Thursday, November 12, 2015

Parenting as a Team

Andrew and I have only been parents for five years now, so needless to say we don't have this parenting thing figured out. What I do know is we've (mostly) successfully parented three toddlers and made it out alive, and still in love. We've been married for six and a half years, so most of what we know as a couple IS being parents together. There really isn't a 'before and after kids' with us. Having Isaiah forced us out of the honeymoon phase and into family life very quickly. That's not a complaint! I don't regret for a second bringing these kids into the world as quickly as we did. I love being a family- but that doesn't mean that it's come without it's challenges and plenty of learning the hard way- I was 23 when I had my first baby! Here are my top four lessons we've gleaned, mostly from doing it wrong:

1.) Know each of your strengths and use them.
I think a lot of couples spend time fighting over what the other person isn't doing rather than appreciating what they are doing. Keeping a positive attitude and thinking the best about someone goes a really long way. Figure out what you are each good at or enjoy doing. If there are things (like diapers) that simply need to be done but aren't anyone's particular 'gift,' share the load. No pun intended. If you write out the things you will do and your partner will do, then you don't have an unreasonable expectation. If we would have known our strengths from Day 1 with Isaiah, things would have been much less stressful. Write yours down! That way there won't be a question at the end of the night who is responsible for what. Of course things are flexible- just use communication if you need more help. Things may need to be adjusted as you go. I just think having things written down prevents one person from resenting the other for not doing their part.

If you're struggling to find balance, here's (very roughly) how we have learned to split things up:
-When I wake up throughout the night to nurse the baby, Andrew gets up first in the morning and lets me sleep.
-When I'm getting the kids dressed for bed- teeth brushed, nails clipped, ears cleaned- Andrew is vacuuming and sweeping up the mess from the day. It's one of his spiritual gifts. Also I hate it. :)
-I cook the food. I'm sure Andrew could learn... but chicken patties aren't a recommended food group. I take care of grocery shopping, preparing meals and his lunches, etc while he's at work. That way we can have family time when he gets home.
-I do the laundry- wash and fold. Sometimes Andrew helps with it especially if I get behind, but mainly I get it done during the day. Andrew's thing is cleaning up the kitchen from dinner so I can relax for a while.
-We give one another time alone. Time with friends. Time to exercise. My goal is to give Andrew one day after work per week to spend by himself. I keep the kids out of the house and leave him alone. He gives me the same amount of time away from home. Tag team parenting- yes!

2. Apologize quickly-- and forgive even quicker.
Things can get really tense around here- especially with a 4, 3, and 2 year old. We have one particular child who is emotionally very taxing for both of us. This can leave your nerves frayed and make you feel like you're at the end of your rope after a mere five minutes. 
I know that in moments of stress I personally have said and done things to both my children and my husband that I regret. For instance, the dinner plate incident. Andrew wasn't home and it was dinnertime. It had been a very long day. Isaiah didn't feel like eating what I made for dinner, even though it was his usual favorite. Now remember I said it had been a really long day. So once I heard "OH, there's no WAY I'm eating THAT!" I calmly walked over to the table without saying anything, grabbed his dinner plate, opened the front door, and threw it out on the front lawn. "Fine! Don't eat." The kids stared at me in disbelief. Yes... not my greatest parenting moment. When Andrew came home he had to ask... "why... is there chicken and vegetables all over the front yard?" There was never a moment where he lectured me about how I shouldn't throw dinner plates out the front door. He knew. I knew. I said I was sorry and he said it was okay. There are dozens and dozens of moments like that along the way. Times when we snapped at each other. Most of the time we remember to say sorry but sometimes one or the other of us might be waiting a long time for that apology. So my best rule is forgive them before they apologize- but try to remember to apologize quickly. We're teammates, not opponents, even though the stresses of life can really make it feel like that sometimes.  
"A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers." -Ruth Bell Graham

3. Pray together.
Ashamedly this is something we implemented probably only eight or so months ago. Yes we prayed together in big moments and for 'important' things, but we neglected the day to day stuff. So now before Andrew leaves for work, he grabs me and says a 20 second prayer for things we're dealing with, my day at home, and for the kids. The importance of this can't be overstated- it's grounding and makes me feel so cared for. It really has given me a whole new respect for him. Make it a priority if you don't pray together now... you won't be sorry and it's never too late to start. 

4. Be best friends and enjoy one another.
So... life can be stressful and difficult. Can I get an amen? I'm embarrassed to say there have been periods of time where I've forgotten that Andrew isn't just my co-worker in parenting or one of my children- he's my husband and my best friend. So laugh at the ridiculous stuff kids say, be graceful towards one another, go on dates, and flirt. Send each other funny texts randomly and be happy to see each other when you walk through the door. Kiss... especially in front of the kids. Spend time catching up on your day after the kids go to sleep. Don't be so critical. Let stuff go. Forgive each other and prioritize one another. Give one another lots of affection. (all of the above are my personal goals, anyway) Remember- when the kids are grown up and gone, it's going to be the two of you. Now go and be a team with this partner you picked! 

plus one realistic family photo for good measure. :)

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