I think for most of us, parenting is an expression of who we are. It is a natural outpouring of everything that makes us, from our experience being raised by our parents to our own adult values and life situations. Along the way we add in books we’ve read, conversations with friends, advice from strangers (sometimes unwanted and unasked for) and then it gets distilled through our practical experience learning with each of our children. We add pieces from here, pieces from there. I don’t think there are many of us who say “What is my parenting ideology?,” then go buy the book and follow it to the letter. (Are there?)
The hope along the way is that our highly individual concept of parenting will at least co-exist if not be cohesive with that of our fellow co-parent. That’s not always the case and there are often considerable challenges in aligning parenting styles within a partnership (and even more so when co-parenting happens outside of a partnership).
When I think of a question like “What does your co-parent do to support your dedication to natural parenting?” the first thing that comes to mind is sincere gratitude that my husband and I travel this path together. It isn’t so much a matter of Aaron being supportive of my dedication to parent a certain way but rather that he shares my dedication to parent in a way that reflects our shared values.
We were married after seeing each other for only three months. For a lot of people that would be a recipe for disaster. When people hear about marriages like ours, a little red flag goes up and they sort of hold their breath waiting for the marriage to dissolve so they can say “Ugh, I saw that coming.”
We’ve been married for seven years and we have two children. One of the main things we attribute our success to (besides believing that you have to work hard at marriage) is that despite our wild differences, we share similar values and upbringing. This isn’t to say that we just went about raising our children exactly the way we were raised. We certainly do things differently than our parents did, but we’ve been able to adopt a shared vision of parenting because we started out with some shared reference points.
With this solid foundation, another important factor is that we try to make parenting an extension of the way we live. We have terms like natural parenting and attachment parenting as descriptors to explain to others what kind of philosophies we are drawn to, but we don’t follow a particular ideology in a prescriptive way. As such, our parenting style becomes a partnership that is an extension of our marriage, of our life together, of our joint choices, rather than a dogmatic battleground.
We lived in a 40 foot converted school bus when our son was born. There was no room for a crib, no bedroom door to shut out the cries of a baby crying-it-out. At first there was no plumbing either. Before I got pregnant, we spent a year carrying in our water in 4L jugs to drink, to cook with and to boil for washing up. We spent five years using a port-a-potty that had to be emptied weekly. We were intimately aware of what we consumed and of how much garbage, compost, waste and gray water we created. Co-sleeping, cloth diapering, and breastfeeding were obvious choices that were aligned with all of the other day-to-day choices we made simply by choosing to live in 300 square feet. These were not individual parenting choices that had to be hammered out between us; they were a natural extension of our lives, of who we are.
Thankfully, besides our shared values about lifestyle, we also share a view of children that respects them as people. I didn’t have to convince my husband to have a homebirth, I didn’t have to persuade him that circumcision is cruel, I didn’t have to fight to sleep with my babies. These choices were natural to us in that they reflect who we both are and how we view life itself. Our parenting choices weren’t just practical considerations based on our living situation; they were choices that are respectful of the process of childbearing and of our parental duty to love and keep our children safe. We really didn’t have the space to let our son cry-it-out even if we had wanted to, but thankfully, neither of us wanted to.
Of course, I am not trying to mislead you into thinking that we are always on the same page, always perfectly aligned in our parenting. Quite the contrary: We have our own temperaments, our strengths and weaknesses, our idiosyncrasies. I would wager that all parents have bumps and creases to smooth out in their shared parenting manifesto. We have to work at finding a balance in those little things and in allowing each other to parent in the way that we are best suited to. I have certainly done more reading and research than Aaron and in that sense, I do bring more of the theoretical ideas or supporting evidence to the table. But none of our parenting choices have been made in a vacuum. We approach them the same way we do anything in our relationship; we talk it out and end up choosing a course of action that fits our lifestyle and values.
Considering that one of the most powerful ways that kids learn is through imitation and modeling, it seems to me that to be a great parent I have to work every day at exemplifying the behaviour I hope to see in my children. It’s a big job trying to be the best I can be every day because there are small children watching everything I do, but if I live my life authentically and stay true to my core values, my parenting will follow. Parenting doesn’t have to be a set of rules that we have to agree on. As partners and co-parents, if we agree on the underlying principles by which we live our lives, our joint parenting can become an expression of that.
How about you? How do you align parental styles with your co-parent?