Are you frequently frustrated by how your spouse disciplines or treats your children? Try out these four rules to be more united as parents.
This month’s theme is parenting TOGETHER.
In the first post of the series, I gave you permission to prioritize your spouse over your children.
I’ve mentioned on this blog’s Facebook page and in an email to our email subscribers, but I haven’t officially announced on the blog yet that I’m writing a book! The topic is based on a series we held a while back, Supporting Your Marriage When Your Spouse Loses Their Faith.
I’ve been busy interviewing couples who started out both members of the LDS (Mormon) faith and now one spouse has left. I’m learning SO much from these interviews and can’t wait to share more with you all!
One of the most common concerns of these couples is their children. It can be incredibly difficult to navigate parenting together when the parents suddenly disagree substantially about everything from whether or not there is a God to whether they should attend church, baptize their children, etc.
It’s a very tough situation. I’ve also been interviewing some counselors and therapists for this book and one thing they all agree on is that parents should try to do everything they can so their children won’t feel like they have to choose between their parents.
This applies not just to mixed-faith marriages, but to all of our marriages. All couples at some point experience this situation: your child misbehaves or is struggling, you feel strongly you should handle the situation one way and your spouse thinks you should handle it completely differently. It is easy to become entrenched in our own viewpoints. It can seem so important, our child’s future is at stake!
However, even when we disagree, even when we disagree wildly and passionately, it is crucial that we find common ground in parenting our children. No one benefits from fighting parents, least of all the child.
Here are four ways to parent TOGETHER:
1. Never undermine your spouse in front of your children.
I’ve had to learn this lesson the hard way. For example some version of what happened just last week is fairly common: our daughter had dressed herself in an outfit fit for summer when it was in fact very chilly. She asked me what I thought and I said, “Cool, looks good!” Then later when Rich saw her he understandably thought the clothing unfit for the day and told her to change. Then, wanting to avoid a tantrum, I chimed in, “Oh actually I already told her she could, sorry.” Which of course undermined Rich’s authority in front of the kids and didn’t really make anybody feel very good.
That’s a minor example, but I’m learning that doing this, even if I think something isn’t a big deal or if I think I’m right just isn’t worth it in the end. A united marriage and united parenting is more worth it.
Lisa M Schab, a Licensed Psychotherapist specializing in parenting without conflict offers the following advice to all parents,
Decide ahead of time that you will never undermine one another in front of the children, no matter how strongly you disagree. This behavior negatively affects all members of the family. Children – especially under 6 years old – become confused and frightened, parents become hurt and angry. Children also learn to manipulate their parents when they discover the parents don’t agree on discipline.
After the fact, you need to talk about the situation and work out your differences. In general, if one parent walks into a situation that the other parent is handling, they should let the parent who started the discipline finish it. Then, share your thoughts and feelings later, in private.
Presenting a united front in front of your children – especially younger children – is important to their security and stability.
Back your spouse up in the moment even if you don’t agree, then later when things are calm (and children are out of earshot) discuss your feelings with your spouse. A weekly check in would be the perfect time for that.
2. Present a united front
Even if we think we don’t agree on much, it is always a choice to focus on what we agree on instead of shining the spotlight on what we don’t.
The important thing is that we don’t hash out differences in front of the kids, but rather decide together what information and discipline to present to the kids.
Some of the couples I’ve been interviewing for my book are excellent examples of this. In the Mormon faith, we typically hold Family Home Evenings on Monday nights where we gather as a family, pray, share a spiritual thought and then play a game or have some activity to do together.
This can become a source of conflict in a marriage where one spouse has left the LDS faith, but one couple I interviewed decided to continue holding Family Home Evening, only instead of the believing spouse flying solo in teaching the kids Mormon doctrine, they teach the kids the values they both believe in TOGETHER – kindness, compassion, hard work and honesty.
Instead of one spouse giving their children one set of beliefs and the other parent another, they focus together on what they agree on and hold that as the bases for home instruction.
So great, right?
3. Do not give your children conflicting information about your spouse in private.
Licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus wisely councils, “Don’t throw your spouse under the bus!” She gives the example of a child going to a sleep over. You may think it is just fine for your child to go, but your spouse maybe feels very strongly that it would be a potentially dangerous environment and they should not go. You go with whoever feels the strongest (in this case your spouse).
In an effort to calm your child down, instead of telling your child, “I know, right? I think it would be just fine, but your father really thinks you should stay home. What a bummer.” You should say something more like, “I know this is so hard. We’re so sorry you are feeling sad about this. Let me know if you need a hug or want to do something fun with us tonight instead.”
4. Empathy and forgiveness
And remember, as with literally every other marriage issue, empathy and forgiveness rule the school. Everyday, everyday, everyday.
Try saying something like, “You seem to feel really strongly about this. Tell me why and I won’t say anything. I just want to listen and understand your viewpoint.” Then actually just listen for understanding instead of restating your viewpoint.
Empathy goes a long, long way in settling disputes peacefully.
So enough from me. What wisdom do you have to share about parenting TOGETHER?