Friday, May 15, 2009

Please, please, please: can we stop with the co-parenting articles?

I can't stand it. I really can't stand it anymore.

Does anyone have a calendar? Does anyone read it? Last time I checked, we were nearly ten years into the new century. Must we constantly rehash the same tired topics over and over again? Why? Some thing never change, despite the experts telling us they must.

Or better: does anyone reading a calendar realize that no matter how many books are published, no matter how many articles are written, no matter how many sincere and well-intentioned professionals appear on talk shows, this whole idea of "co-parenting" isn't going to fly. [And while we're discussing it, I hate it when writers or speakers turn a noun into a verb. Parent is a noun. Parenting is a made up verb that means you're in the act of raising your children. It's annoying and somehow phony and intellectually superior.]

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I didn't say both mother and father can't play important roles in the lives of their children. They can. They should. And by the way, in the very best circumstances, they pretty much love doing it, at least most of the time.

But here's my problem: they're not the same people. Moms are not Dads and Dads are not Moms. When did it become wrong for each parent to bring her or his own specific and wonderful skills to the decades long venture of raising a family? Why must they be interchangeable people?

An article in USA Today prompted me to ponder this phenomenon. It's title: Parents share the workload: But first, mothers have to learn to let go. In other words, the reason men aren't good parents is because women are shrill harpies who just can't stand to have someone interfere with her philosophy or activities when it comes to her children.

Wrong. Most mothers I know would dearly love to let go but in most cases, their husbands are not available to "babysit" their own children. Honest to God, I've never heard one woman ever refer to spending time with her children while her spouse was not home as baby-sitting. Not ever. I've heard men say it countless times. And the experts wonder why women won't let go.


Important sidebar: Apparently, my husband and I are something of trendsetters here. Almost twenty years ago, we began raising a family. Twenty years ago, I don't remember hearing about or reading one article about co-parenting. I held a job with full benefits; my husband had been working freelance for several years with exactly no health benefits. I went back to work after each of my pregnancies; my husband stayed home with our first and then our second and third sons at least two days a week, more if his work was slow. (And when I say second and third sons, I really mean second+third. We were the parents of a 16-month old son when our twin sons were born. So for several months, we had three boys in the house under the age of two. That's a lot of diapers, and bottles and Cheerios.)

Much of that early time with a family of three babies or toddlers is a blur to me. I remember at least one night when I walked in to the house, and upon hearing my entrance, my husband called this out: "Get in here NOW." It was the end of a long day and he needed some relief.

I remember spending more than just a few nights walking around in the house with my coat still on as I transitioned the kids from daycare to home without my husbands help because he was away.

I remember going out of town on business trips and returning to the airport to find my husband standing there with three little guys who were wresting around and jumping up and down, waiting for me to appear at the end of the corridor in an airport.


But here's the thing. I never once remember remarking to my husband something like this: isn't this "co-parenting" great? Please. We did what we did because the situation and our lives required it. I never once asked him what he fed the boys while I was out of town. He never asked me what time the boys got to bed when he was away. I never once asked him if they wore clothing that matched. He never asked me whether or not they had their baths. I never nagged him once about high-fructose corn syrup, or "play dates" or any other nonsense that seems to grab the attention of parents from coast to coast these days.

We just did it. We didn't make a big deal about each playing a role in raising our children. We also did not make a big deal about one of us being better at something - or more naturally inclined toward something - than the other. It was just how we lived. Everyday. For years and years.

It struck me that the USA Today article quoted couples who were obviously middle to upper middle class. Two English professors in college, both in their mid-thirties and a pharmacist and a market researcher, both in their mid-forties. There is a whiff of elitism baked into this whole notion of co-parenting if you ask me. In my experience, we spent years just doing the job, doing what needed doing, loving the kids, taking our turn at the helm.

Apparently, we were "peer parenting" and didn't even know it. We gave our children "shared care" by accident. If only we had known this was something of a phenomenon. We might have been a little more smug about it, just as the couples and experts quoted in the article I read appeared to be.

No matter. Our boys are now 19, 18 and 18. They appear to have survived the best and the worst of both of us. And we didn't read even one book about co-parenting along the way. Imagine that.

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