Co-parenting typically refers to parents who are raising a child together despite being divorced or separated. But even if you are married, alternating childcare responsibilities can feel like you are parenting separately. Most days my partner is the primary parent from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
When I get home he leaves for work. If daddy’s routines and expectations are different from mommy’s that is impossible for the toddler to get the hang of. After the “terrible twos” hit our household like a natural disaster, we decided we needed to make some changes. Here are some tips that have helped us to alleviate some of the stress of parenting together, but separately.
Talk About the “Mental Load”
This comic explains it beautifully, but simply put the mental load is the invisible work of remembering. You and your partner may divide the physical tasks of childcare and housework 50/50, but the stress of keeping track of everything may fall disproportionately on one of you, and that is exhausting. You do exactly half the dishes and sit down to relax but your brain is still reeling just keeping track of all the things that have to be done. Talk about it. Even just knowing that there is a phrase to describe this invisible work makes it easier to have a civil conversation about it. My husband and I read the informative comic together, and it changed everything.
Read Parenting Books Together
Generally, I think that parenting books are really hit or miss. Families are just so varied and unique it’s impossible to write a book about how to do anything correctly. But it is really reassuring when you are feeling lost just to affirm that you aren’t doing things completely wrong. Or if you need to have a conversation with your partner and you rarely see each other, just highlight a section in a book and say “hey if you get a break at work you should check out this paragraph.” It’s an easy way to get on the same page (pun intended) about your intentions.
Use Collective To-Do Lists
Put up a dry-erase board in a communal space and use it to keep track of everything. This can also help distribute the mental load more evenly. And you can make it fun, we’ve played around with points systems: whoever does the most chores through the week gets a foot massage or whatever 😉
Have a conversation about your values/expectations and write them down
After an especially rough night alone with my toddler, I sat down and wrote a list of what is actually important to me as a parent. Just having it in writing made me feel so much better. What are the basic values that guide your parenting priorities? Do you and your partner agree on what is appropriate? I recently read a book on Waldorf inspired parenting so we organized our values list in terms of different levels: spiritual, emotional, rhythmical and physical. We aren’t religious so under the spiritual level we have things like “respect for nature,” “appreciation of story, art, and music” and “sense of adventure.” Bullet points. Just a concise list of what is important to provide for our children. It’s nice, especially after a day when you feel like a failure, to reference a written list and verify that your choices aligned with your values.
Be flexible, but try to agree on a consistent rhythm
Another thing that we recently stole from Waldorf philosophy is the concept of a rhythm. Unlike a schedule (which focuses on the clock) a rhythm focuses on pattern and repetition. Our daily schedules are so sporadic providing a consistent schedule would be hopeless. We can, however, provide our daughter with a recognizable pattern. Bedtime might be at a different time every night, but it will always involve brushing teeth, reading stories and cuddling. Just aiming for that little bit of consistency has saved us from a lot of tantrum. She knows what to expect.