Parenting as a Team

The extent to which children experience their parents as partners or opponents in parenting is related to children’s adjustment and well being.
—Elizabeth Sharp and Sara Gable, Parenting: Success Requires a Team Effort

Parenting with a partner can make family life at once easier and more challenging, especially if your styles are very different. You both bring to parenting your unique experiences with your own parents, which inevitably shape your parenting behaviors. And the two of you have big dreams and aspirations for your child.

Striving to “be on the same page” with your coparent when it comes to the way you handle your child’s school, friends, out-of-school activities, house rules, and chores is a wonderful investment you can both make in your child’s future success. Here are some tips to try:

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • In Building Strong Families, a 2002 poll, the YMCA of the USA and Search Institute found that 50% of responding parents felt they had an “excellent” parenting relationship with their parenting partner. Strive to be one of them!
    • Talk to each other about how you envision being a good parent (and the behaviors you hope to avoid). This is an important conversation to have with your parenting partner, and will justify a “pat on the back” when each of you later sees your goals actually coming true.
    • Use clear, respectful communication that focuses on issues (e.g., “I think we will get better results if we are consistent about enforcing the rules”), and not on personalities (e.g., “You’re so unpredictable that the kids never know what to expect”).
    • Make an effort to view differences of opinion from your coparent’s perspective, or at least genuinely try to understand what he or she is saying. Recognize that parenting approaches are sometimes just different, not better or worse than others.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Regularly make a point of saying something positive to your coparent about his or her parenting techniques. Supporting each other is “key” to good parenting.
    • If your tendency is to do it yourself because you think you can do whatever-it-is better and faster, remember that parenting is a team effort. Your child will benefit from this approach, even if it takes more time.
    • Most parents tell us they wish they had a better support system. For many, the challenges of parenting can be new and daunting. The two of you can be intentional about sharing your experiences with friends who also have children this age. The more support you both have, the better you’ll feel about your parent roles.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Be willing to apologize to your parenting partner when it’s appropriate. If your child was within earshot of an argument between your partner and you or witnessed negative behavior, let them hear the apology as well.
    • It’s important to be involved as a family in events or activities, even if you are separated or divorced. If possible, this could mean setting aside differences and attending your child’s performance or school conference together.
    • Your reaction to your child’s accomplishments sets the stage for the teen years. As a parenting team, remember to acknowledge your child’s best grades first. Waiting a day to talk through the “not so good” grades helps your child understand that you see his or her best side, but are also willing to help with the more challenging subjects. Talk to your coparent about ways each of you can support the subjects your child struggles with.
    • Begin creating family rules now with input from your children. Include important boundaries and consequences that will “kick in” when there are problems. Stick together when you and your partner enforce the rules! If rules need to change, choose a time to revise them after the issue is dealt with.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Continue to create family rules together. Revisit them annually. Stick to the consequences you agreed upon. If your child tells you your rules are too strict, talk to other parents and find out how they handle situations. It helps to have common rules among families in your child’s friendship circle.
    • When you “agree to disagree” with your partner, try to find as much common ground as possible. If you are separated or divorced, consider putting understandings in writing. If, for example, you think your child is ready to date, but your partner disagrees, sign a pact agreeing that one of you will always check to make sure your child participates in group dates, rather than one-on-one dates, and that you will revisit the issue in six months.
    • List as many things as possible that you like about your coparent’s parenting style. Slip the list into a greeting card, and give it to her or him.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Some say this is the toughest time to parent as a team. Staying in touch with the parents of your child’s friends can help the two of you know whether you are truly approaching issues as a team.
    • Remember to revisit family rules each year. Update and revise them according to your teen’s response. Having family rules and sticking to consequences is as much for your support as it is for your child’s safety.
    • Consider consulting a counselor, family mediator, or parenting coach if you and your coparent are having trouble working together as a team. Your teen is going through many changes and gaining lots of independence. That means new parenting challenges and responsibilities. Sometimes a little outside help can make a big difference.
    • Support your coparent’s right to set limits, even if you don’t always agree with the limits. If you have a serious concern about a rule or boundary, talk with your coparent first before approaching your teen about it together.
  • Many parents who try to coparent while in the midst of separation or divorce find family mediators can provide them with great support. They can help craft parenting plans at various stages of a child’s development and be neutral partners in coparenting. For more information, check phone book or Internet listings of family mediators in your area.

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