I'd like to tell you that my parenting partner and I are an unstoppable force and that we never screw up and we're always on the same page and we're as in sync as the choreography every '90s boy band seemed to have. However, that would be a lie. While I do think my partner and I make a very good team and raise our son well, I know I'm guilty of shaming my co-parent without realizing it. In fact, when I take the time to really sit and evaluate the way I treat my partner I, well, have some work to do.
My partner and I found out I was pregnant pretty early into our relationship. In fact, it was six months into what was an already fast-moving arrangement, so we pushed it into "serious" gear pretty quickly and haven't looked back since. We didn't, however, get married, and don't plan on getting married anytime soon (read: ever). We now have a 2-year-old toddler and the arrangement we have — dating and living together and being just as committed as (some) married couples, but without the "marriage" title — works for us and our family. Just because it works, though, doesn't mean we're perfect at it. We're learning, both as parents and as partners parenting together, how to handle this whole "raise another human being" thing and it's not easy. In fact, for better or worse, part of the learning process has been me realizing that I've subtly and not-so-subtly shamed my partner. Yeah, that's not a thing I want to have happen.
Of course, you can't fix what you don't know is broken. It's not easy to take a step back and look at your mistakes, admit you made them, make amends and improve, but I think it's a very necessary step if you're going to co-parent with someone successfully and in a healthy, sustainable way. So, with that in mind, here are just a few ways you might be shaming your partner without even knowing it.
You Question Their Decisions In Front Of Your Kid
My parenting partner and I don't agree on everything because, you know, we're not the same person. We have different ideas when it comes to discipline and dinner time and even nap time, and that's OK. Usually, we're quick to talk about our different viewpoints and find a common ground we both feel comfortable standing on. However, those discussions (usually) take place in private, far from the inquiring ears of our 2-year-old toddler so our son always sees us on the same page.
However, I'm not perfect. I've caught myself saying things like, "Are you're sure?" and "Why?" and even a "Yeah, you did that wrong," in front of my son, essentially telling my partner that he's failing when in the presence of our child. That's not really the fortified parenting front I want my son to observe on a regular basis, so I know that those conversations need to be taking place behind closed doors and in a respectful manner.
You Remind Them Of Something Relatively Simple And Obvious
Every time I remind my partner to put a coat on our son when he's taking him to the park, I get a (much-deserved) look that says, "Of course I'm going to put a coat on our kid, I'm not a moron."
I know that I shouldn't constantly be reminding him of very obvious parenting responsibilities that he's completely aware of and capable of accomplishing. I know that this is me being a complete control freak, but I also know it gives my partner the impression that I don't trust him (which is a sh*tty thing to make your parenting partner think).
You Do The Majority Of The Parenting Yourself
Now, sometimes this isn't a choice but a necessity. If you have a parenting partner who isn't really a partner at all, but someone less-than-involved and all-around sh*tty, I am so very sorry and I hope that you find the support you need and deserve elsewhere (as does your kid).
However, if you're just doing everything yourself and not giving your very-involved parenting partner a chance to parent too, you're not doing them any favors. You're taking away chances for them to prove to their kid that they're capable, trustworthy, and that they love them. You're robbing them of moments they can spend bonding with their kid by facilitating care or comfort or food or whatever else your kid might need. So, honestly, let your parenting partner parent. You get a "break," and they get to be a damn adult.
You Publicly Praise Them For Something Every Parent Can And Should Do
Now, there are moments when I'll take to Facebook and let everyone shamelessly know that I appreciate and value my parenting partner. For example, just the other day I went on and on about my partner's straight A's in undergraduate school, because not only is he going to school full-time but he's with our son full-time during the day. I think that's worthy of some social media lip service.
However, you won't see me posting about him changing diapers or making dinner or doing one of the million things parents are required to do. I'm not going to patronize him, as he is a capable father who can do whatever it is I can do (except the breastfeeding part. That was all me.).
You Assume They Can't Complete A Task Because Of Their Background...
When you're a first time parent everything is new, regardless of what your childhood may or may not have looked like. Before I had my son, I was afraid that my tumultuous childhood (with an abusive parent) was going to somehow make me ill-equipped to parent my son the way I knew he deserved. However, the opposite was (and is) true. I had such a great example of what not to do, that my background only aided me in understanding what my son needs and how I can accommodate him in a healthy, safe and sustainable way.
Which is why as often as my parenting partner can and does get on my nerves (because you try raising another human being with someone who isn't exactly like you), I will forever be grateful that not once has he used my abusive childhood against me. I mean, he's not a monster, for one, but he also understands that while my past does shape who I am, I also have the ability to shape my present and my future.
Yeah, this isn't a thing. I would never tell my partner that he won't be great at handling any problems our future daughter may or may not have, just because he identifies as a man. I won't assume he wouldn't be great at comforting our son when he cries, because "boys don't cry." I definitely wouldn't assume he can't cook my son a meal because "men don't cook." Nope.
Gender has absolutely nothing to do with how great someone is or is not at parenting, and I won't take chances away from my partner just because "he's a man" and "men aren't naturally good at [insert something a man can totally do, here]."
You Leave Them Extremely Detailed Directions For Things They Already Know
If you want to leave detailed instructions for a babysitter (someone who doesn't see your kid on a daily basis and isn't, you know, their parent) go wild, kid. I know I would. In fact, I rarely leave my kid with anyone — and have only left him with close friends and/or family members I trust with my life and have known forever — because I don't think detailed instructions would keep my anxiety at bay.
However, I don't need to leave my parenting partner some seven freakin' pages of "what to do if" instructions, because he's a parent and he's not a babysitter. He knows what to do and, if he doesn't, he can learn just like I learned. We're in this together, and he's not "doing me a favor" nor do I need to "guide him" as a parent, when I go out and he has the kid by himself. I might as well write "I don't trust you to figure this out on your own" on a sheet of paper over and over and over again.
When Check In On Them Regularly When They're Parenting By Themselves
Alright, I'll admit it: I am horribly guilty of sending my parenting partner way too many test messages "checking in" when I'm on a work trip or out with girlfriends or just taking myself out on a solo-dinner date. It's ridiculous and unnecessary but it's this itch I just can't help but scratch. I want to know that everything is OK and nothing is "wrong," even though I'm well aware that if something was wrong, I would be the first to know.
I know that when I'm sending him text after text I'm basically saying, "I'm freaking out because I don't have faith that you can handle things by yourself, like a responsible parent." That's unfair. Plus, have you ever had your phone continuously go off while trying to deal with a toddler? That's enough to make you want to lose your freakin' mind.
You Parent Your Parenting Partner
I have one kid, not two. While I will always be there to support my partner (in every facet of his life), I will not baby him like he's my child. Because, you know, he's not. I won't do his laundry or clean up after him or treat him like he's incapable of being the adult I know he is.
He's my partner and we tackle things together. When he needs more from me I will happily give it to him, because I know the tables will turn and, eventually, I will need more from him, too. However, at the end of the day, I will treat him the way I would like to be treated: like a grown-ass human being.