To parent as a team, you need to realise that the health of your relationship really impacts your kids. In fact, when I was recently asked for a list of my top parenting tips, I placed “put your spouse first” right near the top.
“What? Love your partner ahead of your kids!?” It’s not a competition. It does not mean taking love away from your children to give it to your partner; instead, more love between the parents usually means there is a lot more love in the home and that “spills” onto the children. It was advice I received early on in my parenting and I think it has worked well: as a dad, the best thing I could do for my kids was to love their mum, and I am sure the advice works the other way around too.
But however much you love the other, you will still have differences of opinion. I guess if my wife and I did not have arguments I would not have the opportunity of knowing how wrong I am about so many things. It also gives me lot an opportunity to practise apologising, which is a good skill, and I actually enjoy the flowers around the place which I seem to have to buy quite often.
Let’s face it, most couples fight and most get over it and move on. Two people are always going to have different ideas about all sorts of things – including how to parent – but let your kids see that you are “working from the same page” as much as possible. Support and cheer for each other. This is not just an ego-stroking exercise: if kids detect disparities between parents’ rules and standards they will often try to exploit that gap, playing off the differences between you with amazing political skill!
The best way to harmonise your approach to parenting is to actually talk about it. You already agree that you want the best for your children, so that’s a good starting point. Doing a parenting course together has proven to be very useful for many couples: it gives you even more common ground to start your discussion from.
If your kids come to you and say something like, “You always let us climb the tree but Mum says we’re not allowed to,” then back each other up. Say something like, “Well, you better not do it but I’ll have a talk with Mum and see what her reasons are.”
What should we do if we disagree with how our partner is dealing with a situation? It is sometimes tempting to “cross the floor” and side with your kids against your partner but, unless it is something truly crazy or dangerous, wait for a good moment when the kids are out of earshot to raise your objections. Be especially cautious of showing contempt in front of the kids: we all deserve to be respected, especially in our home, and I can think of few things more toxic to the happiness of the family than encouraging derision from children for their parent.
In general, parents compromise and naturally tend to alternate in their concessions to each other around parenting but one rule is important: the more “tender conscience” should prevail. If your parenting style shocks, offends or scares your partner – even though in your mind it is reasonable – then, out of deference to your partner’s peace-of-mind, you need to find a new way of doing things. And this is an encouraging fact: there are always other ways of doing things, and some of them will work even better than current method.
Naomi and I always tried to stick to an old rule: do not fight in front of the children. I still think it is not a bad rule. It really upsets them when mum and dad bicker. Kids (even unborn children) are very sensitive to stress around them – they do need a peaceful environment. But I would add to that rule: disagreement does not have to mean fighting, and I believe it is good for kids to see their parents having differences of opinion and resolving them in a friendly, mature way. If you can debate an issue in a way that is calm and respectful, then that is modelling something very positive.
By John Cowan
John Cowan is a senior presenter for The Parenting Place, www.theparentingplace.com.