Ten years ago Max and I met at work in Tokyo. He was in the sales department and I was a part-time American staff member. Stolen glances, accidental brushes against each other’s fingers, pseudo language lessons, all of that culminated in a fine international courtship and then marriage. Nearly 9 years later, we are still together, language and cultural barriers and all.
But of course, because marriage wasn’t challenging enough, we decided to build a business together at the same time that we decided to raise a child together. Friend after friend after friend has said, “I don’t know how you do it. I would’ve killed my husband/wife by now.”
To be sure I don’t know how we did it. Though I will reveal something that usually surprises people: working together is the easy part. It’s the parenting together that had sometimes pit us against one another.
As a non-athletic person, the closest I have ever come to teamwork is playing the Milton Bradley version of Family Feud. But even then it wasn’t teamwork really; my teammates relied on my expertise on top 10 American factoids to answer survey questions and one’s smarts alone are what counts. Not so when it comes to team parenting, where one parent’s “smarts” can be another parent’s loss of power. Take for example one memorable, straw-that-broke-the-camel’s back argument when Fred was 6 months old.
Me: What’s that you’re giving Fred, fish?
Max: Yeah. What’s wrong with it?
Max: What’s wrong with it?
Me: I don’t think you should be giving him fish just yet.
CRASH. Dish of fish flies into the sink.
I had stayed home that first year because in Japan I had a one-year maternity leave (and PAID), and in the absence of my husband who was chained to his company 14-16 hours a day, I had to do what I needed to hold down the fort. In time, this meant developing my own system of doing things, reading up on the latest in childcare from solid food feeding to vaccinations, and simply building a very strong intuitive sense about my child that was made possible by being with him 24 hours a day. It didn’t take long for one partner to become more of the “expert” than the other when it came to matters of the home. Despite comments to the contrary, I knew that Fred’s small tummy rumble would mean trouble 2 hours later on the school playground. I knew that allowing him that first taste of chocolate milk would spell disaster for the next 3 years. And yet. I learned in time that sometimes I had to bite my tongue for the sake of my marriage. I couldn’t call all the shots, I know. I had to let my husband find his own way and style of parenting. The trouble was, when to speak up and how? And when to shut up?
We’ve struggled so much over differences in parenting styles, the origins of which would be traced back to the way our parents raised us. The problem is that we never talked about it, because we took our own parenting styles for granted. How naive we were to think that just because we both loved Grey’s Anatomy and sushi and even worked so well together in business that we would also be on the same page when it comes to child discipline? So we never talked about it, and the shock would come the first time we see the other person lose his/her temper, dismiss a wrongdoing, or serve the “wrong” food. Hey, you’re breaking the rules! Hey – you never told me the rules.
So one day, after many months of disagreeing (fighting), I sat down and decided I was going to approach our parenting project just as I would a work project, and I would talk to my husband the same way I would talk to a colleague (without screaming). I wrote a parenting policy statement. Goals. What is our mission in raising Fred? Rules. What is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, for both child and parent? Solutions. What do we do if any of the rules are violated? No, we never really followed this but it was a trigger to finally have a dialogue about parenting. Using the document lowered the emotional temperature of our shared responsibility and translated it into a language – that of business – we both could speak with some level of reason.
It’s been a long six years in terms of becoming true partners. Dealing with our differences meant dealing with our childhoods, our weaknesses…in other words, the cliched baggage that now seeps into the way we parent. It’s been a tough road that we’ve been able to stay on because the one thing stronger than our differences is our love. But we both have the same goal – to be happy in our family and to be the best parents we can be – and that at least is a compass we both can follow.
Have you had parenting differences with your partner? If yes, how did you deal with them?