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Parenting as a Team

3 keys to work through disagreements on parenting

When I look at the home my husband grew up in and compare it to how I was raised, it’s a wonder we ended up together. Our backgrounds are so completely opposite that no marriage counselor in her right mind would have suggested that we marry.

Once we said “I do,” Mike and I disagreed about how to approach everything from the budget to cleaning the toilet. But parenting presented the ultimate test to our unity. What came naturally to him as a dad seemed to be the opposite of my approach as a mom.

There were days when I wanted to pull my hair out and other days when I began to believe that my husband was my worst enemy in the parenting process. For example, when the boys were little, I worked all day long to keep them occupied without the crutch of technology. Their 30-minutes of TV time was carefully planned around a younger sibling’s nap or a work call. When my husband got home, often the first thing he would do was put on a Disney movie for the boys. It would infuriate me! All my efforts down the drain!

Mike and I have disagreed on everything from what to feed the boys to what age they should be before getting a cell phone and everything in between. Our oldest son is almost 18 and getting ready to start college in the fall. As I look back on these years of parenting, I am truly amazed that Mike and I have found a way to be united. Have we parented perfectly as a team? Of course not. But God has blessed us and used the challenges of raising three boys to draw us closer to each other and closer to him.

I want to share with you three paradigm shifts—three keys that helped me as a wife and mom through all of the disagreements on parenting.

Paradigm Shift #1: My Kids Need a Dad, Not Two Moms

At the bottom of my frustration as a mom was the fact that my husband is not at all like me. I think many moms can relate. Maybe your husband’s personality isn’t like my husband’s, but the way he tackles parenting is likely worlds apart from your approach.

As a psychologist, I’m privy to all of the research that indicates what is most important to the healthy development of a child. Do you know what is one of the most critical factors to academic, emotional, behavioral, spiritual, and even physical well-being of a child? Having a mom and a dad.

Dads parent differently than moms by God’s design. While a woman naturally nurtures her children, a father challenges and validates them. Just think about what typically happens on a playing field when a child gets hurt. Without thinking, mom runs out of the bleachers to make sure her son or daughter is okay. Dad sits back and watches saying, “Tough it out. You’re okay. Rub some dirt on it!” While I cradled my kids after a fall, my husband would often say, “You’re bigger than the pain!”

In reality, my kids need both. This became clear to me during a very difficult time in our family’s life. We were moving from Ohio to Colorado, leaving all of our extended family. At the time, our oldest son was 11 years old. Mike and I heard him crying in his bedroom. As the mom and psychologist, I went in to comfort our son. Within ten minutes, we were both sobbing!

Mike came in, took one look at me and said, “Juli, leave us alone. I’ll handle this.” Within a few minutes, I heard Mike and Michael giggling and wrestling. Surely, there is a time to cry and a time to laugh. I’m grateful that my boys have a parent who specializes in getting them to do each one.

Paradigm Shift #2: I’m Not Always Right

This may sound like an obvious statement. Few women would outright state, “I’m always right when it comes to parenting.” Yet that is how most of us treat our husbands. Ironically, mothering brings out the greatest insecurity in a woman, but you wouldn’t guess it by how she treats her husband’s efforts at fatherhood. Just like in sitcoms, guys are often treated like dim-witted sidekicks whose suggestions are shrugged off. As my son Andrew would say, they feel as useful as a white crayon.

To be fair, I think guys are way outmatched when it comes to parenting. A woman has the biological advantage of bonding with her baby even before birth. And from the moment a woman is pregnant, other women begin offering parenting advice (mostly unsolicited). From day one, a mom is prepping to be a mom while a guy is typically relegated to painting the nursery.

The average mom is convinced that while she may not know much about parenting, she knows a heck of a lot more than her husband does.

I’ve been confronted by my arrogance as a mom more times than I can count. And I’ve been shocked over and over again to learn that my husband is often right. At the very least, his perspective is a needed balance for my personality and parenting approach.

Oh, how God loves a humble, teachable heart! And oh, how I need to keep asking him to give me one.

Paradigm Shift #3: Who We Are as Parents Is More Important than What We Decide

Most moms like to control, largely in response to our fear. We intuitively know what can go wrong with our kids and respond to our fear by grabbing onto formulas. I’ve seen a multitude of “parenting formulas” go in and out of vogue. Homeschooling, all organic foods, no technology, constantly playing classical music . . .

So when darling husband steps in with pizza and video games for the kids, we flip out. (Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience here.) He’s messing up the formula!

When Mike and I were constantly butting heads on parenting styles, I was struck by a truth that completely changed my approach. The most important thing I can give my kids is not making the right decisions, but being the right person. In other words, my three boys will be far more impacted by what we model than by what we decide.

I thought of two scenarios: In the first one, I got my way and my husband acquiesced to all my controlling demands for the “good of our children.” In the second scenario, my husband and I learned to flow together as Mom and Dad, meaning that I compromise much of what I think is best for the kids. What would be better for our boys?

Far more important than what they eat and where they go to school is that our children grow up watching a mom and dad determined to love each other. I realized that no decision we make could be more important than the relational environment we create together. Would it really be good for the boys to see their dad henpecked by their mom into submission? Or their mom intimidated by an demanding husband? I think they would benefit more by us making the “wrong” decision together rather than watching us fight about who is right.

This doesn’t mean that I never disagree openly with Mike or he with me. There are some things that are worth making an issue of. But I choose those battles very carefully and very prayerfully, and I ask my husband to do the same. Even when we disagree, the greater goal is to model humility, compassion, and forgiveness for the boys. That’s what they will remember years from now.

I believe that most men are waiting for their wives to “invite them” into parenting. I’m not talking about asking your husband to “babysit” his children. I mean truly validating that you need him just as he is—that your kids need him.

For many years, inviting Mike into parenting was a conscious and sometimes difficult choice. It meant giving up control and facing my fears when he handled the boys so much differently than I would. But now, I thank God for the influence and blessing Mike is to our three sons.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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