As any couple may surmise, the stress of parenting can put a relationship through the ringer. It is one of the three most-argued topics in couples therapy, the others being finances and sex. Certainly it has an enormous impact on the other two, as the role of changing a two-person dyad of a marriage into a family unit by adding at least one changes the roles involved for everyone, forever. This is the case even if the relationship ends; parenthood endures.
Perhaps traditional marriage vows would be more applicable to the birthing process than to weddings; after all, more than 50% of relationships end in divorce, while parenthood never does. Wouldn’t it be far more applicable to state: “I, (your name), take you, (child’s name), to be my child, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.” Sadly, not all parents feel this way, though having two active parents in a household can be one of the most concrete determinations in the formation of childhood well-being.
How do parents manage this increasingly difficult terrain? Most systemic therapists, regardless of their specific theoretical background, agree that a home where two parents who can agree and support one another as a unit tend to find more success than a couple who sides with a child over a partner. This is far easier said than done. To support a partner even when he or she is parenting in ways you do not agree with is no easy task. Unless there is an issue with abuse (physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual), it’s important to find a common parenting platform.
Here are some tips to get on the same page with your partner:
- Become coaches: In the team that is your family, nothing ensures dysfunction more than leaders who don’t see eye to eye. If a head coach and an assistant coach tell a team opposing directives, it will translate to failure on the field/court/ice. Approach the family in the same way. Communicate with each other about what your goals are. What do you want the kids to learn most? What values are key to you? Are your partner’s goals that different from your own? If they are, is compromise available, or do you need to pick a perspective in a unified way? Having this conversation may be difficult for some couples. Many couples seek premarital counseling or pastoral counseling to address these topics. If having the conversation proves too difficult, seeking a therapist to help navigate these waters may help. It’s never too late.
- Come up with a game plan: Just because you and your partner talk about the same ideals does not mean they get communicated the same way. For example, let’s say both parties want to ensure their children are respectful. Respect is a pretty common and universal virtue. How does that message get carried out if the child behaves disrespectfully? Some parents choose to enforce their ideas through discipline—correct behavior that differs from what’s desired. Others want to explain the behavior that’s desired without addressing current behavior. Typically, a mixture of both is most effective, provided that the couple stays consistent and remains unified. This area typically becomes problematic when a couple may agree on values, but not on ways to implement them. One parent who thinks spanking is appropriate while another who does not can create a tremendous amount of discord in the relationship, not to mention confusion among the children when the circumstance triggers an argument over appropriate discipline.
- Stay connected: Even the most effectively communicating couples can struggle with parenting over time. Children may respond in a multitude of ways even with solid parenting, and the stressors involved in parenting can take a toll on anyone. Finding relief and getting support from a spouse can prove invaluable. A stay-at-home parent can feel burnt out after a full day of child care while his or her partner works, and may need a respite when the partner gets home. Similarly, the working spouse may need a break from a full work day before jumping straight into child care. An ongoing dialogue about daily needs and mental states helps to provide support when it’s needed for each partner.
While there is no manual on parenting (some books may claim to be, but you’ll have to trust me on this one—I’ve checked), these three key points do make the parenting process a bit easier, dare I even say more tolerable. They may even make parenting more enjoyable.
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