Truth is, my midwife was right. The big lesson in co-parenting is to loosen your ideas about right and wrong—throw them right out the window—recognize each other's strengths, and let your partner handle the things she or he does better. With Sam and me, there are the obvious gender differences in parenting styles. Like most dads he'll let the girls climb higher into a tree, ride further down the block alone and get a little more frustrated before jumping in to help. The dad way is: Let them spread their wings and fly. Like most moms, I'm right under the monkey bars while they climb and I'm up at the first sound of distress. The mom way is: protect, protect, protect.
But we have differences that have nothing to do with gender, too. Knowing them and navigating them well makes us a fantastic team on the days we get it right. Sam's a natural teacher. He's more patient, a better explainer and is more nurturing in his instructions, so he handles homework and helps the girls master new skills. He makes it fun. Me, I am not a fun teacher. But I am a sensitive listener and a confidant. Even at three and six, my girls can talk to me not just about what they're doing, but why they are doing it. When someone's behavior suddenly explodes my girls and I can get to the why of it and figure out how best to heal it.
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In the past seven years of being a mom, I've tried everyday to remind myself that my midwife was right. The true blessing of a child being raised by more than one adult is seeing different people do it their own particular way—learning there is more than one way to build a fire. What I have learned is this: mostly, the "right" approach is the middle way. It's built on constant communication and keeping a single united front, being consistent on boundaries, expectations and consequences. And letting go of the rest.
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Three whining hours into a road trip when the toys and books and crayons scattered all over the back seat are boring, and the kids are hungry but not for any of the food you've packed, its good to have a little empathy. But, sometimes it's even better to just get out of the car and jump around.