Co-parenting is hard. Okay, I said it. But, I have one strategy parents can use that will affect your parenting style, relationship, and communication more than anything else. Yes, one simple strategy.
Co-parenting is often a term used for divorced or separated parents. But, the singular use of the term for separated spouses seems to imply that married or committed spouses don't have a similar struggle of figuring out how to parent together.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter what your scenario is with your partner. It doesn’t matter who works, who doesn’t; whether you are married or separated; or what your parenting styles are. Figuring out how to co-parent together is hard.
My husband and I are deeply in love. But, we are different people and we are different parents. The good news is that we both want to be deeply engaged with our children and the raising of them. We both see a similar end goal of the adults we want our kids to grow in to being.
It comes down to one word. Happy.
You thought I was going to say kind, didn’t you? :)
The truth is that I paused for a moment to see if i should expand it to two words, but finding true happiness as an adult means you are kind, accepting, and grateful. The science shows happiness comes from feeling gratitude and being kind to others. So, by saying happy...it means kind!
Like in most relationships, my husband and I don’t always agree on the right path to get to that end result. In business and in life, I’m a pleaser. I want to find the path of least resistance that leads to a win-win for everyone involved. I want people (and my kids) to find a way to understand the other point of view while being happy with the end result of whatever conflict we are in.
My husband is much more strict. He does not give chances. He moves fast and wants everyone to move fast with him. While he wants the kids to understand, he is focused on results. Did you do what he asked? Yes or no.
I see things in shades of gray. He sees things in black or white.
But, parenting styles aside, figuring out how to reach our end goal of happy kids and happy adults has been hard.
We went through a pretty significant change in our household after my third son was born. Since then, I have shifted more and more into being home full time. Now, my official work hours are only when the kids are in school and when they aren't, I often work while they are running around me.
While this hasn't always been easy, it has been an unexpected blessing. For the past two years, I’ve shed my corporate identity and adopted an entirely new one (blog post coming on this soon!) - some kind of hybrid work at home/stay at home mom.
My being home more has challenged our co-parenting approach in new ways. I’m with the kids. A lot. All. The. Time. I’m especially feeling this right now because it’s summer and yes, I’m home with them without help.
So, when my husband returns to our family life after a week of work, late nights, and more often than not, several days of travel, we go through a re-entry period. Before I move on, though, I just want to say that while my husband works a ton, he is often home to see the kids in the morning for breakfast and if not traveling he is home for dinner. We have family dinners just about every night.
With that disclaimer, I can say that this re-entry period is still tough. Some weeks are harder than others. It turns out that kids are dynamic. They grow. They change. They take on new attitudes. They push new boundaries. They have good weeks and bad weeks, just like us.
If the kids are dynamic and changing, then the strategies I use to parent them also change. The rules don’t change. But, I may be more nurturing or more strict or maybe I’ve tried a new tactic. There is always something that is different.
Here is the practice we’ve started so that my husband’s re-entry into our family life at the end of a week is more smooth. This one strategy has changed our entire coparenting style. We are more communicative. We listen more. And, we are more intentional with how we parent the kids together.
We call it a debrief.
(I know - so corporate...but, this is what I did all the time back when I was in the formal working world!)
Anyway, here are the 5 key tips to making a weekly Coparenting Debrief with your partners successful.
Set aside time the day before your partner’s re-entry to talk .. We've always talked about what we need to get done over the coming weekend. Now, we also talk specifically about our approach with the kids. For us, Friday night works (or maybe even Thursday), so we can hit the ground running on Saturday morning.
Better communication throughout the week. On week's where my husband doesn't travel, this has become the game changer for us. I do a better job of keeping him updated each day, so I'm not having to remember on Friday. When he does travel, I try to give him the bullets in our nightly conversation. Though sometimes I need that time to be about me!
Discuss each kid. We spend time talking about each kid. We discuss what happened with each kiddo, where they excelled, where they struggled, and what they need going forward.
Identify what has changed. This is SUPER important and directly addresses our biggest disconnect. Have any rules changed? Are we trying a new strategy? By intentionally keeping my partner up to date, I’m forced to do a a better job of intentionally identifying what has shifted throughout the week so that I can do a better job of communicating.
Recognize where we are each at and what WE need for the weekend. This has been super important to make sure we support each other as well. I'm not a mind reader so I don't like guessing what he needs for self-care, nor should I expect the same of him. It's important for us to make time for ourselves too. Did we have good weeks/bad weeks? What do we need to recover and rejuvenate for the week ahead?
After a few weeks of following these steps, we've had some great weekends. We are more effective together and more effective as parents. And, we are happier. Our kids feel more supported.
I'll be honest and say that I don't know if these same steps would work for divorced or separated parents. My somewhat educated guess is that the recurring theme of communication applies, though there are likely some really important other tips that would be important.
I'd love to hear from you! What are some of the strategies you use (or have used) to co-parent with your significant other? How do you make sure you are aligned?