8 Ways to Parent as a Team
The five year plan. I often hear this term thrown around by newly weds or couples who have only been married a few years. For many, 5 years seems like just the right amount of time to spend together to have a really solid foundation for becoming parents. For us, it felt like the perfect amount of time to comfortably and deeply settle into a rhythm and lifestyle that met both of our needs. My husband and I are vastly different people. While we had our moments where our differences would drive each other crazy we had overall been able to make room for each other to be ourselves. I was proud of us for viewing our differences as a strength. I, being fairly extroverted was still given space for coffee dates and nights out with my girl friends. Justin, being extremely introverted was given time for long runs and reading. We enjoyed our weekly date night and time together in the evenings. We had a great rhythm down.
Enter Ayla. Who knew that having all the time, sleep and energy zapped out of your life from having a baby could put you at such odds with your spouse? Pre-baby I may have said I knew that but I would have thought it wouldn’t happen to us. Well, lets just say that in our first year of parenting Ayla we quickly found that we no longer viewed our differences as a strength. Who got to have their needs met? Who’s opinion was more valid when it came to ways to raise a baby? Who’s sleep was more valuable? Feeling like we were a team was not in the cards for us in those early months. It felt more like survival of the fittest (the fittest often being the one who could pretend to not hear the crying on the monitor the longest and therefore got to sleep longer). Since those early months we have been able to get more sleep and have more coherent conversations around our parenting styles. While we still have hard days we have really been able to grow in our teamwork approach. I wanted to share some tips we found helpful. We continue to revisit these points as parenting evolves with every new stage and it’s far too easy to fall out of sync with one another.
1. Discuss your pasts- Did you realize you have been training to be a parent since the time you were born? Yep. You have studied and watched your parent’s parent for decades. Growing up you were unknowingly in a parenting university of sorts. If we don’t take the time to look at our pasts its hard to know why we value what we value or act the way we act. Sharing with your spouse the good, the bad and the ugly from your childhood is not just some therapeutic exercise in intimacy. It matters because it’s shaped how you now parent. Take some time and talk about your past so you can look at what you loved about how you grew up and figure out ways to integrate that into your family. You can also look at what you’d like to change to do differently. If there is tension around specific parenting issues take time to talk about what those issues looked like in your family or origin. Understanding is the key to getting on the same team.
2. Have parenting meetings- This may be a monthly meeting you schedule to talk about current parenting challenges and how to address them or it could be a meeting you call in response to an immediate issue. Either way, it helps to have time set aside to planfully address parent decisions you are making. Having space to hear and be heard with no other distractions sets the ground work for being on the same page with decisions and helps to avoid heat of the moment arguments.
3. Learn to listen- Don’t just listen. LISTEN. Take the time to put yourself in your spouses shoes and try to understand. Understanding leads to empathy and empathy leads to a desire to care for your spouse rather than just having things your own way. Try and reflect back to your partner what you hear them saying. So often what we hear is not what was intended to be communicated. A simple clarifying statement can go so far. For example, a conversation my look like this: “So what I hear you saying is I am not doing enough.” Then perhaps you respond by saying “No that’s not it at all. I am trying to communicate that I feel overwhelmed and alone. I know your doing a lot too, I just want you to know how I am feeling.” Rather than feeling defensive your spouse now has an accurate understanding of the problem and can move towards you. Clarifying may feel awkward to do at first but it can make such a huge difference in communication.
4. Take Time outs- Your child is not the only one who needs them. When you start to argue, over time your heart rate goes up and you begin to have a physiological responses to anger. This response has been coined as “emotional flooding” and productive conversations rarely happen in that state. Notice your body language. Is your heart racing? Are you palms sweaty? Are you fists or teeth clenching? If so, take a break. It takes 20 minutes for your heart rate to return to normal once you are “emotionally flooded”. Call a time out and plan a time to finish the conversation when you can talk calmly. Remember, your kids watch how you argue. They are in YOUR university classroom on parenting. Showing them conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. It can actually be a great thing when you model how to use coping skills and set healthy boundaries around how and when you argue.
5. Be backup- Even when you disagree. If one parent makes a call and you don’t agree, back up your team mate. You can talk about it later but it’s important your kids see a united front. If not, they will quickly learn how to manipulate one parent to get what they want which will only put you both at odds with each other. Be a team player even when you don’t agree (except if it will harm your child in some way) and it will pay off in the end.
6. Respect each other relentlessly- Whether in real life or on TV we have all heard a disrespectful spouse make comments like “Your father never takes out the trash when I ask” or “Your mother is just way too sensitive”. Maybe this was the home you grew up in. Maybe you hear yourself making these comments on the regular. What you need to know is you are not only harming the relationship between your child an spouse when you are disrespectful but you are harming YOUR relationship with your child. Children, many times, feel resentful towards parents who disrespect the other parent. They often feel very protective of a father or mother (even one who may actually be wrong or hurtful). If a parent does do something hurtful, rather than throwing them under the bus, talk with your child about how they are feeling and be mindful to speak respectfully of your spouse.
7. Tag Team- help each other reenergize and communicate what your needs are. Take turns giving each other a day to sleep in or an afternoon off. Ideally if your both looking to make sacrifices to make sure the other person has what they need then you will both feel supported. When the spirit in your home is one of teamwork and care then, for example, instead of feeling frustrated if your spouse sleeps in, you may find you feel like it’s a joy to give them the gift of sleep. It’s a joy because you know they are doing what they can to care for your needs as well. And guess what, this starts with you. If you wait for your spouse to start sacrificing first then you are wasting time on opposite sides of the court. If you start playing like a team player, the hope is they will catch on and change their strategy too.
8. Know when to get professional help- When you really can’t get on the same page with one another or your stuck on some really big parenting issues don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. Your kids and your marriage will thank you. Having a third party to help sort things out can be life changing for a marriage. I personally think every married couple should get counseling from time to time. Life is hard and certain seasons can be particularly rough. Rather than waiting until your marriage is in crisis, go talk with someone and just consider it normal maintenance for your marriage.
Hope some of these tips are helpful! Thanks for reading!