Question: We’re about to become parents for the first time, and we’re doing everything we can to prepare ourselves before the fact. What are some of the most common disagreements we’re likely to encounter as we get into the specifics of raising a child? How do you think these conflicts will affect our marital relationship?

Answer:

You’re wise to start talking about this issue now. Parenting differences can become a major source of tension and division in marriage. Like variations in theology or belief, they must be carefully and properly managed and resolved if you as a couple are to move forward successfully into your new role as parents. If not, they can form an emotional wedge between the two of you.

The first thing you need to understand is that most parents don’t agree on every aspect of parenting. This is especially true of new moms and dads. They arrive on the parenting scene with different opinions, diverse childhood and home-life experiences, and very little practical know-how. The results can be disastrous if you don’t take the time to discuss your contrasting ideas openly and honestly. It can also be extremely helpful to get the counsel and advice of an older, more experienced couple or a licensed Christian family therapist.

Solutions to common parenting problems

What are some of the most common issues that arise when mates approach parenting differently? How can you prepare for these challenges and handle them most effectively? Here’s a basic list of potential problems and suggested solutions.

  1. "I’m pretty strict, but she’s a total pushover." This isn’t unusual, but it can be major. The answer is to find common ground, a balance between extremes. This is easier said than done, of course. Couples who have different views on spanking, for instance, should take some time to discuss what a balanced approach would look like. Determine beforehand which behaviours should be punished with spanking and which shouldn’t. Experiment with other disciplinary tactics, such as time-outs, extra chores, or removing privileges. Some children respond better to spanking than to other methods, and vice versa. Decide together that you will be open-minded about trying a variety of methods until you find what works best for your family.
  2. "He’s overly protective, but I think kids need to experience failure once in a while." Once again, the secret to success here is balance. It’s not healthy to be overprotective – or its opposite. God’s parenting style exemplifies this principle perfectly. Sometimes He allows us to fall and struggle and learn on our own, but He’s always there to pick us up and show us mercy and compassion. You and your spouse will have to discover when to rescue your child and when to stand at a distance. This balance is achieved through practice and good communication.
  3. "The kids play us against each other." As great as children are, they’re selfish by nature. So be prepared: if they can see a way to do it, they’ll take advantage of perceived contrasts in your parenting styles and weak spots in your marital relationship. The key to conquering your child’s ability to play you and your spouse against each other is consistent communication between the two of you. When possible, consult your mate before making decisions about what your child can or can’t do. Don’t assume that you know each other’s minds. Take time to check with each other before moving ahead.
  4. "Is it okay to disagree in front of the kids?" The answer to this question is yes. How else will children learn how to discuss and solve problems? Kids raised in homes where spouses never differ often develop the perception that there’s something wrong with disagreement. Some issues, of course, should be discussed only behind closed doors – adult problems such as sex in marriage, financial troubles, etc. Decide in advance with your spouse which subjects should be kept private.
  5. "Who has the final say on this?" Ideally, parents should be able to reach agreement on issues related to their children. But this isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. In such cases you need to know where the buck stops, preferably by referencing a previous discussion of this very subject. This doesn’t mean that anyone has to give up his or her position. It’s simply a matter of realizing that a decision has to be made, and that one of you is willing to defer to the other. Whatever you do, avoid undermining or overriding each other once an issue is supposedly settled. This will only confuse your child.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2006, Focus on the Family.

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