10 Times When You Need To Trust That Your Co-Parent Knows How To Parent
I absolutely hit the jackpot when I met, and later married, my best friend. There is no one else I would rather go through life with, or raise kids with; he's an amazing husband and partner. Still, I'm a recovering perfectionist and slightly less recovering control freak, who struggles to trust anyone else with anything I care about. So there are a lot of times where I have to close my eyes, breathe, and remind myself that I can and should trust that my co-parent knows how to parent. That's an adaptation of a mantra I first adopted during pregnancy, that I've since extended to basically all aspects of being a mom so I can keep my less reasonable worries under enough control to have energy to devote to my more reasonable ones.
Now, to be clear: trusting your co-parent to do their thing without being micromanaged doesn’t mean compromising on decisions that are rightfully yours alone. Being a co-parenting team does not mean sacrificing your bodily autonomy so your partner feels “included” on things like choosing your birth plan or deciding whether or not to breastfeed. When it comes to choices that concern your body, that choice is completely yours and your co-parent needs to step back and be supportive of whatever you decide.
This also doesn’t mean tolerating blatantly unsafe things. There's no such thing as “agreeing to disagree” on your child wearing a coat in the car seat (never, ever do that), or placing the chest clips in the wrong place. There's no “you do you!” if your co-parent wants to give your two month old honey, or skip out on necessary vaccinations and medications. Stuff like that is not a matter of opinion or style; when it comes to actual safety concerns, there are right and wrong answers and it’s our job as parents to make as many of the right ones as humanly possible.
However, for things that aren't matters of life, death, or serious injury, differences in style are OK and are even a good thing. They can't do everything just like we do because they're not us. It's good for kids to get used to a variety of kinds of care, and to see that there are lots of different people they can bond with, and have a good time with, and be safe with. It’s good for us too, because it means we don’t have to do everything ourselves. So it’s totally OK, and important, that we chill out and trust our co-parent in situations like the following:
When They Have Their Own Way Of Calming The Baby
When my husband first started burping our newborn baby after I'd feed him, I was worried his back-patting was a little too hard. (For perspective, this was also the period of time when I was worried that anything harder than my breasts might hurt him, because I'm a mom who struggles with anxiety and my brain literally invents reasons to worry.) I bit my tongue about it, though, and I'm glad I did, because it turned out that he finds that kind of patting very soothing (and my little tap-taps were not getting the job done, burp-wise).
Also, it's not like babies are shy. If a baby is uncomfortable with anything anyone is doing, they will let you — and everybody else within a 100-foot radius — know about it. If they're not yelling, and are actually calming down and even falling asleep, they're fine.
...Or Putting The Kids To Sleep
As a breastsleeping, babywearing mama, my usual go-to method for putting our son to sleep is to nurse (and/or wear) him. Obviously, my non-lactating, cisgender male co-parent cannot do that. But while I used to just handle bedtime exclusively, now that I've started using nighttime to work and now that our son has gotten older and we've started to move toward weaning, I've had to let him step in with his own bedtime routines.
At first I wanted to prescribe how it all happened, but I realized what works for me (when I currently have the option to wrap him up and nurse him if all else fails) won't necessarily work for him, so I let him do his thing. As long as they're safe, and the kid falls asleep in a timely fashion, I don't need to worry about the rest.
When They Handle Diaper Changes Differently
It turns out, there is more than one way to handle a diaper change. While we may have our own persnickety perfect approach to diapers that we think it would be great if everyone followed, we don't have to be micromanaging diapering evangelists as long as our kids' bottoms remains dry, clean, and rash free.
When They Play Different Games...
Kids make up their own games with everyone they're with. Yeah, it's cool to share what games you play with your co-parent, but you don't have to teach them to play the things you do in order for them to entertain the kids. They can totally handle that on their own.
...Or Rough-House More Than You Would
Two caveats: obviously, doing dangerous things is not OK, as is doing anything the child clearly objects to. Don’t ever let anyone violate your child’s safety or bodily autonomy for the sake of “tolerating differences” or sparing yourself an awkward conversation. If someone is, say, tossing and catching a newborn who doesn’t yet have head and neck control, or is tickling or wrestling with a blatantly upset child, squash that mess immediately.
But if your kid(s) and co-parent all giggling and having a good time, and no one’s in imminent danger? Let them have fun. (And clear any stray clutter or other potential hazards out of their way.)
When They Don't Read Books Just Like You Do
I know, mama. You do all the voices, and capture all the rhymes and cadences in your kids' books way better than anyone else does. But the authors are actually super tolerant of a variety of interpretations of their work, so we probably should be too.
When They Style Your Kids Differently Than You Would
As long as they’re not freezing in the cold, or sweltering in the heat, it's OK if your co-parent doesn't dress your kid exactly like you do, or choose the same back-up items for the diaper bag, or style their hair exactly the same way. They might have a quirky approach, or might not always be your vision of stylish (although, depending on your partner, they might actually be more stylish) fashion sense, but that's not the end of the world.
When They Present Food Differently Than You Do
Is there enough food to keep your child satiated until their next meal or snack? Are the foods cooked sufficiently and prepared in such a way that the child won't choke? Is there nothing on the plate that might trigger an allergic reaction? Then your co-parent has served a great meal. (And if it's not on the "right" color plate or any of the other weird rules your kid makes up, they'll either figure that out, or you'll learn that your kid's been playing you this whole. time.)
When They're Out And About Together
A few months into my bio-mom journey, my husband started taking my son out with him on Saturday mornings so I could nap, because he's awesome. Except the first few times he did it, I'd worry that my son would melt down being that far from my breasts, or that they didn't have diapers, or that he was tearing up the store once he started toddling around, or trying to drink coffee at the local cafe, or God only knows what. Finally, I had to coach myself to just freakin' relax already. My husband was a dad already when I met him, and a damn good one at that. He knows what he's doing, and my son is in good hands.
When You Really Need A Break From Being The “Default” Parent
Sometimes, we end up being the “default” parent because of pressures and circumstances beyond our control, like a job loss that costs the family the ability to afford childcare. But sometimes we end up in that role because we’re a little too controlling about how things get done, so our co-parents lean way out and we end up running ourselves ragged (and ultimately, becoming burned out, resentful, less effective parents) as a result.
I’m the literal worst at this, so in the interest of repeating and publishing advice I probably need more than anybody else: if you know there are other people in your life — your co-parent, trusted members of your extended family, or any other trusted caregivers — who love your kids and are capable of caring for them, share the load. Let them enjoy a close connection to your child, let your child enjoy a close connection to them, and give yourself a damn break. Don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself, because you’re the only one who “does it right.” When it comes to loving and raising kids, there’s more than one way to be right.