By Katie J. Trent, Crosswalk.com
They say opposites attract, and that’s certainly true in my marriage. My husband and I couldn’t be more different. At first, our differences created a lot of friction. It took a lot of work to get on the same page. But the more we talked—and the better we listened—the more we grew together. And as we grew, we began to appreciate what we each brought to the table instead of attempting to bend the other to one way of thinking or acting.
I used to believe if my husband would just do things the way I wanted them done, we’d all be a lot happier (and I’m sure he thought the same about me). But I’ve come to realize that God knew what He was doing when He created us each uniquely. And opposites attract in marriage because we multiply our effectiveness instead of dividing it when we work together as a team.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV) says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This is a beautiful picture of what life looks like when we merge our unique gifts, talents, and ideas to work in tandem, with Jesus being the glue that binds us together and guides us along the path.
When Worldviews Collide
It can feel overwhelming when we begin parenting together with our spouses. That’s because it’s not as simple as it seems it should be. We forget that we had completely different upbringings. The lens through which we view and understand the world is not the same lens our spouse sees through.
We all filter things through our own understanding and experience, which often leads to misunderstandings. But by acknowledging our differing backgrounds, we can begin to shift our perspectives, so they align—or at least make a bit more sense. Seeking understanding sets the stage for healthy communication.
Communication Is Key
To parent together effectively, we’ve got to learn to communicate well. This requires a desire to listen and understand more than to be heard and understood. Often, we tend to be very reactive in parenting. This creates chaos and strains relationships. But if we can start by having regular dialogue with our spouses, we can learn to be more proactive in our parenting.
Wondering where to begin? Talk with your spouse about their own upbringing. What did they love, and what do they want to do differently? What is likely to trigger a strong emotional response from your spouse, and how can you best support them when it happens? What behaviors and words can you avoid while being sensitive to their struggles? And how can you communicate the same needs to your spouse?
For example, my husband and I learned early on that he doesn’t respond well to a raised voice because he grew up in a household with a lot of verbal abuse and screaming. And I didn’t do well when he took a walk to cool off because it felt like the abandonment I experienced with my father. There was nothing wrong with him taking a walk. It could have been a very healthy coping skill if not for the fact that it triggered a strong emotional response in me. As we began discussing our experiences and needs, we learned how to support each other through the tough stuff. And once we could communicate clearly, we were able to dive into honest conversations about parenting.
Parenting is too broad a topic to cover in one short article, but I want to provide you with a framework and some practical tools to help you begin to merge your different parenting styles. Let’s begin with the basics.
Do’s and Don’ts
When trying to merge parenting styles, you must start with some basic do’s and don’ts. These form the bumpers to keep you from landing in the gutter with your parenting. For example, how do you and your spouse feel about spanking? Time out? Taking things away? Natural consequences?
If one parent feels strongly about something, it’s best to honor that and find an alternative you can both agree on. Otherwise, it’s likely to cause problems in your marriage—and add unnecessary strain on your parenting.
Sometimes it’s hard when we don’t agree or see things the same way. That’s where communication is essential. There will be differences in how you parent because you and your spouse are different. Also, dads and moms tend to parent differently naturally. For example, when my husband parents, he problem-solves. As a result, he tends to be more direct and not as empathetic when correcting our children.
Accepting that you’re going to approach things differently is important when merging your parenting styles. Don’t expect your spouse to parent exactly like you or for you to be just like your spouse. Recognize that your differences add value and enrich your children’s lives because you each bring something to the table they’ll benefit from.
Different Approaches - Parallel Paths
Once you have the basic do’s and don’ts in place and have accepted that you’re each going to parent a bit differently, it’s time for the big picture. The big picture means you know where you’re going, and you’re headed in the same direction. You don’t have to be walking the same path as your spouse, but you need to at least be on parallel paths heading in the same direction.
What do I mean by that? You’ve agreed on what you will and won’t do as parents (and given each other grace for those times you inevitably mess up). You have the same end goal (define what you want for your kids as they grow and how you plan to help them get there). You’ve created some general rules and expectations that you both agree on, so there’s less room for miscommunication. Then, you allow the grace and space to grow together as a family. And you keep coming back to the drawing board to evaluate and tweak the plan as you go. If a technique doesn’t seem to be working, don’t be afraid to reevaluate. If something you or your spouse does creates more conflict, chaos, or confusion, have the difficult conversation and explore alternative solutions.
One Last Piece of Advice
One of the most important things you can do when working on merging your parenting styles is to remember that you’re on the same team, fighting for the same goal. Don’t allow your parenting challenges to divide you. Always back your spouse up in front of your children, even if you disagree. The time and place for the conversation are best left until you’re alone and can get on the same page without creating an opportunity for your kids to pit you against each other. Merging your parenting styles isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it! Invest the time to grow together, and your family will flourish.
Katie J Trent is the author of the book, Dishing Up Devotions: 36 Faith-Building Activities for Homeschooling Families (Whitaker House). She is also a popular blogger, speaker, homeschool mama, and a Pinterest drop-out with a messy house and happy kids—most of the time. Katie lives in Arizona with her husband James and their two children. For more resources to grow your faith, strengthen your family, and simplify your homeschool, visit KatieJTrent.com. Connect with Katie on Instagram @KatieJTrent.