Let’s face it: kids are both wonderful and enlightening little humans. Their arrival into the world can bring chaos, crying, and sleepless nights; but also insight and perspective. They say that one of the most challenging stressors in a relationship is having a child. This may sound like a “well duh!” statement, but it’s easy to forget when its your own child. You may have heard your parents say at one point in life, “you all don’t come with manuals!” (Which to be honest always used to make me laugh). There are a thousand, million, probably infinite, number of ways that we could approach the grand task of raising a child. To be completely honest, do any of us really know what to expect? Is there any way to tell what to expect? The sad truth is that, too much of life is out of our control to know for sure. Most of the time we go into it thinking back on our own childhood, and refer back to how we were raised ourselves. You may start to embody your parents, or completely avoid the idea of being like them.
Parenting is one of those values that is completely unique to the person. Your idea of parenting may not look identical to your best friend Nikki’s way of parenting. And that’s okay! It’s not necessarily the type of human you are that we’re looking at here. It’s more what type of decisions do you see fit when raising your child. How do you handle the big issues that may pop up? What if you and your partner are differing in parental decisions?
You may be thinking, “What do you mean my partner thinks differently than me? We are always on the same page!” And to that I say, right on! I assume that is the ideal outcome for raising and parenting children. However, this can be a huge point of conflict in marriages and relationships. This type of conflict is likely to come up in any relationship—whether you both agree or not. Children grow, situations change, and like we said before: it’s hard to know what to expect.
Why does agreeing matter?
So why is it important to agree on the decisions you make in raising your children with your partner? Well the first thing that comes to mind is the decision of discipline. How to work with behavior is such a controversial topic in relationships and families, and there’s solid reason for it! As said before, we are all raised with our own point of view. We all experience things differently. So we are bound to take a little bit of that perspective with us when moving forward into our own families.
Let’s say that your child gets a call from the school principle explaining they had a physical fight with a friend at school. They explain, I only hit them because they hit me first. One parent may immediately think, “hitting is never okay you should use your words instead” while the other parent may be thinking, “you did the right thing and defended yourself.” These situations can be tricky! What we all believe is right and wrong is slightly different (or extremely different). But ultimately, it can be confusing for kids when they don’t fully have a sense of what is going on. Children are so in tune with their environment and can feel when parents aren’t in sync. They thrive on feeling safe and steady in their environment. If they can tell the parental ground is shaky, they may start to act out on it. How often do we hear about children playing one parent against the other, or taking advantage of the unsteady ground to get what they want? All. Of. The. Time. The little geniuses have all of us adults figured out!
What do we do?
So how do we work on this in our relationship or marriage? If you’re trying to get on board with your partner, and stop arguing about how to raise your children, there are a couple of things that you can do to settle down the conflict and start working together.
I know, I know, this might just sound downright impossible. When we believe about something so strongly, like raising children, it can be difficult to see anyone else’s view. Especially our partner’s! Sometimes the last person we want to listen to can be right in front of us. But the more you can meet in the middle, the more you can both feel validated and heard in the process of raising your kiddo. Trying to break down each side and “win” will only leave one of you feeling resentful and hurt that they weren’t taken into consideration. Take a little bit of each person’s view, and try to incorporate it into a whole. For example, lets say your child comes up to you and asks if they can go climb the tree in the front yard, and you both are complete opposites on this decision. One of you may think that climbing trees alone is extremely dangerous and not safe, and the other may think it’s beneficial for a child’s youth experience. It may be an idea to have the children only try climbing when a parent can climb with them, or stand directly below. That way, the child feels heard in their request, and you both can get a sense of what you need out of your own feelings of the issue.
Support One Another
To the best of your ability, make it an effort to back up your partner. This is one of the most important, and I can imagine most frustrating, concepts of the whole situation. If your child can see that you are not a team, they will try to get around parenting decisions that you make. The most important thing to avoid is pulling your child into the middle of a disagreement. When we are focused on trying to get our point across with our partner, we aren’t focusing on the real point of the situation. Which is, “what is best for our child right now?” Even if you don’t agree, take the time to back up your partner in front of the children, and try to rework a different approach for next time in private.
Share Your Views & Values
Communicate your views with your partner ahead of time (if possible). This may not be a feasible task, because most of the time we realize our view when it is in context. You may not be thinking about how you are going to handle an important issue like bullying when you have a toddler. There are going to be other tasks at hand that are more of a priority. But if you can constantly be asking yourself, AS A TEAM, “how would we handle this situation?” it could be a solid start to a great foundation in parenting together. There isn’t going to be the chance to do this with every issue or situation that pops up. It’s really about taking the time to calm down, refocus, and reflect on what you may want out of your parenting experience together. Collaboration is key—not only with each other, but with your child as well. Let them know what is going on and what you are deciding. If they ask why a certain boundary or rule is in place, make sure you and your partner both have the secure understanding of each other to clearly explain the reasoning to your child. If the concern seems too large, or you both aren’t sure what to do, individual counseling for your child could be a great option!
Give the Benefit of the Doubt!
Parenting is exhausting, y’all! While it can be a time of heated discussions, conflict, and disagreeing—it can also be a time of empathy and understanding! Take the time to understand why your partner sees things the way they do. What got them to this point? What have they experienced that impacted their views? How can their parenting style bring a new dynamic to yours? A lot of the time, our disagreements come from a lack of understanding. Meet your partner where they are at and have the vulnerable talks. This can boost confidence and improve the quality of your relationship. Challenge each other to be better parental (and general) versions of yourself. Listening can go a long. As well as being curious about what being a parent means to your partner.
It’s not easy, and we know that.
While this is not the end all be all list of agreeing with your partner on parental decisions, it could be a start! I encourage everyone to check-in with your partner about where they stand in these topics, and how it plays into your family’s style. Even if you are not planning on, or do not have, children—take the time to reflect on how you may feel about these issues. How do you see yourself as a parent? How would you handle conflict within a relationship regarding parenting style? What values do you see coming into play when parenting? These may be difficult to think about if they are not relevant in your life right now, and probably will change! But taking the time to get to know yourself is valuable in any sense, especially when entering a relationship or starting a family.
MEET THE AUTHOR | EMILY LIND
Emily is currently in her final year of the Master of Education in Counseling at Stephens College, here in Columbia. She is active in the student led Stephens Counseling Association, and is also a part of the American Counseling Association (ACA). Prior to graduate school, Emily received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the University of Missouri (Columbia). Emily enjoys working with both adolescents and adults as they process their growth through counseling. She collaborates best with individuals looking to embrace their true identity, find their inner confidence, recognize innate strengths, and find a way to effectively cope with transitions, depression, and anxiety. Emily is eager to experience and train for working with couples and families, a scope of her practice that will have a clear advantage based on her early childhood education experience.