How to parent together
October 17, 2018 8:55 AM   Subscribe

We are expecting our first child in the next month (all the yays!). We've taken the classes and read the books that covers birth and the first few weeks/months. Most of it was about taking care of their physical well being, which is great because we don't have much experience with that stuff. But we also don't have much experience with the "parenting stuff", how do we figure out what our individual styles will be like and have a conversation about it?

Like many people without children, we've seen how other people parent and had blissfully ignorant and smug conversations about how we would do things. Those conversations have shown that we're not thaaaat far apart in our philosophies. However, I'm being realistic here, I know he'll react to situations differently from me. And I guess sometimes it might bother me and sometimes it might not? So how do I deal with the times it bothers me? Or how do we cut that off at the pass and understand those differences now?

So I'm asking for any of these things:
- Books or resources that will help us unpack what our individual philosphies are so that we can discuss commonalities and resolve any differences in a respectful way.
- Reality check from two parent households. Like, what works for you? For example, I already know we want to try and always support the other parent's decision in front of the kid, even if I privately disagree, in order to consistently show a united front. Any other tactics like that?
- Suggested topics we should have a conversation about. For example, would it be useful to already have a conversations about praising kids for effort over outcome? How to discipline when they are old enough to be 'naughty'? Our subjective definitions of 'naughty' vs. just being a kid?
- Or throw cold water on my face to tell me I'm overthinking things and we can't prepare and we just have to keep talking as situations arise.
posted by like_neon to Human Relations (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing is that you get lots of time to work things out as your child grows, plus, kids always give you a chance to get it better the next week. :)

But I get why you are contemplating this now, and might as well before you are both sleep deprived.

Really, yeah, this will be an 18+ year conversation. Talking over things now may or may not help. But having a relationship where you are always talking about things will make a huge difference. So I say, whether you can solve the problems in advance or not, reading together and having the conversations is a great step.

My husband and I are largely on the same page just by personalities, although our families of origin had hugely different approaches. But we definitely have times we're in sync, and times we're not. So we have a standing check-in with each other about parenting stuff, and we also have each very rarely but significantly stepped in with each other when we were at odds. (He was teasing in a way that I thought was not great, for example; I slam doors when I'm mad from time to time and he really advocated for our kids on stopping that.)

For us the biggest gaps have come when we had different understandings of where our kids were developmentally. This came up pretty early like "what can you expect from a 14-month-old terror" and "why are 3 year old tantrums so much worse than the terrible twos?" So that is reflected in my recommendations below.

For my husband and I here’s the top-three reading list for older kids:
- Kids are Worth It! – discusses family-of-origin parenting styles
- The whole, dated, Louise Bates Ames series on child development
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen – keeping communication styles in check
Other books that were helpful:
- Parenting from the Inside Out
- Playful Parenting
- The Secret of Parenting – Most realism included award
posted by warriorqueen at 9:12 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, you sound so earnest and intelligent and pro-active! Good for you.

My first advice is to take all that earnest concern and pro-active motivation and focus it on making your relationship with your partner as strong and as close as possible. There are great books on relationships by researchers like Markman/Stanley and Gottman, but for me the must read is "How to improve your marriage without talking about it" By Stosny and Love. (It's good for non-married loving relationships as well.)

The kid will be fine. If mom and dad (or dad and dad, mom and mom...) have a strong loving relationship with open communication and well-managed conflict that kid will end up safe and secure and happy. Read parenting books and stay informed of course. But your parenting technique is nowhere near as important as your relationship skills.
posted by cross_impact at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

I strongly recommend joining a few parenting groups on facebook. Yes, standard caveat that people can be nuts. But you will see questions parents ask about parenting dilemmas, and can discuss which of the answers you like/don't like.
posted by Cozybee at 9:26 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

also, parenting a baby totally different from parenting a toddler different from parenting a "kid" different from parenting a teen, and the most immediate one for you right now is baby.

so I suggest urgently prioritizing having the baby-parenting talk (I was way, way too sleep deprived to have that talk once baby was actually arrived), and you'll have time during the baby-stage (after the initial stage, when hahaha you will not) to have the toddler talk, and time during toddler-stage to have kid-talk, etc.

like, if you're gonna wanna do magda gerber inspired RIE stuff with your infant (inform them in advance before you change their diaper from the get-go, for example), or what kind of sleep training (baby whisperer? happiest baby on block? ferber method?), etc- talk about that now.
posted by Cozybee at 9:31 AM on October 17, 2018

First babies are incredibly stressful on a relationship, yes, but they damn near kill a birthing parent (and if the birthing parent is also breastfeeding then heaven help them). Being pregnant and giving birth really shift a person's body, hormones, psyche, and even personality. This is Nature manifesting its awesome self. There is no escaping it: only acknowledging and shifting ourselves to fit with the new reality.

For me, a good parenting team necessarily recognizes the increased needs of the birthing parent. All the "dad" books you ever read will be TRASH, they need to be burned in a fire forever. The non-birthing partner who wishes to be as supportive as possible would be well advised to baby not only the baby but also their partner. The birthing partner is in fact their #1 priority for care, not the baby. If this sounds "unfair" then I submit to you that the couple has a lot of work left to do.

A healthy parenting team also recognizes that the birthing parent has made an outsize contribution to the relationship that the supporting partner can never "repay." It's naive to go into this situation thinking that words like "repay" should never arise and never apply - as I mentioned before, giving birth takes so. very. much from the birthing partner that suddenly these ideas begin to matter. If a birthing parent finds their partner insufficiently appreciative of this contribution and dismissive of the toll it has taken on the birthing parent, that sows pure poison into the soil of the relationship.

Beyond that? I hope you both are accepting of whatever may come: your weirdass emotions towards the baby and towards each other (rage, jealousy, despair, murderousness, extreme protectiveness, etc. are all normal), your life now being absolutely upside down and unrecognizable, your friends all turning into monsters and formerly monstrous acquaintances turning into new BFFs, your parents being wonderful and evil and disappointing and clever all at once, and on and on and on. It's a wild ride, and always remember:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

-- Khalil Gibran
posted by MiraK at 9:41 AM on October 17, 2018 [11 favorites]

My advice: Don't have discussions about parenting in front of the kid. Even the baby, because you have no idea when they start picking up words, and they definitely pick up tone of voice very early.

See if you can agree to, "I will always support your decisions in front of Kidlet; if I disagree, we will talk later. This may mean we later change a punishment or reward, and Kid will realize that what's said in the heat of the moment may not last -- I think this is better than Kid seeing parents argue about how Kid should be treated."

Having a code phrase or gesture that means "we need to talk about this ASAP" may help.

Discuss allocation of chores now, before there is laundry that includes fourteen tiny blankets and three towels that have been used for burp rags. Discuss how you'll re-adjust those when one or both of you is exhausted. Exhausted parents have a hard time enforcing baby rules.

Discuss kid vocabulary: what language is appropriate to use in front of the kid? Don't worry about enforcing random other people's language; the goal isn't to leave holes in the kid's language, but to model the phrasing and behavior you want them to use. If nobody in the house says "fuck" when they're upset, the kid won't think that's a normal thing to do, even if they hear it elsewhere. OTOH, if the parents regularly say "work was a shitpile today," expect to hear some critiques from the parents of other toddlers.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:44 AM on October 17, 2018

I already know we want to try and always support the other parent's decision in front of the kid, even if I privately disagree, in order to consistently show a united front.

You might want to rethink this one. You don't always have to show a united front. If the two of you have different levels of permissiveness or worry about certain things your kid is going to figure that out sooner or later. Why try to pretend things are otherwise? Why does there need to be a united front at all times? Because your relationship with each other is more important than your relationship with your child? Some people do feel the parents' relationship with each other is primary and they want their kids to see that. Others feel differently. That's a topic you and your partner might want to talk about now.

Think about what message it gives your kid when one partner defers to the other's decision, especially if it's usually the same parent deferring. (Which it easily can be, because typically one parent will tend to be more worried, more demanding, more easily offended or more punitive.) If there's something Mom has allowed before that Dad says should be forbidden, and Mom just listens and says nothing, or agrees, the kid may conclude that Dad is really the boss (maybe even that Mom is a little afraid of him.) Or the kid may conclude that Dad is really right and Mom knows it. If Mom forbids something Dad would allow and Dad says nothing, the kid may conclude that Dad cares less and/or doesn't see himself as the primary parent.

There are times when it makes sense for one parent to go along with the other's decision, but I think you may find there are also times when it makes sense to acknowledge that the two of you have different opinions. It will give you a chance to show your child some appropriate ways of dealing with a situation where two people have different opinions.
posted by Redstart at 10:44 AM on October 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

I do think you're overthinking this but the good news is once the kid is around, you will just sort of get on with things and you'll learn you can have all the discussions in the world, but much like a birth plan, it will go out the window once you're actually in those moments.

Having said that, one thing the two of you could discuss now is Ferberizing because you may not agree when it comes to try that method (or not, as the case may be).

Oh also, pacifiers, pro or con. You can sort that out now.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:49 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah discuss the parenting approaches you like the sound of. But also: work out how flexible you are both prepared to be on these when you meet your actual baby. I think it's better to be more flexible, in general, but if there's an area where one of you is 100% will-not-budge set on doing things a particular way, you at least need to both know about this ahead of time so you don't end up arguing about it when you're exhausted and stressed and the other one of you wants to ditch it.

e.g. - We were both absolutely sure and agreed that we wouldn't cosleep. Had a baby that would not sleep otherwise. Coslept. Having a partner that was prepared to say "okay, original approach isn't working, let's try something else" ended up far more important to me than having a partner who agreed with me in principle before the baby arrived.
posted by Catseye at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

It's probably not a bad idea to have some talks now about co-sleeping, sleep training, etc. But you should realize that your thoughts may change a lot once you're faced with the reality of your particular baby and the impact of your baby's sleep on your lives. There are a lot of things that sound really sensible in concept that you may discover just aren't going to work for you and your baby.
posted by Redstart at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

I second all the advice not to get ideas that are too fixed until you have some more experience.

I started out with an assumption that we would never contradict each other in front of the kid. However, bluntly, my partner is often critical of our kid in a way I really don’t like. So what wound up happening is that dinnertime became this ritual of eirias trying to make conversation with Little eirias, Mr. eirias interrupting constantly to criticize the manner in which Little eirias was sitting/holding the cutlery/not holding the cutlery/not using her napkin/putting her cup down in a bad spot, and eventually eirias giving up and leaving the table at the earliest defensible moment to clear dishes; and then it morphed into Little eirias privately saying things to me like “you’re the best member of this family because you’re nice to me” and “sometimes Daddy makes bad choices”; so at that point I said, fuck it, better to intervene in the moment than let this bad family dynamic grow worse. It has actually helped; the moments where I speak up and say “hey, give her a break” are awkward, especially for the kid, but they cut some stuff off at the pass that shouldn’t be happening (and I haven’t been awkwardly praised for being a reasonable person in several months, which is a blessing).
posted by eirias at 11:56 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also want to mention the whole "united front" thing. IMO, modeling how to constructively disagree with your partner is a valuable thing to do. My husband's parents never disagree with each other in front of their kids (still, and their children are in their mid-40s) and husband tended to catastrophize all of our disagreements in the first part of our relationship because he'd never seen a couple disagree.

Learning that you can have a disagreement but still be on the same team is a good thing.
posted by gaspode at 12:10 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

The best parenting advice I ever read was to consider a problem your kid having as separate from you and the kid. If you were on a tennis court, imagine you and your kid on one said and the problem on the other. Your job is to work with your kid to overcome the problem rather than just expecting them to fix it themselves while you stand over on your side of the court.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2018

I think the best advice I can give you is that everything will be different once you're there, and advice is so heavily dependent on the individual child. I say this as somebody who bought pretty much every sleep book and baby sleep aid on the market, generally at 3 AM while trying to feed a newborn. Things that work really well for one child will not work so well for another.

For what it's worth, my wife swears by Janet Lansbury, who has a book.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:39 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

As you might have expected, the best advice in this area comes from Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, based on his experience as Chief of Staff of the Prussian General Staff from 1857 to 1871: " plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force," sometimes quoted as "No plan survives first contact with the enemy."

Your goals and the advice above are great, but also know that you will fail, both as a parent and a spouse, so my advice is to be forgiving, both of your spouse and yourself. If at 3 a.m one of you starts cursing the other out for accidentally waking the baby who, damnit, I just spent 2 hours getting to sleep - well, make up in the morning and start over.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:32 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

My wife and I had good intentions of reading books and having meaningful conversations but never really did any of those things. We agreed early that we'd always present a united front, and would discuss issues privately and be kind and respectful to each other. Basic partnership stuff. Our daughter is now 7 and this very minimal strategy has worked just fine -- my recommendation would be not to overthink it, unless you have reason to believe your parenting instincts would be vastly different.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:28 PM on October 17, 2018

I want to second cross_impact's suggestion that you use the energy to work on communication and problem-solving skills within the adult partnership. A strong, loving, respectful relationship will give you foundation for working through the co-parenting issues as they arise. I also like "How to improve your marriage without talking about it" By Stosny and Love with the caveat that it is very deterministic about how all women are this way and all men are that way. I think they are right about 75-80% of the time - look at it and if it fits you, it is a great book. If it doesn't, just put it down and walk away.
posted by metahawk at 4:53 PM on October 17, 2018

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. There is a great mix of informative and practical advice given and I appreciate them all. I was particularly struck by the point that good parenting starts from a strong relationship. I do have a lot of confidence in our relationship and I know my husband does as well. However, I also think the past few months have been so focused on the forthcoming baby that there is a risk we've been taking our own relationship for granted. He's been excellent about supporting me and prioritising my needs but there probably is an opportunity for us to take these shortening weeks with just the two of us to bond and reconnect as individuals. Like, I can't remember the last time we've been on a date!
posted by like_neon at 2:40 AM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We had our 36 week scan which went well. Estimating her at 6lb 4oz! She has hair on her head! We're going to go on a proper date tonight to celebrate :)
posted by like_neon at 2:53 AM on October 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

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