How important is it that parents agree on parenting styles?
It’s Wednesday, which is when we talk marriage on the blog! Parenting can be a huge strain on marriage if you don’t agree with how the other is choosing to parent. And all over marriage circles, couples are told “you must be on the same page when it comes to parenting! Show a united front!”
I’ve certainly said that in the past, too. But when my daughter Rebecca did her interviews for her book Why I Didn’t Rebel, she found something surprising that I think is worth talking about today.
Basically, this stuff is just really messy. And you’ve got two relationships to think about here: Your marriage, and your kids. Ultimately I hope we can find a way to grow both, but I don’t think ignoring real problems will do that.
So let’s listen to what Rebecca found, and then we can chat:
What do you do if you disagree with how your spouse is parenting?
While I was writing Why I Didn’t Rebel, I inevitably came across stories where parents had very different parenting styles. And how they handled it had a huge impact on their kids’ relationship with their parents.
One such story was Nathan’s. I’m not going to comment on the marriage aspect here; I just want to encourage us to look at it from the perspective of a teen. So here are three things I learned in looking at his story:
Presenting a united front doesn’t always help your kid.
Nathan constantly fought with his mother. In his house, she did most of the parenting. Nathan’s mom had strict rules, and stricter discipline when anyone broke those rules. Nathan loved his mom, and knew that she loved him more than life itself, but he couldn’t get past how unfair the rules and the punishments felt. The rules were law, but were not logical. He’d be able to go into town on his own, but couldn’t go to a friend’s house if he was alone. And even if he broke a small rule, like not cleaning his room on time, he could be punished really harshly, like having to stay home from a weekend trip he had been planning for months.
They got into screaming matches about the rules or punishments where they would both say hurtful things they regretted, but neither one would apologize for fear of giving the other person more control. It was a mess.
Nathan’s dad was completely the opposite. Instead of cracking down on rules and handing out punishments, he believed in discussing reasons for why you shouldn’t do certain things, or why some things are wrong. He believed in giving his son a chance to explain himself and make it right on his own and often thought that the punishments did not fit the crime. And he knew that Nathan responded well to him. “Mom treated me like a little boy, Dad always treated me like a man,” Nathan explained, “I felt respected and heard when he talked to me, but it wasn’t like that with mom.”
For the most part, Nathan’s dad saw parenting as his wife’s job, since she had taken it upon herself. But he also saw what was happening to his son’s relationship with his mother.
So what did Nathan’s father do?
Sometimes admitting when things are wrong can bring healing for your child.
Nathan’s dad saw the power struggle that was going on, and he didn’t like it. He hated seeing his son and his wife butt heads and refuse to apologize to each other. So after particularly bad fights, he started to sit down with Nathan and try and explain where Nathan’s mom was coming from. He didn’t agree with his wife, and he told his son as much. He saw that the interactions they were having were a serious risk to their relationship and wanted to try and fix it.
And when Nathan grew up and became an adult, it was those conversations with his dad that made him decide that he’d had enough of rebellion and wanted to become the kind of man his father was.
Here’s the thing: kids know when things are wrong. We sense when things are unjust, unfair, or just a flat out lie. When parents are able to admit when there’s something wrong, they become much more trustworthy and then teenagers have a much easier time respecting them. All parents make mistakes, but being able to call out those mistakes and replace them with honesty has incredible healing power. It’s why Nathan and his mom have a good relationship now, and why he is living for God.
Your family needs to be able to parent out of truth.
I have two parents who can be quite hot-headed. I talk about it in the book (with their permission), but they did have tempers when we were younger and I got yelled at a lot. When I hit my preteen years, my mom started to notice the toll it was having on me and would take me for long walks after a bad fight with Daddy and we would just talk. She would tell me that I’m right to be hurt, and that it wasn’t OK, and then when I got home, Dad would apologize. Their ability to talk to me about what was really going on, even if it meant talking about the flaws of the other person, is one of the reasons our relationship is so strong today.
I’ve been married for about 2 and a half years now (I know, we’re still babies!), but something I’ve learned in my arguments with Connor is that we usually butt heads about one of two things: preferences, or truth. Either we want different things but either would be an acceptable choice, or we differ because one of us is doing something wrong and doesn’t want to admit it.
In my interviews I found a similar strain in parenting. Sure, there are parenting differences about the silly things–I think he should play hockey, she thinks he should play soccer. One parent may have to defer to the other just to make the household work.
But when it comes to disagreements on what is morally right, presenting a united front isn’t necessarily helpful to your kid.
It wouldn’t help me if Connor just sidled up alongside me anytime I got bitter or resentful and said, “I’m going to support you in this, honey!” No, I need him to speak truth into that situation and tell me I’m being horrible. Nathan’s dad knew it was time to speak truth about Nathan’s experience, because it was tearing apart Nathan’s relationship with his mom. My mom and dad were able to talk to me about ways they had hurt me because they valued my rights higher than any united front or fight for control.
In any area of life, our number one priority as Christians needs to be that truth is spoken. Jesus said it himself–“then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Parents whose goal was to speak truth and honesty into their kids’ lives gave their kids the gift of a relationship with parents they could trust.
Thanks, Rebecca! (And for the record, Keith and I did yell too much. And it’s something that God did really heal for both of us. Keith and I did have to have a talk when Rebecca was about 13 on how I thought he was being too harsh–and he did agree with me).
I’ve heard people talk so much about how parents have to have a united front, because the marriage is the most important relationship. But I think that when one parent is being wrong to a child, it’s also important to acknowledge that. I’ve even heard some Christian pastors and authors say that the mom should support the dad, even if he’s charged with pedophilia, because we’re yoked to the father, not the kids. I couldn’t disagree more.
Our kids really need us. And Becca found that the kids who rebelled were more likely to have parents who were harsh or who didn’t acknowledge truth.
So now we’re left with a really, really thorny question. How do you deal with it if you’re not on the same parenting page? What do you do if your spouse is being unreasonable? How do you honour both relationships?
I’ve seen situations, for instance, where the mom has inserted herself in the middle of the relationship and just made everything worse! She’s made her kids hate their dad. So there has to be some middle ground.
What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!
And because it’s launch week, we’ve got a ton of freebies for you! When you order Why I Didn’t Rebel today, you’ll also get two of my own books–FOR FREE! You’ll get download links to How Big Is Your Umbrella, as well as Raising Kids You Actually Like. And you’ll get an extra Q&A chapter featuring both Rebecca and me answering your questions.Step One: Order the Book! Step Two: Email Us Your Receipt!
It’s a great book! Don’t miss it.