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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Blog, Mindset | 13 comments

Balancing co-parenting and your relationship: Share your Brilliance

Balancing co-parenting and your relationship: Share your Brilliance

We recently finished writing the introductory chapters of Minimalist Parenting with a focus on fundamentals and laying the groundwork. So much about simplifying your family life boils down to effective teamwork with the person (or people) with whom you’re co-parenting. In my case it’s my husband; in a friend’s case, it’s her mother (she’s divorced and her mom takes care of the kids while she’s at work).

Raising a kid with someone isn’t straightforward. We all have our own family histories and parenting philosophies and childhood joys and issues. We all have preconceptions about parenting that have to adjust once actual children and an actual partner enter the picture.

One of the keys of moving toward minimalist parenting is sharing the “work” of raising children and respecting/valuing each others’ strengths so that your kids have the gift of several loving adults in their lives, and you can make some space for yourself. Christine and I would love to hear your thoughts about effective teamwork as parents.

  • How do you resolve differences in your parenting philosophies?
  • Do you have any tricks for sharing the work (and the recognition)?
  • How do you divide parenting responsibilities?
  • Any tricks for nurturing your relationship in the midst of the co-parenting whirlwind?

As always, we’ll be on the lookout for novel, interesting thoughts to include in the book (with your permission, and with attribution). Can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

Photo credit: Flickr/Spencer Wright


  1. My husband and I have only two hard and fast rules….I’m not even sure we ever discussed that they be “hard and fast”, but they’ve certainly become the most important things we do as parents: Number one, family dinner. Every night. No phones. Our kids are only 4 and 1, but this is just the way it is…we sit down at the table together, even if it’s just leftovers, and we talk. If the phone rings, we just let it go (unless we are waiting news on a family member who is sick or struggling, obviously, but that is rare).
    Second rule: My kids have a bedtime. Since they were old enough to go to sleep on their own (and opinions on that are wide ranging, so it’s a topic I’d rather not touch), we instituted a nightly ritual, and a bedtime. They are both in bed and asleep by eight. Evenings are for my husband and I, we talk, we watch TV together, or we just hang out and read together on the couch. It’s our time, and it’s crucial to us to touch base each night and check in with each other.
    Lots of things change in our parenting, and we do a lot of “this isn’t working….” course changes, but these two things are so important to us. It’s how we keep our sanity and make sure our kids (and each other) feel loved.

    • Much I could say in response to this, Kym. But the thing that jumps out at me is the simplicity of your method…and the consistency. Just taking a few minutes to talk to each other each night can do wonders.

  2. This is one I don’t quite know how to answer. I don’t think about it very much – we just do. My husband takes the kids to their sitters and I pick them up (I go into the gym and then work very early and come home a bit earlier). We usually tag-team on just about everything else. I tend to do a bit more of the cooking since I enjoy it and he takes on more yardwork. I organize our finances and pay bills. He maintains our house. In general, he is the one who gets up in the middle of the night. Since I work outside the home 4 days/wk and he works at home 5 days/wk, his schedule is a bit more flexible than mine (he can catch an extra half hour of sleep in the AM, for instance). He also goes back to sleep more easily after being up in the middle of the night. I take over the whole ship when he is out of town for work.

    We are lucky to live near my parents who are amazingly generous with their time. They love to have their grandkids around and have them overnight at least once a month so that we can have good quality time together. Sometimes we work around the house, but we always make a point to do something fun together too. We also try to spend an hour or so together at night before bed and chat while we fold laundry or clean up the kitchen. I also try to spend a decent amount of my day “off” catching up on household things so when we have family time it can usually be mostly about fun.

    • Hooray for partnerships that just work! Thanks for sharing.

  3. i am very interested in seeing what others post. My husband and i do wonderful together about 90% of the time. Finding time for each other is a struggle as we don’t have any family support and can not afford extra babysitting. I am working on creating a community network of people where we can rotate taking each others children in turn, but this is a very slow process and most of my friends now have 2 or 3 children so its challenging to have one set of parents take 2 to 3 more children in addition to their own 2, especially if you want to go out at night.

    we do have a bedtime for our child but we both run out of energy by the time the child is asleep. we both work full time jobs that range from 8 to 12 hour days.

    we spend most of our time together on the weekends with our child too. I am always evaluating how to incorporate more husband-wife time along with the family time because both are so integral to the success and happiness of a family.

    • I hear you, Suz. Sometimes life really does feel like it fills every minute of the day, with nothing left for your relationship at the end. I wonder if there are bits of time you can shave off of your work schedules to spend with each other? Perhaps swapping childcare would be easier if it were during the day instead of the evening — say, you and your husband could have weekend brunch dates?

      From what we’re hearing, during years when time is short and lang, relaxed evenings over dinner aren’t in the cards, relationships need infusions of time in frequent short bits. Even watching a movie or a favorite TV series in bed can help on those brain-dead evenings.

  4. I’m a DH who isn’t feeling terribly D any more. My wife and I both have very busy full-time jobs and our children are 5 and 3. My main issue is that I do 90% of all the work. I drop the kids to school and daycare (separate places), hurry to work by 9:30 if I ‘m lucky and can get the mob moving and put in a very busy day (eat lunch at desk, head down and work), leave work by 4:30 pick up at daycare then school and get home by around 5:45 to make dinner. My wife gets home around 6:45 or so most days and is there for the tail end of dinner. She bathes them while I clean up after dinner and get any laundry in that needs to be done. We each take on child to put to bed and are mostly done by around 9:30…unless there is groceries to be done, which I do since my wife doesn’t (won’t) drive. She had a driver’s license and we can easily afford a second car but she won’t hear of it. You may have noticed my time at work is at best 9:30 -4:30 which means I need to work most nights from 9:30 until bed time just to keep up with the regular workload. My wife is usually working most nights too. Since I’m the only one who drives in the house my weekends are spent shuttling our oldest child to various activities.
    Every attempt to try and get a better sharing of the workload is met with anger and resistance and complaints that she is terribly short staffed and things will get better soon (going on 3 years of this). Forget about nice nights hanging out on the couch. Although we tried to have regular ‘date nights’ with a babysitter and we get out to a nice meal but that only lasted a couple of weeks before work intruded. I believe our pace of life/work isn’t out of the ordinary compared to others but the lopsided division of labour is wiping me out. Any suggestions?

    • Rob — thank you so much for sharing your story. The picture you share echos what we’ve heard from so many parents (and felt ourselves at times) — that there is no time to spend with each other.

      I respectfully believe that EVERY couple could benefit from the help of a marriage counselor to jump-start communication…especially when one partner says “but we don’t have time for a marriage counselor.” Having someone else in the room, even for a few sessions, can help everyone feel heard so you can clear out the old baggage and make room for a new story that feeds you both.

      It’s easy to get “stuck” in a certain dynamic — a tug-of-war in which each partner is not only hurt (and therefore defensive), but feeling unheard. Each partner is talking about his or her problem, and not listening to the others’. In my experience, once I sit down and open my ears and heart to a problem my husband is having — really hear without judging or denying — we’re at the beginning of a solution. Easier said than done — my pride makes me defensive at times, but I’ve learned that acknowledging someone’s feelings about something is NOT the same thing as admitting guilt or even agreeing. It’s just showing the person I love and respect them enough to care that something is really bothering them.

      I wonder if you can approach this from a “honey, let’s put our heads together on this” standpoint, making perfectly clear that you are not blaming her, and that you understand she’s under a lot of stress at work. Express confidence that you two can figure out a small improvement with a little creative thinking. If you can start talking about something small, it may lead to bigger things down the road.

      Finally — and this is what we’re talking about a lot in the book — it’s about clearing everything that’s non-essential out of your home and schedule. Paring down the meal planning so grocery shopping is easier. Simplifying the laundry routine (perhaps your wife can do some laundry while you’re at the grocery store, since she’s home while you’re driving). Bringing in some help if you can afford it.

      You deserve joy and time in your life and your relationship! You’re working so hard…there IS a solution, and you will both find it together.

  5. We have two boys – 9 & 10 years old. My husband and I don’t necessarily have differences in our parenting philosophies as much as our learning styles. Parenting seems much more intuitive to my husband; whereas I need to observe others, and read lots of books and blogs on parenting. I will often read, or see, a tactic I want to try and will discuss first with my husband to ensure we will be on the same page. He is always supportive of my “research” and willing to try new parenting techniques with me. We will also take time to make a decision, or prepare for a discussion with our child, or children. We feel it best to acknowledge the issue and tell the kids we will discuss together instead of reacting. Two things I feel we’ve done very well as parents: 1) teaching our kids how to sleep. They have always had an early bedtime and are well rested, pleasant kids. 2) Always expecting manners. They are very courteous, and as a result give and gain a lot of respect from adults they encounter. We have been very consistent on these two items, and the payoff for the kids, and us, is tremendous.

    We also have a system for running the home. I work from home very early every day, so my husband will fix breakfast and make lunches. I am able to get the boys off of the bus and take care of dinner and the cooking on the weekends (because I enjoy it). This system works very well for us. He also cleans the bathrooms, and I take care of vacuuming and dusting for example.

    Because of the early bedtime mentioned earlier, we have been able to have our time most evenings for many years. Invaluable. We also have made it a point to travel together when when childcare is available. We do a lot together as a family, and my husband and I find traveling together is just as important (whether a night away or 2 weeks away). Our being gone also helps develop flexibility and independence in the kids; and shows that their mom and dad love each other and enjoy spending time together.

  6. I am a SAHM and my husband works long (11 or 12 hours) days. We have kids who don’t need a lot of sleep, and never have. But one sanity saver for us is Friday nights. My husband makes sure he’s home by 6:30, and I’ve already fed the kids something easy. While we control media every other day, on Friday nights they are required to stay in their bedrooms with the iPad or DS or whatever. DH and I have a more adult meal (nice take out, for instance) and then usually watch something together. We call it “date night.” Even though we can’t afford a babysitter four times a month, this has really helped. Our kids are 6 and 8 now, but we started it when the youngest was 3. Otherwise we’re not “off-duty” until 10.

    • Erin, what a creative way to fashion a date night! What I most appreciate — this is a clear signal to your children that parents need and deserve alone time together. Bravo.

  7. The comments are wonderful, and I agree with many of the sentiments shared, particularly with the early bed times for relationship-building and “research” for resolving parenting differences. I can’t add much to those great comments, but I can add the perspective of a full-time mom.

    I have been a stay at home mom for the past year and a half, ever since we moved to Boston for my husband’s job. We have two children ages 4 and 1.5, and before my younger daughter was born, I would have said I could never be a full-time parent. What changed my mind is the rhythm we established as a family since I quit my job. I realize not everyone has the capacity or desire to stay home, but I think for some people it’s a possibility worth considering. We have had to make sacrifices when moving down to one salary in an expensive city, but our simple family life is worth every penny pinched.

    I wrote about this topic on my own blog and thought rather than reinventing the wheel I’d copy it here:

    “I’ve enjoyed having a career. Call me entitled, but I think we CAN have it all–work when we want to work, and stay home for a while too. However, a byproduct of the feminist revolution is our society’s disdainful view of homemaking. It’s as though we fought for the opportunity to choose our destiny and then immediately narrowed our options again. Ten years ago, I would have told you there was no way I would ever quit my job to raise my kids, believing it to be a prison only befitting those crafty moms with traditional values or the unfortunate few without a college degree.

    I could be among the few for whom this stay-at-home situation works, but I consider my work and my dear hubby’s to be equal in keeping our household afloat, and as far as I know he does too. Whereas we once continuously jockeyed for position at dish or laundry time, we no longer squabble about which chores will be done by whom. I foresee myself going back to work full time in a few years, and I am appreciative to have the option to do so. ”

    My last comment regarding division of household chores is that because I am home with the kids all day, my husband puts them to bed at night while I do the dishes. Prior to having kids, the person who had not made dinner did the dishes, but this way he gets to spend quality time with the kids.

    • Balancing co-parenting and your relationship.

      I read those articles and responses from all of you… I wish I could have the balance that everyone shares and has.

      In my house… it is simple, my wife is up at 5:00 to prepare for the day… getting our son ready for school. Feed our three cats and two German Shepherds and make breakfast for us. I fall out of bed usually around 6:00 and begin my day, walk our two dogs and play with them so they are tired out. Then around 7:00, I began the rest of my day, while my wife cleans the house. Every morning she’s on her hand and knees cleaning the floor like her mother did back home in Japan, followed then by waking the “Dead” our beautiful (six-year old son)

      My wife stays at home after she drops off our son (she won’t allow me to drop off our son since my driving style mirrors a NASCAR drivers, NY cab drivers and don’t forget my previous job as a Police officer). My wife works from home (starting up an online marketing consulting) and my work keeps me at home also as aspiring novelist and screenwriter. We live a very modest lifestyle solely focused on our family… My wife said often, “I don’t need anything, no fancy clothes, shoes or jewelry… if we can feed our family and have a roof over our heads. That is all I need!” Now I am VERY lucky then most other men… it’s fairly easy to please my wife.

      However, by the end of the day, that is where my wife’s energy slowly dies out after she has prepared dinner for everyone. She is usually done right after our very active son (Who has more energy than our power company does) takes his bath and is in bed by 9:00 if we are lucky. I have repeatedly offered my assistance and of course been shooed away… “I don’t need your help; focus on what you are supposes to be doing!” I’ve often heard from her.

      One footnote… she and I both work from home. Therefore, we are around each other 24/7 and that has been the case for the past few years. (We are still married and I am alive for now.)

      Now touching on romance, I’m jealous! In my house, romance is dead! “Asked me in 10 years!” is my wife’s favorite phase if I bring up the subject of romance or intimately. “We had our fun, now we are parents and this is our son’s time. We can have fun together once he gets older and doesn’t need our help all the time.” She’s stated to me so many times, I gave up.

      I applauded your teamwork and commitment to each other, could someone talk to my wife?


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