When it comes to parenting advice, there are enough competing opinions and voices out there to make your head spin. But what if those differing parenting perspectives are right in your own home? What are you supposed to do when you and your spouse disagree about how to handle parenting decisions? For the sake of your relationship, and for the benefit of your kids, you can find peaceful, mutually respectful ways to cooperate and parent from a united front. Here are some practical suggestions to help you do just that:
- Read parenting books, listen to parenting podcasts, or attend parenting classes together. This can help you stay on the same page, minimizing the occurrence of major 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 helpful, and you can often find parenting classes or workshops at your church or child’s school.
- Discuss parenting goals before deciding solutions. 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!” “This is the best school option!” “Here’s how social media is going to be monitored!” Before we 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? For instance, what is our goal regarding this issue? What do we want our child or teen to learn as a result? Is this issue more about child development or our marriage? These are the questions that will help us be sure our solutions are purposeful. The more we are aiming to parent with purpose, the more likely we are to come to an agreement and parent like true partners.
- Agree to hold off on making major decisions and punishments until they can be privately discussed together. 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. If the circumstances demand an immediate decision, and a direct discussion is not possible, consider how your spouse would respond to this situation, and, give genuine weight to that perspective, even if you disagree.
- Plan for new decisions to have a trial period with a discussion to follow at a set time. You are less likely to feel frustration or resentment about your spouse and the parenting choices made if you know it isn’t a forever decision and will be re-evaluated together. Depending on the issue, 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 you feel good about it, but your spouse does not, be willing to try something different for another trial period.
- Never verbally undercut your spouse in front of your kids. Even when you disagree on decisions being made, and may even be thinking, “See! I knew this would happen,” show respect to your spouse and your kids by not throwing anyone under the bus through open criticism. 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. It also means you don’t openly give your kids opportunities to exploit or manipulate you through divide and conquer tactics.
- Have discussions with your kids where you ask for their feedback. If you really want to be brave and get some valuable insight, invite them to grade your parenting skills. Be sure you keep an open mind as you listen. Sometimes hearing directly from your kids can help you see things in a different light rather than going round and round with your mate about those same issues.
- If you’re really stuck, seek professional support. It’s 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 than to stay stuck in frustrating patterns that just aren’t getting any better. There are great professional helpers in the Baton Rouge area, let them help you. ■