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How to parent as a team: one person shouldn’t feel like they have to make and enforce all the rules

If children get a whiff of weakness or division in a parenting team, it can be game over

The arrival of children is a joyous thing in a relationship. Kids will bring challenges too, impacting your free time, your sleep, your work and your finances. Parenting is like doing a three-legged race where you are hurdling top speed over one dilemma after another. Those who are co-parenting will need to be united and in lockstep to stay the course.

Be open

Some people come from a family that was relatively easy-going: kids eat when they’re hungry and will fall asleep when they’re tired. Perhaps a partner or co-parent grew up in a household that loves a good routine – tea, telly, bath and bed. Understand that neither style of upbringing was right or wrong, says Mary Johnston, a specialist in counselling with Catholic marriage care service Accord.

“Don’t undermine your partner’s rearing. No one had a perfect rearing, or perfect parents. If you think you had, you are likely mistaken,” says Johnston.

“When you have children, you’ve got to decide together, ‘What are we going to do?’,” says Johnston. “You can’t assume, oh well, we’re all devil-may-care, so that’s the way it’s going to be with our children,” she says. “Be open to your partner’s influence. There can be positives on both sides and you have to be open to the other person’s view.”


Agree boundaries

Sweetie press or fruit bowl, daily telly or only on weekends only, discos or no discos, can my girlfriend stayover or not?. If children get a whiff of weakness or division in a parenting team, it can be game over.

If co-parents don’t want their child to have a mobile phone before their teens, for example, they need to game plan it. Agree on a script and stick to it – both of you.

“You won’t just automatically be a team, you have to think things through and anticipate things,” says Johnston.

“Decide on boundaries and rules together in advance and reach a consensus before putting it into practice or informing children,” she says.

United front

Undermining a co-parent in front of the children is going to make things harder for everyone. Phrases like, “Don’t mind your mother”, or “Your father is too strict”, aren’t helpful.

“Your children love you both and undermining your partner will be uncomfortable and unsettling for them,” says Johnston. If you have a co-parent, speak about them respectfully.

Teenagers in particular will push boundaries and you don’t want them playing one parent off against another.

If you think your co-parent has said something out of line, address it with them privately, says Johnston. “Your partner deserves the dignity of that. They might feel put down or embarrassed in front of the children.”

Popular opinion

Being your child’s favourite parent is not the accolade you want to court. “Your children are not your friends, they are your children. You are responsible for their care and welfare,” says Johnston. “They have their own friends. Don’t engage in ‘who is the best’, ‘who is the most popular’ parent games. It’s not fair to you, your co-parent or your children.”

Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. “Ultimately, we are there to care for them and nurture them and see them develop, and we are not just there to be their buddies.”

Good cop, bad cop?

Parenting as a team doesn’t always mean a 50:50 time commitment – work patterns and living arrangements can prohibit this.

One parent shouldn’t feel like they have to make and enforce all the rules, though. Problems need to be discussed and managed by both parents, says Johnston. “The overall ethos should be of a team. It’s not that one person knows best. It’s that we are a team and we will do our absolute best for our children.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance