A father plays a board game with his daughter after work

This parenting challenge has been shared with us in various forms:

  • Staying on the same page as my husband
  • Getting my spouse on board
  • Coming to common ground with my wife on decisions regarding our kids
  • Being the disciplinarian all the time when my husband doesn’t want to be one
  • Two parents who disagree on parenting approaches
  • Co-parenting in a divorced relationship

There are two things that are important to remember when trying to work out this challenge:

1.  Have I looked at how I was parented – what worked and what didn’t?

2.  Am I taking the long view in parenting and trying to raise children who are guided by a moral compass and who will be responsible people of character when they are adults?

Let’s look at #1 first. If we have not set a vision for what we want for our family and our children, we may be either reacting to the way we were raised, or trying to duplicate it. What did we get from our own parents that worked, and also what didn’t work so well? Keep in mind that the idea here is not to blame, but rather to accept that your own parents did the best they could with what they knew at the time.

We then need to discuss with our co-parent what we’ve discovered from this inquiry, and to compare notes with how they were parented. Then we need to let go of any loyalty to our own parents that just doesn’t serve us in our own parenting.

A small example from my life is the dinner hour. In my family of origin, we had dinner together every night. My father was a business owner in a small town and this was feasible. In my current family, I wanted to repeat the same ideal, but my husband was a New York City commuter who came home some nights as late as 8:00 PM, and I would have made the children wait – starving and cranky by this time – so that we could eat together. I was simply duplicating something in which I saw value – an ideal if you will – that worked in 1958 rural Pennsylvania, but that didn’t work in 1987 suburban Connecticut!

My second point about taking the long view in raising responsible children is that you need a set of common principles. In my story, I had never examined what principle I was trying to uphold, or even if there was one in having dinner together. When we look at how we were parented, we need to look for the principles, if there were any– which our parents were using to raise us. Instead of having my own suburban Connecticut family eat dinner together, I could have implemented a Family Games night, where the whole family played a board game together one night a week.

Here is why it’s important for parents to have a shared set of principles:

  1. So that decisions about the children are made based on what it is we are trying to teach them;
  2. So that both parents take a responsible role in holding kids accountable because we’re trying to teach principles, not avoid confrontation;
  3. So that parenting approaches, although not exactly the same, are at least based on the principle at the center of the family – principles that apply to both the kids AND the parents.

Parenting means you will get off track; give yourself the grace to make mistakes, and know when to apologize, both to the kids and your partner. You’ll be teaching your kids humility – a very important principle – when you do this.