I'll never forget the day I found out I was pregnant. I had a feeling that had been supported by a positive take-home pregnancy test, but it wasn't until an ultrasound technician swiveled that small screen in my direction and pointed to a tiny "bean," that it truly hit me: I was going to be a mom, my partner was going to be a dad and, together, we were going to be co-parents. I was in my late twenties and didn't plan on getting pregnant, suddenly finding out the things every new mom needs to know about co-parenting; things that would change my relationship for the better; things that were honestly somewhat surprising but have definitely become the foundation of my co-parenting relationship.
My partner and I weren't together for what many would consider a "long time" before I found out I was pregnant and we decided we wanted to be parents. We weren't married (still aren't) and once we announced our pregnancy we were bombarded with co-parenting "tips" from friends and family members and even well-meaning acquaintances. Because we did things a little "out of the ordinary" according to a society that usually wants people to be married first (I guess?), people had a few questions about our co-parenting situation. How was this going to work? Who was going to move in with who? Were we going to get married? Whose last name will the kid take? I mean, who knew so many people would care about something as intimate and personal as a co-parenting situation, right?!
My partner and I weathered that initial storm, and every subsequent parenting storm since, thanks to the lessons we have learned as new parents. We know we don't need to get married and we know that we get to make our own co-parenting decisions and create a healthy parenting environment that works best for our son and ourselves. So, if you're about to be a mom or you're a new mom and you're wondering how co-parenting is going to work, rest assured that not only will you figure it out, but the following tips will help you and your partner come up with a co-parenting plan that works best for you both:
It's Not Going To Be Easy...
Even if you have the healthiest, most on-the-same page relationship, you're going to struggle. Even if you're one of those couples that never fight or you've never had so much as a disagreement, parenthood will provide you with multiple situations in which you can do both. When there's an other life in the mix, suddenly how you were raised vs how your partner was raised, how their parents disciplined vs how your parents disciplined, and every other past choice or situation you have experienced separate from your partner and together with your partner, matter. To the degree in which they matter varies, of course, but you will not always agree.
...And That's Normal
You know that constantly regurgitated, ridiculously annoying platitude that goes, "Nothing in this life worth having is easy" that you've probably rolled your eyes at a thousand times? Yeah, well, it's stupid but it's also true. Like, there's a reason why it's a cliché. Parenthood isn't easy, and that's normal.
There Will Be Moments When You Disagree...
Because you and your partner come from different backgrounds with different parents and have different life experiences, you're going to disagree. Eventually. I mean, obviously it's a good idea to discuss parenting philosophies prior to procreating (or after you've found out you're pregnant, in the case of my partner and I) but it's impossible to cover every parenting scenario because you have no idea what you'll inevitably face. You're two different people, with varying thoughts and opinions and beliefs, and respecting one another's individualities while working together as a team is going to create a few disagreements, but end up strengthening your parenting abilities.
...And That's Normal
Not being on the same page or disagreeing or even fighting with your partner (as long as it's in a heathy way) is normal. You're not some doomed couple, I promise.
You Won't Always Like Your Co-Parenting Partner...
I love my parenting partner, but I don't always like him. When I was breastfeeding in the middle of the night for the seventh time and he was sleeping in the bed next to me, I didn't like him. When we argued over gun control, I didn't necessarily like him. I have never once not loved my partner, but I have experienced plenty of occasions when we disagree and I'm exhausted or he does something that is annoying or anything but helpful, and I find myself not necessarily liking him.
...And, You Guessed It, That's Normal
I also, sometimes, don't like my mother and don't like my brother and don't particularly like my best friend, even though I love all of those people to the damn moon and back. It's normal to not always get along with the people you love the most. I mean, we're human beings.
Constant Communication Is Key
I knew that communication was important in general, but I didn't know just how important it was until I was co-parenting. My partner and I are constantly checking in with one another, making sure everything from our romantic relationship to our sex life to how we feel we're doing as parents to what we want to cook for the week, is in order and we're on the same page. That's the only way we can co-parent efficiently.
Compromise Is The Name Of The Co-Parenting Game
Since becoming a parent, I have realized that being "right" is not as important as doing the right thing. My ego needs (and should) take a back seat, especially when it comes to my relationship and my son. That means that I have had to compromise and my partner has had to compromise, so we can do the best thing for our son and for ourselves. It isn't always easy, and there are moments when (I think) compromise isn't warranted and either I or my partner should stand our ground but, in the end, compromise is the name of the parenting game and the sooner you learn how to compromise in a healthy way, the better.
If You Want It To Work, Don't Keep Score
You're part of a team, so don't keep a mental scoreboard up-to-date by tallying every time you do something and your partner doesn't. You shouldn't be doing the dishes or the laundry or changing a diaper, just so you can highlight that one time your partner didn't. You two should be giving and taking, helping each other out when you can, regardless of how that ends up looking.
Let Your Partner Vent And Actually Listen...
My partner and I frequently vent to one another (about work, about our apartment, about bills, about adulthood, and definitely about parenting) and I can't tell you how helpful that is. I mean, I spend so much energy just parenting a toddler, that there's zero ounces left that I can use to keep negative thoughts and feelings bottled up inside. I physically can't do it. To be able to have someone that will sit and listen about that horrific tantrum my kid just threw is so helpful, especially when that person understands and is personally invested and has probably sat through the same tantrum, too.
There are things a mom thinks that she's so afraid to say out loud, because our society has decided that a "good mother" is someone who absolutely loves every single solitary moment of parenting and will willingly sacrifice all of herself in order to raise a child. Nope, that's not true. Parenthood can suck and you need to be able to express those feelings sans judgment. If you can do that with your parenting partner, you will both be better off.
...And Make Sure Your Partner Provides You With The Same Ability
It needs to be a two-way street. I mean, it's basically that simple. If one parenting partner is venting, there should be a "switch" somewhere in the conversation so that the other can do the same.
Don't Be Afraid To Spend Some Time Alone
My partner and I recently started having weekly date nights, but with ourselves. I get to take myself out to a nice dinner or a movie or go to a cafe and read a book, while my partner watches our son. Then, next week, it's my partner's turn to take himself out and spend some quality time with himself. I think it's vital that, when you're part of a partnership, you're also focusing on yourself and your individuality. You don't have to lose who you are in order to be part of a healthy team.
You Can Customize Your Co-Parenting Situation...
Sure, take people's advice and read parenting books and learn from those around you, but make sure that whatever co-parenting situation you have going on is one you've created it. No two co-parenting situations are the same, and you have not only the ability but the right to make your own decisions about what works best for you and your family.
So Do What Works Best For You
Seriously, that's all that matters. If you are married but sleeping in separate beds while you co-sleep with your kid works for you, do it. If you're not married and you don't plan on getting married, even though others are claiming you should for your kid, don't do it. You get to decide what is best for you, and then you get to actually do it. Don't worry about the judgment that is sure to come your way. No one knows your parenting situation better than you and your co-parent, so make sure your decisions are benefiting you guys and your family, first and foremost.