A new debate: the challenges of partnership parenting

A new kind of debate about parenting is emerging and it gets to the heart of the matter – to what really makes mothers, fathers and children happy or miserable. Duncan Fisher, author of  Baby’s Here! Who Does What? explains:An article crossed my desk last week by Marilee Peters in the Canadian Family Connections magazine: The Supermom Trap: do helpful dads harm busy mom’s feelings of competence as a parent?

She reports on a University of Texas study that shows the more a father becomes competent in caring for his baby or young child, the more the mother’s self-esteem tends to go down.

In short, it appears that mothers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  Damned if they are ‘Top’ parent by exhaustion and isolation – doing something that no other mothers in history have been asked to do, namely taking sole charge of caring for their own children.  Damned if they aren’t ‘Top’ parent by a sense of mother-failure.

Also last week, I was called by the BBC to do an interview on the experiences of a mother and a father in the first months after a baby. This was in response to a new ballet, Blood Sweat & Tears on this very subject, doing a tour of the UK this week. A ballet on the subject! How wonderful is that?! I am off to see it next week.

And finally, I was passed a draft chapter of a new book by a mother recounting how, despite her firm agreement with her partner to share responsibilities equally, the dream slid out of their fingers, as both gave into the expectations on them. She ended up the No.1 parent and alone and he the understudy, the helper, the second fiddle; they were separate. It was a joy to see how this couple had reflected on this and changed their lives before these patterns of separation affected their future lives with their children.

Why does all this excite me? Because it heralds a new discussion, a discussion that asks and answers questions that we are not asking nor answering.

  • What is true partnership in parenting? Does one parent have to be in charge?
  • When is it appropriate for one parent to criticize the other’s parenting? How to criticise well, particularly given the expectations on mothers to be perfect parents?
  • When parents adopt different parenting styles or strategies, how and when can this damage – or benefit – children?  And how can parents reconcile genuinely different aspirations and parenting values?
  • What territory must mothers and fathers cede to each other – in the face of strong and contrary social expectations – in order to achieve partnership and a true alliance?
  • How can parents avoid the slide into separate lives before their relationship is seriously in trouble?

Let us know what you think in the comments box!

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