February 23, 2012

Come Together


Six Key Ways To Creating A Great Parenting Partnership

By Matt Schneider and Lance Somerfeld


[Two Special Editor's
Notes]

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And now for some advice on establishing a great parenting partnership:  

Whether it’s out of a desire for an
equal and supportive relationship—or out of necessity—families are recognizing
that life is a lot more manageable when both parents are competent, caring and
willing to share the load. Parenting in partnership isn’t always easy, of
course. It requires regular communication, flexibility and usually involves a
few moments every now and then when you have to bite your tongue. But in our
experience as the co-founders of the social and educational group NYC Dads
Group
—and particularly in our weekly New Dad Boot Camps—we’ve found that there
are certainly best practices (for moms and dads) for producing better
partnerships at home.

1. Beware The Gatekeeper
Tradition, popular culture and unwitting parents
have conspired for decades to make moms feel and act as if they are the only
ones who can properly take care of the baby— pushing everyone else away—a
phenomenon often called “gatekeeping.” In the earliest weeks especially,
parenting is about practice more than instinct, and both parents need
opportunities to change diapers, to comfort the baby when she’s upset and to
enjoy the quiet moments when she’s sleeping on your chest. This is the time for
Dad to assert his role, express his willingness to learn and to demonstrate
some competence. When both parents develop a skill set, Mom doesn’t feel like
the weight of parenting is all on her shoulders, and Dad doesn’t feel left
out. 

2. Parent As A Team
When both parents are competent, they have a better
opportunity to parent as a team rather than as master and apprentice. For
example, nursing is a struggle and often a time when moms feels like they are in
it alone. Dads can be very supportive of the nursing process. Bringing the baby
over at feeding time, changing the baby’s diaper and getting the baby back to
sleep are all ways in which dads can be intimately involved. More generally,
the spirit of the idea is this: team players take initiative, they are generous
to one another and they have a plan (so they’re not always debating who does
what). If there is a sink full of dishes, a pile of laundry and a baby to put
to bed, you’ve got to divide and conquer. Developing a plan to share the to-do
list at the end of the day gets you a lot closer to the moment when both of you
can sink in to the couch together with a glass of wine and the TV remote
control.

3. Be
Flexible

When both parents have the flexibility to parent in
their own way, it’s much easier to have each other’s backs when things get
overwhelming. Relinquishing control means that things might not always be done your way. However, if both
parents are capable, each can get things done in their own way and more can get done. In both of our
families, we are the primary caregivers and we’ve both been known to give a skeptical
look or comment when our wives don’t feed our kids the “right” snack or follow
the “right” nap routine. We’ve recognized that doing this deprives ourselves of
the opportunity to have a capable parenting partner, and it deprives our wives
of having the loving, caring relationship that they want to have with their
children. Bite your tongue, leave the room …and let your partner be a parent!

4. Use Your Benefits
Maternity workplace benefits have been in place for
a long time and most new moms use them. Many companies are starting to offer
new fathers benefits like paid paternity leave, flexible scheduling and
telecommuting, but dads generally haven’t been taking advantage. We need a
cultural shift in the workplace that allows mothers and fathers to be the
parents they want to be while still being serious about their careers. As
companies slowly institute family-friendly policies, we need more pioneering
new fathers who can demonstrate that a two- or four-week leave has a huge
impact at home and a minimal impact in the grand scheme of a 40-year
career. Dads, figure out what benefits you have and use them! If you don’t
have any, start asking for them. Companies are much more likely to consider instituting
family-friendly benefits when those of us with families step up and say we need
them.

5. Enjoy Your New Family
Parenting isn’t all about dirty diapers, feeding
schedules and naptime. Expecting parents should spend the weeks leading up to
birth doing things you enjoy together—go to the movies, eat dinner out or see
friends. After your baby is born, try to fit your new baby into your routines
rather than imprison yourselves in a cocoon of worry and to-do lists. It may
take several weeks or even a few months, but try to take back some of those
moments that are just about the two of you, rather than the baby. For example,
use the time your baby is napping in the stroller to take a walk, grab a cup of
coffee or get a bite to eat together. Better yet, set baby up in a rocker next
to the kitchen table and sit down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper.
Babies don’t require our attention constantly, and they’re often happy just
sitting and watching you interact.

6. Remember Your Goals
The transition from
life as a couple to life with a baby may be the hardest road any of us will
ever take (and we’re supposed to do it with a lot less sleep!). An awareness of
these issues and an effort to engage in lots of communication will go a long
way towards the three big goals: a happy child, happy partners and a happy
partnership.

Matt Schneider and Lance Somerfeld
are the co- founders of the NYC Dads Group, a community of active fathers in
the 
New York City area. Recently, they launched
their New Dad Boot Camps, a three-hour workshop for expecting dads to learn
from veteran dads.

For more on the NYC Dads Group, check out our article Moving Beyond Mr. Mom.

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