A wise person might say that the day you wake up at 3:30 in the morning and grit your teeth all day long is not the day to have a long "coaching talk" about your spouse's parenting.

I never said I was a wise person. But I am a co-parent. And co-parenting is really hard.

In a family like ours, in which one parent stays home to beat back the rabid spider monkies with string cheese and Dino Trux, and the other ventures forth to bring home dat bacon, a natural tension grows between co-parenting as advertised, and co-parenting as it actually exists. We're not the only ones who deal with this, right?

Co-parenting as advertised:

We are equal partners in raising our children.

We will make parenting decisions together. 

We'll discuss problems as they arise and present a united front to the children. 

OF COURSE there is room for you to do things your way. I love you, respect you, trust your judgment, and think you are a wonderful father.

Co-parenting as it actually exists:

We are equal partners in raising our children.

As long as you do what I tell you to do.

Because I know more about parenting than you do. 

I know about problems before you know about problems.

In fact, the only reason you know about problems is because I called you and told you about them.

No, you may not "take a crack" at the problem. Stop talking and let me work. 

I will read about the problem, tap my network of trusted mom friends and medical experts for input, and formulate a plan based on our family members' Myers-Briggs personalities and the current barometric pressure.

I and I alone am going to make the decisions about how to handle the problem. And if you disagree with those decisions, I guess we can have a... "conversation."

... that you will lose. 

Some people think that conversations aren't technically something you can "lose." 

But you will lose. And I will win.

Because this is my JOB. I am the employee of the month, 41 months in a row.


In so many ways, Ryan is my equal partner in parenting. He is the Captain of Bedtime and the Sergeant Major of the Bath. He does more than his fair share of housework; before he leaves for work in the morning he empties and refills the dishwasher, makes the coffee, and takes out the trash. Just so I can have an easier start to my day. He is a magnificent father and husband.

that's the one
the one in the little girl sunglasses
and star-brite headband
that's my baby daddy

He is a full-time, full-on, full-speed-ahead dad, every minute of every day. While he is at a desk, a lunch meeting, a conference call, I know the children are always on his mind.

And right there's the difference.

They're always on my mind, too. And on my body. And under my nails. And in my hair. And in my lunch. And in front of the computer. And on my lap while I pee. Always.

We equally share the responsibility for running our home, staying married, and loving our children. But when it comes to raising our children... the sharing, she is-a-not so equal.

We are both full-time parents, but in our house I am the only full-time caregiver. I read the parenting books, blogs, and boards. I'm the one who has invented the routine, pulled an order out of the ocean of minutes that would otherwise crash into each other without a confident (or at least determined) hand at the helm. I'm the one who knows how much is too much to prep Chicken for the fact that he's going to get a haircut later today - enough that he remembers he gets a balloon, not so much that he remembers the sharp snick of scissors right next to his ear. 

It's me. I am the professional here.

I am the graduate student of parenting. I must earn my masters again every day, so that I can impart those lessons to my student when he gets home from work, so that he can continue to handle the pulse-pounding hostage crisis that is bath time. (Sweet mother of God, why have we armed them with so much water?!? AND CUPS?!? Cups are just tiny buckets WHAT DID WE THINK WOULD HAPPEN.)

I don't think I am a better parent than Ryan is. I do think I am better at the job of parenting- and I should be after 3 and a half years of 24/7/365 experience. And that's why I correct Ryan. All the time. Seriously, all the time. I interrupt him, talk over him, cut him off and mutter two-second explanations for my rudeness. It's not because I'm more loving; it's because I'm more experienced.

An example, you say? Your wish is my command.

The Scene: 

We are walking to Green Lake. 
I offered to let Chicken ride his scooter. 
The normally 5-minute walk has blossomed into a 22-minute odyssey. 

We have gone one block. 

Ryan is impatient and wants to get to the park. 

I am conscious of the fact that this is a learning opportunity for our whole family. 

Let's watch as I mentor Ryan against his will: 

Ryan: Okay, buddy, come on, we gotta keep moving.
Me: What is he looking at?
Ryan: I don't know...
Me: Hey Chicken? What are you looking at?
Chicken: A leaf!
Ryan: We gotta keep moving to get to the park--
Me: (interrupting Ryan) What kind of leaf, baby?
Chicken: A yellow one!
Me: (to Ryan) Don't rush him. It's not about getting to the park. It's about taking the trip.
Ryan: (hearing me, taking direction, engaging with Chicken) Can I see the leaf? Wow! It is yellow! Do you know why leaves turn yellow?
Chicken: Why?
Ryan: Because the seasons are starting to change. The leaves change color and fall off the trees, and that's the season we're in now. Fall. Then the leaves die.
Chicken: They die?
Me: But they grow back in the spring, baby.
Chicken: The leaves are dead?
Ryan: Well, yes, everything that lives eventually--
Ryan: Wait, I thought we weren't rushing him.
Me: He's been telling me that his animal toys are dead. I have to do some reading about how to talk about death with kids. Until I put a plan together let's just take a break on the death talk.
Ryan: Well, can't we just be honest about life and death?
Me: No, I'm going to write a script for us and we will not deviate from that script.

This is how co-parenting gets sticky.

There are two people in Ryan and Chicken's relationship, and I am none of them. It is not my job to moderate their world, and in fact, it will just piss everybody off if I try. Ryan gets to talk to Chicken about death if the subject comes up. That's okay. That's a big moment for both father and son, to begin to explore the immutable truths of life and death.


After Ryan and Chicken have their nice bonding talk about death, I'm the one who has to go in and meet the social worker when Chicken starts telling his three-year-old classmates that everyone is going to die. Yes, Olivia. Your mommy, too. 

I want Ryan to have autonomy in his relationship with Chicken, but whatever Daddy sows, so shall Mommy reap. I need some input on the planting, right? (See also: The time Ryan taught Chicken how to key in the iPad passcode, and the time at dinner he was like, "Do you think a pea would fit in your nose?" And I was like "GET OUT.")

Their relationship is their own, but it exists under the umbrella of our family life, over which I am President, Empress, and CEO: Chief Everything Officer.

That's why I shut him down sometimes, or place a firm but gentle hand on the conversational wheel. I'm not doing it because I'm mad; I'm doing it because I can see the big rig merging on top of us, if we keep going in this direction.

But I do have to wonder if I hurt his feelings when I make it abundantly clear that, first of all, he is doing "Daddy" wrong, and second, that I sometimes wish I'd married another me. It would save a lot of time if I didn't have to explain anymore why some workout clothes get hung in the closet and others go in the drawer.

I don't mean to make him feel unwelcome in our family, or worse, in his own relationship with his son. But I know sometimes I do.

It doesn't help that by the time he gets home the day has already run 99% of its happy. The vast majority of moments that occur between 5:30 pm and bedtime are moments of shit-fitting, soup-flinging, chair-shitting, brother-biting, bath-tsunami-ing, and not sleeping yet.

He comes home and my "I appreciate you, beloved family member" reflex quivers from equal parts exhaustion and last-mile-of-the-marathon hysteria. I've never appreciated anyone more than I appreciate my beloved husband, and yet I've been trying to appreciate my beloved children all day long, and most often I greet my husband with hands that both cling to and brush away his presence:

I need you; I need you to go away. 


Co-parenting is really hard. I want to say that I ask too much of him, but the truth is I ask too little. 
I ask him to do everything, but nothing his own way, and then I take everything out of his hands again in the hopes of avoiding a confrontation. The end result is a martyred mom, a resentful dad, and two kids who won't know what's broken until they too have volunteered for the glory and pageantry that is co-parenting.

I don't have a prescription, only a diagnosis, an apology, and yes, a persistent sense of rightness. 

I do still think I'm right to manage the way our life works. 

I don't think it's possible for me to take a step back, not without dropping our quality of life from the solid 4 (that's not a star rating. That's out of 10.) where it's been hovering since Buster was born.

Like I said, I don't know what to do. This is a problem.

So I'll do what I always do when there's a problem. 

I will read about the problem, tap my network of trusted mom friends and medical experts for input, and formulate a plan based on our family members' Myers-Briggs personalities and the current barometric pressure. 

(FYI, it's 29.94. Holy shit! 29.94? Get your Kevlar and scuba helmets! When the barometric pressure is that super-high/dangerously low/averagely in the middle you always have to prepare for flying debris and chilly water temps!)

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with Ronit Feinglass Plank

1 comment:

  1. Yes. Takes me back, to reappraise, appreciate the difficulty, appreciate the damage and repair and damage and subsequent repair. Divorced now but ever joined as coparents.