Do you and your spouse find yourselves constantly fighting about everything when it comes to your children?
Can you never seem to agree on things like discipline, bedtimes, and who can take the kids to sports practice?
If so, you’re not alone. Parenting is challenging, especially when spouses have experienced completely different upbringings.
But letting parenting clashes drive a wedge between you and your spouse will not only cause your marriage to deteriorate, it could also have a serious negative impact on your children.
It’s essential for your marriage and your children’s health and happiness that you and your spouse become a parenting team.
Below are some key guidelines to follow in order to re-establish a connection with your spouse and become united in your parenting.
1. Always back each other up.
Often in marriage, one spouse ends ups being the stricter parent and the other is more lenient. These different styles usually come from differences in their personalities as well as their own childhood upbringings.
For instance, Paul grew up in a strict family in which him and his siblings were kept to a tight routine and were immediately disciplined for any bad behavior.
As a result, he believes that his two young children should be kept to a strict dinner and bedtime routine, with consequences in place if they try to get out of bed.
On the other hand, Maia was the fifth child in her family and experienced quite laid-back parenting, in which she often was allowed to stay up later with her siblings and a lot of ‘naughty’ behavior was shrugged off as just ‘kids being kids’.
As a result, she is less worried about having a set dinner or bedtime for their children and tends to be more lenient with the kids if they get out of bed at night – often reading them another story or letting them have a hot drink.
Although there is nothing wrong with having different parenting styles, this can often cause conflict between spouses if they do not communicate and come up with ways to approach parenting issues as a team.
In the case of Paul and Maia, these differences in their approach to situations such as bedtime have been putting serious strain on their marriage.
Paul feels that Maia is undermining him and making him feel like the ‘bad guy’ when she doesn’t back up the consequences he has set, while Maia feels that Paul is being too hard on the kids and could do with ‘loosening up’.
If they do not find a way to parent as a team, then this could continue to rupture their marriage through the build-up of tension and resentment. And not only this, but their children will also be exposed to unstable parenting and may develop unhealthy behavior patterns.
This is a prime example of why it is so important that parents always back each other in their parenting decisions.
If you don’t do this, it will demonstrate to your children that you are not a unified front, which will lead them to try to undermine your authority and avoid punishment.
To avoid this from happening, try making a rule with your spouse that if one parent disciplines the kids, the other parent must back them up - even if they do not fully agree with the decision at the time (unless the discipline is abusive – in which case you need to put a stop to your spouse’s behavior and seek help immediately).
Alternatively, if you feel that you need a more clear structure in place when it comes to working with your spouse, often a strategy that works well is when a couple agrees that the stricter parent will lead when it comes to discipline – with the more lenient spouse backing up the limits they set.
Please note that this strategy is not designed to give the stricter parent all of the control or mean that their methods are ‘better’ than the more lenient parent’s.
It is simply a more effective way of ‘bridging the gap’ between parenting styles. Because what actually usually happens when this strategy is put in place is that the two spouses gradually become more similar in their parenting over time.
Why? Because when the stricter parent feels that they have their spouse’s support, they will generally become more flexible and generous in parenting, as they stop feeling the need to over-compensate for the leniency of their spouse.
And when the lenient parent sees that their children are benefitting from the structure and firmer rules of the strict parent, they will naturally start to become more firm in their own parenting, while still being kind and considerate.
The end result is that the parents end up being a much stronger parental team, where they are both gentle but firm in their parenting and set the same limits - which is greatly beneficial for their kids.
They will feel that they are in a more safe, settled and predictable environment. And as a result, they will start to listen to their parents more and their behavior will improve.
Another great benefit from this is that spouses also feel more supported by one another and confident in one another’s ability to discipline the children effectively, which brings them closer as relationship partners.
2. Not in front of the kids.
This point follows on from the one above. The best way to discuss parenting issues is when you and your spouse are feeling calm and are alone.
Because when parents argue about parenting decisions in front of their kids, this creates an unsettling environment which could have serious effects on the children’s wellbeing.
The added tension in a household caused by fighting parents will often cause children to start acting out more. But as the parents are too busy blaming each other and focusing on who is ‘right’, their children are not receiving the attention or discipline they need.
Children are good at intuitively picking up when their parents are not on the same page when it comes to discipline, and using this to their advantage. They may try to deliberately cause an argument between their parents, in order to get away with acting out.
And the reality is that their behavior won’t improve if their parents are too busy clashing to set reasonable limits and give their children the discipline they need for misbehavior.
Kids need boundaries, but they don’t have the maturity to set these for themselves. This is your job, as parents.
So make a rule to never argue about your parenting in front of your children.
Always back each other up in front of the kids, and go over any parenting disagreements with your spouse later when you are alone. Or alternatively, distract your children and ask to speak to your spouse in another room.
Keep in mind that your goal is to raise healthy, well-behaved and happy kids. And in order to do this, you need to work together with your spouse.
So it’s important to go into these discussions with a clear head and a will to come to a beneficial resolution.
Having the discussion when you are both really fired up is not going to be productive, so give each other the chance to calm down beforehand if need be.
3. Communicate and listen to each other with respect.
Whenever a parenting issue comes up that you and your spouse disagree on, take a moment to talk about each of your viewpoints on the topic and why you feel this way.
Often, there will be significant reasons underpinning why each of you feels strongly about a certain issue. Again, this comes back to your own upbringings and your visions for the future.
The next time you and your spouse are discussing a parenting issue, try hearing out your spouse’s views without defending, blaming, criticizing, or trying to talk them into your way of doing things.
Listen to what they have to say and recognize your understanding of why the issue is important to them.
If your spouse feels more strongly about it than you do (but you accept their reasoning), tell them that you don’t feel as strongly about it but will support their decision. And hopefully they will do the same when there is something you feel more strongly about.
Remember, there is never ‘one right way’ to do things when it comes to parenting.
If you can respect that your spouse may have thoughts which are different to your own but are every bit as valid, you will become more open to negotiation and finding common ground.
From this point of greater understanding and acceptance of where each other is coming from, you will become more open to different ways of thinking about parenting issues.
You will feel heard, valued and understood by one another, which are crucial elements in getting your marriage back to a healthy place.
4. Make each other’s emotional needs a priority.
It can be easy to get so caught up in all of the demands of child-rearing that you start to neglect the needs of your spouse.
Perhaps the time, love and affection you used to give freely to your spouse seems to now be all used up with the kids, leaving your interactions with your spouse feeling empty and cold.
Right now, the easiest way for you to feel connected to your spouse would be to see them also putting lots of effort into childcare, but they don’t seem to be as dedicated as you do.
Or perhaps you are the opposite spouse. You have tried to connect and be affectionate with your spouse, but they seem to keep pushing you away and leaving their time and energy solely for the kids. Eventually, you give up trying and withdraw your own emotional support.
As this goes on, both spouses end up feeling resentful and neglected. The spouse investing more into childcare may feel unsupported by their spouse, while the withdrawing spouse may feel that their spouse doesn’t care about their marriage anymore.
And soon enough, the marriage starts to fall apart.
The truth is, parenting is a whole lot harder if your own needs are not being met, as you are constantly drained of emotional resources.
You and your spouse need nurturance and affection as well as your children. And the best source you can receive this from is each other.
Meeting each other’s emotional needs will give you and your spouse the strength you need to be good parents.
The more effort you put into meeting your spouse’s needs, the more they will also strive to meet yours. And this will give you both the emotional resources YOU need to be able to give your children the support THEY need.
Remember the love that created your children in the first place.
Don’t let parenting struggles drive you and your spouse apart. Support and love one another in the best ways you can as you go through this challenging but rewarding phase of your life.