Parenting is Collaboration

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Parenting is a so much about teamwork, and more often than not, partners parent differently. Differently doesn’t mean better than or worse than, simply different. These differences can be some of the strongest assets to your partnership, and stem from your partner’s unique personality, cultural background, family of origin experiences, maturity and expectations. When parental differences can be aligned, this collaboration provides opportunities for sharing, creativity, and understanding one another better.

It was recently documented that men spend 160 minutes per day on domestic work, while women put in 254 minutes . This gap widens after marriage, and again when babies arrive. When you begin to think about the natural occurrences that lead to parenting, it’s not surprising Mothers get a head-start, especially in the first few years of life, and perhaps this is when some of the traditional divisions of labor begin. Despite more women returning to their professional roles after having children, gender roles remain traditional in the sense that women continue to do the major part of household work even though they participate in the labor market with a strong intensity.

There is growing evidence that more men want to, and are getting involved with more household chores, but sometimes a reluctance to do so can be a result of feelings they are not meeting their partners expectations.  Sometimes they have their own style or method of getting things done, differently. Sometimes these differences may not be acknowledged or appreciated.

In most partnerships, there are times when it is advantageous for both sides to let go of previous expectations, to allow for greater teamwork and to minimise  “divisions” of labor. Changing and shifting roles can be healthy, reduce stress and be fun, opening up options and possibilities. This type of collaboration may also expose children to options for setting a healthy stage for their future.

Some partners set extremely high standards in zones they were traditionally relegated to – unwittingly commandeering the household by criticizing their spouse’s efforts, or by redoing the tasks outright. Psychologist Kurt Lewin first coined the term “gatekeeping,” and experts say it’s not doing anyone any favors.

Parents who fall prey to gatekeeping have definite ideas, expectations and strong opinions about how involved and how competent heir partners should be. “Gatekeeping can be one important source of under involvement in domestic labor,” writes Sarah Allen and Alan Hawkins, in a report published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Gatekeeping can occur regardless of whether parents are married, divorced, or never married, and regardless of the parents’ satisfaction with their relationship as a couple.

Back to collaboration, sharing, and differences… Perhaps now is the right time to reconsider or reconfigure household expectations and assess the value and wide implications of teamwork. Consider the following metaphor in understanding the collaborative relationship:

You and your spouse are mountain climbers roped together for mutual safety. Each takes a turn in the lead, allowing the other one to rest, maximisng the other’s strength and endurance. Each person moves up only when the other partner does; if one stumbles, the other’s progress is hindered, and vice versa. There is no place for competition when climbing a mountain. You climb as a team and reach the summit, together.



“Mothers’ Beliefs and Behaviors That Inhibit Greater Father Involvement in Family”
Allen, Sarah M. and Alan J. Hawkins. 1999.
Journal of Marriage and the Family 61(1):199-212.

Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently–Why It Helps, By Kyle D. Pruett, Marsha Kline Pruett, 2009