Today I'm going to dig a little deeper on marriage step number three, which is learning to share power, and I'm going to apply it to parenting. A lot of you listening I'm sure have children and it can be a challenge to share power because a lot of times one parent is more the dominant disciplinarian and the other parent is more passive and permissive. And obviously this causes a lot of vicious cycles where the dominant more disciplinarian parent feels like they have to become the parent for both parents because the other one is so passive and the passive parent can start feeling like, well, I don't need to do anything because my partner who's domineering is going to do it all. So you get this vicious cycle. The more the dominant one takes over, the more the passive one becomes passive, the more the passive one becomes passive the more the dominant parent takes over and a vicious cycle ensues. It's interesting just to pause and to think about what are the origins for some people becoming disciplinarians while others of us become permissive as parents. What causes that? And it can be a variety of factors. One example for someone who becomes a disciplinarian is perhaps they're raised with a disciplinarian parent. So maybe that's what comes back to them when they start parenting and the same with someone permissive, maybe that permissive parent had permissive parents. And so they were raised in a home without many rules and things were relaxed. So that's their normal and then that comes out when they have children, they just re-repeat and replicate how they were raised. That's one possibility. Another possibility is a parent who's more of a disciplinarian, they may have been raised in a home where they had lots of freedom and so they developed a really strong will. And so they have a strong voice as an adult with what they think should happen with their children. Conversely, someone who's permissive as an adult, they may have been raised with a parent who was very authoritarian so they were used to having no voice. And so now as a parent, they don't have a voice and they just let their children do as they may. So it's interesting and helpful to pause and think about what made your spouse the way they are. So if your spouse is a disciplinarian by nature or permissive by nature, what caused that for them? Because if you can look beyond their surface level behavior back to the origins of that behavior, it helps you have more compassion and empathy for that behavior. It doesn't mean you don't want them to change. However, just trying to unpack the origins is a helpful piece. Also, it can help you. So if you're a disciplinarian and listening to this, why are you like that? What's made you like that? And if you're permissive, what's caused that for you? Sometimes those who are disciplinarian parents, it can become almost obsessive compulsive where they watch every detail and they watch every move of their children because their mind is a grid and they see things in black and white. And the moment their children are out of line, they nail them on it. So it can be almost an extension of an obsessive compulsive personality. People who are permissive, they may just have a very laid back attitude in general in life where they're easy breezy and not much gets to them. And that's their temperament that comes out with raising children as well. So again, there's a variety of factors, but exploring the why and where it comes from can be really helpful.
So in my marriage with my wife, we've been married since 1999, I am definitely by nature the disciplinarian and my wife is the permissive parent and this has created vicious cycles that we've had to work on since we have four kids ranging in ages from 9 to 16. My tendency is to look at the letter of the law. My wife looks at the spirit of the law. My tendency leans towards justice and my wife leans towards relationship. And so obviously if you put those together, we're a better set of parents compared to if it's just my way or her way. Kids need both. They need both love and logic, which is why love and logic parenting is so effective. But it's created a lot of issues in our dynamic because I can start feeling like I need her to step up and be an equal parent with me and she can often feel like I need to step down and have a longer rope with what I allow the kids to do. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. So if we can balance my approach with her approach, we're going to find a much sweeter soft spot in the middle. That's optimal for us as parents and optimal for our kids. So who are you? Are you the disciplinarian or are you the permissive one? Depending on who you are in your marriage, if you have kids, resentment can start building. If you're the disciplinarian you can start feeling resentful because you can feel like it's all up to you, that you're the only parent and that if you don't discipline the kids, no one's going to. You probably see your kids getting away with things and having behaviors that you don't agree with and you are the disciplinarian so you feel like you have to be the bad guy. You're the bad cop at all times and that can make you start resenting your spouse if they're permissive. The permissive parent can also feel resentful because they can feel like you're constantly ruining the party. You're the one that's constantly coming down on the kids and constantly the negative one and constantly throwing out consequences and making a mountain out of a molehill. They can resent you for being too rigid and too strict. Both views are valid. So what resentment do you have, if any, towards your partner for how they parent your kids?
It's important to recognize that resentment because part of having a healthy marriage is tracking your feelings towards your partner and learning how to constructively deal with those feelings. But differences in parenting style is a major one for a lot of couples that causes a lot of friction. So here's four steps we're going to go through for solutions to consider if you are listening to this and you have children and you have differences in parenting styles.
Build a Unified Front
1-Avoid conflicts about your kids in front of your kids
So the first tip I would throw out there, and again this goes back to learning to share power, is try to have a rule with your partner not to have any conflicts in front of your children when the conflict is about your children. So if you're debating if Johnny should be allowed to do something or not, you don't want Johnny to hear that debate because Johnny is going to hear who is the soft parent, who's the hard parent and then he's going to constantly side with the soft parent and then it's going to be two against one. So you don't want to have conflict about your children in front of the children because they're going to see who they can manipulate, who is the hardball, who is the softy, and then they're going to try to divide and conquer. So try to avoid any conflict about the children in front of the children. Now having conflicts about other topics in front of the kids, that's a balance. If kids grow up and they never see you fight, they're not going to learn how to fight. However, if they watch you fight and it's destructive through name calling, criticism, contempt, and nasty behavior that's not good modeling for them and it's better for them not to see it. However, if you're learning some constructive conflict resolution skills and you're employing them in a mild to moderate conflict in front of your kids then that can actually be helpful because the kids can learn and see how you handle conflicts.
2-Defer answers to their requests
Tip number two is this if a child or teen comes up to you and asks for something, tell them your mom and I will talk about that and we'll let you know. That's really important because kids, on average, are going to learn who is the yes parent and who is the no parent and they're going to go to the yes parent to ask for things. Then the other parent is probably going to get resentful because they will probably disagree with a lot of those yeses and feel like it's too lenient and you're not sharing power because you're not going to them first and saying, "Hey, what do you think about this?" So don't play into this trap with your kids and with your teenagers. If they come up to you and ask for something, tell them me and your dad or me and your mom will talk about that and we'll let you know. That shows them they can't manipulate you if you're the yes parent. It also shows them parents work together, parents decide together, and parents are a team. You want to demonstrate that to your kids.
3-Discuss behind closed doors
Tip number three is now it's time for you and your partner to go behind closed doors and discuss how to respond to something that your child has done or requested. For example, say you have a young teenage daughter and she was caught stealing a bicycle from school. The permissive parent thinks she doesn't need a consequence because she has in school suspension for a day. The disciplinarian parent thinks she also needs to be grounded from her friends for three weeks. So what do you do? What you do is you go behind closed doors and you practice bouncing the ball. The permissive parent would share what they think, "I think the in school suspension is plenty of a consequence." And then they would bounce the ball and say, "what do you think?" And the disciplinarian parent would say, "well I think she also needs three weeks of no friends." And then they would bounce the ball back and say, "what do you think?" And the ball goes back and forth, back and forth as you're sharing your opinions. The goal is to get to a middle ground, a win, win. It's going to be a little more strict than what the permissive parent would naturally respond with and a little more lenient than what the disciplinarian parent would probably respond with. But that's the goal is you share your opinion of what you think then bounce the ball and say, "what do you think?" to your partner. You keep going back and forth with the goal to move towards some type of compromise in the middle, a win win you both feel good with. This is where the best of both of your temperaments can complement one another. If it's always the disciplinarian way, all rules without relationship, that's not healthy and if it's always the permissive way, all relationship without rules, that's also not healthy. Children need both. They need relationship and they need rules. So finding that compromise is often the ideal and optimal because it's gleaning the best from both parents.
4-Present decision to child together
Tip four is once you make a decision you both feel good with on how to respond to your child, then you present it to your child together. So let's say you decided with your daughter about stealing the bike that she is going to have her in school suspension plus she's going to lose friends for a week and a half. So you're going to sit down together with Sarah and both of you are going to explain that consequence to her and both of you are going to explain why you've decided on it. That's an important part because you want your child or your teen to see both parents sitting down together as a unified front because they can't argue with a unified front. They can't manipulate a unified front. They have nowhere to go up against a unified front. And that's what you want to present to your children. It's a great thing to do for your marriage and it's really helpful for your child or teen because they see mom and dad as a team.
Sign up for Dr. Wyatt's FREE resource on Unlocking the Keys to Emotional Intimacy Tonight. Get it here!
Leave a comment below on what else couples should do to build a unified front as parents.