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Equipping Your Teen For Dating: 3. The Lost Art Of Being A Gentleman

(This is the third installment in a series I introduced here: Guiding Teens Through Five Major Dating Dynamics)

Today’s post is directly intended for parents of boys. However, there may certainly be value in parents of girls using these ideas to help your daughter frame healthy expectations of how she should be treated by a suitor throughout the dating process.

I recognize different folks have very different views on what constitutes chivalry or being a gentleman, and even whether or not this is a relevant ideal worth aiming for. As I am not trying to write the book on what it means to be a gentleman here, I will simply offer a few points that I consider important enough to impress upon my own son (who, I am delighted to say, has always had a natural manner of being considerate and helpful toward others).

  • Walk to the door to pick her up and drop her off. Don’t be the knucklehead who sits in the car waiting for her to notice you’re here, texts her from the car to tell her you’re here, or (most obnoxious) honks the horn to announce you’re here. Being a gentleman in this simple way naturally leads to the next point…
  • Initiate conversation with her parents. Man up and talk to her parents before and after the date. Don’t just be willing – take initiative for striking up conversation with them. They will be far more likely to appreciate and respect you when you show this kind of spirit. And an adolescent gentleman is keenly aware and respectful of the reality that his date is living under the authority and leadership of her parents.
  • Open doors for her. Classic. Simple. Easy to do. But shows a solid thoughtfulness that a male is willing and eager to serve a female. Teach your boys to be a door opener.
  • Seize opportunities to offer her sincere compliments. No need to to be fake or overbearing here. That’s no good. But a gentleman shows the thoughtfulness and kindness to share an uplifting word of praise whenever he can. Teach your son to use his words to lift up, and not to tear down – in dating relationships and throughout his social landscape.
  • Know what kind of food, movies, music, etc. she likes and consider this with priority when planning and implementing dates or other time together. This doesn’t mean a young man cannot have his own tastes and preferences in these matters. It simply means he graciously makes her feel special and cherished.
  • Don’t let the cell phone distract from the time and attention that should be devoted to her. This one is particularly important for us to teach our sons these days, and digital rudeness is such a huge and growing issue in our device saturated culture. Remind him his focus should be on the time and relationship he is sharing with his date, and that he will have time to interact with other friends via phone later. Be sure he has a special ringtone/buzz pattern for parents, so he can prioritize responding to you when necessary.

What other points do you feel are important in raising up a gentleman today?

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Equipping Your Teen for Dating: 2. Setting Specific Rules

(This is the second installment in a series introduced here: Guiding Teens Through Five Major Dating Dynamics)

Whether we love them or hate them, whether or not they are expressly spoken or written, whether we are adults, adolescents, or children, rules are a part of our everyday lives. Rules offer us structure, limits, standards, and direction. Good rules actually help keep us safe, offer us critical guidance in potentially difficult decisions, and make life more manageable. Can rules be oppressive? Yes. And we must take caution not to head down that road with our kids at any age. But give someone the “total freedom” of opportunity and power with no rules? Chaos and mayhem of one kind or another are sure to follow.

Our teens need clear healthy rules to guide them through the dynamics of dating. They just do. No matter how much they may hate us for it. We cannot control our kids’ choices. And they wouldn’t really learn and grow if we did have control over their actions. We cannot guarantee their safety and health, despite our best efforts. And most teens want as few rules as possible from their parents. Yet, we have a great responsibility to give them dating rules that are designed to guide them, protect them, and foster healthy development in them and their relationships. So I offer you these suggestions to help you in the process of setting good rules for your teens engaging in the dating process:

  • Make sure rules are reasonable. If you try to impose rules that are so oppressive as to steal all the fun out of dating or that are so difficult as to be nearly impossible to properly obey, you are setting your teen up to despise you, defy you, and/or deceive you. Everyone loses on that deal. Instead, set rules that create helpful boundaries for physical, relational, and moral safety without setting them up for failure or rebellion.
  • Make sure rules are clear. Being held to a standard that has not been clearly or adequately explained is terribly unfair and infuriating. For any of us. Let’s be sure we clearly explain to our teens the rules and expectations we will be using as a standard to guide and respond to their behavior. Ask if they have questions. Ask them to explain the rules back to you, whether or not they like them. You may even want to put them in writing, depending on the personality of your teen.
  • Review the rules together periodically. Let’s face it, sometimes our teens can be short on attention span and memory, but bursting with passion and enthusiasm. Set them up for greater success by discussing their dating rules on a regular basis. This helps them remember the standards. It gives you a conversational space to warn them in a loving way of places they may be pushing the boundaries. And it creates great opportunities for telling them where you see them succeeding.
  • Explain the consequences of violating rules. As parents, we don’t always know until a situation presents itself, what consequence seems most appropriate in response to a specific act or situation. But we can still paint a clear picture of the general type and severity of consequences that will follow breaking specific rules for dating. It would be naive to think our kids will follow all the rules we give them as the result of their total agreement with our perspectives and morals. Knowing what kind of consequences they will face for breaking rules can go a long way toward motivating them to comply, even if they don’t understand or agree with our standards for them.
  • Enforce the rules you set. Once you have set a standard for their behavior, they need to be held to that standard. Are there times where grace and mercy are what is most needed? Sure. But if our teens learn that our “rules” are not actually the standard, we have robbed them of important opportunities to grow in personal responsibility. They may hate the consequences of misbehavior, and you may hate the enforcement of it. But you set those rules for their benefit. Remember that.
  • Evaluate and update the rules and consequences on a yearly basis. As your teen ages, some rules may need to change with their level of maturity. As you see personal responsibility and good decision-making growing in your daughter or son, be sure to respond appropriately with increased measures of freedom. And make sure you explain your reasons for these changes – what a rewarding conversation to share! In contrast, for teens who are consistently failing to meet the reasonable standards you have set for them in their dating conduct, they may need increased limits and consequences to help them grow up.

Finally, here is a glimpse of the kind of rules for dating we are utilizing at our house. They are still a work in progress, particularly as our son is not yet a fully licensed driver, but here you go:

  • Set curfew time
  • Only drive “approved” friends
  • No drinking or drug use
  • Communicate a clear plan for the entire time to parents before leaving
  • If anything changes, or you’d like to change it, call parents ASAP to discuss
  • Respond to texts/calls from parents promptly


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Equipping Your Teen for Dating: 1. Sexual Morals and Guidelines

(This post is the first installment of a series I introduced here: Guiding Teens Through Five Major Dating Dynamics)

Talking with our kids and teens about sex and issues related to sexuality can be an uncomfortable and daunting challenge. Uncomfortable for parents. Uncomfortable for teens and preteens. Fine. It can be uncomfortable. But it is far too important an issue to avoid because of discomfort. And our teens are so much more likely to struggle and make big mistakes in the realm of sexual conduct if we don’t lead them in very direct conversations about it. So, take a breath. Say a prayer. And let’s face this…

Before you proceed with my specific recommendations about discussing sexuality in the context of dating with your teen, you may want to read this previous post about Beginning the Sex Conversation. I don’t recommend offering sexual guidelines for dating until you have had clear direct conversations about the mechanics, implications, and morality of sex. Ideally, this should be an ongoing series of conversations, rather than one big uncomfortable seminar.

For the purpose of this blog series, we are going to look specifically at how to discuss sexuality and guidelines for sexual behavior in the context of dating:

  • Be sure you discuss the significance of sexual activity and the relational/moral meaning and considerations. Don’t just focus on rules, limits, etc. As much as possible, we want to help our teens understand WHY we are giving them rules, guidelines, and suggestions about their sexual conduct. Talk directly with them about why it matters. Not just where to draw the line. This may mean answering their tough questions or handling delicate or philosophical issues they raise. If so, take a breath, say a prayer, and do it – even though it may be uncomfortable or hard. It may mean taking time together to read and wrestle with Biblical or other religious/spiritual/moral texts. This not only offers them a greater understanding of the origins and significance of your view of sexual morality and conduct, but it also provides some great examples, stories, and guidelines for discussion together.
  • Be sure you give them specific guidelines and boundaries, with reasons for why each are important. Don’t just assume that if your teen really seems to understand sexual morals and consequences, he or she will know what to do in the real world moments of dating. Be specific. The clearer the guidelines you offer, the greater the chances your son or daughter will remember them when it matters most. Be practical. Set your teen up for success! Discuss how to practice the boundaries you have set forth, and directly address the variables they are most likely to face. Be realistic. Give guidelines your daughter or son can actually follow. If you are so idealistic and “prudish” that you can’t consider and account for the realities of your teen’s experiences, thoughts, and desires, then you won’t be helpful. Be vulnerable. This one may scare the bajeebers out of you, but (tastefully) sharing some of your own experiences with sexuality in dating can help to give much greater weight to your message and your position of authority. Specifically, consider sharing what kind of guidelines you were or were not offered as a teen, what kind of guidelines (if any) you actually followed, and how that worked for you. Maybe even offer what likely would have helped you navigate adolescent sexuality more successfully.
  • Make it a discussion – not a lecture. Invite questions, and answer them genuinely without avoiding. Yes, some teens may ask for certain personal details from you that you decide are not appropriate to share. Use good judgment. But don’t avoid uncomfortable questions just because they are uncomfortable. Do your best to listen for where your teen is and what sexual issues he/she is actively wrestling with (or sounds like they will be soon), rather than just sticking with your agenda.
  • Emphasize the wonderful purpose and place of sex, rather than sending an overall message that sex is bad, taboo, shameful, etc. Some of you may not even understand why I would mention this. If that’s you – terrific! Sadly, many folks have grown up in a family, church, and/or community culture that basically puts a catch-all negative stamp to teens and preteens regarding sex as a strategy to keep them away from it until marriage. This sets kids up to have an unhealthy view of sex and sexuality, and may even increase the appeal of the “forbidden fruit” in ways that set them up for terrible consequences. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our very best to impress on our teens the best boundaries for sex. Not at all. They DO need that from us. But let’s be sure we don’t lean toward scare or shame tactics regarding sex to try to keep them within those boundaries. We want them to limit healthy sex to the right relationship context BECAUSE they appreciate how valuable and wonderful and special it can and should be, as well as how risky and harmful it can be in the wrong relationship context.

And, finally, here are some specific guidelines we have in our household regarding sex in dating, because they are practical reflections of our spiritual/moral values that come largely from our belief in The Bible as God’s inspired guidebook for our lives:

  • Sex is intended for, and best saved for, marriage.
  • The more you “make out,” the harder it is to save sex for marriage.
  • Cars are for driving, not Parking.
  • Ask yourself if you would do whatever you are considering doing if your parents were with you.
  • Treat your body and your date’s body with modesty and respect. Insist on dating someone who will do the same. Do this, and your dating relationship will have far more value and peace.
  • Following these guidelines to marriage with the right person will serve to increase your passion for one another, not diminish it.

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Guiding Teens Through Five Major Dating Dynamics

Your teen wants to start dating. But is she/he ready? Are you? Does she know what boundaries she needs to follow? Does he understand how to conduct himself as a gentleman? Have you discussed sexual morals and guidelines? Curfew? Budget? Phone limits? Driving rules? Drinking issues?

As a professional teen expert and the Dad of a 15 year old who now has both a driver’s permit and an interest in dating, I’m here to offer you some clear, comprehensive, and practical guidance on how to parent your kids through these complicated dynamics. Our sons and daughters need us to have very clear, direct, authoritative, and proactive conversations with them on a regular basis about the important things in life. The tricky things in life. The things they will not likely do well without guidance. And dating falls squarely under each of those categories! Stay tuned in the coming days. I’ll be offering five articles to help you prepare and guide your teen through five major dynamics of dating:

  1. Sexual Morals and Guidelines
  2. Specific Rules
  3. The Lost Art of Being a Gentleman
  4. Phone/Communication Issues
  5. Practical Tips
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5 Reasons Families Need To Give Thanks

Life gets tough.  And busy.  And distracting.  And even discouraging.  Right?  While it may take many different forms from family to family, I love that our country continues to recognize a holiday that is all about giving thanks.  Whether as individuals, families, organizations, communities, or nations – we are better when we periodically stop to verbalize clear words of thanks for our blessings.  Here are five reasons families need to take time for expressing thanks:

1. Giving thanks helps families keep a healthy perspective.  Sure, we have our struggles.  Money gets tight.  Family members face illness.  Conflicts happen.  Loved ones move away or pass away.  Disappointment hits hard.  But good things are happening, too.  Even throughout the trials.  And we need to recognize and celebrate that positive reality.  Things could be worse.  Our family members, and those who love and care about us, are doing good and blessing us.  We do very well to keep this in view and in our conversations.

2. Giving thanks encourages individual family members.  When life gets tough, sometimes the most important thing in the world is to have someone gently lift up your face and remind you you are loved and appreciated and recognized for more than your failures or struggles.  It brings fresh life.  Fresh motivation.  Fresh hope.  Have you lifted the head and heart of your spouse, kids, or other family or loved ones lately with clear, specific words of appreciation and thanks?  There is no better time than today – in or out of a holiday season.

3. Giving thanks trains us to see the good that happens in daily life.  I love the encouraging challenge from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  When we take the time regularly to express appreciation for the good in people and the world around us, we rewire our negative, jaded, discouraged minds to be on alert for positive words and actions.  And when we begin looking for the blessings, so we can articulate them, we find that they were happening around us all the time.  We just needed to learn to look for them.

4. Giving thanks as a family reminds us who we are.  When we let the difficulties and demands of life swallow our focus and our energy, we can steadily forget why we dearly love those who are closest to us.  Taking the time to say thanks and recognize blessings together keeps us from forgetting the unique love and fondness we have for our family and dear friends.  Whether we use spoken words, written words, gifts, or acts of appreciation, we need to remind ourselves and one another of how special we are to one another.  Even if we do get frustrated or hurt by each other at times.

5. Giving thanks grounds us in spiritual reality.  Sometimes the darkness within us, between us, and around us looms so thickly that our spirits begin to faint or break.  A spirit of discouragement, defeat, or despair moves in and sets up shop.  Giving thanks regularly offers a spiritual housecleaning.  It keeps us in view of the light that God is shining through us and around us.  We are not alone.  And we are not defeated.  We are overcomers.  We are light-bearers.  We are instruments of love and grace.  If only we remember.  Let us be people of thanksgiving!

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Six Things Your Teen Needs To Get Back On Track

1. Specific correction of where they are off-track.  Giving them generalized or vague feedback about how they are “screwing up,” “disappointing you,” “missing the mark,” etc. is not helpful to your daughter or son.  It is unclear, and may even further discourage your teen.  Instead, be very clear about where you see them missing the mark and where you are concerned, disappointed, or upset with them.  Be specific.  And focus on the behavior in concern – not making character attacks on them.

2. Clear expectations of what you want to see improved.  This means going beyond telling them where they are off track, and helping them understand what getting back on track will actually look like.  Don’t assume they understand this contrast, and are just being difficult or obtuse.  At times, teens can be exceptionally bright in some areas while totally missing the point somewhere else.  If you want them to make clear improvements, give them clear expectations and instructions.  This is part of what I call “setting them up to succeed.”

3. Personal motivation to make improvements.  This is where things get really tough for us parents.  We can’t surgically implant motivation in them.  The motivation to change and improve must come from within them, if they are going to be truly successful in moving forward on the right track.  And what motivates one of our kids may not motivate another.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: while rewards can be a sufficient motivator at times, most often it is suffering that motivates all of us to make the real lasting life changes.  Do your best to help shift the dynamics so that your teen is the one suffering as a result of their poor choices, until those choices begin to shape up.  For example, my son frequently forgets to take his important medicine.  My son LOVES playing on his Xbox, especially with his friends.  My wife and I were growing weary of constantly reminding, checking, fussing with him regarding taking his pills.  New policy: You forgot to take pill either last night or this morning, you don’t get any Xbox after school today/tonight.  The Lad has suddenly become very conscientious (thanks to his setting phone reminders) about taking his pills twice a day.  Hmmm…

4. Loving encouragement of the good you appreciate in them.  Don’t let your frustration with one or more areas of trouble in your teen’s life draw you away from sharing words of encouragement and appreciation with them.  They need to hear how much we love them, as well as what we see in them that is admirable and good.  If you can’t think of what those things are off the top of your head, you need to spend some time thinking on this.  Because your son or daughter NEEDS to hear from you about the good and respectable things you see in him or her.  Even during times of needing improvement.  Especially during times of needing improvement!

5. An adequate toolbox for the job.  Even if you have eagerly followed all the preceding guidelines, your teen may still fall short of the expected improvements if you haven’t helped her/him acquire the right tools for the job.  This may mean connecting your teen with professional resources such as tutoring, counseling, or classes for skills training.  It may mean personally taking the time to give some demonstrations and lessons.  It may mean actually buying some kind of new tools or devices of some kind to facilitate improvement.  Maybe you need to have weekly check-in conversations to be both consultant and coach.  You may need to point your teen toward more personal communication with their teacher, coach, or youth pastor.  Just remember that having access to the right tools for the job can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

6. Recognition and celebration of progress.  You may not be thrilled with your teen getting a C- on a test.  That’s understandable.  But if they’ve been bringing home low Ds or Fs, recognizing the improvement to a C- is actually really important.  When you see your wayward teen making genuine effort in a new or more determined or more focused way, by all means… tell them you see it!  Not all effort and progress warrants a party or whatever.  Of course.  But recognition?  Yes!  When you express that recognition of effort and progress along the way, you help your teen maintain the all-important motivation required to keep going.  Have you ever run in a local race event?  Whether a fun 5K event, or a bigger more competitive race that requires ongoing training, what difference does it make to have people cheering for you along the way?  If you’ve ever run a race, you KNOW the answer to this.  If you’ve never done it, maybe you should.  It will help you understand why your words of encouragement and recognition mean the world to your teen who is struggling to keep running a race that has become more difficult in the last mile or two.

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Family Inspiration

As parents, we should aim to inspire our kids whenever we can.  It isn’t easy.  It takes purposeful effort.  It takes seizing the right moments.  It often takes discipline.  But our kids, from infants to teens, need our inspiration.  And counting on their inspiration to come from teachers, coaches, and pastors just isn’t enough.

We parents should aim to be a primary source of inspiration in their lives.  Showing them the way to live well.  Modeling how to get up and move forward from failure.  Teaching them how to manage money.  How to manage time.  How to develop and maintain healthy habits.  How to utilize healthy boundaries.  Yes, it takes a lot of effort.  But our growing kids are better for it, and so are we.

And sometimes, the tables are turned.  Sometimes, our kids inspire us!  And when they do, they need to hear about it.  I’ll not go into a lengthy narrative about my son, his fitness journey, and the impact of his school’s cross country program – mostly because he would really hate that.  Just know that the picture above represents a lot of work, self-discipline, and determination in my son’s life.  And the results speak for themselves.  And as I now begin training for my first ever half-marathon this January, and hopefully lose some significant weight/fat in the process, my son is my inspiration.

I’m doing my best to tell him what an inspiration he is to me, without embarrassing him or driving him crazy in the process.  Because he needs to know that he is already making the world around him a better place, even though he has not yet fully matured into adulthood.  He has within him tremendous capacity for impacting this world – for good or ill.  And I want him to know it.  And to act on it in the best possible way.  And to know that whenever he struggles, falls short, and fails (and he will – we all do), that he is good.  That his life matters.  That he is already a success in ways that really count.  And I am proud of him.  And inspired by him.  And I am honored to share the journey of growth together with him.

How have your kids inspired you?  Have you told THEM about it?

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4 Reasons Teens Need Healthy Physical Affection from Parents

My own teenage son is currently 14 and getting closer to looking eye to eye with me every day.  (Seems like he’s grown a foot since we took this pic six or seven months ago.)  My wife and I both have warm, affectionate personalities.  So it has always been natural for us to have close, physically affectionate relationships with our son.  But with his growing age and changing development as a man, I can feel this natural connection being challenged.  Especially with me.  My little boy is no longer a little boy.  He’s not even a big boy anymore.  He is undeniably a young man now.  Still a lot of growing up yet to do, no doubt.  But the boyhood days are now in the rear-view mirror, adolescence is the here and now, and adulthood is not far away on the horizon.  And I can feel the impact and tension when it’s time for hugs and kisses.

And the crazy part?

It’s me.  Not him.  My son is still as affectionate with his Mom and me as he has ever been.  Hugs and kisses still mean a lot to him, and he obviously wants them from both of us.  And today as I was telling him goodbye before he leaves on a little trip, I realized it: Mr. Marriage and Family Therapist Dad needs to get over the natural awkwardness that is coming with this life transition.  If you are a parent of a teenage son or daughter – especially if you are a Dad – I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about.  Whether it is something hardwired inside, or something programmed from our rapidly changing culture, we feel something that tells us to be more physically guarded and less physically affectionate with our adolescents.

But you know what?  They still need that healthy, close physical affection from us.  And that means we need to adjust, deal with our own discomfort, and be intentional about continuing to share positive physical touch with our teenage sons and daughters.  Here are just four of the many reasons this is so important for Moms and Dads of teens – especially us Dads.

1.  It affirms them deeply during a time when they may be filled with self-doubt or searching to find a solid sense of identity.  Let’s face it.  The teenage years are often marked by turbulence, doubt, and searching.  Life becomes so much more complex for them as they emerge from childhood into the layers and opportunities and dangers of adolescence.  And they desperately need a foundation of strong love and acceptance from the most important adults in their lives – Mom and Dad.

2.  It helps them feel healthy and confident about their body.  At a time when their bodies are going through so many intense changes, they need those healthy hugs and kisses from their parents to help them continue to feel good about their physical selves.  Positive touch from Dad and Mom shows them their bodies continue to be normal, good, and lovable – even though everything about them seems to be changing.

3.  Research continues to show teenage sons and daughters are much less likely to seek unhealthy physical affirmation when they have regular healthy affirmation from parents – especially Dads They are less likely to get into legal trouble and less likely to get into major school trouble.  In short, adolescents with a strong healthy bond (marked by healthy physical affection) have a stronger sense of self and healthier boundaries.  And this means a better self-image.  It means better relationships.  And it basically means a better life.  Fellow fathers – our kids need those healthy touches, hugs, and kisses from us so much, especially during their teen years!

4.  It reminds them you will always love them and be available to them as they face the changes and challenges of life.  Yes, our relationships with our kids do need to change and grow over the years as they develop through all the seasons and stages of life through adolescence and adulthood.  But they need to feel the reassurance from us that our love for them will not waver.  Feeling that strong connection with us throughout their adolescent journey helps to impress upon them a lasting compass they can take with them wherever adulthood may lead them.

“But my son/daughter doesn’t seem to want closeness or affection from me.”  Well, we certainly don’t want to smother them or express physical affection to them that is not really reflective of our overall emotional relationship.  And, of course we need to respect proper physical and sexual boundaries.  Crossing those lines means abuse – not affection.  But, whether they seem to naturally want your affection or not, they really do need it.  Work on building the kind of conversational and emotional relationship with them so that expressing love through healthy hugs and kisses is a natural part of your connection.

And I’ll be working on it, as well.  I could tell when my son left earlier today, he was eager for meaningful goodbye hugs and kisses from me.  And I probably gave him a C+ effort.  When he gets home, I’m gonna aim for a solid A.  No, I don’t want to weird him out.  But I don’t want to let him down, either.  He means too much to me to let him down on something where I know what he needs.  Know what I mean? Happy hugging!

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Seven Ways to Improve Parenting Teamwork

Searching for “parenting” in the books section of Amazon yields a mind-boggling list of over SIXTY THOUSAND results!  There are enough competing opinions and voices out there to make your head spin.  But what if those differing parenting perspectives aren’t just “out there,” but right in your own home?  What are you supposed to do when you and your own spouse disagree about how to handle parenting decisions?  For the sake of your relationship, and for the benefit of your kids, you will do well to find peaceful, mutually respectful ways to cooperate and parent from a united front.  (For tips on co-parenting with an Ex, see my previous post here.)  Here are some practical suggestions to help you do just that:

1. Read parenting books, listen to parenting podcasts, or attend parenting classes or workshops together on an annual basis.  This can help you stay on the same page on an ongoing basis, minimizing the occurrence of major philosophical differences regarding parenting dynamics.  It can also provide some great ideas for resolving those differences whenever they do arise.  The resources at ScreamFree.com and LoveAndLogic.com are some of my favorites.  Also, be sure to check with your church of school to see if there are any classes or upcoming workshops or seminars on parenting.  If the answer is no, request that they bring someone in to provide something like this.  There are a number of professionals like myself who are available for parenting events and classes such as this, and it is an extremely cost-effective way to get practical help to larger numbers of parents.  (Discover more about my speaking engagements here and get a sample of my presentation style on my YouTube channel.)

2. Discuss parenting goals together before trying to decide practical solutions.  So often when we discuss something as important to us as decisions about our kids, we tend to jump right into solutions.  “Let’s do bedtime this way!  The right age to start doing chores is this!  This is the best school option!  Here’s how social media is going to be monitored!  Curfew should be this time!  Etc.”  But before we even try to start hammering out final decisions regarding the many important issues along the way of our children’s lives, we should begin with the end in mind.  “What is the big picture, and what is the point?  What is our goal regarding this issue?  How do we want our child or teen to learn or grow as a result?  Is this issue more about child development or our marriage?”  These are the kinds of questions that will help us be sure our solutions are purposeful.  And the more we are aiming to parent with purpose, the more likely we are to come to agreement and parent like true partners in the journey.

3. Agree to hold off on making major decisions, pronouncements, punishments, etc. until it can be privately discussed together as a parent team.  The old “good cop, bad cop” routine may work in some places, but it is a disaster for parenting.  Don’t undercut one another by making the big calls without first having discussed it privately, so that you can do your best to present a united front to the kids.  If the circumstances demand an immediate decision, and a direct discussion is not possible, at least consider how your spouse would likely see and respond to this situation.  And give genuine weight to that perspective, even when you disagree.

4. Plan for new decisions to have a trial period with a parenting assessment/discussion to follow at a set time to decide if adjustments should be made.  You are less likely to feel frustration or resentment about your spouse and the parenting choices being made if you know it isn’t a forever decision and will be re-evaluated together with a respectful dialogue.  Depending on the issue and the dynamics involved, plan to have a follow-up discussion in a week, a month, or a quarter.  If you agree things are going well…GREAT!  Keep it going, and be a big enough person to acknowledge when your spouse’s differing ideas are working well.  If you agree something needs to change, make a reasonable adjustment.  If one feels good about it, but the other does not, be willing to try something different for another trial period in respect to both of you as parents.

5. Never verbally undercut your spouse with your kids.  Even when you disagree on decisions being made, and may even be thinking, “See!  I knew this would happen!” (or some other criticism), show respect to your spouse and your kids by NOT throwing anyone under the bus through open criticism, wisecracks, etc.  Presenting a united front to the kids doesn’t always mean you agree on decisions.  But it does mean you respect and support one another.  And it also means you don’t openly give your kids opportunities to exploit or manipulate you through divide and conquer tactics that will just lead to worse for your kids, your marriage, and your family as a whole.

6. Have occasional discussions with your kids where you ask for their feedback on how things are going.  If you really want to be brave and get some valuable insight, invite them to grade your parenting skills.  Some “subjects” could include: Fairness, Consistency, Listening, Disciplining, Fun, etc.  And if you are going to ask for your kids’ perspectives, be sure you keep an open mind as you listen.  Sometimes hearing directly from our kids can help us see things in a different light than going round and round with our mate about those same issues.

7. Get professional help if you’re really stuck.  Far better for your marriage, your kids, and your own peace of mind to invest some time and money in counseling from a qualified professional like a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist than to stay stuck in frustrating patterns that just aren’t getting any better.  There are some great professional helpers available.  Let us help you!

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