It's not uncommon for partners to have disagreements about night wakings, especially if one parent believes in self-soothing while the other is a fan of co-sleeping, for example. These differences are often totally OK, and can be balanced or reconciled as parents see fit, but a recent study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that parents must effectively communicate about night wakings — and how they'll respond to them — if they want to preserve a smooth co-parenting relationship.
According to Fatherly, the study analyzed data on "167 mothers and 155 fathers obtained from Project SIESTA, a longitudinal study of parenting, infant sleep, and development." Led by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, the goal of the study was to figure out how partners could be better co-parents. To do this, the study's researchers had participants answer questions about their opinions on night wakings. According to Penn State News, parents of infants as old as 12 months answered "yes" or "no" to statements like, "My child will feel abandoned if I don’t respond immediately to his/her cries at night." In conjunction with these questions, participants responded to statements about their co-parenting relationships. One question asked, according to Penn State News, “My partner and I have the same goals for our child." The study also asked parents if they felt any symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Researchers ultimately found that mothers had stronger opinions (whether positive or negative) on how to handle night wakings while fathers were generally more relaxed about the subject. Furthermore, the study concluded that when mothers had stronger opinions, their feelings on co-parenting plummeted. Interestingly enough, researchers found that co-parenting didn't suffer in families where fathers had stronger opinions about night wakings.
Jonathan Reader, the study's lead researcher, explained, according to Science Daily:
During the study, we saw that in general mothers were much more active at night with the baby than the fathers were. So perhaps because the mothers were the more active ones during the night, if they're not feeling supported in their decisions, then it creates more of a drift in the coparenting relationship.
As for how parents can avoid resentment when co-parenting, Reader advised, according to Science Daily:
It's important to have these conversations early and upfront, so when it's 3 a.m. and the baby's crying, both parents are on the same page about how they're going to respond. Constant communication is really important.
Dr. Douglas Teti, another contributor to the study, added, according to Psych Central:
What we seem to be finding is that it’s not so much whether the babies are sleeping through the night, or how the parents decide to do bedtime, but more about how the parents are reacting and if they’re stressed. That seems to be much more important than whether you co-sleep or don’t co-sleep, or whatever you choose to do. Whatever you decide, just make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Unfortunately, if partners don't get on the "same page," there can be a negative impact on their kids.
Researcher Marc Goodman-Bryan explained, according to the Urban Child Institute:
Children are affected by the quality of their parents’ relationship even in the first three years of life. Mothers and fathers in healthy and satisfying marriages are more engaged in their role as parents and have more positive attitudes toward their children. Frequent and intense conflict, on the other hand, is associated with unresponsive and insensitive parenting.
When you're a busy and stressed out parent, it can be difficult to effectively communicate with your partner. Despite the numerous hurdles, however, it's incredibly important for partners to agree on parenting decisions, including how to best respond to night wakings. Considering what's at stake, successful co-parenting should be a top priority for all parents.