It used to frustrate me as a kid.
I would ask my parents if I could stay up later than my bedtime to hang out with my friends. If I didn’t get a “No,” I would usually get “I have to check with your dad.”
Having a devious kind of mind, I would go to my dad before my mom could get to him hoping to find a chink in the armor. As soon as I asked the question, my dad would respond with, “What did your mom say?”
It was always with some resignation in my voice that I’d say, “that I have to ask you . . .” my voice trailing off at the end.
Sometimes, I would flip between my parents as the “messenger” three or four times to try to get an answer and would only hear, “It depends on what your mom thinks/dad thinks.” By the end of it, I was so tired I either wanted to go to bed or couldn’t remember what I was asking about in the first place.
While that’s a bit frustrating for you when you’re eight years old, my parents had a great strategy going: stay united. They realized that kids can spot division a mile away and enjoy driving trucks through whatever division they find.
What I’ve learned as a parent is that it’s incredibly difficult work to stay on the same page as your spouse. Even though it’s difficult, being on the same page as parents is so incredibly important.
So how does division between spouses happen? While there are more than a few causes, here are three practices that can lead you and your spouse off the same page:
Different approaches to parenting between parents. Chances are one of you is “strict” and the other more permissive. Believe it or not, your kids can sense that, and they’ll use it to their advantage. Your different approaches to parenting get revealed over time and in specific situations. You might have started parenting thinking you had identical approaches. Only over time and testing do you realize you are worlds apart.
Snap decisions. Your kids always want an answer now. Ever notice they rarely ask when your spouse is in the room? Because they see their need as urgent, you think you need to respond in an instant. Only later when you connect with your spouse do you learn how upset they are at the decision you made.
A focus on the short term. Every time your child or teen makes a request, they are only thinking about the moment. As a parent, it’s tempting for you to answer in the moment. If you want to foster an inconsistent approach to parenting and escalate conflict between you and your spouse, only focus on the short-term implications of every request you get. While the division between you and your spouse might not be that wide to start out with, a great way to ensure a giant chasm erupts is to only focus on the short-term implications of every request that comes your way. After a few years of this, you will be increasingly dissatisfied with where your family is heading and be increasingly resentful of your spouse.
The next post will focus on how to get on the same page and stay there. But before we go there, what other practices have you noticed that get you and your spouse off the same parenting page?