You didn’t get up as early as you had planned. Your child, who is perfectly capable of getting dressed alone, insists on having your help. You have 15 minutes before you have to leave the house but your hands are full making lunch and you’re still not dressed. Wouldn’t it be great if your partner got away from work emails to ask if there was anything s/he could do to help? You’re not alone. Many parents wish their partner were involved. But don’t worry. Here are four things you can do to get your partner to be a more active parent.
1. Communicate Your Needs Properly
Muttering resentful statements under your breath, while easy to do in the heat of the moment, will only exacerbate the situation and frustrate you further. Pick a calm time to talk to your partner about why their active participation is not only important to you but to your child. You want your child to have strong bonds with both of you and for both of you to serve as role models. Then pause and resist the urge to give them a list of all the things they should do but don’t. Turning this conversation into a scorecard of who does more or has more stress won’t do anyone any good. Instead start from a point of agreement that having two involved and active parents is a shared vision. Then ask your partner for ideas on how s/he could be more active.
2. Give Everyone a Job to Do
Mornings seem to be the most stressful times for families. Everyone’s rushing to get themselves ready for the day. One of the best things we did in our home was to give everyone a morning job to accomplish. Dad makes breakfast, our child packs his bag and sets the table and mom makes lunch. Admittedly sometimes things get in the way of our routine. But when we stick to this a few things happen. We were all more organized. But most importantly, we were working together as a family, which made our mornings more harmonious. It was clear our five-year-old really appreciated it and enjoyed the responsibility. I certainly appreciated the order it created.
3. Use Positive Reinforcement
Behavior modification works at any age. Give your partner the same type of positive reinforcement you give to your child for behaviors you want to encourage. We are so used to commenting on things we don’t like or appreciate from our partners that it’s easy to gloss over the things they do well. When you notice your partner being more active, it’s important to acknowledge it and show your appreciation. Let them know how much even a simple or small gesture meant to you. It’s easy to make the mistake of letting it go because you think it’s a given that this is what they should do. Remember you’ll always catch more flies with honey.
4. Work Towards an Earned Goal Together.
It may sound silly but make a game out of it if that’s what it takes. Put a quarter in a jar every time you each do something positive around an identified behavior. Or create a sticker chart and give each other stickers when appropriate. When you’ve filled out a page of stickers or you reach a certain amount in the jar, go out and celebrate.
Parenting is no easy task. Parenting with someone you feel is not on the same page as you, makes it even harder. The more levity you can bring to doing it together without criticism the better. No big leaps are made without small steps first. But by being encouraging, supportive and open, you may see great change in even the most stubborn of partners.