Remember the first night you brought your baby home and it was just you, your partner, and that tiny bundle of joy? Ahhhh….those were the days. Life was simple when the bulk of your conversations revolved around dividing up diaper duty, sharing the feedings (if that was possible), and making sure the backpack had enough wipes in it when you left the house.
Life brings change; maybe you had additional kids, days become more chaotic/housework and financial pressures grow/you become physically, spiritually, mentally drained…and daily life…specifically parenting, becomes more complex.
Before you had kids you both thought you would be in agreement about the way you tackled the big job of raising your offspring. Maybe you even spent hours of your early married life and pregnancy talking and dreaming about how you’d create and execute your family before your little bundle arrived.
So, then how did you get to this place where you aren’t on the same page about whether or not your 10-year-old should continue with piano lessons, or if your preteen daughter really needs the iPhone she so desperately desires, or what kind of boundaries make sense to put around your teenage son when it comes to having his girlfriend over at the house?
The first [and likely biggest, most obvious] reason moms and dads end up on differing parenting pages is because each of us grows up in a unique experience that influences the skill set, emotions, and expectations of ourselves and our loved ones. Even if you and your spouse grew up in similar socioeconomic backgrounds with similar schooling and life opportunities, you would still have four different personalities and their upbringings and ideas about how to raise kids creating an imprint on the way you experienced childhood.
Whether you and your spouse took proactive time early in the game to talk about your childhood and the relationships between you and your own parents, (and how you would handle your kids the same way, or differently) doesn’t hold much water until you are in the thick of everyday child rearing responsibilities. You can’t know how you will respond until you are walking the path.
By and large, we react to situations our children bring us (through their behavior, attitude, and energy) the way we experienced them in our own growing up. (Meaning…like our parents did). Because if we aren’t really present and conscious about how we are responding, this unconscious experience is what we defer to, we do what we know because we don’t know any other way to handle things.
Or, maybe we know there could be a better way, but we can’t figure out how…and we certainly can’t figure out how to talk our spouse into coming on board.
Another reason many parents become misaligned with one another as their children grow is they never took the time to clearly define what the family goals, values, and expectations would be. I can tell you this happened in my own marriage.
A few years ago while Tom and I were participating in a course about raising teens (I was the facilitator, by the way), one of the exercises we shared as a couple was to talk through and create a set of family values. It was embarrassing to me that Tom and I had been married 20+ years with two kids out the door, and a third well on his way, before we actually wrote down the values our family holds. I mean, this is an important conversation. I think we both just thought our kids would soak up our values by our modeling them and through osmosis with a sprinkle of fairy dust thrown in for good measure.
The third reason moms and dads can begin to become adversaries rather than providing a united front when it comes to rules, discipline, and parent/child relationships is whether we want to admit it or not, society sends us messages everyday, in many ways, about how it thinks we should parent. (Hint: I am doing it right now). And some people “buy in” to the messages they are hearing more than others.
So, now that you know why you are your co-parent are on separate parenting pages, what can you do to work on realigning your vision?
You can recognize and acknowledge the impact and influence your growing up experience has on how you are now parenting your kids. If there is frustration and discord about a particular aspect of your parenting (perhaps on how you discipline your kids), then first you need to define the problem before working towards an agreement about how you will handle the situation. If you don’t have a clue as to how to handle creating boundaries more effectively than you are now, pick up a book. There are many great parenting books on the shelf today. (Here is a list of my top 5). One thing I will add to this idea: when we have given our kids an opportunity to share their input about boundaries and consequences, the overall experience goes much smoother. So, depending on your kids age, work with them on what these will look like in their life.
Second, going back to the conversation on family values…The significance of creating a short, well-defined list of values (core truths) you plan to live out, and expect your children to as well, is great. Even better, if you haven’t done this yet, and your kids are able to help you map out and embrace the values your family holds, make them part of the conversation after you and your spouse have initially talked it through. Never assume just because you feel like you are modeling something it will be enough to make an impression on your kids, especially when it comes to important issues like drug and alcohol use and dating conduct. And, make sure your actions are in alignment with your values.
Lastly, as difficult as it can be at times, practice shutting out the constant messages you hear and see from the outside world about what your kids “should do” and what your family “should look like”. Sometimes I watch the news, or read stories on the Internet, or observe conversations and posts on social media and wonder whether we’ve all lost our basic grounding and common sense. We say and do things, especially when it comes to parenting, even when in our hearts we know it’s not the best choice, or will not have the highest outcome for the people we love most.
Be brave, be strong, and march to the beat of your own family’s tune.