Before my wife and I became parents, we went through a series of parenting sessions (with other couples and parents) that our church congregation offered. One of the recommendations that came from those classes is the subject for my article today – unity at the top.
At a very high level, both parents being unified is a simple concept to grasp, and one that makes a lot of sense. If both parents are on the same page (of the same book, mind you!) then your child knows exactly what to expect when it comes to things like privileges, boundaries, and the like. In practice, however, this can be more involved than you might think.
First off, you and your spouse must communicate with each other for what you think the rules should be. Sometimes, this might be something you discuss in advance (say, what time bedtime is), or things that you’re kind of talking through as the question or situation comes up (Hmm, can you have another snack today?). Whatever it is, no matter how mundane, you and your spouse need to come to an agreement.
The trickier times crop up when there is a snap call that needs to be made, and your spouse isn’t immediately available for a quick level set. In our house, I generally take more of stricter position it seems, and I’ll be quick to deny something, or tell our older daughter that she needs to stop doing something. While that isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, it can set a dangerous precedent.
Say, for example, I told my daughter that she wasn’t allowed to do some certain thing with her art supplies (maybe cutting and gluing), for whatever reason. However, earlier in the day, my wife may have gone through with her how they were supposed to be used, and she (my daughter) used them responsibly. If I’m changing the rules now, that’s going to cause confusion.
This is especially critical if you’re dealing with young children, as we have. Their first instinct won’t be to tell you about the earlier permission that was granted – they’ll react in disappointment and frustration. And I can say from experience that that particular path is not a fun one to travel – for either parent or child.
There is a much different way this can go – and it’s the way I try to direct myself. Let’s go back to that earlier crafting example. I could, instead of shutting it down, ask her to wait while I went to check with my wife, and see if there was something that occurred earlier that would allow my daughter to be doing what she was doing.
This nets us two very positive things. First, our daughter sees that we’re talking (and talking about her!), so she can know that her parents are on the same page about things. Next, it helps the both of us parents to make sure that we have the same baseline for permissiveness. This then leads (I hope) to our daughter knowing that she can’t try to get away with something.
How would that happen? Well, think back to your own childhood. Say, you wanted a cookie. Now, when I was growing up, I knew I had a much better chance if I asked my dad of actually getting that cookie. Even if it was a situation where I was told to go ask the other parent, I knew where my chances lie.
This is situational, of course – there are some things that parents are more inclined to do (or not do) based on interests, level of busyness, and the like. For example, I’m not about to be ready to teach my daughter to sew, but if she wants to practice using a hammer, I can probably find a project for her. At a low level, we just don’t want things to get to the point where a child knows that they can try to play parents off of each other, or even just play games to try and get what they want.
This will all come to fruition if your child sees that you and your spouse are unified. This can happen in many ways throughout a day or evening. It could be at the dinner table, where we’re teaching our daughter to say “Excuse me” and then wait to be acknowledged when my wife and I are talking to each other. It could be your child seeing you and your mate holding hands as you walk down the sidewalk, or embracing each other when you get home from work.
From what I recall (on this topic) from the class, this not only avoids scenarios where the child tries to play parents against each other, it also allows the child to have a feeling of safety, of being loved. They see the discussions, the hugs and kisses, and they not only know, but they feel that things are good with Mom and Dad. This keeps them free to be children who are learning and growing, secure in the fact that they are part of a cohesive, loving family.
As I mentioned at the start, this is one of those concepts that is very simple on paper, and it’s easy to see the benefits. Of course, parenting is never as clean cut as the plans we might lay out for ourselves, and seeking and maintaining unity is something the both of you will have to work through to find the right level of give and take, in order to provide that loving environment for your children. There’s no guarantee that it’ll be easy, and if you’re like me, you’re liable to slip up now and again. We can keep at it, though, and the rewards that you AND your children will gain are immeasurable.
On this topic, I’m curious – what do you and your spouse do to make sure that you’re unified when it comes to raising your children? Sound off in the comments and let us know – I’m sure there’s good tips out there from our readers that would be beneficial to everyone.