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Learning to Co-parent

Family Profile against SunsetOne of the most powerful parenting lessons that I’ve had to learn, over and over again, is that 3:00 am, when your baby is screaming, is not the proper time for a conversation about navigating new parenthood as equals.

Even though my husband and I had exhausted (or so we thought) the topic of co-parenting our new son together, we kept finding the discussion needed some clarification. And we often found that the topic needed finessing during a diaper change or feeding session in the wee hours of the morning, when both the need for sleep and our emotions were running high.

Our marriage had been built on utilizing each other’s areas of gifting, so it made perfect sense that our parenting would be similarly egalitarian. After much prayer and discussion, we had concluded that the biblical view of marriage is a marriage of equals, rooted in mutual submission. Our marriage had been strengthened by submitting our lives to one another. Parenting, then, was another opportunity to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” as commanded in Ephesians 5:21. Rather than just one parent shouldering all of the responsibility for the care of our newborn, we looked forward to both of us changing our lives for our baby. In the same way that we submit one to another, we would also have to submit our desires and schedules to the needs of our son.

Despite the reality that parenting roles are more equal than they might have been in the past, mothers still take on a greater share of multitasking than fathers. For example, a December 2011 study from the American Sociological Review found that, in dual-earner families, mothers spend an average of ten more hours a week multitasking than fathers, and enjoy the juggling less than men (Offera and Schneider). Setting up a system for equally sharing parenting tasks can guard against resentment that one parent might feel with an unevenly distributed workload.

Equally-shared parenting not only strengthens our marriage and guards against resentment, we also hope that in the future it will allow our son to see a picture of the dignity and equality that we all share in the image of Christ. In fact, this picture we present to him is likely to have a stronger effect on his own view of mutual relationships than many other images that he is presented. If my husband and I truly want him to believe that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” it needs to be modeled at home.

Our son Hudson is now past infancy, and we are still learning how to share our parenting responsibilities. I’m sure that each new stage of his development, as well as the ebbs and flows of our work and ministry roles, will bring challenges in co-parenting. However, we’ve learned that a little preparation can make a difference in preparing to parent equally.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Even though I believe that my husband is perfectly capable of parenting our son as well as I am, I still find myself thinking that as the mother, I can do something better. Not only is this superior attitude wrong, it is also disrespectful and hurtful to my husband. I often find that I need to challenge my own assumptions, and recognize that even I—a passionate egalitarian—am capable of resorting to gender stereotypes rather than parenting based upon our gifts.

My husband grew up with a stay-at-home mother, while I grew up with a mother who worked outside of the home but still managed the bulk of the traditional female duties at home. Much like our families of origin shape our marriage relationship, the gender-specific roles we each saw modeled in our homes has affected our parenting. One way to combat this has been to discuss our childhoods and who was responsible for the parenting. Did your father change diapers? Who was responsible for taking the kids to doctor appointments? Was something in your home considered “women’s work”?

By challenging our underlying assumptions about parenthood, we open up the path to move past them into a mutually-satisfying parenting relationship based on gifting, rather than prescribed gender roles.

Plan Ahead for Nursing

There are some roles, of course, that a father cannot fill. If a mother is planning to breastfeed, have conversations before the child is born about dividing responsibilities equally. For my husband and me, this meant that he took a greater role in diaper duty. Breastfeeding (especially in the first month or two) takes a lot of time out of a mother’s schedule. If this is something you feel strongly about, make sure that you will divide other tasks. My husband also chose to stay up with me for middle-of-the-night feedings during his paternity leave. That was very helpful for making sure that I didn’t feel alone in feeding our son.


Every few weeks, my husband and I have a conversation about how parenting is working out for the two of us. Sometimes this has meant that one of us has to bring up something that we feel the other could do better. Honesty is important and helps to keep a marriage strong and prevent against one parent resenting the other.

Remember to Show Appreciation

There was a period of time where it seemed like I was nursing Hudson all night long. Sensing how physically exhausted I was becoming, my husband chose to rock the baby back to sleep once he had been fed. After a week or two of this, I realized that he was staying up much more that I was. I made sure to thank him for taking on this role and allowing me to rest. Gratitude goes a long way in guarding against resentment.

Have Grace for One Another

New parenthood is stressful. If you are counting diaper changes, and who has rocked the baby the most, and who is more tired, you’re probably not having grace with one another. It has been important for the two of us to realize that a grace-filled parenting relationship is often quite unequal, with good reason. As our schedules and the demands of our son shift, we find short seasons when one of us might be doing more than the other. For example, my husband is able to recognize when I might need more sleep, so he’ll take an extra shift rocking our son back to sleep. Similarly, I can recognize when he needs a break, too. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This is not only wonderful marital advice, but also great parenting advice.

New parenthood is a physically and emotionally exhausting time, but with a bit of preparation and communication, it can also be a time of mutual sacrifice and bonding for a husband and wife. As we have prepared to parent equally, my husband and I have discovered that, amidst the dirty diapers and midnight feedings, we have found another way to honor Christ and model grace to one another and our family.

What tips do you have for egalitarian parenting?

Note: This article appears in the most recent issue of Mutuality, themed “Parenting.”

Author: Kendall Potter
Kendall Rose Potter holds a degree in Christian thought from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and young son. You can read more from Kendall at kendallrosepotter.com.


  1. Don Johnson
    Comment #96750 posted September 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    My take is that being egalitarian allows a couple incredible freedom in which to decide how to assign family tasks in a way that makes the most sense to them as a couple. This means that the way the family works can appear very traditional with the husband going off to work a 9-to-5 job and a stay-at-home mom all the way to very non-traditional ways of parenting, as long as all of the required tasks get done. Since it is the couple themselves that decide what works best for them, there are no supposed “roles” that each gender is expected to fill, altho the couple may CHOOSE to accomplish those tasks in ways that may appear very traditional or not, as the case may be.

  2. Jo
    Comment #96751 posted September 23, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I think for us it was that I had to choose not to be the parenting expert. I deliberately never (or tried to avoid) saying – “you are doing it wrong let me fix it”. This means we have shirts backward, nappies that fell off and comments from others along the lines of – “oh my goodness – did his father dress him?” It means I may not have the structured routines I may have imagined and we don’t always do things how I want but it is figured out and owned by both of us together. It means my husband does not look to me to make sure he does it right, parenting is a shared domain not just mine as mother. It’s a freeing place to be, even if in some ways harder.

  3. Beverly Kirkland
    Comment #96752 posted September 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Focusing on dialogue, giftedness, and most of all–respect–is the foundation for all successful relationships. Without that focus, how on earth would two sleep-deprived, overworked, emotional new parents make it!?

  4. Don Johnson
    Comment #96753 posted September 24, 2012 at 9:53 am

    A division of labor that allows for efficiencies is not only for companies, it is also potentially for families, if that is what makes sense for them. In most hunter-gatherer societies, it was the adult males mostly doing the hunting and the females and children mostly doing the gathering and the payoff was an increased success rate of survival than otherwise. The fundamental physical realities are that a wife when pregnant carries a child for nine months and for some of those months will often have physical limitations and a wife is the only one who can breast feed a baby. Just from those realities there may follow that other ways of carving up the tasks makes the most sense for one specific family.

    As a father who changed many diapers, I was willing to learn how to do it better.

    • Jo
      Comment #96755 posted September 25, 2012 at 6:06 am

      In terms of the division of labour we based it on – who was better at something; who was more passionate about it (or felt that it was important); who had the time/space available; and otherwise we shared 50/50; bartered/traded jobs and just did what had to be done.
      In terms of breastfeeding, we were in a very good set-up so my husband, (a stay at home Dad from soon after my son’s birth) would just drop by my office for a breast feed. It turned out this was way quicker than me taking my legal breast pumping breaks I was allowed and gave my colleagues a good experience of dealing with the reality of being a family friendly workplace.
      I agree – ultimately it is about finding out what will work for your family in your own situation.

  5. Red
    Comment #96757 posted September 26, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for writing this! Those of us who plan to co-parent need all the encouragement we can get, because the rest of the church is lining up to tell us why we 1.) Will fail at it, and 2.) Are going against God’s design for how men and women work, or worst of all, 3.) Will mess up our kids if we try to trade off some mom-nurturing for dad-nurturing half the time.

    Then, of course, there are the people who ask why moms should care about sharing the load equally since “They’re only young and demanding for a few years anyway…” Completely forgetting, of course, that many men would blow a gasket if they were asked to shoulder that much child-rearing for 4-5 years straight. But I digress.

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