Parenting is a team effort

Bringing up a healthy, happy child is a tremendous responsibility. That’s why it’s so important for parents to have each other’s backs and work as a team.


The secret to cooperative parenting

Bringing up a healthy, happy child is a tremendous responsibility. That’s why it’s so important for parents to have each other’s backs and work as a team.

By Nathalie Vallerand

Not so long ago, most families followed the same model. “The mother took care of the children and household while the father worked to support the family,” says Diane Dubeau, a professor in the Department of Psychoeducation and Psychology at l’Université du Québec en Outaouais.

Times have certainly changed! Today, almost 80 percent of mothers with children aged 5 and under are employed, according to the Institut de la statistique du Québec. That means most young kids have two working parents. “The influx of women into the labour market, greater gender equality, and the increase in separations and divorces are all social changes that have led to a better division of parenting responsibilities,” explains Dubeau.

Learning to cooperate

Gloria Suarez, mother of 5-year-old Maya Sofia and 15-month-old Elliot, feels that she and her partner make a great team. “We both take care of the kids. We agree on the things that really matter, and we share the work. It makes family life a lot easier.”

This spring’s lockdown measures disrupted many families’ daily routines. It was a particularly difficult and stressful time for parents who had to work from home while taking care of their children. Mari-Lou Bouchard and Philippe Chénier, parents of 4-year-old Xavier and 3-year-old Anaïs, were in this exact situation. Fortunately, they were able to rely on each other. “It’s been a real team effort,” says Mari-Lou. “We divided our time so that one of us could watch the kids while the other focused on work. It got us through the lockdown!”

But for some couples, co-parenting (i.e., sharing parental duties) is more of a challenge. Parents who often disagree, point fingers, or fail to support each other’s parenting decisions are likely to have a hard time working together. While it’s normal to disagree sometimes, it’s important to discuss your differences of opinion in private, out of earshot of your little one. Some parents also compete for their child’s attention and affection. This behaviour is detrimental to your child’s and your family’s well-being, and should be avoided.

Fortunately, parents can learn to become better teammates. “When parents strive to act in their child’s best interests, they become allies,” says Marie Simard, executive director of the Confédération des organismes familiaux du Québec (COFAQ) and creator of a co-parenting workshop.

There are four key elements to building a strong parenting team: communication, consistency, task-sharing, and recognition of each other’s commitment.

Defining “co-parenting”

In this feature, “co-parenting” means both parents working as a team. The term has also been used for many years to encourage separated or divorced parents to cooperate. Increasingly, “co-parenting” is being used to talk about new family models as well. For example, it may refer to a single woman who has a child with a friend, or a couple who can’t have a child and decides to find a surrogate mother or sperm donor.

Talking and listening

“My partner and I make the important decisions together,” says Guillaume Duguay, father of 3-year-old Henri and 1-year-old Clara. “We each share our point of view and consider the pros and cons.”

For the most part, Mireille St-Pierre and Lydia Larocque are on the same page when it comes to raising their daughter Adèle, who is nearly 2. But when they have different opinions, they try to determine what’s best for their daughter. For instance, when Adèle was born, the mothers had to decide where she would sleep during her first few months of life: in her own room, or in their room. Finding it hard to agree, the pair decided to read up on the subject and talk about it again once they knew more. “In the end, Adèle slept in our room, and I was so glad to have her near us,” says Mireille, who was persuaded by her partner.

Sharing tasks and family responsibilities helps reduce stress.

Every parent has a unique perspective based on their own individual experiences. That’s why it’s best to find common ground on important issues, like the values you want to pass on to your child, rules and limitations, and your daily routine. Psychotherapist Paule Blain-Clotteau says it’s important to remember that you and your partner come from two different families and had different upbringings. “It can help you understand where your partner is coming from,” says Blain-Clotteau, who helped create content for the COFAQ co-parenting workshop. “Once you do, it’s easier to compromise, adapt, and decide how you want to raise your child.”

Being consistent

Consistent parenting is when both parents have the same expectations for their child and agree to enforce the same rules and consequences. “Parents can have the same end goal but choose to get there using different means,” says Julie Tremblay, a CLSC psychoeducator.

A good example is your child’s bedtime routine. “The goal is to get your child used to going to bed at the same time every night,” says Tremblay. “One parent might read their child a story after bath time, whereas the other might prefer to sing them a lullaby. That’s perfectly fine. Parents don’t have to do everything the same. The important thing is to agree on the broad outlines.”

Sharing responsibilities

When each partner helps with household tasks, family life becomes much easier. Dividing your responsibilities equally and sharing the mental load reduces stress and fatigue. “Over the years, we’ve seen a big change in child-rearing habits,” says professor and researcher Diane Dubeau. “The parenting gender gap is narrowing. Today’s dads take care of their kids.”

That said, the majority of women continue to do more household tasks than men, even when they’re employed. The mental load (i.e., the burden of running a household and taking care of a family) also continues to rest mainly on the shoulders of mothers. For instance, they tend to be the ones who remember to make doctor’s appointments, buy birthday presents, and sign their child up for swimming lessons.

“We both take care of our kids and divide our tasks, but my partner is definitely the one who does all the organizing behind the scenes,” Guillaume admits. “I don’t need to worry about making an appointment for my daughter’s vaccines because I know she will remember and take care of it.”

What about during lockdown?

During last spring’s lockdown, parents experienced a lot of family-related stress and anxiety. Women seem to have been particularly affected. Family responsibilities increased for many mothers during this period, adding to their mental load.
In a survey conducted by the Regroupement pour la Valorisation de la Paternité during the lockdown, 64 percent of mothers said they were satisfied with the division of labour, compared to 80 percent of fathers. Similarly, 75 percent of fathers said they strongly agreed or mostly agreed that child-rearing tasks were divided equally, compared to 53 percent of women.
On a more positive note, fathers and mothers had very similar satisfaction levels (81–84 percent) when asked about different aspects of co-parenting (parental consistency, recognition of the other’s contributions, and communication).

Recognizing your partner’s contributions

All humans need to feel valued and appreciated for the work they do. Marie Simard, executive director of the COFAQ, says that parents are no exception. “Teamwork is not just about sharing tasks. It’s also about supporting the other person and recognizing that they’re doing a good job.”

When you acknowledge your partner’s efforts, you encourage them to stay involved. Plus, it makes them feel good. “I love when my partner asks for my advice on certain issues and wants to discuss them together,” says Lydia. “It makes me feel like a good parent.” Jean-Marc Michalik, father of 3-year-old Soléa and 16-month-old Cléo, feels fulfilled whenever his partner tells him that he’s a great dad. “And I should tell her more often what a great mother she is!”

9 tips for being a strong parenting team

Here are 9 tips for successful co-parenting.

1. Talk and listen to one another.

“When we have a situation to deal with, we try not to let things drag on,” says Élisabeth Cloutier, mother of Henri and Clara. “Once the kids are asleep, we turn off our phones and discuss the issue.” If your busy schedule makes it difficult to find a spare moment, it can be helpful to pencil in this conversation in your agenda.

2. Agree on what matters most.

To make sure your child understands what’s expected of them, you and your partner should determine your family’s core rules and values. Beyond that, it’s best to trust yourself and your partner. That’s what Xavier and Anaïs’s parents did to manage their kids’ screen time. “During the lockdown, our kids were using their devices much more often,” says mother Mari-Lou. She and her partner agreed that it was important to limit their screen time to certain periods of the day.

3. Let go of less important issues.

It’s rare for a couple to agree on everything. For example, Élisabeth finds drinkable yogurt too sweet and doesn’t give any to her son. But her partner does. “I let go of the issue,” she says. “It’s not worth fighting over.” For his part, Jean-Marc wanted his daughters, Soléa and Cléo, to always finish their plates. “My parents taught me not to waste,” he says. “But my wife persuaded me that children shouldn’t be forced to eat, so now I eat their leftovers!”

4. Accept that your partner does things their own way.

After all, what matters is the result. Criticizing your partner will only discourage them, and you may find yourself doing everything on your own. When it comes to child care, men often need their partner’s approval to feel competent. “If the mother is too critical, the father will end up believing that he’s not good at taking care of their child and may disengage,” says professor and researcher Diane Dubeau.

5. Don’t confront your partner when you’re angry.

“Emotions should never dictate your actions,” says psychologist and family mediator Harry Timmermans. “If you’re angry with your partner, cool off before you talk to them. Otherwise, you risk breaking something in the relationship that you’ll have to fix later. Besides, it’s best to discuss problems politely and respectfully, because that’s how you find solutions.” You should always avoid arguing or criticizing one another in front of your child. Otherwise, you might make them feel insecure and anxious. It’s best to work out your disagreements out of earshot.

6. Think problems over before making a decision.

When you have an important decision to make, it can be a good idea to wait until you’ve had time to do research and seek advice. That’s what Gloria and her partner did when she wanted to go back to school. “We knew it would impact our household and finances, so we took some time to think it over, speak with our loved ones, and list the pros and cons,” says the young mom. “In the end, we decided it would be good for the family since I’d have a better job afterwards.”

7. List your tasks and divide them equally.

You can distribute your household responsibilities according to your preferences, or simply take turns. What matters is that both parents participate and share the tasks fairly based on their schedules. For example, if both you and your partner work, it wouldn’t be fair for one of you to shoulder everyday tasks (meals, dishes, etc.) while the other only managed occasional tasks (grocery shopping, cleaning, washing windows, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, etc.).

8. Share your parental leave.

Mothers who take long maternity leaves tend to continue to do more than their partner when they return to work, whether in terms of child care, chores, or planning. In addition, fathers who help take care of their baby and do household tasks early on are more likely to maintain this habit when their partner returns to work. Sharing parental leave with your partner is therefore a good way to avoid inequalities in the distribution of family responsibilities.

9. Don’t forget to encourage one another!

Gloria and her partner often say things like: “Thank you for doing groceries today!” or “Thanks for an amazing dinner!” When one of them is alone with the children, they also text each other words of encouragement or emoticons.

Teaming up after a separation

You’re ex-partners, but you’ll never be ex-parents. Even though you’re separated, it’s important to continue to raise your child together.
To learn more, read our feature on this topic: Children and separation

How co-parenting benefits the entire family

How does your child benefit from having parents who work together? Does co-parenting improve your couple relationship? Can poor parental cooperation negatively impact your family?

How does your child benefit from having parents who work together? Does co-parenting improve your couple relationship? Can poor parental cooperation negatively impact your family?

Building a good parenting team is a challenge, even for happy couples. “Parents often have gut instincts when it comes to their child,” says Raymond Villeneuve, director of the Regroupement pour la Valorisation de la Paternité. “It requires maturity to make decisions as a couple, compromise, and respect each other’s opinions. You also need to learn to share your child’s attention, because co-parenting implies that both parents are equally important.”

There are plenty of reasons to adopt a collaborative approach to parenting. Studies have shown that couples tend to complement one another, which ultimately benefits their child’s development. “The father might have one parendting style, and the mother another,” says Villeneuve. “Even in same-sex couples, each parent has their own way of interacting with their child. These valuable differences will help their little one become more adaptable and socially adept.” For example, if a child sees their parents working as a team, they may have an easier time making friends.

Collaboration between parents is also good for a child’s intellectual development. According to research, children with two involved parents are more skilled at problem solving and perform better at school.

Plus, when their parents are consistent in terms of rules and boundaries, they feel more secure. “When a child knows what to expect and understands what they can and can’t do, they feel more confident and experience less anxiety,” says psychoeducator Julie Tremblay. “They also tend to be more cooperative and less argumentative.”

Striking a fair balance

When parents work as a team, their child is more likely to form a secure attachment bond. “When our kids are upset, they turn to both their father and me for comfort,” says Marie-Lou Bouchard, mother of 4-year-old Xavier and 3-year-old Anaïs. “We think it’s important to share our responsibilities because it helps build strong parent-child relationships. For instance, we rotate our kids’ bedtime routines every night so that we each get quality one-on-one time.”

When parents adopt complementary approaches, their child benefits.

By sharing parenting responsibilities and household chores, you also become a model of gender equality for your child.

“When a father is involved in his child’s upbringing, his well-being and sense of accomplishment grow,” says Thomas Henry, project manager at CooPÈRE. “He’s also less likely to develop mental health problems.”

In addition, if you divide your household tasks and planning equally, one partner won’t end up shouldering more responsibility than the other and exhaust themselves trying to do everything on their own. “When raising a child, two parents are certainly more effective than one!” says professor and researcher Diane Dubeau. “There’s a reason why parents who work as a team are less stressed and more appreciative of their time with their child.”

What about the couple relationship?

Knowing how to co-parent with your partner is also good for your romantic relationship. “These couples are more satisfied in their family life, which can have a positive impact on their relationship,” says Henry. “They’re less likely to break up.”

Conversely, when parents struggle to work together, their romantic relationship can suffer. Lack of mutual support and disagreements over family rules and decisions can lead to dissatisfaction and frustration, eventually driving the couple apart.

Children are also affected by their parents’ conflicts. A tense home environment and rules that change from parent to parent can cause the child to feel insecure and stressed. Research has also shown that poor parental cooperation increases a child’s risk of behavioural problems.

In short, your whole family will benefit if you team up with your partner and commit to co-parenting.


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, November 2020
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Nathalie Parent, psychologist


Photos : GettyImages/CasarsaGuru, Alexandra Iakovleva, Halfpoint, Nomad, Erdark and Maxim Morin