When I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant, the first thing I did was think about my partner. My decision to become a mother hinged on so many things, but how I would be able to co-parent with my partner was definitely one of those things. We had a healthy relationship and we were committed to one another and we were great communicators and, well, I loved him madly, so the decision ended up being, "Yes, I can raise a human with this other human." Still, there are things every new mom wishes she knew about co-parenting, and it would take me a while to figure out that even the most steadfast of relationships or partnerships or ex-relationships or ex-partnerships, will falter when tasked with raising another human being.
My partner and I aren't married, and while I definitely don't think marriage is a prerequisite to having children, our "single status" opened us up to more than our fair share of external doubt and shame. A lot of people wondered if we would be able to handle parenthood together; if we would eventually break up (as if divorce isn't a thing) because we were co-parenting; if we were rushing into parenthood because we weren't married and weren't together for very long. I can't speak for my partner, but I think I internalized some of those outside whispers, and I took a very long pause before I decided that parenting with my partner was something we could both do. We were happy and financially stable and in a great relationship, but parenthood is difficult and can be a strain on anyone.
Turns out, we're still happily parenting together, as a team, but I was somewhat shocked at all the moments of disagreement and compromise and exhausted difficulty we eventually faced (and will probably continue to face). We changed our minds about certain parenting decisions and even though we agreed on a majority of parenting choices, we found ourselves butting heads (even surprisingly) about others. Parenthood, like every other facet of life, is complicated. So, with that in mind, here are a few things I wish I knew about co-parenting, before I found myself in the middle of it:
It's Not Easy
I, naively, thought that co-parenting with my partner would be much easier than it actually is. We had a strong foundation, had discussed so many parenting decisions that we agreed on, did our research and had established a great line of communication. Of course, exhaustion and a new baby and self-doubt and everything that parenthood can provide, put all of the above to the test. It is definitely not as easy as I thought it would be, and even the healthiest of couples are going to have their not-so-fun moments.
It's Going To Test Your Relationship
I won't go so far as to say that parenthood is the ultimate test of one's relationship. I mean, there are a lot of things that can test a romantic bond between two people: distance, a loss of a family member and/or friend, moving in together, moving across the country together, a long road trip, a major career change. There are so many things that can test a partnership, but parenthood is definitely on that list. It's impossible to prepare for all the moments that will leave you wondering if you made the right decision, and with the right person.
One Parent (Sometimes) Gets To Make A Particular Decision And The Other (Sometimes) Doesn't
Honestly, no one talks about the decisions that aren't, well, made by both co-parents. When it comes to procreation and pregnancy and labor and delivery, there are some decision that a dad just doesn't have a say in (or the person who isn't going to be pregnant). When it's a woman's body, no one els gets a say in how she labors or if she breastfeeds or, well, you get the idea. Yes, you want to make decisions together as a parenting team, but no two decisions are created equal.
You're Not Always Going To Agree...
Not only will you not always see eye-to-eye, you might even find yourself disagreeing on a decision you previously thought you had made together. I remember my partner and I both deciding that we weren't going to try co-sleeping (we were afraid of it) only for me to immediately change my mind the moment my son was born. My partner took some convincing, but we eventually changed our mind and co-slept with our son. You can prepare as best as you can, but certain situations might find you changing your mind (when your parenting partner hasn't).
And You'll End Up Compromising On Certain Things You Didn't Think You'd Compromise On
I didn't think I'd go back on some of my parenting decisions, but when my partner and I were faced with certain choices and it was clear that we weren't both going to agree, I found myself compromising when I never thought I would. For example, I never, ever, wanted to have a gun in our home. My partner, who is from the midwest, disagrees and has always owned guns. We have argued and discussed and we just can't seem to find common ground: so we compromised. All guns are gone, minus one, and it is locked away.
You'll Need To Stay Up-To-Date And Do Your Research
In order to co-parent to the best of your ability, you need to stay up-to-date on everything that is going on in the parenting world. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with my partner that start with, "So I read this article and it says that it's best if we..." only to discuss if we agree with this new parenting technique, or if we disagree. We're constantly re-evaluating to find what works best (and what definitely doesn't) for ourselves, our kid and our family.
You'll Change Your Mind About Certain Decisions A Thousand Times
I've said it once but I will keep saying it a thousand times: you can think you know what you're going to do when you become a parent, but until you're actually in the middle of motherhood, you'll never know for sure. I have changed my mind a million times, only to change it back, only to consider changing it again. My partner goes through the same, so we're consistently going back and forth and wondering if what we did that one time is something we should do again.
It's Perfectly Healthy To Not Totally Agree On Everything
I'm of the relationship camp that says that arguing and disagreeing is, well, healthy (if you do it in a constructive, kind and healthy way, of course). I think that your kid can actually benefit from seeing you disagree with your partner, and it's completely normal to disagree and debate and not see eye-to-eye on every decision you two make. Of course you want to present a united front and you want to keep the two of you on the same page, but when the page flips and you find yourselves in completely different chapters, that isn't cause for concern.
Sometimes You'll Resent Your Parenting Partner...
I will always remember the first time I resented my parenting partner. I was up in the middle of the night, breastfeeding my son, and I hadn't slept in what felt like ever. I was exhausted and close to crying and just wanted to sleep and, in that moment, I looked over to see my partner snoring in bed, right next to me, blissfully unaware that I was struggling. I resented his ability to sleep while I had to breastfeed; I resented his presence, reminding me that I couldn't sleep; I just resented him, which wasn't fair because we talked about breastfeeding and sleep arrangements but, still, it was the worst. It's also normal.
...And Other Times You Won't Know What To Do Without Them
And, of course, there are moments when I seriously doubt my ability to parent without my partner. How would I manage without a co-parent? What would I do on those days when I really need someone to just take the kid so I can spend time by myself? How would I be able to go to work every day and feel confident that my son is happy and healthy? (Of course, you can do all of those things without an active co-parent, but it's hard for me to imagine how I would do it).
Putting Your Kid First Isn't Always Easy
When co-parenting, especially when you're disagreeing with your co-parent, it's sometimes difficult to think of your kid first. Yes, you should, but I mean, you're also human and you want to be right and you want to be able to say that your decision was the "right" decision for your kid. When the best thing to do for your child is to admit that you were wrong or concede a point or make a compromise you didn't really want to make, well, putting your kid first can be difficult.
While It Will Test Your Relationship, It Will Ultimately Make It Stronger (And Healthier)...
You'll have low points and you'll resent one another and there will be plenty of times in which parenting together just seems like the worst decision ever, but co-parenting will ultimately make your relationship stronger. I can't tell you how close I feel to my partner, now that I know we're equally responsible for another life. The decisions we've made; the circumstances we've overcame together, as parents; the moments we've shared with our son, together; they're all reasons why I feel closer to my partner than ever before.
...Because The Inevitable Disagreements Will Make You A Better Team
While I have learned and grown and been made a better parent simply by having my co-partner around, I can tell you that it was our disagreements that have helped me the most. When my parenting partner and I are forced to look inward and debate our parenting decisions and examine our ongoing choices, I know I'm learning and growing and becoming the best mother I can possibly be. The disagreements you'll inevitably have with your partner will, in turn, make you both closer in your romantic relationship, and better parents to your kid.