When my partner and I decided to start a family, we would sit up late into the night planning our parenting strategy. From how long our children could watch TV per day, to whether they should eat sugar, we thought we agreed on everything. However, we soon found out there's more to learning how to parent together than banning lollipops.
When one parent undermines the other, it can confuse a child and create a divide. Each parent is put on either side of a fence, with the little one plonked in the middle. Parents should try to be a united front as much as possible – although, I get it, you can't agree on everything.
For us, it all came down to those strict (or not so, as the case was) bedtimes: I became bad cop, and my partner was the slightly more lenient good cop. Rather than falling out, though, we've come to accept (and make the most of) our different parenting styles.
To help you become a pro co-parenting team, here's our guide to working together:
have a plan of action
For starters, sharing the parenting responsibilities shouldn't mean doing them together. In fact, it might be better to divide and conquer. Having little jobs that each of you are responsible for means no one feels like they're doing the lion's share.
Mix it up from day to day or week to week, so both of you get plenty of nappy-changing practice. Even designating everyday jobs like cooking dinner and cleaning the bathroom can take the load off one parent.
choose a childcare expert to follow
Everyone comes to parenting with their own ideas of how to do it, usually based on their own childhood. Putting both of your opinions aside to follow the advice of a parenting guru or professional is like having a mediator. Following advice from books and podcasts has given both of us a neutral, third-party solution that we can't argue with.
attend childcare classes
Again, just because you're a team of two doesn't mean you can't seek out help and guidance. Classes are ideal places to pick up advice, both from childcare professionals and other parents. When we realised that other first-time parents had queries too, about everything from feeding schedules to nursery night lights, we felt a lot more relaxed about talking through our worries. Being able to ask questions – and listen to those of other parents – can help you see things from a different perspective.
Children get confused if the rules always change, so sit down and agree on your dos and don'ts. Be prepared to compromise: your partner is more likely to commit if they feel that their views are being respected. Bedtimes, appropriate punishments and what to pop in their packed lunch are a few small sources of conflict.
play to your strengths
When you're deciding on the rules, and roles, think about your unique strengths as individuals. For example, if one of you is a night owl, you'll be better at handling late-night feeds. Likewise, early birds might find it easier to slot nursery drop-offs into their morning routine.
resolve disagreements sensibly
When you do disagree on something, don't let emotions get the best of you. Work out why you feel this way. Is it really important to you, or is it something that you can let slide? Really listen to your partner and their point of view. Try to explain your feelings in a calm, considered way.
Parenting together can be a real test of your relationship. But if you stay calm, split the chores and talk about the tough decisions, you're sure to love working as a team.