Procreating with someone or adopting a child together does not automatically mean you will be compatible co-parents. The following are a few of the most common challenges that co-parents face and my suggestions for coping with them.
Discipline: Choosing a mate who was raised exactly the same way you were is almost as likely as my mate routinely lowering the toilet seat after each use. Not gonna happen. It can be very difficult to parent as a team if you feel your child should be gently placed on a time out stool for his or her transgressions while your spouse feels that spanking is the best possible course of action. My advice to any couple considering parenthood is to discuss the differences in your beliefs regarding discipline prior to actually obtaining any children. But at the very least, have this conversation on or before your child’s 13th birthday; otherwise things are going to get ugly.
Communication: Several years ago, my husband went a few hours away for a job interview. When he got home that night, I asked him how it had gone. He started to tell me about it when we were interrupted by the doorbell. I still don’t know how that interview went. I assume he didn’t get the job. And that was before children. Communication hasn’t gotten any easier since we’ve added them to the mix. One strategy we’ve employed is learning to talk louder than the general din in the house so that no matter what is going on, we can still hear one another. We also have used a variety of alternatives to talking, such as texting, Facebook, and this blog (see Super Dad). The most important thing is making an effort to have a conversation with one another at least once a month, whether you need it or not.
Trust: Being able to trust your co-parent to care for your little ones in your absence is terribly important if you ever want to relax again but it can be tricky. For example, how am I to trust my husband to correctly measure the appropriate dose of Tylenol for our infant when in college I once saw him demonstrate the proper function of a hookah bong? Or perhaps that makes him a better candidate than most for dispensing medications? Either way, trust is critical to sharing a child with another person. Without it, some parents have been known to resort to juvenile behaviors such as name calling and giving wedgies.
Golf: I would have called this section “Hobbies and Interests” except that golf is a special kind of problem for co-parents. I say “special” because it is a hobby that can take up to 16 hours and several hundred dollars per outing. It is hard to find a comparable hobby for the non-golfing partner that takes as long or costs as much. Try crocheting, water polo, or drinking wine for that long. No good will come from that. The non-golfer tends to build up resentment about all of the “me-time” his or her partner has when golfing. My advice is to join a ballet company that travels internationally. You can’t dance? Okay, then learn to love golf and accompany your partner. He or she will love that. Maybe you can spend some time communicating while you’re at it.
There is an infinite number of other places that differences can arise between co-parents. As such, it is inevitable that there will be disagreements from time to time. Having effective conflict resolution skills is an important part of successful co-parenting. For instance, arguing in front of the kids is generally not a good idea. Even at young ages, they try to take sides, usually with the parent who has been the nicest to them in the last few hours. “Yeah Mommy, Daddy doesn’t like your tone. You be nice to him or you’re in time out!” “Sweetheart, I’ve been trying to get a time out for 5 years. Mind your business.” Arguments will happen even if you are on the same page most of the time. The key is to respect yourself and your family enough to fight fairly, using “I” statements and active listening skills. By that, I mean drown your sorrows in cheap liquor like everyone else.