What if my spouse and I disagree on child-rearing decisions or philosophy?
The classic conflicts that newlyweds face–where to squeeze the toothpaste, which way the toilet paper rolls–have their equally classic counterparts in parenting: What activities do we choose and how many? Can the kids play before their chores are done? Do the kids even have chores? What’s the response to someone not finishing what’s on her plate?”
Disagreement in child-rearing can be a common occurrence. After all, two well-intentioned Christian parents will have different approaches to child-rearing, child discipline, and the individual decisions we each have to make for our children.
The article does not address if your spouse is not a Christian or you are a single parent where the other parent actively undermines you. Perhaps you can still find some principles that can help.
The following are six suggestions to help you and your spouse agree—or move toward agreement—on child-rearing tactics.
1. Value each other. Dads need the perspective of moms, and moms need the perspective of dads. There usually is something valuable that each of us can hear if we pay attention to the concern of the other. Often this may be discerning the difference between the position of the other and the interest of the other. Read this post on Positions and Interests to understand this valuable difference.
2. Realize the biblical call on both men and women to parent. Scripture says that an elder (and thus each man) is to manage his own household well and see that his children obey him with all respect (1 Tim 3:4). If the children are wild and disobedient, it comes back to the dad (Titus 1:6). On the other hand, moms are God’s intended primary disciple-makers and heart-shapers. In most cases, it’s the moms who are the ones most tuned into the kids (Titus 2:3-4).
3. Fight sinful temptations. The most common sinful temptation is for a man to give up his role as leader in the family. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t know what to do or because he feels his wife is the “expert” when it comes to the children. At the same time, it’s not uncommon for a wife to take control and subtly move her husband’s leadership and influence to the side. Though he still plays with the kids, the tough parenting decisions and policy-making come from Mom. Conversely, some dads can be tempted to be overbearing while Mom is passive.
Moms, let me encourage you here: You need his input (see #1), because God sees him as the leader of the home (see #2). Dads, you are ultimately responsible before God to lead your family; stay vigilant.
4. Seek out common child-rearing teaching together. It is vital that both a husband and a wife learn together and discuss together. This will allow you to make decisions based on the same information. Learning together cannot be overrated! The sinful temptation for a passive father can begin because he has not received common teaching alongside his wife. She knows more than he does, leading him to feel inadequate.
5. Present a united front to your children. Try not to disagree in front of your children. Agree with the other parent’s decision in front of the children; then, if necessary, make time to talk about it later.
6. Discern the size of the disagreements and take appropriate action. The biblical call for a husband is to love his wife by seeking to understand her and to lead plays out differently for each couple. How are couples to handle disagreements? The following suggestions are meant to be applied in order from small issues to big ones:
a. Drop it. For small matters, maybe you should simply “let it go.” You can register your concern, but given the myriad of decisions and the amount of time we have, some decisions need to be entrusted to the other. And in terms of the day-to-day choices for the children, that usually means the mom. As involved men, we need to watch out that we are not micromanaging our wives. And moms prone to fearful control need to give in to some decisions that make them nervous.
b. Talk about the disagreement behind closed doors. I already suggested this in #4, but some immediate decisions may need to be talked about in private. You may need to decide to drop a controversial issue for the moment and then discuss it later.
c. Talk about it later. A coffee date night is a perfect chance to bring up bigger issues when there needs to be some time for each party to understand all the concerns of the other. How many disagreements become fights because we are trying to rush an important and complex discussion. Coffee dates were invaluable in our parenting years. See the post The Power of the Coffee Date. As stated above, this extra time allows you to differentiate between positions and interests.
d. Pray about it together or separately. Some big decisions you’re disagreeing about will dissolve as you pray about them and ask the Lord for his promised wisdom (James 1:5-6). When both Sharon and I would do this, there were times we came back together, and one person had changed their mind.
e. Seek informal counsel. Bounce questions off wiser, more seasoned parents and pastors. Listen for things you might not be thinking about. Humility will compel us to ask for insight we might not be seeing. Ask a friend, “What do you think I am not seeing in this?”
f. Seek formal counsel. On a few extremely important issues, there may be such a large disagreement that neither party thinks he or she can yield. In this case, it can be helpful to seek formal counsel. In 1 Corinthians 6, we are commanded to bring disputes to wise counselors for judgment. It can be helpful for a couple in a healthy church to agree to lay out their disagreement before one or two pastors and abide by their counsel.
Remember, disagreements about parenting are inevitable. Disunity does not need to be.