Coparenting Done Right: Establishing Partnership

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Last Sunday morning I was fortunate enough to wake up to a quiet apartment. Slightly shocked, since I am awoken most days by my daughter’s cheerful sounds, I savored the moment and relaxed in bed. My younger self would have worried that my husband did not use the right cream during her morning diaper change or fed her the wrong breakfast and immediately intervened. However, with time I have learned to let go and share parenting with my partner.

That Sunday I was able to reap the benefit of this when I found my daughter and husband sitting in the kitchen cooking, laughing and eating. My daughter may have not had her oatmeal the way I always give it to her, but instead she got to try an omelet made by her daddy. I have to admit; figuring out how to share and delegate the responsibilities of parenting did not always come naturally to my partner and I. However, with time, I learned to let go and give him the chance to parent his way because my way is not always the only way nor the best way.

Nobody can fully prepare a couple for the arrival of their first child. Relationships are often put to the test during sleepless nights, numerous visits from in-laws and an unpredictable schedule. However, the way in which a couple begins to co-parent in the first few months can often predict the role that each will take for years to come. Consequently, it is critical to patiently allow you and your partner to fall into the parenthood role in your own ways. First, it is important to identify each other’s strengths and weaknesses and delegate responsibilities accordingly. For example, when I breastfed my daughter, I relied on my husband to do the majority of the burping. Not only did it give me a break, but it allowed him to become an expert in this task and his confidence began to grow. Eventually, burping turned into feeding and later into bathing.

New parents often engage in games of “hot potato,” passing trivial responsibilities back and forth. These often include arguments about who will feed, change, bathe and play with the child. These types of discussions are detrimental to our relationships and to our children who tune into the meaning behind these quarrels. Children thrive in environments that provide them with consistency and security. Arguing about who will be the next person to be with them can result in feelings of insecurity and anxiety from an early age. However, this could easily be avoided if realistic and specific tasks are discussed and agreed upon.

Agreeing upon various responsibilities may be the easy part; however respecting one another’s space and style of parenting may often cause the most rifts. The best way to begin appreciating each other’s methods is to follow the “60 second rule.” Before going in and rescuing your partner from your crying baby, you count to 60. Allowing your partner to find their own way of comforting the baby will allow both of you to feel more confident in one another’s parenting styles. When your child becomes older, it is important to also follow this rule. By holding back and waiting before intervening or commenting, it is best to evaluate the effect that your comment will have. You have to ask yourself, “will my child benefit from this?” and “how will this affect my partner?”

Most recently, I found myself wanting to intervene while my husband was playing with my daughter in the pool. When I evaluated my urge, I realized that my own nervousness about the pool would be the only reason for me to intervene. By giving myself time, I was eventually able to confidently sit back and enjoy my husband and daughter playing and swimming.

Parenthood can be one of the strongest bonds that connect you and your partner. It is critical that you communicate constantly, delegate responsibilities and respect each other’s parenting styles. By doing this you can establish a healthy, reliable and safe environment for your family.

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Marianna Strongin is a co-founder of Parenthood Psychology Practice, a mental health practice that specializes in supporting new and expectant parents. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has been dedicated to studying all aspects of parenthood including infertility and perinatal mood disorders. Dr. Strongin is also a mother to an 18-month old daughter and resides in Manhattan.