Team Parenting

In Tuesday’s post, I compared parenting to a job. In this post, I want to talk about how you and your partner function as a team to raise your kids and run a household. There are a lot of different versions of team parenting, mostly the concept of including grandparents, teachers, babysitters, other caregivers, and coaches as your kid’s “team” to help support their development. TEAM is also an acronym in our Hunt, Gather, Parent review. But for this post, I am exclusively talking about the primary parents/guardians and we’re keeping on our career goggles.

I have a love-hate relationship with group projects. I am naturally an introvert and historically very high achieving academically. I don’t mind working with other people, but conflicts in leadership style and organization are a huge turn off. No one needs to have BDE when you’re putting together a senior capstone project. I also think our previous romantic relationships, as well as our parents, inform a lot of how we communicate with our significant others. So right off the bat, we may or may not have bad team habits and bad communication skills.


During the pandemic, I started reading a book about the secrets of healthy marriages. An intro that stuck out at me said “Marriage is the one agreement we enter into with the highest expectation of our partners, and the lowest expectation of ourselves.”

It takes time for couples to figure out their own style and their own tempo, but this is only when you’re a party of two. And then when a kid happens, your communication style could be make or break. I should also mention that this also applies to non-married parents. Raising a kid with anyone else, even if you don’t live together or are not legally married, would still qualify you as a team.


You shouldn’t have to be a certified project manager/counselor/mediator to be a parent; although working as a team does bring in all of these elements. There’s a reason why lots of companies have team-building and appreciation days. We want to feel like we are an integral part of this team that we’ve committed ourselves to. Bringing in the elements of happiness, working together with your spouse/partner/co-parent is a direct way to be intentional and purposeful in this job.

Assuming you guys did your parent homework and possibly bought the Fair Play cards, you already have set the expectation that it’s you and your partner together, raising a baby and running this show. You are a team and this is the longest group project you will ever do. This requires: communication, coordination, transparency, accountability and trust.

So how do we craft a dynamic where parents can function like a team and equally (as possible) distribute the time and work.

  • Recognize when you are defaulting

Fair Play brought us the term “default parent”. It’s the parent that is first on the In Case of Emergency list, the parent that seems to be the go-to between the kids, the parent that is automatically taking on the mental, invisible labor. Most of the time, Mom is the default and it falls back to the gendered division of labor.

In order to break this habit, there has to be recognition in real-time. One partner needs to be able to recognize when it’s time to intervene. Sometimes this is volunteering to cover an appointment, or sports practice, or last-minute sick day and not being scared to tell work that you’re going to be late or need to take the day.

Conversely, the default parent also needs to be clear about boundaries and bring in their partner BEFORE the burnout and resentment starts.

When the kids are swarming mom with questions and requests, she shouldn’t be afraid to delegate to dad and the kids will need the reinforcement to understand that both parents are available to them. I got this most evenings when my kids constantly asked if they “get mom” tonight. At first, we drew a boundary and said that the first kid who asks that automatically gets dad. But the ensuing tears actually did hurt Troy’s feelings for a long time. Now, we’ve split it up so that Troy handles the showers while I do both girls’ pajamas and turndown. They get time with each of us during bedtime routine; same for morning and afterschool routine.

Again, I recognize that we had twins and splitting duties evenly was just understood from the beginning. This can be a difficult to recognize when you are transitioning from one kid to two. This is a good time for contract negotiation.

  • Talk to each other about bandwidth

I got this tip from a Brene Brown podcast. Both she and her husband work and travel a lot, and it can be challenging to get to practices, have dinner together, have time for hobbies, etc. Coming back from a work trip, Brene called her husband and said she was exhausted and was only operating at about 50% energy. By doing this, her husband would now have the expectation that he would have to make up for the energy and work that she could not cover. This totally happens. We all have days that are draining and we can’t do the same amount of work that we are expected to do.

On this particular night, Brene’s husband also had a taxing day and was also operating at below-average energy. So what did they do when they couldn’t cover the spread? Drop something. This means getting take out, or hiring a babysitter, or rescheduling a meeting so that they could both recharge. Being flexible and able to pivot allows the team to stay intact without depleting a partner.

I also appreciated that they have a Plan B when the whole family seems to be running on empty. They all take a day to sleep and have their own alone time. This could be exercising, doing a calming project, or vegging in front of the TV to turn off your brain.

Teammates need to be honest and transparent about how they are feeling with each other. If one partner is so exhausted that they become angry/dysregulated/burnt out, the whole household can feel it and it has consequences. Let your partner know the situation and trust them to keep the machine running.

  • Growth mindset

Always a favorite topic on this blog. You know in the movies where they have this bumbling dad who is trying to put a diaper on a baby and they are completely clueless about they are doing? Obviously, putting on a diaper is not that hard but the mom gives the bumbling dad a little grace before she’s like, “Nah, just let me do it.”

Being a parent doesn’t come naturally to anybody. We all fumble a bit in the beginning, trying to figure out the basics without getting totally flustered. The problem comes when a parent starts thinking, “Oh, I’m terrible at this. You just do it.” They automatically transfer responsibility to their partner and don’t take the time to actually learn how to do said task.

Worse-case scenario, the responsible partner just does the task because it’s easier, signaling to the other that they don’t actually have to try. My MIL likes to tell me that her husband maybe changed four diapers in the entire time of raising two kids. Troy changed four diapers in the first six hours.

Labeling tasks as a “his or her” thing is outdated. Anyone can cover any parenting duty as long as they try and learn. Of course it takes time, but if you are leading with a growth mindset, both partners should feel capable and willing to do their fair share. Be supportive of your partner when they are trying to learn, and don’t be dismissive if things take longer to get the hang of.

  • Don’t be a scorekeeper

Pretty sure this is in every marriage counseling advice column. If you and your partner hit a rough spot, you should NOT hit back with an itemized list of everything you do to everyday to keep this house going, hoping to make them feel guilty.

What this says is that you are doing all of this stuff without telling your partner and waiting for an opportunity to blow up and throw it in their face. Even worse, if you create a list of things your partner did not do and throw it their face. If you’re the breadwinner or the one with the higher salary, using “I make all this money” as a trump card also does not help the situation. Not good teamwork….

Yes, we all do as much as we can day-to-day. But, part of communication and transparency and accountability is letting your partner know what’s going on. If they are off in la-la-land thinking everything is running super smoothly without them, you are probably not actively including them.

A team doesn’t need to keep individual scores. Definitely give appreciation for each other, but you don’t need to produce a shiny to-do list to prove that you are doing the work. And if it feels like the two of you aren’t functioning like a team like you normally do, that should be addressed directly so you can rebalance the scales.

  • No I in Team

From my podcast playlist, an episode on perfectionist parenting gave me the concept that because women are so determined to prove themselves and to do all the things that it inadvertently pushes men away, making them less willing to help you when you really need it. “Moms overfunction, causing dads to go to the peripheral. Moms use motherhood to define themselves.”

Parenting cannot be about ego. We’ve said this before, there are no mom Olympics. You don’t get a gold medal for being the best mom ever. Your child’s accomplishments or the cleanliness of your home is not where you should stake your identity. Working as a team means including and respecting your teammate, even if they don’t do things the way you would do them.

This also goes along with not keeping score. A win is a win for everybody. If you want your team to reach a certain standard, then that has to be a team decision and a common goal.

Teams should also be spending time together. So even if duties are evenly split, there should also be times for fun, bonding, and the enjoyment of your kids, not just the work.

Teamwork is not a natural thing. It is an element of emotional intelligence and takes years to develop from a young age. Similarly, the concept of team parenting is still relatively new to American parents.

How does team parenting work for you and your relationship? Share in the comments.

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