Today on the podcast, I chat with Michelle Purta all about co-parenting through different parenting approaches. Michelle is a life coach who helps moms become happier in their relationships. She works one-on-one with women so they can create more of a connection with their partners rather than conflict. Her goal is to empower women to get to do all the things without having to sacrifice themselves in the process. There are multiple ways to raise tiny humans, and partners may have different ideas. Michelle helps people navigate coming to a common ground in parenthood.
Michelle opens up by suggesting that you meet your partner with compassion. You may be the one who is in our village, in our Facebook group, listening to all the podcasts, and reading all the current research, so you may feel like you know more or know better than your partner. If you approach your partner with this type of attitude, they may feel like you’re talking down to them, and they will be less responsive to and willing to put these tools into action.
Michelle believes that partners must come to a common understanding about the culture in which they both want to raise their kiddos, and also the tools they want their kiddos to have as adults - for example, to be able to regulate their emotions. What are the criteria that you both share? Once these things are agreed upon, then it’s a matter of how do we get there? Then partners can ask themselves how to get there without things happening that each fears happening, for example, how do we apply consequences that teach those lessons without them fearing us and feeling like they can’t come to us with the big stuff? We often don’t hold space for the male’s fears in parenting, but it’s not just women wondering all the “what ifs?”
What about when one parent is the strict one, and the other one is the casual “fun” one? Michelle advises that both parents need to have a sit-down and establish that they must be a team or else the kid(s) will break them. Kiddos’ job is to explore and test boundaries. According to Michelle, when you don’t operate as a team, the tiny humans will notice that and begin using that to their advantage, and it will tear your partnership apart. Sit down and figure out how you can come to a common ground and support each other. Again, figure out what you are trying to accomplish when raising your kids. A good question to ask your partner when they may do something that contradicts you is, “What were you trying to accomplish when you…?” Your kids need to see you and your partner as a united front.
I caution the “in-the-moment” conversation - trying to navigate this in a state of heightened emotions, or when your partner is in the middle of responding to your kiddo, is not the best way to tackle this. Instead, at the end of the day, come together and have a discussion or even just reflect on the day as a team.
One thing we must acknowledge is that the societal expectation is that the female has more of an idea of how to parent than the male. We have a chance to change the narrative on these gender stereotypes with our kiddos, but the reality is that this is how we were raised. If you are in a hetero relationship, the female may feel more comfortable and confident in the role of parent, and the male may even feel like she is better at it and leave it up to her. However, men need the opportunity to gain confidence in parenting, so women need to step back and not only allow that to happen, but allow them to fail, and fail without judgment, as well.
A villager asked about kiddos favoring one parent over the other, perhaps due to each parent having a different parenting style and the kiddo preferring one over the other. Her kiddo wants her to do all the things - get her meals, give her a bath, put her to bed - and it leaves her feeling like she doesn’t have anything else to give, and also causes some conflict between her and her partner when she gives pointers on how to parent more like her as a way to ease the unbalanced parenting load due to the favoritism. Michelle said she really relates to this because according to her, her three-year-old is a huge “mama’s boy.” Does it feel good to be the favorite? Yes, but at the end of the day, you need that other parent to be able to take on parenting equally, and it’s important that kiddos have a loving relationship with both parents. Michelle advises, despite the demands of the child, not to do everything as the preferred parent. The kiddo may want mom to give him a bath, but have dad do it. She also shared that she will intentionally leave the house at times to give dad and son the time to figure things out on their own, where she isn’t available to do anything for the kiddo so dad must. With consistency and holding that boundary, they will get used to it.
When you and your partner are navigating things differently and you want to give constructive criticism when is the best time, and what is the best way to enter into this conversation with your partner? How do you enter this conflict without putting someone on the defensive? Michelle works with women on this on a daily basis. First, process it on your own first. What is upsetting you? What do you need that is missing? What is triggering you? Gain your own clarity on your thoughts about this. Michelle advises not to talk about it in front of the kids if you’re heated (perhaps after bedtime is the best time), but also keep in mind that it’s a good thing for kiddos to witness healthy conflict resolution, too. Use it as an opportunity to grow together. Seek to understand before being understood. Michelle also suggests talking about yourself and what is going on inside of you when something is happening, rather than talking to the other person about their actions, because that’s when people become defensive. Check out Episode 86 on Adult Emotion Processing if you want to dive into what work must be done internally before entering conflict resolution with your partner.
Another topic brought up by our village is navigating differences in households among parents who are no longer together - for example, different rules and boundaries for your kiddo in your house and different rules and boundaries for your kiddo in your ex’s house. Michelle also has firsthand experience with this as her husband has a child from a previous relationship. Michelle says to take action in the same way you would with your partner who you are not separated from - sit down and discuss the core values you are both trying to instill in your child and start there. Don’t get bogged down by the “how.” Your child will learn that each house is different - they don’t have to be identical. Do we strive for routine and consistency across both households? Yes, but all is not lost if that’s not there. You want to make sure that you are all on the same team working together. Everyone is doing the best with what they have, so trusting that everyone has the kiddo’s best interest at heart is important.
Michelle wants all women to know that they can enjoy motherhood and maintain their marriage all at the same time - you don’t have to wait until the kids are older to finally give your relationship the attention it needs. Find Michelle’s Facebook community called Marriage & Mothers if you think this level of support would benefit you.