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!