In an earlier article, we talked about Mom and Dad During Pregnancy. We discussed the attitudes and assumptions moms and dads may have about pregnancy, birth, and childrearing. It included an exercise to help couples discuss the pregnancy, their expectations of parenting roles, fears and plans for delivery and bringing baby home.
Co-parenting begins in pregnancy. During pregnancy, the couple should make it a priority to grow their friendship. Make time every day for meaningful talk, learning more about each other, and practice thoughtfulness. This builds a strong foundation to withstand the stressful weeks after baby’s arrival. Those who do best during the early days with baby have a high level of comfort in sharing hopes, fears, and needs.
In my article on Bonding and Brain Chemicals, we see that parents who spend time together and are involved in the preparation, as well as the delivery of their baby, are helped along by their brain chemicals in the bonding process with baby. We are designed so that mom, dad, and baby bond into a caring, nurturing family.
The Gottman Institute studied over 150 parents before and after their first child. Almost two-thirds reported heightened conflict, relationship disappointment, and hurt feelings post-baby. These were the Disasters. What were the Masters doing to make their marriages satisfying while adjusting to parenthood?
The Masters were intentional about their rituals of connection. Last month we talked about establishing rituals in the article: The Positive Point of View. Parenting together is more than just playing together. A good place to start is to develop a morning routine of feeding, playing, and taking care of the baby together. Later every day, spend time unwinding and connecting with each other’s worlds. Make some special plans for a family outing on the weekends. Don’t slip into only doing what is necessary to survive, but find ways to make each other feel special and important to the family. No need to spend a lot of money or use huge amounts of time or energy. These connections just must be important to each member.
How do you play with your baby together?
Mom, dad, and baby need to have time together every day to play. Find a time when baby is awake and comfortable and mom and dad can be fully present.
Both parents should be equally included in the game they are playing with baby. Neither should withdraw from the game and neither should take over or prevent the other from playing. It is meant to be a fun time for all. One parent may start the game, but invites the other parent and makes room in the game for him or her.
Both parents need to be paying equal attention to the game and to baby. Put your phones and work away and turn off the TV. When baby tires of one game, start another. It can be a simple as smiling and making some nonsense sounds. As baby matures, the games can become songs with motions. Whatever you enjoy doing together can be the game.
Babies as young as three months are able to understand the game includes both parents. When the play is not coordinated, parents become competitive and dissatisfied with the game. The baby becomes confused and over stimulated.
Both parents should be equally emotionally involved in the game. Watch baby’s reaction and show a similar emotional reaction to the play. This means if the game fails, both parents are equally empathetic with the baby. If baby gets over-stimulated, both parents stop the play and allow baby to recover. Play is only restarted when baby looks at the parents with interest in play again. If you need a refresher on over-stimulation, see Turning Towards Our Child.
Supporting one another in co-parenting
We need to be supportive of one another. Some days it will be harder to find the time to play together. Some days we just feel grumpy and out of sorts. It is days like this that we need to encourage each other to take the time to play. We’ll all feel better for the effort.
We need to continue to appreciate the efforts each one is putting into the whole parenting role. Be thankful for anything your spouse does to include you and baby together.
Moms and dads make mistakes with baby. They may overstimulate or miss cues for help. We need to allow our mates to make mistakes. Don’t ridicule or scold, instead help them recover. This will be a lifelong process, so it’s good to start early. We all make parenting mistakes. Our children will survive, especially if we are parenting as a team.
Together celebrate the successes with baby. Each tiny step brings so much joy especially when we are experiencing these times together. Even when your spouse wasn’t there when baby did some new, amazing thing, be sure to share and wait for the time it is repeated for your spouse to see too.
As your baby grows to a boy or girl, keep parenting together. Find ways to interact together every day. Make dinner time a time to see into your child’s heart. Don’t use it for correcting or scolding. Include your child in as many of your activities as possible. Tell them how much you love them. You only have a few short years to lay the foundation for their successful life. Don’t waste it.
Time for Some Practice
Plan and set aside some time each day to play with your baby or child together.
One parent begins a game. This can be anything your baby or child likes to do with you. Parents take turns playing with your baby or child while the other looks on. When your baby or child is no longer interested in that activity, the other parent should initiate a different game or activity. With older children, one may read a book and then the other lead the family in singing some favorite songs. But do it all together.
Pay close attention to your baby or child’s reactions. Is he smiling and interested? Has she turned away or begun to push away from the activity? Try to predict how long they are interested. End play while everyone is still smiling and feeling content.
If your baby or child has gotten over stimulated, see if you can identify at what point they lost interest or showed they didn’t like the play. How did you both respond? How did your baby or child self soothe? Were you able to play any more after soothing or did you need to begin the bedtime routine or other activity?
Take a few minutes to talk about the play time. This will help you plan future times to enjoy together as a family.
The next lesson in the Parenting Together section is: Affirm Your Child