Do you and your spouse always agree on how to parent your children? Have you ever disagreed over how to handle a particular situation? Parenting is hard. It impacts your marriage.
For us, unity around parenting was a struggle. We both wanted our three children to grow up to love and serve Jesus, but HOW we accomplished that often caused disunity and tension in our marriage. Yet, we persevered.
Here are five things we learned about parenting that will help you and your spouse stay unified as you raise your children:
1. Agree together on your values.
It’s almost impossible to arrive at a destination if you don’t know what direction you’re going. As a couple discuss what’s important to you in child-rearing. Each of you take a turn and share your non-negotiables. Then talk about hot topics like how you’re going to handle disobedience. What kinds of consequences will you both support.
Another example of a value would be church attendance. Is it required in your home? Personally, we think it should be. We told our kids that since they were living in our home and one of our core values was attending church, we expected them to go to church each weekend. (They didn’t have to sit with us, though.)
As you determine your values, also discuss topics like TV and music selection, educational preferences, chores, extra-curricular activities, friends, and how to handle schoolwork. Whose responsibility is it to supervise schoolwork? We think it’s best when both parents take a role in helping their kids with schoolwork. Maybe the parent who is most gifted in a subject is the one who oversees that particular subject. If one parent travels weekly for work, the responsibility may fall more strongly on the parent who is home more often.
2. Decide on privileges and consequences in private.
When you have tough decisions to make regarding your children, go to another room and talk with your spouse alone. If you can’t do this immediately, there’s nothing wrong with saying to your child, “Your mom and I are going to discuss this later and we’ll get back with you after we’ve talked.” After you’ve discussed the issue, speak with one voice. Never let your child know which parent advocated for what. Never tell your child that you agreed with them, but the other parent didn’t. Speak with unity. You and your spouse are a team and this decision was made together. Both parents had input. Both parents support the outcome. Do this even when you’re going to celebrate or give a privilege to a child. It communicates solidarity in your marriage.
3. Set future goals and plans.
As a couple, plan a time where the two of you can be alone for a few hours. Maybe you go on a picnic or out for a nice dinner. Perhaps you take a weekend getaway. During this time talk about each of your children and what you’d like to see them accomplish. What goals do you have for your son(s) or daughter(s)? What would you like them to learn while they live under your roof? Then chart the course.
Set goals for each season of their life. What do you want them to have experienced or learned when they finish elementary school, junior high, and high school? If appropriate, share these plans with your kids and get their input. It’s much easier to train a child who has some “buy-in” than one who is just “along for the ride.” As parents, keep your children accountable. This can be a great way to maintain unity in your marriage because as parents you can say, “No, that’s not our plan.” Decide on a plan and honor it together.
4. Don’t diminish your spouse or their authority to your kids.
Let’s say Junior disobeys and discipline is required. Don’t berate your spouse, their opinions, or how they carried out a form of discipline in the presence of your child (this is assuming no abuse has occurred). If you have an issue with how your spouse handled a specific problem, talk to them about it in private.
Also, be careful that you don’t issue a consequence that you can’t enforce. For example, let’s say you will be out of town the following week and you tell your child that he or she can’t have any electronics all week. This decision is one that your spouse is then responsible to enforce! So check with your spouse ahead of time to make sure they agree with what you propose. Honor your spouse by discussing consequences together (see #2 above). This takes some pressure off of you as parents.
5. Pray together for your kids.
We believe the most unifying principle in parenting is praying together for your children. Ask your children how you can pray for them. What are their top prayer requests? Then pray for them each day as a couple. Make it part of everyday life.
Each week discuss areas of strength and weakness in your children. Where are your kids excelling? How can you both encourage those attitudes and behaviors? Where are your children struggling? How can you two help them? What can you learn from their struggles and successes? What might God be showing you about them? Based on those conversations, pray together for each son and daughter as God directs you.
As you implement these five practices in your marriage you will grow in unity as parents and build your marriage.