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.
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.”
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.”
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!”