Ninety percent of the time my son falls asleep with little fanfare or fuss, but occasionally as my wife or I walk out the door he’ll stand up in his crib with his stuffed dog in his arms and cry for us. And sometimes this crying escalates to a wail. It never last long, three or four minutes max, but those few moments are devastating.
Our house is small enough that we don’t need a baby monitor. We stand together at the bottom of the stairs, and hold each other’s hand while he blows off a little steam at the end of the day. Even though we know there is nothing we can do about it, we always go through it together.
My wife and I spend a lot of time parenting together. It doesn’t make a lot of sense really. We could divide and conquer, and sometimes we do. One person doing bath while the other cleans up from dinner. One person reading stories while the other has a moment of quiet time to themselves. It happens occasionally, but more often than not we both hang out in our small bathroom together while our son has his bath, and we all sit together on the floor and read stories.
My wife and I decided early on that we wanted parenting to be something we did together. But we never really talked about what that meant, so the articulation of that idea in our relationship has evolved organically. We are conscious about sharing the work of parenting – the diaper changes, the meal prep, the drop-offs and pick-ups – but those are the obvious things. Those are the parts of parenting that are easy to divvy up.
However, I don’t really equate parenting together to simply sharing the tasks. I had the good fortune to take four weeks of family leave when my son was born, but my wife took over a year off from her job, and when she went back, only went back part time. As such, she shoulders more of his little tantrums, and witnesses more of his little joys than I ever will.
In some ways, I think our commitment to parenting together – what I might call co-parenting – is best expressed in the smaller moments. The little, nearly invisible ways we support each other: holding hands at the bottom of the stairs, putting on our sons shoes together, a short hug in a moment of frustration. It’s a shared, but largely unspoken, understanding that we are both “on duty” unless otherwise discussed.
This plays itself out in a hundred different ways – on many occasions it has been our salvation and on occasion it’s driven us to frustration. While our parenting philosophies are fairly complimentary, we each have our own hang-ups and our own style. Sometimes that means we bring a fresh perspective to a challenging situation, other times it means we can butt heads at a tense moment. But what it always means is that we know we can count on the other person to step up, to be there, to support us when we need it.
And that, more than anything else, is like shelter in a storm or like shade on a sunny day. It makes the tough times a little easier and the good times a little sweeter.