Your kid does something annoying or out of line.
(At least in your eyes!)
Your spouse reacts… not at all like you would.
(Too low key or too punishing.)
Your irritation bubbles up and you’re not sure if are more upset with your kid or your spouse.
Why did your spouse do what they did? How did they think doing THAT would help the situation?
What to do? Every second feels like an hour. You need to say something.
Okay, you’re not a saint, so sometimes you correct your spouse in front of your kid for not reacting the right way.
Everyone is mad now.
Your child, although relieved that the focus is now elsewhere, now feels in a loyalty bind about whose side to be on—grateful to you for intervening or mad at you for being nasty to the other parent? And either way, the child will feel some guilt about stirring up conflict between parents.
This happens every day at home, at family gatherings, parties, and playgrounds. If it’s an extra public moment, you have relatives standing by to offer their brilliant insights into what they saw, which of course adds fuel to the flames.
Who gets to lead in the parenting realm (and should there even be a leader?), and how will our kids learn to trust both of us if we’re giving mixed signals about discipline, conflict resolution, values and fairness?
That’s what this post is about. A new way of thinking about being a married parent.
Our culture has done a radical shift away from stigmatizing single parents over the last fifty years, but we have somehow neglected the enormous challenge of being a married team in parenting. The magazines are written for the “primary” parent (almost always women.) The books and articles all assume a one adult to one child scenario when it comes to discipline or how to talk about tough subjects. After all, when was the last time you saw something written on “how to talk to your spouse to agree on what to tell your child about sex, and when?” That’s right. Never.
We are here to bust open the missing link: Parenting as a coordinated team effort inside a marriage. (There are more complexities if you’re in a step family so this applies primarily to biological or adoptive families.)
Teamwork teaches children a vital life lesson: adults are in charge, adults respect each other, and they model a healthy, loving marriage. There is a broader lesson too: the world is filled with a huge diversity of individuals and groups but we can all act with kindness and respect if we work together across differences.
Don’t take it just on our word. A lot of research shows that the parenting team offers more than each parent does individually, and that a supportive team gives children their best shot at success in life.
Of course, no parent enjoys conflict about how to parent. It’s just hard to know what to do to fix it, especially when we’re convinced ours is the better way!
So how can be stay on the same parenting team when we differ on parenting practices? And when our kids (without our permission!) keep growing, changing, and offering us radically new problems, opportunities and challenges? Just when you figure out how to parent a 10 year old, they become pre-teens.
Here are three areas that married parenting teams have to do well to be successful.
(The first two are well established in the research, and the third is our addition.) If you can succefully harmonize all three, you’ll be in a happier marriage, be more successful parenting your children and model their future healthy relationships.
How do we express love, affection, acceptance, and pride to our kids? Are we afraid “too much” is a bad thing or do we believe there is no such thing as too much love? When we disagree, do we let the other parent show love in their own way or do we offer correction or criticism to get them to more or less nurturing, like suggesting either that they are not affectionate enough (translation, too cold) or are creating a spoiled, self absorbed monster child.
A lot of how we express nurture comes from our own personalities, temperaments, gender, families of origin, culture and life circumstances that gives us the resources to be an effective parent. No two parents nurture in the same way. So how do we keep from struggling and undermining each other when our instincts differ on how affectionate to be with a child, say, when they have trouble sleeping or have been in a conflict with a sibling?
When there are differences between parents, the first goal is not that someone change but for each to understand the other’s parenting instincts—what they think is best, and why? As the saying goes, seek first to understand. Then you can see the goodness and sincerity in your spouse’s perspective. If you can do that while having broader discussions about how you want to parent together, your kids will witness two adults loving them in their own way, who also love each other.
This takes a leap of faith that by being a better spouse and teammate, your child will do better than if you struggle over who is right and wrong when it comes to how they nurture.
Dimension Two: Limits and Control
We don’t need to reinvent fantastic research about parenting styles. We are taking some quotes from this Vanderbilt article that goes more in depth.
Each style has a whole set of assumptions behind it that are important to talk about when you are calm and not in the midst of a parenting struggle. Knowing and agreeing on each of your natural styles is the first step to naming why you like that style, where you can see benefit in your spouse, and begin a journey towards a middle ground.
Likely your disagreement on style is or will become, a bigger struggle than any particular behavior your child will ever do! This is why we’re hopeful you take the time here to connect more deeply than you have, or seek a marriage counselor who can guide you through this complex path to mutual understanding and parenting agreement.
Authoritative: Authoritative parents are easy to recognize, as they are marked by the high expectations that they have of their children, but temper these expectations with understanding a support for their children as well.
Permissive: These parents are responsive but not demanding. These parents tend to be lenient while trying to avoid confrontation. Although these parents are usually very nurturing and loving, they come up short on control and limits. They don’t set enough
rules for the children, and the rules are inconsistent when they do exist. This lack of structure causes these children to grow up with too little self-discipline and self-control. Some parents adopt this method as an extreme opposite approach to their authoritarian upbringing, while others are simply afraid to do anything that may upset their child.
Authoritarian: Characterized by parents who are demanding but not responsive. Authoritarian parents allow for little open dialogue between parent and child and expect children to follow a strict set of rules and expectations. Their children are set up for rebellion when they get older, and they may not develop their own “internal rules” for good behavior.
Neglectful: By the nature of reading this you are not likely this style. They don’t offer their children enough love or limits.
You and your spouse may have come from different backgrounds for how your parents raised you in these parenting styles.
Think about where you stand on them now, and talk to your spouse about where he or she stands. We hope you agree with the research that the authoritative styles tends to be best in the contemporary world. The challenge is how to blend your individual personalities and values within an overall agreed-upon style of parenting.
Dimension Three: Leadership
This is a Bill Doherty concept about seeing the bigger picture. Leadership is also about the vision you have for your children, how you want to work as a team, and how much you are going to resist the culture (today’s parenting culture and the culture your kids are infused with in school and media.)
In simple terms: how are you two going to be the adults leading this child into a fully grown adult with all the characteristics and traits you aspire for them to have, within a culture that tries to pull them down paths of hyper individualism and self absorption. How are you going to resist hyper-parenting to the neglect of your marriage? If you are religious, how are you going to foster spiritual depth in your child? If you identify with a racial or ethnic community, how are you going to nurture that identity in your child in a world that may want to whitewash that identity or scapegoat it?
One of the greatest challenges in being co-leaders is that most often one parent (women) tend to be more infused with the wider parenting culture, and hold a lot of expectations for their role. The less involved parent (often men) don’t know what the primary parent faces in peer pressure nor what advice is being shared in books, websites, and magazines. The struggle for the primary parent: if I listen to my spouse, I am being told to ignore all the latest parenting experts, ignore my friends, and create awkward social interactions about how my child behaves, dresses, and so many other parts of growing up.
Likely the primary parent had similar values as their spouse until…the child arrived. It’s at that point divergent experiences (the mom culture is stronger than the dad culture) create a change in parenting attitudes. For example, both of you may have expected to have simple birthday parties, but the mom culture in your community expects to have big productions starting at age one. Dad asks why and mom says “It’s important to do for our child!”
If you’re reading this material, chances are you are the “lead parent” who sometimes criticizes your spouse’s parenting. Your partner may have been burned and hesitant to talk about parenting issues in order not to be outgunned again about what’s best for the child. This creates a challenge for you! But no problem. We’ve created in this blog post, a sophisticated, risk proof, first step guide to begin what may be a long journey towards reclaiming your parenting teamwork.
If you need more help, we strongly recommend seeking professional help. What goes on with your parenting is a reflection of patterns in your marriage. Fix your marriage and a lot of parenting struggles lessen.