05 Mar An Interruption to Talk About Parenting
I owe everyone part two of teaching social skills within the writing workshop, and it’s coming! Its half done! But my partner and I had a conversation that felt useful, and I wondered if it might feel useful for other people, too.
Everything I Need to Know About Co-Parenting I Actually Learned While Co-Teaching
Now that my partner and I have a toddler, discussions have moved from “Did he poop yet?!” To, “DID YOU SEE WHAT HE JUST THREW AT ME?!?” I am working hard on my toddler mindset as the age not being about the terrible twos (that’s like calling emergent readers, terrible readers, its a phase of a learning, that’s all) to one of empathy that it’s hard to be small in a big world where people don’t understand your words, and certainly have a lot of rules about where and when things can happen. This is the age when you build theories and test them on how the world works.
In this new and wild territory, we are learning different things about how we co-parent, what we value, and where our respective breaking points fall on the continuum of toddler inquiries into power, which is what I am choosing to call the meltdown over socks that happened the other day.
For some of my years in the classroom, I co-taught, which means there were two full time teachers in the same classroom. The classroom had lots of diverse needs, lots of explorations of power, and a learning arc that was more a direct line to the sky. I was fortunate enough to learn about co-teaching and inclusive practices from the amazing Kristen Goldmansour, and I realized she armed me well for what it means to co-parent. Here is what I’ve got for you:
Communication is the Key to Any Team
There comes a point in any co-teaching relationship where you can communicate paragraphs with lift of an eyebrow. One particular squint might mean, “What are we doing right now?” where another means, “Tacos for lunch, right?” Getting there required many conversations, many mistaken intentions, and sometimes disagreements. It’s that step that I didn’t think about in co-parenting. You may know your partner inside and out, but you may not yet know them as a parent. I feel like I know myself pretty well, I still shock myself with some of the parenting moves I make.
So, the first lesson of co-teaching is to talk to each other, explicitly and clearly about what you think is happening, what you think the course of actions should be, what your goals for your child are at this particular stage. Try to take judgement off the table and realize everyone has a reason for the thinking they do, sometimes it’s just about sorting that out.
When you get into the heat of it, think about a sports team: point guards are calling out plays, catchers are calling out pitches, no one is assuming that the other members of the team just magically guess the thing that is about to happen. Talking about goals allows you to have a sense of how you might respond to things, but someone needs to be calling out the plays. The goal is to let your co-parent know what is happening and what you may need. Maybe its, “Can you come be the patient one while I go scream into a towel in the bathroom?” or maybe, “Can you join me in this face of mutual disbelief?” or maybe, “Would you please take over cooking while me and this munchkin have a moment together?” If you don’t name what you need in that moment, your partner might be read the situation wrong and sweep in as the patient one, when really you need that face of disbelief. Talk it out and soon you will get into that shorthand where with one twitch of the eye, you are free to go and scream into the towel about how socks are a perfectly reasonable expectation when there is a polar vortex outside. Just an example, not based on anything, of course.
Know Your Strengths, and Your Flaming Button of Rage
One of the keys of a co-teaching relationship is knowing that each of you have different skills you bring to the table. One of you may be calm, while the other is highly dramatic. One of you may be perfectly content with mess, the other may be working through a Marie Kondo lens. Once you know these things, plan to use your strengths. The one who can handle mess takes on the art project that is going to be a disaster before it’s amazing, The one who is preternaturally calm does the recess pick-up. It’s just as important to know the things that infuriate you. Listen, we are not all rational all the time. And that’s okay! Just know that if you are about to become irrational, you might want to hand off that moment to someone who is not about to lose it.
If you co-parent, have these conversations! Know that sometimes the problem is real, and sometimes the bigger problem is your reaction to the moment. I have infinite patience until I don’t. Right before the moment I overreact I have a flash of clarity that I am going to lose my mind. Rather than leaning into that freak out, I am trying to pass the baton. You don’t have to be perfect, but you should aim not to reenact your childhood trauma, either.
While you are at it, name your partner’s strengths. We don’t always know what we are handling admirably, so having it pointed out is helpful. I will state for the public record that my partner is gifted at shifting tense moments into silly ones and letting go of the issue as soon as it over.
Take Time For Each Other
I think everyone says this, but in a co-teaching relationship, it’s important that you build and sustain a relationship without children around. Eat lunch together, chit chat about your lives, or take some alone time and say “thank you” when you come back. The same is true of co-parenting in whatever form it takes. Christy Curran, a lovely human being I worked with at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, used to tell me “Happy kids come from happy parents.” Do what it takes to keep your relationship thriving and healthy. Sometimes that means doing things together, and sometimes it means giving your partner the chance to take a 40 minute shower in the sweet silence of your bathroom.
Back to the world of teaching next post, but the interim, share your best co-parenting tips in the comments.