all you might need is a bit more perspective and preparation. I invite those of you who can agree to disagree to do some Parenting Team Planning. Grab a pad of paper and some pens. Take some notes as you continue reading below. Warning: Be prepared to eat some humble pie.
To start it helps to think of parenting in three categories: Expert/Assistant, Trade Offs, and Collaborators.
Face it. Sometimes you’re not too swift at certain parenting tasks. And when your partner is a natural at those tasks it can be more than a bit ego-deflating. This is the diciest category of parenting, the one where you need to let go of preconceptions and allow your partner do what they naturally do well. Here’s the kicker: try to learn from them.
Expert/Assisting is a two-way street where both partners get credit for what they excel at. So dig deep and compliment everything from cooking to cartoon-watching. Toot each other’s horn. Think of and write down what your partner is better or less afraid of, naturally good at, doesn’t mind doing. For example, maybe your partner is naturally goofier than you are, and is really good at distracting your close-to-tantruming child with a particularly silly face. Think how you can assist your partner without undermining them. Try laughing at the silly face, instead of ignoring or dismissing it.
This is the most common type of parenting. More often than not, while one parent is on-duty, the other is working, or sleeping, or (if they’re lucky) taking a break. Too much trading off and you feel like a worn-out tag team, relaying constantly. When the on-duty parent’s lap is up they’re usually exhausted, and the trade-off is loaded with an attitude of “Here. Take them. I’m done.” But trading off is often the only kind of parenting a busy family’s schedule allows. So prepare for the trade offs, make them less fraught and more effective. Talk them through ahead of time, and keep up your end of the bargain. For example, every evening Daddy does bath time while Mommy checks/returns e-mails. Then Mommy takes baby and prepares baby for bedtime while Dad returns phone calls. Don’t back out or change the routine without giving your partner fair warning. With a bit more planning some of these tasks can even be turned into collaborations, or trade offs with some quality crossover time.
When done with an open heart and mind, this kind of parenting can bring the greatest joy. Think about and write down those aspects of parenting you both do well, as well as tasks you split but master in a relatively seamless order. For example maybe you sing lullabies together at bed time, or both read stories acting out multiple characters. Maybe while Mommy nurses, Daddy strokes baby’s head. Some collaborations may be fun, some not so fun. Maybe Daddy holds Kid down while Mommy takes out that nasty splinter. Whatever the case, acknowledge your shared competence. As often as schedules allow, carve out time to parent collaboratively in a focused, relaxed way.
All the above?
Easier said than done. Conscientious parenting doesn’t just happen, you have to think about it, talk about it, organize it. To help you along, I’ve devised the following Parenting Team Task Exercise. Print it out and do it now if you can, or save it for later. Pick a time when neither of you is exhausted, frazzled or distracted. This kind of exercise requires patience, love, and a sense of humor. Give your parenting team the same attention you give your kids. Remember: You’re worth it. Both of you.
Parenting Team Task Exercise:
Meals, Food Preparation
Bath time Rituals
Grown up social plans
Pick tasks related to the above categories, or other categories you can think of. Try to think of at least one for each Parenting Team approach. Write them down. Make them part of your parenting plan. (Later: Add or change as your skills grow and develop, and as you learn more from each other and your child.)
We will Collaborate on:
We will Trade Off on:
We will be the Expert/ Assistant on: