Consider this: you invite a perfect stranger into your life. You learn about each other, enjoy each other, fall in love, and one day decide, as you are no longer strangers, that you will build a life together. Perhaps you get married, perhaps you simply cohabitate. Regardless, you decide to intertwine your independent histories into one unified future. You welcome all the terms that a deep, loving relationship brings: the tender moments, the tough moments, the kisses and hugs, and the screams and yells. Along the way, within the deepest depths of this strongest bond, you encounter days when you think it’s all over, when you question every decision you’ve made, when you might feel a little lost. But then there are the butterflies and the laughter, the moments of perfect synchronicity that make you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt in true love and perfect soul mates, and
that irreplaceable feeling of eternal comfort and safety. And while your daily adventures may not live in such extremes, it is these that make for a strong, vibrant and lasting partnership. As time passes, parts of you change together, and parts of you change separately, but you are forever changed because your life now exists with another by your side. It takes work – hard work – but with the right person, the work is worth it, and the good times will always outweigh the bad.
And then you have kids…and every notion you had of that “perfect synchronicity” takes a dramatic turn in wildly uncharted territory.
For as long as you and your partner have built your life together as two, and for as long as you may have fantasized about having kids “one day,” and for as many times as you have talked about the hypotheticals of child-rearing, parenting styles, and disciplinary or teaching models, NOTHING can prepare you for the relationship shifts that occur once these “conversations” become a reality. Suddenly, any changes or challenges that arose within your relationship before are microscopic to what you encounter while learning how to actually parent together. The highs feel extra high, the lows feel extra low, and new dynamics form as you re-solidify the commitment to your family unit. You are now no longer just partners in love, but partners in parenting – and that game has completely different rules.
My husband and I come from very different upbringings, different childhoods, different backgrounds. We’re made of different experiences, different memories, different fears and different dreams. Yet we love each other for being the people we are, we embrace the differences as much as the compatibilities. Thus, we picked each other as our chosen family. We have known each other for nearly 8 years, 4 of which we have spent married, and two of which have been as co-parents. In the years before marriage and before kids, we were as happy-go-lucky in love as any pair could be. We yearned to spend every waking or sleeping minute at each other’s side, and everything was better when we were together. We then had our first big fight during that stressful period called “wedding planning,” and as we eased into life as a married couple, we encountered a few more bumps along the way. But considering we started out as perfect strangers, as completely different people, and considering all those encouraging “warnings” people gave us before embarking on such a lifelong venture, we didn’t expect it to be completely bump-free. We just expected, whatever happened, we’d be in it together, and that made it ok.
While that sentiment still rings very true, and everything is still better when we’re together, becoming parents has been the best and worst thing that has happened to our relationship. And I mean that in the most loving way possible. We have the two most incredible kids, and lucky for us, as new parents who are still navigating this balance and juggle, our kids are magical. They have the unique ability to both unify and divide, but they will always remind us that everything will be alright even when it feels all wrong. We have one who is brand new, and needs us in the most basic ways of nurture, comfort and support, and one who, at the ripe age of 2, has officially entered the that exhausting chapter called “Time Outs, Tantrums, and Other Life Lessons.” Needless to say, our focuses of late are more on them than they are on us – yet another juggle that we’re just starting to better understand. But our life managing two kids has made us recalibrate, act instinctively, and learn on a much deeper level how to respect each other as both partners AND parents. There is still a lot of learning involved, and those moments of contention between us are constantly ebbing and flowing around the periphery of our every day. But I believe wholeheartedly that our roles are to love, support and help each other, even if we may not always be perfectly in sync.
My husband is a wonderful father, and I am beyond lucky to have him on my team and on this journey. He’s involved, he’s playful, he’s interested, he’s tender, he’s loving. He is also strong and confident in his ability to lead and discipline. We are both conscious and present parents, with different strengths and different approaches. We have a lot to learn from each other, and a lot to teach each other along the way. Yet, we both have the same goals and family values. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be married. But when dealing with a toddler with selective hearing and a strong will (to put it nicely), and a newborn with erratic sleep habits, it can be difficult to see or think beyond the minutia of the moment. I will often compare my voice level to that of my passionate husband, and worry that he’s being too tough on our son. I have plenty of moments or days of frustration at how he didn’t do something “correctly.” But I’m learning that just because it wasn’t “right” to me doesn’t mean it wasn’t “right” to him. And I’m often left in awe of how effective his tactics can be. Our kids won’t know the difference (at least not yet), and as long as they’re loved, respected, and guided with our collective family values, there is no right or wrong. We will have the forever challenge of better understanding each other as parents, and learning to support each other even when we want to criticize. And if and when I fall into the trap of “mommy knows best,” I often have to remind myself that my husband is a perfectly capable, smart and nurturing man, who has the same love and intention with our kids that I do. We love each other to the ends of the earth, and always fight to find the moments that strengthen us as a couple, as individuals, and as parents.
He once said to me, after cooling down from a “heated discussion” (probably about how he wasn’t giving our son a healthy enough meal, or was letting him do something that I deemed too dangerous), that we can, and should, have independent relationships with each of our kids. While this is not tied directly to different approaches in discipline or teaching, it is something I think of often because it helps remind me that not only is it ok for us to bring different things to the table, it’s probably quite healthy for our kids to recognize us as independent people within the same team. We still always have each other’s backs, we still support each other in the most challenging parenting moments, and be there to laugh and cry our way through it together. But if one day my daughter prefers the way daddy ties her shoes, or my son prefers the way I read him a book (as if), then daddy can be her Shoestring King and I can be his Storybook Queen. And when it comes to discipline and consequences, if I prefer to confiscate a toy and daddy prefers to give a 2-minute timeout, both are fine because they are ultimately learning the same lesson, just with a slightly different angle.
I suppose it is nearly impossible to expect that two people, once strangers, can embark on one of the toughest journeys together of raising kids, and be on the same page all of the time. Being a parent brings up a lot of previously unattended emotions: memories from your own childhood, questions about your own parents, deep evaluations about the type of parent you want to be, and the lifestyle you want to provide. While I believe it becomes increasingly important for us as a parenting team to be in agreement on most things, and to have a grab-bag of chosen parenting tools and tricks to use as needed, part of my journey as a mother and a wife is learning to accept and embrace the differences in our parenting styles. Perhaps our separate backgrounds, experiences and histories can only help to strengthen our collective family dynamic, because I know, at the end of the day, we are the perfect team for us. And for as much as I’ve read about discipline, development and child psychology, and for as hard as I try to find the “right” answer for every obstacle, I know we are writing our own parenting manual as we go, because who really has time for anything else? We have each other, we have our happy and well-loved kids, we have our “village” – so what more do we need?