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Many people made fun of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s conscious uncoupling a few years ago. But it’s evident that they have influenced a number of other newly divorced celebrity parents who are raising kids together to put aside their anger and differences and come together for their family. (Sienna Miller even admits to doing the nightly bedtime routine together with former partner and father of her daughter, Tom Sturridge, while Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner take vacations together with the kids.

Could this happy co-parenting stuff happen before a couple gets divorced?

Of course —  a lot of couples have figured it out when it comes to parenting their kids. But many, many more have not and guess what happens? Conflict. And guess who suffers? Right, the kids.

Which is why one of the chapters on The New I Do is dedicated to a parenting marriage, a slightly different take on platonic parenting. But what both do so beautifully is this: anything related to the kids — from when and how to have them to how to raise and discipline them — is talked about and agreed upon. No surprises, no hidden agendas, no frustrations, no resentments  — well at least a lot less of all of that.

Merle Weiner, a law professor at the University of Oregon, proposes that the state should create a legal parent-partner status that binds parents — married, cohabiting, living apart, romantic partners or not —  with certain mandatory obligations in order to give their children what they need to thrive.

Whether you agree with any or all of the above, there is one aspect that is essential in making these sorts of arrangements work, and that is understanding your family-of-origin issues.

Now, there’s a new book that brings that conversation into the forefront, Parenting as Partners: How to Launch Your Kids Without Ejecting Your Spouse by Vicki Hoefle, a parenting coach and author. Her book is designed to help couples create a parenting plan — just as we suggest in The New I Do.

The beginnings of bad parenting

If you don’t want to end up like Jancee Dunn, who was almost at the point of divorce, as she writes in her new book, How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, because she and her husband  had “dreamy conversations” about their baby when they were pregnant, but never discussed  the day-to-day practicalities, then you might want to read Hoefle’s book. As she writes:

As tensions rise between parents, their ability to parent effectively is compromised, and as a result, both the children’s behavior and their emotional health are put at risk. Because we are a culture convinced that kids are the ones who need fixing (thankfully this trend is changing), it’s reasonable that parents place the discord in the home at the feet of the kids, rather than on the state of the individuals doing the parenting. With each passing year, parents grow further and further apart, until they are either sabotaging each other openly or have entered into a quiet battle of wills, otherwise known as a power struggle. Without a course correction, not only are the children impacted in a negative way; the marriage suffers enough that parents consider divorce their only remedy for an untenable situation. tweet

As a woman who has raised two children in a marriage, truer words were never said.

Here are two things Hoefle nails: family-of-origin issues and the rise of more hands-on dads.

Giving dads respect

It’s true that today’s moms want dads to be more involved in their kids’ lives. But it’s also true that that means moms need to give dads an equal say in parenting decisions — and respect their say. As Hoefle notes, that doesn’t always happen, giving way to conflict:

What a shame to have lost our partner’s ideas and perspectives when ultimately we could benefit and celebrate the fact that we have someone who is as interested and committed to the raising of our children as we are — someone who is willing to go out on a limb and share a new perspective that could benefit the whole family. tweet

Yes. Really, yes.

As for the family-of-origin issues, that can take on various dimensions, positive and negative. Maybe you don’t want to be like your mother or father so you actively choose to raise your kids differently. Or maybe you have such wonderful memories that you want to give your children the exact same experience. Well, guess what — your partner has memories of his/her own and may not feel the same. Now what?

Hoefle gives a great example when she talks about how a mom’s desire to greet her children with fresh-from-the-oven homemade cookies after school, just like her mother did for her when she was young, wasn’t shared by her partner. This can be devastating for the nostalgic mom and create a rift in her relationship. But Hoefle wisely observes that it isn’t really about the cookies; it’s more the feeling of unconditional love that she wants to re-create for her kids. That’s easy to understand. Except that feeling can come from other experiences that have nothing to do with oven-fresh homemade cookies, which, in fact, may be impossible to provide because both parents may be working and the child may be in after-school care.

“Many parents try to re-create with their children the positive experiences from their childhood but get stuck in trying to replicate the details rather than on capturing the feeling and meaning of the experience,” Hoefle writes. And that really is key — understanding what drives our behavior when it comes to the childhood we want to give our children, and our partner needs to do the same. And then you have to be in agreement about what that means day to day. That isn’t easy … unless you’re willing to go deep into that stuff.

Your kids are watching

But it’s worth it. Beyond the tension mismatched parenting expectations will cause the couple, it’s also modeling unhealthy behavior for your children:

Consider the messages you may be sending to the kids when the two of you work against each other rather than with each other. … Ask yourself, would you want your son or daughter’s partner talking to your child the way you are speaking to your partner or vice versa? If not, the it’s time to take this entire co-parenting plan seriously. tweet

Preach it!

I know — it seems onerous to have to create a written parenting plan, let alone have to talk about such things. It is actually onerous. That said, it will be the greatest gift you can give your children, as well as yourself and your partner.

Want to see if a parenting marriage is good for you? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


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