Figuring Out Equally Shared Parenting : Because we mess up

Ok, so we've done the roles thing, done the parenting thing, but here's where the rubber hits the road: how do we try, fail, and keep at it? What is essential, and what's not?

Making a go of it long term

For us, three keys go into making this work:

1) Flexibility : our schedule is different every week, if not every day, so we continue to try to embrace the differences and the difficulties. We make plans on the fly, so some days are busier while others see more downtime. For instance, today's schedule:

  • Matt leaves at 6am for prayer meeting.
  • I take kids to school at 8:30 am.
  • Matt's home at 9am so he takes the wee lad for errands and playground.
  • I head out the door at 9:30am to write.
  • I'm home by 12:30pm so Matt can head to a friend's cafe for lunch, reading and paperwork.
  • He'll pick up the kids on his way home while I make dinner.
  • Tonight I'll be on kid duty while he makes calls, sets up appointments, and writes letters.

Tomorrow will be totally different, so we make daily adjustments and go with it. And when things get tough and we have to take on more, we do.

Flexibility also means having to reassess, frequently.

A couple months ago we realized we were struggling to make ends meet. We live off a stipend of our usual overseas salary, so we try to keep it bare bones so that it's there when we we're ready to go. We knew returning to Ireland was our future, so getting full-time "real" jobs and no longer raising support wasn't an option. But we needed additional income. Last time, I did temp work over the holidays. This time it's Matt taking on more, working seasonally in a lawn & garden department.

Working alongside eachother in equally shared parenting means that we have equal say and responsibility in how this is all going to work. And it means when something's gotta give, we give. And we try to give graciously, knowing that this season isn't forever, and soon enough we'll be changing it up again, which leads me to...

2) Grace : The daily adjustments and "going with it" means we have to apply liberal amounts of grace. There are times when it gets a little tense and tiring and frustrating to not know what is next. Our work and family go hand-in-hand, so when we do sacrifice something (him doing more woodworking, or me having alone time to write, or putting off a needed purchase), we try to remember it's for a greater good.

I'm learning more and more that being a grace-giver in our life and ministry means doing the same for my spouse and my kids. We are in this together, fighting it out together, and working towards finding an intentionally holistic place to be a family on mission together. Especially since we are prone to...

3) Messing up : Matt likes to quote a professor of his who said something to the effect of "You don't have to be the perfect parent, you just have to be good enough." I'm not entirely sure that's an accurate quote or entirely true, but we are so imperfect at this. Some days we over-schedule and are in need of a literally-last-minute sitter (last Monday, for instance), on other days one of us is late for the pick-up routine. And some days, well, I just don't want to do any of it. I think: I want to be normal! And then we complain, and then we fight, and then... we remember.

We remember that handy Family Purpose Statement we did last year, we remember and dream about our work overseas, we remember this all goes so fast. So we broker a peace agreement, shake hands, wipe tears and try again.

In conclusion, a mild disclaimer:

I know this approach isn't best for everyone, nor is it possible for everyone. Many of my best friends are the full-time mothers/homemakers in awesome families, while others have or want to work out of the home, and some may find themselves doing all of it alone.

I'm not even sure if we'll always be able to parent or live this way.

I think for us, because of the path we find ourselves on, this is the way we've been led to grow and move. I hope it's not a discouragement to you, but rather an impetus to see there is more than one perfect way to be a great mom, dad, wife, husband, friend, partner or caretaker.

In whatever season or situation you find yourself, I believe there is a best way made just for you, and as we've prayed to discover that way for us, I pray you will discover it, too.

So, questions? Concerns? Advice? Have you found your own "best way?"