Co-Parenting – Getting the Balance Right

All new parents have hopes and aspirations for their family. If yours include ideas about equality and the sharing of responsibilities between you and your partner, you’ll often find yourselves swimming against the force of a society and culture that will still push you into the traditional roles of breadwinner and homemaker.

To create an equitable family life where both parents genuinely share the load (and let’s not forget the benefit of being able to build a potentially stronger relationship with your child too), you will have to be prepared to be proactive in creating your family to what is still, for many, a countercultural design.

Here I share my top tips on how to make this work:

  1. Talk to each other about your hopes for sharing responsibilities, especially, if you can, before your first child is born. Finding consensus on this issue is essential if you are going to face those who will disapprove.
  2. Keep the “who does what” conversation between you alive throughout your lives. While your family’s life will change and evolve, an active conversation about the division of labour within it, will always be needed.
  3. Always keep a close eye on how fair each of you feel the current ‘deal’ you have is. The subjective perception of fairness by both people is key to making an equitable relationship work – if things feel unfair to either of you, trouble can lie ahead.
  4. Use Shared Parental Leave, if you can. This allows mothers to transfer some of their maternity leave and pay to their partner, enabling both of you to take a shift in the early months of your child’s life.
  5. If you are using Shared Parental Leave, try to ensure that Dad gets a block of time (at least a month) when he is caring for your baby solo, while Mum is back at work. New research shows how taking paternity leave alone, produces a different, autonomous and competent type of fatherhood.
  6. To divide household tasks, maintain a big list of everything that needs to be done, from the cooking, cleaning and laundry to the finances and car maintenance, and sit down together to divide it up, and review it regularly.
  7. When deciding who does what from your big list of tasks, start with the tasks that one (or both) of you enjoys… these are the easy ones! Once you’ve parcelled out these enjoyable tasks, move on to those that someone “doesn’t mind”.
  8. When you get down to those tasks that neither of you enjoy, see which ones you could outsource, perhaps to paid help. If you can’t outsource, agree on a distribution of unenjoyable tasks that feels fair to both of you.
  9. Recognise the common gender challenges each of you face. Women often should deal with extra challenges advancing in their careers, while men can face obstacles to building strong relationships with their children. Make sure that you understand and support each other in these areas of your lives.
  10. Resist the temptation to be ‘in charge’ of a particular ‘domain’ such as earning or parenting. It will become a heavy responsibility that will at times been like a burden, and will limit your partner’s success in that arena.

To turn co-parenting from an aspiration into a hope requires actively deciding together to behave differently, often from the family patterns of our own youth, and from the expectations of many in the society around us. It will not come without thought and planning, but, when done effectively, it can result in a family life which is infinitely more rewarding for men, and for women who are ambitious in their careers. The added bonus is that your children will have two parents they’re close to, who are equally comfortable caring for them.

Tom is an Executive Coach with the Executive Coaching Consultancy.  He is a passionate advocate of the value of men’s engagement with their children and family life, and is experienced in working with clients to enable them to coordinate demanding careers with demanding personal lives.


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