What do you do when you when you and your spouse disagree when it comes to parenting?
Lucy Rycroft from DesertMum is here sharing her thoughts and how she deals with this issue in her household!
Parenting is tough.
If you pop into our home unannounced, you could easily find me cleaning up my 3 year old’s toilet incident, whilst his twin brother is designing a new mural for the kitchen wall, his 6 year old sister (who smells like a florist’s shop) is engaged in a heated discussion with me about how she did not just empty my only perfume all over herself, and his 8 year old brother is asking me whether he can use my phone to play a game that the parental filters on his Kindle are blocking.
Add to this the fact that my phone is ringing, I’ve just remembered we need a babysitter for tomorrow night, there are approximately 21 minutes to make dinner before two of my foursome start climbing the walls, and I got about 5 hours’ broken sleep last night – and I think you’ll agree that calling parenting ‘tough’ is akin to saying that it gets a little chilly near the North Pole.
So if there are disagreements between you and your spouse regarding how to raise your kids, then this is simply adding more stress to an already challenging season of life. No wonder you’re exhausted! But is there anything we can do?
Start the parenting conversations early
Like all relationship problems, prevention is better than cure, so allow to me rewind and firstly speak to all of you who don’t have kids yet. (In a parenting article. I know. Controversial. Hear me out.)
Even before you have kids, start conversations with your other half about your expectations and dreams for your family. Pre-kids, my husband and I did this quite naturally whenever we hung out with friends or family who had children. On the journey home, we’d be all, “I like how they do this!” or “I wonder why they do that?”, which soon led to “I’d love our family to be like this…”
As part of our marriage preparation course, we completed a very quick questionnaire about children, which led to some good discussions. It was so useful that I think it should be made compulsory for all pre-kiddos couples! I’ve done my own version here – why not take a stab at it with your spouse/fiancé? If you agree on the big questions, you’ll find that the smaller decisions are easier to agree on as well, as you know where you’re headed overall in your parenting style.
Acknowledge that your parenting philosophy comes mainly from your own parents
Why is it so important to form your parenting philosophy even before you have kids? Well, it’s good to think about these things while you’re still on a full night’s sleep. And also because differences in parenting styles can cause couples to drift apart.
But primarily, I think it’s because we are so heavily influenced by how we ourselves were raised. If you believe your parents made good decisions, you will want to repeat them with your own children. If you believe they made bad decisions, you’ll want to avoid those mistakes when you’re a parent.
And here’s the news flash: you’re not the only parent. You’re in a relationship with someone who will have inherited a whole different set of ideas about how to raise a child. What if you’ve grown up assuming that you will home-educate your children, only to marry someone whose parents have a fund set aside for their grandchildren’s private schooling?
Getting a few of these issues aired before the two lines come up on the pregnancy test will certainly help smooth the way once you do have them. But you can’t possibly predict every decision you’ll ever have to make, so…
Acknowledge that there is seldom a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way
It is tempting, when issues of disagreement come up, to try and convince your spouse that your way is ‘right’. But, actually, raising a child is more complex than that.
As a child, I got an allowance – but my husband didn’t. I think we’ve both turned out pretty much OK, as humans go. My brothers went to boarding school and I didn’t. We all did well academically, and, although our experiences were different, I don’t believe one was preferable over the other – our parents simply made the best decisions based on what was happening at the time.
If you’re disagreeing with your spouse about a parenting issue, could it be that you’re struggling to let go of how you were raised? You may have inherited some wonderful parenting ideas from your own upbringing – but failing to acknowledge what your spouse is bringing to the table from his or her parents means failing to grasp the beautiful richness that comes when two people raise a child together.
Genesis 2:24 reminds us that, when we marry, we are leaving our own parents and uniting with our spouse, becoming one flesh. Parenting is one amazing way of showing our ‘one flesh’ to our family and to the world.
Be prepared to listen to your spouse, and have your own preconceptions challenged. Maybe you’ll come up with something totally different from either of your upbringings, but which will work brilliantly for your own children!
Submit – don’t defer – to one another. But listen to the one who does the bulk of the childcare.
I’m taking a deep breath as I write this. It’s sensitive territory, but we need to truly take on what the Bible is saying about submission, if we are to reach happy conclusions over our parenting decisions.
In Ephesians 5, Paul is clear that husbands and wives are to ‘submit to one another’. In Colossians 3, he asks wives to submit, and husbands to love (as Christ loved the church, remember; in other words: sacrificial, ‘putting-the-other-one-first’ kind of love).
Why mention this? Because I suspect that there are Christian husbands who feel that they should have the final say in parenting decisions, even though their wives are the ones who do most of the childcare. That doesn’t sound like loving your wife sacrificially.
- Or there might be families where the wife does the childcare and automatically makes the big decisions, with her husband feeling disempowered as a parent, just because he works full-time outside of the home and spends less time with his kids than she does. That doesn’t sound like submitting to one another.
It doesn’t matter which way round the roles go in your family. You are to submit to one another, and ‘submit’ does not mean ‘defer’.
Those who work outside the home: if you submit to, and love, your spouse, then you will acknowledge the great deal of information they have read or listened to about parenting, whilst you’ve been breadwinning.
Those who do most of the childcare: if you submit to, and love, your spouse, then you will give them opportunities to become an excellent parent when they are around, spending time with your kids and building strong relationships with them. You will involve them in decision-making, because your children are theirs too.
In our family, I’m at home with our kids while my husband works full-time leading our church. If I were to walk into his study one day telling him how he should be running the church, I don’t think he’d take very kindly to it. I haven’t been to theological college, I haven’t got the years of experience that he has, I don’t read about church leadership and I don’t attend church leadership conferences.
However, if my husband asked for my input on something he was planning to say or do at church – which he often does – I can give my informed opinion as someone with considerable experience of attending church, familiarity with the people in our church family and knowledge of the Bible.
It’s not a perfect analogy, because we’re not co-leaders of our church, yet we absolutely are co-parents of our children. But I hope it illustrates the point that you need to listen to the one who deals with most of the challenges, and work on a solution together. This does not mean that one’s opinion is more important than the other’s – simply that one may have more experience to share, which will help both of you to come to a conclusion together.
Don’t defer to one another – submit!
And if you still can’t reach a solution?
Pray together. Ask God to help you both to submit to Him, and to peacefully find a solution together. Praise Him that He loves your child even more than you do, and that He wants the best for them.
If your spouse is not a Christian, you can still pray on your own about the issues that divide you. Ask God to help you be a loving spouse and parent, and – as much as you believe in your own decision – practise the art of placing this into God’s hands. Pray that He will either affirm your decision, or help you to see your spouse’s point of view more clearly.
You could also ask the wisdom of one or two friends who are close to, and trusted by, both of you – perhaps an older couple at your church, or some family members. Ask them to pray with and for you.
And, if the situation requires it, listen carefully to the advice of professionals who are involved – perhaps teachers, social workers, therapists or church kids/youth leaders. What have been their experiences of your child? You have the final say, but their testimony is a necessary ingredient for the melting pot.
Above all, remember that the relationships within your family are more important than the decisions you make. Learn to listen, compromise, pray and grow together.
How do you deal with disagreements when it comes to parenting in your household? Let us know in the comments below!