I always thought co-parenting was something that separated parents did. But now I see that it is very much a part of every parenting experience. Some parents just do it better than others.
We are all individuals. We come from different parenting environments. And we bring all that — all our hopes and dreams for our kids, our own values and hangups and flaws, and all of our parents’ strengths and quirks — to the parenting table. Where they mesh or butt heads with those qualities in the other parent. And if other adults spend a great deal of time with the child, it gets even more muddled.
It’s no wonder our kids are confused. They are being raised by a cacophony.
Co-parenting, I see now, is an attempt to boil the cacophony down and provide a unified voice for the children. It is the opposite of “Go ask your mother.” It is saying, “This is what we do, and this is who we are, and this is what we value.” And it is unbelievably frickin’ hard sometimes.
For instance, R thinks I am ridiculous for banning the word “retarded.” He thinks it is a harmless synonym for “stupid.” I find it ugly and hurtful. I chastise him (gently) when he uses it. He rolls his eyes — but has at least stopped using it so often.
And that is a small issue. There are hundreds — thousands — of little things like this that come up in the course of a day. What do we enforce? What do we let slide? What behavior do we model? What behavior do we model that we really wish they wouldn’t pick up? Do we follow the pediatrician’s advice or our own instincts? What is the end result we are hoping for from our children, and how do we think we can attain that outcome?
R and I approach parenting differently. He relies on instinct; when in doubt, he does what his parents did. I am learning to trust my instincts, which is why we co-sleep, and why we started solids a month early. But if I am unsure, I kneel before the altar of Google and read for an hour before deciding. (I also have my pediatrician and Poison Control on speed dial.) So we can, and do, project mixed messages. But now, five months into Kid 2, we are starting to work as a single unit. We recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and each other’s. And often without saying a word, we pick up each other’s slack. The end goal: A unified front, a reliable safety net, and a consistent parental presence.
Part of our co-parenting approach is to do what we can to keep the kids home with us, instead of foisting them on my parents or sending them to daycare. Which means R has had to work jobs with hours that complement mine, as I am the breadwinner. Those jobs are often low paying, and all too frequently nonexistent. He currently has a job that serves all our needs: It pays well, and offers him full-time hours in a condensed schedule — 12-hour days Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. But it’s taken him four years to find such a gig. And, being a temp job, it could disappear at a moment’s notice.
I won’t say it’s been easy, but we’ve made it work. Because it is important to us that we be the ones who raise our children.
What amazes (and infuriates) me is the way some people act when they learn of our arrangement. Like he is mooching off of me, or slacking off. Even people who have stayed at home with their own children. (Have you spent your every waking moment with a rambunctious 3-year-old? Trust me, it’s more than a full-time job. I am jealous of SAHMs, but also beyond relieved that I am not one.) If he had a high-paying job, our roles would be reversed; but because I am a woman, no one would bat an eye — though some might judge me for giving up my job to raise our kids.
Being a SAHD is a man’s job. A man takes care of his children. In whatever way is most needed by his family.