Authoritarian. Permissive. Helicopter. Free-range. Attachment. Your parenting style may fall under one of these categories while your spouse relates to one completely different than yours. You may find yourself arguing with your spouse about being too hard or too soft on the kids. You may have differing opinions on your child’s abilities, how much should be devoted to your children, how independent they should be, or even where your child should land in the future. Differing parenting styles cannot only be damaging to marriage but can hinder how a child should respond. When one parent is pulling a child one way while the other parent is pulling a child in another direction it can confuse the child, leaving them to wonder whose side to take or what the “real” rules may be.
Children are smart, they can sense the disunity between their parents and may use it to their advantage by attempting to manipulate the situation to get what they want. This behavior between parents can also create anxiety in the child because they are so unsure of what really matters and what doesn’t, which can make a child feel like they are walking on eggshells. Parents who are not on the same page can unintentionally breed negative behavior within their children. Therefore unity is vital to the health of your child and your marriage. It may be difficult, but it is achievable. Here are some ways to have a unified front when parenting.
Determine Rules and Consequences Together
Wouldn’t it be great if before leaving the hospital after having a baby they gave you a guidebook that discussed what rules to enforce for each age and what consequences are needed for each situation? Unfortunately, they don’t give us any sort of handbook, but you do have God’s word, which encourages us to “direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it (Proverbs 22:6). Thankfully you can lean on God for direction when it comes to guiding your children. Therefore, without children around take time to share expectations and how to best discipline. Children work best with specifics, don’t just say “Be good or there will be consequences,” instead figure out your “musts” and write them down. For example what time must your kids go to bed? Do they need to ask before going outside? Does homework need to be done before getting on electronics? What must your child do to stick to the rules? Be open with one another and choose to enforce the same rules.
Consequences, on the other hand, may cause some conflict, depending on how you may have been raised. Some may only prefer to have a conversation with the child or put them in “time-out,” while others may be stricter and feel a child needs a harsher punishment. Hearing the opinion and thoughts of your spouse regarding consequences will help you know where each other stand on this topic. However, if your parenting styles are drastically different you may need to figure out a compromise. Make a list of what consequences are acceptable when specific rules are broken.
Back Each Other Up
One of the best ways to hold a unified front is to back one another up when one enforces a rule. If the child sees that you are standing beside one another they won’t be able to manipulate you to get what they want. If you don’t back each other up, it’ll undermine your authority. So stand strong! If you didn’t feel things were handled in the correct manner, then later at a calm moment and out of earshot of the child, share your thoughts on how things can be handled differently next time. When the child is present the focus should remain on them rather than shifting attention to the other parent.
Learn Each Other’s Family History
When your spouse is persistent and won’t budge when it comes to doing things a certain way it can be easy to become critical. Therefore understanding your spouse’s perspective and how they were parented could be beneficial. Get to know your spouse’s family history and how deep their beliefs are rooted. This may help you to get a better picture of where they are coming from, giving you an opportunity to respond with less judgment and criticism. Help your spouse understand that maybe what happened when they were children may not be the best approach now, for your kids. Then work at finding what will work best for your family.
Commit to being consistent and following through with what you both decide. However, there is no such thing as “perfect parenting.” You and your spouse won’t do it perfectly every time. Everyone makes mistakes, there will be a time when you get frustrated and make the wrong call. Therefore, give one another grace, and do better next time. Also, lean into God’s grace and trust that God will lead you as you parent. Remember God loves your child even more than you do, and the best thing you can do is to fully entrust them into His hands. You may not be a perfect parent but, thankfully, God is a perfect father who loves and leads His children. So give grace, to your spouse, and to yourself.
Being a parent is no easy feat. Once you think you’ve got a rhythm and you’ve got this parenting stuff figured out something unexpected happens keeping you on your toes. However parenting as a team, on the same page, is a wonderful gift you can give your child. Your kids are watching, so choose to love and lead them well.