Many parenting books are good, but fall short in tackling one important aspect: co-parenting. Co-Parenting is a crucial skill because certain families develop a hierarchy with one parent (who is often the mom) dominating the family scene and child care. Meanwhile the other (who is often the dad) accepts or assumes a second chair in the parental hierarchy. Here's a dead giveaway of second chair parenting: a parent declines a social invitation by saying, "I have to babysit the kids". I imagine that if you have heard that phrase from a parent, you heard it from a dad. Has that been your experience? We all know, of course, that parents cannot babysit their own children; but how does this mindset develop for moms and dads? Is this merely semantics or a gendered misconception?
As a second child in a family of nine, I remember my dad working hard all day and coming home to relax. A great dad who attended the school conferences, games, plays and coached us; but he will 'fess up that he never cooked, cleaned, or changed a single diaper of the thousands we used. Meanwhile, my mom worked equally hard all day like my dad, and then continued to work until bedtime. She was the traditional homemaker of the day. I always thought there was something wrong with that picture and did not duplicate it in my own marriage and family with three kids. Back then, dads were traditionally marginalized to second chair parenting and a primary role as breadwinner. Fast forward to the present and the research on the role and impact of fathers in child development.
The best parenting practices are incomplete unless they include healthy co-parenting. This is the focus of the Pruett's new book, Partnership Parenting — How Men and Women Parent Differently — Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage. The authors are experienced in parenting both from personal and professional perspectives.
This book is a good read, but not particularly easy because of the research discussed and lengthy examples in each chapter. For the curious reader, the research and examples will be welcome background to support the recommendations the authors propose; however, the research and examples may be TMI for the more casual reader. Overall, the authors do an excellent job of holding mothers and fathers equally accountable for parenting, identifying gendered differences, and presenting tools for creating a parenting partnership, which works in excellent fashion to serves the needs of the child(ren).
My favorite sections are Chapter Three, “Building a Partnership That Works,” and Chapter Five, “Valuing Your Spouse's Contribution.” In these chapters, the authors emphasize that the emotional presence of two fully competent parents provide greater benefits to the children even when there is a binuclear family — each parent has a separate household. How the parents behave together as a parental team shapes the quality of life for everyone, whether there be two houses or one. Strong co-parenting includes balancing work and family life, keeping partner intimacy active, and sharing in child care.
Readers will find a “Co-parenting Preventative Maintenance Quiz” on page 44, which will help assess the quality of their connection to each other. Another important concept is how Drs. Pruett and Pruett use the term 'maternal gatekeeping' to describe the behavior of mothers who feel it necessary to protect children from the way their fathers parent. In many situations, such gatekeeping can develop into highly controlling behavior, which has a negative impact on the child's relationship with father and on the marriage itself. “The Gatekeeper Quiz for Moms” can be a quick eye-opener for mothers who may innocently be doing a disservice to their children and sabotaging their own goal of have their husbands fully involved in parenting.
Here is a sampling of key passages from this book.
• Over time, a father's difference turns into a huge advantage in certain areas, especially when helping children develop autonomy and master separation. (Page 18)
• … consider the similarities. Both parents want their kids to have a sense of accomplishment and positive self-esteem; they simply use different tactics. (Page 20)
• Fathers themselves perpetuate the stereotype that mothers are in charge by relegating themselves to second-class parental status as their preferred default position. (Page 28)
• …(unfortunately) The very relationship that nurtured the desire to have the baby in the first place is headed south; romance, passion, and sex are set adrift like icebergs halved by a retreating glacier. (Page 43)
• Men and women tend to have different communication styles when marital conflict intensifies. (Page 53)
• Ultimately, the strength of your co-parenting commitment depends on how you and your spouse feel about each other as your child's other parent. (Page 65)
• When it comes to disciplining their children, fathers and mothers generally do not share identical socialization goals for their kids. And this can negatively affect their co-parenting rapport, if not gently managed. (Page 104)
• … The happier the couple, the more inclined they are to work together to solve the dilemma, and the more motivated they are to have the kids sleep in their own beds as soon as possible. (Page 135)
• Children's basic developmental needs remain the same: That they be treasured and loved, capable of treasuring and loving back, and that they be protected, taught, and enriched according to who they — as unique individuals — simply are. (Page 170)
• The family gains the benefit of the parenting alliance; the couple gains the benefits of a happier relationship. When the parents stay together not only to "do their time" until their child is older, but with increased appreciation for their partner and marriage, the benefits to the child grow like compound interest. (Page 193)
Partnership Parenting provides additional homework type challenges throughout the book in the form of quizzes, targeted questions, checklists/signs, rules for fighting fair, and a parenting profile. Expectant parents, new parents, and parents in second families will find this book particularly useful as a tool to understand their similarities and differences in parenting and work together to build a parenting partnership.