Before my husband and I married, we believed that most of the world's problems could be settled by a few humble hearts gathered around the table in conversation, with good food and better lattes. That was, of course, before the good food became pureed sweet potatoes and our caffeine more of a lifeline than a luxury.
Two years into marriage we found ourselves humbled by our children. We no longer had the solution to the world's problems. Just trying to remain on the same team amid simple parenting challenges felt overwhelming. Through this, we discovered a few strategies that helped us build unity in our parenting:
Consider the past: Did your parents raise you differently?
My husband and I were raised quite differently. One difference: My family would eat well-planned meals at home all month and then splurge on a favorite restaurant as a treat. My husband’s family clipped coupons and ate out whenever there was a deal. Because of these habits, my husband and I approached food, savings and spending differently.
Once we had children, it became even more important to be unified regarding our priorities in relation to money and food. To do this, we sat down together and talked about what worked and didn't work with how we were raised. Not only did it help us set priorities for our own parenting, but it also helped us understand each other better.
For example, we both agreed that mealtime is a priority for our family. But after our discussion we realized that I valued a special family meal every Sunday, complete with neighborhood friends and visiting relatives. In contrast, my husband thought family bonding at meals meant no TV and a discussion about each family member's day, several times a week. Together we began to establish what mealtimes would be for our family.
Accept the importance of a sleep plan.
My husband is a morning person, so from the beginning, he has spent the early waking hours with our girls in special daddy-daughter time. Our daily routine still starts with his morning-person abilities.
I, on the other hand, have no "fowl" in me when it comes to sleeping — I'm neither a night owl nor an early bird. I'm just a sleepy head who likes to snooze. When our baby started waking up hourly at night, we both experienced sleep deprivation that led to conflict and overall grumpiness. So, for a season, with adequate rest as our mutual priority, my husband and I agreed to let the baby sleep in our room.
Sleep can be one of the most disrupted (and difficult) parts of life for new parents. Do not underestimate the importance of creating a plan that helps everyone get adequate sleep.
Find time to re-energize.
As an introvert, I find quiet afternoons at home reading, cooking or going for walks to be life-giving. A weekend of birthday parties, play dates and social time with other kids and parents drains me. I wish I could say my husband feels recharged around the people who drain me, but he’s an introvert, too. After a few back-to-back days of social overload, we realized we both needed to spend time away from others to recover. We now build those down times into our parenting schedule.
As you think about your strengths and weaknesses as individuals, as well as the logistics of your schedules, set your priorities and plans around what works best for each of you. Here are a few questions to help you as you start to consider what is life-giving or energy-draining for you:
- Are you energized or drained by play dates or group classes?
- Are you energized or drained by reading alone in a quiet room?
- Do you value flexibility and spontaneity or structure and planning?
- What characteristics of God — justice, grace, authority, etc. — speak to your heart the most?
- Does the perfect day for you end in hushed voices, snuggles, giggles, singing or playing?
Once you realize how to recharge yourself and allow time for your spouse to recharge, you're able to structure your days to better accommodate each other as parents. By doing this, you can move forward together, knowing that you'll both have the needed energy to satisfy your ongoing parenting plan.
Take your child's personality into consideration.
My oldest daughter thrives when she knows what to expect. If we have a regular Monday with breakfast, preschool, lunch, naptime and then playing around the house, she will generally obey when I ask her, such as to go potty or tell her it’s time to take a nap. However, if we have an “off” day, and I don’t explain the changes to her beforehand, she will be emotional and resistant to what I ask.
Now that my husband and I know this, we can both make sure to communicate with her regularly about our plans and expectations. Then if plans change, we understand better how to parent her through her resistance. Of course how and when we each talk to her differs. As parents our goal is to help her feel secure in knowing what to expect so we can motivate her appropriately.
Take each other's parenting personality into consideration.
Each parent's personality should also be taken into consideration. Let's consider two responses to a misbehaving toddler who loves to explore and hates to be constrained. My husband values consistently addressing problems in the moment. He tends to use time-outs and predictable consequences, which removes our children from the action they love. I, on the other hand, have a big-picture view. I set up positive motivators, such as visits to new playgrounds or museums, when expectations are met. Both approaches can bring about the desired results in children, depending on the child's and the parent's personality and consistency.
Giving each other the grace to parent from his or her own personality is a gift. If you decide on the end result but allow each other to handle a situation as he or she feels is appropriate, then you allow autonomy and unity at the same time. As you establish parental unity, always remember to give grace to your children, each other and yourself.