Kids are particularly good at finding the weakest link in a parenting partnership. Some kids even use that weak link to their advantage. For example, if Mommy is the softy, Johnny may seek her out after being disciplined by Daddy. Mommy, being the warm and compassionate woman she is, is all too ready to provide Johnny with the cuddles and sympathy he seeks. This cycle, sometimes done in secret or with a secret language of looks and facial expressions, serves to help little Johnny learn how to “divide and conquer.” We do our children a great disservice if we play along with this little game.
I have said before that parenting is a team sport. It is. Kids are the star players and moms and dads are the coaches. In fact, the parents are actually ONE coach in two bodies. Presenting yourselves as a united front with a united goal (of helping the whole family succeed) will help discourage any divisive acts. Here are some tips.
1.Tell your kids that Mom and Dad are one. You can read the following passage from Genesis for Biblical support: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
2. Defer to Dad. If your child is given conflicting simultaneous instructions (maybe dad said “brush your teeth,” but mom said “make your bed”), make sure your kids know ahead of time that Dad’s instruction will trump Mom’s. This way there is never any confusion. However, if Mom’s instruction was really what should be followed, discuss it in private (see tip #4 below) and then present your instruction.
3. Adopt a mantra. Make, “Mommy and Daddy need to talk about it” a standard comeback for any out-of-the-ordinary requests. Then stand together when you deliver your decision.
4. Disagree about child-related things in private. We may be one with our spouse in theory, but in this fallen world, it isn’t always realized fully. The reality is that we are going to disagree. It is not our job to insulate our children from any and all disagreements. They need to see that two people can love each other, not see eye-to-eye, have a serious discussion and come to a peaceful resolution. What a wonderful model of peacemaking! However, if you and your spouse are in disagreement about child rearing issues, have those conversations in private.
5. Relish inside jokes. My husband and I have the same taste in movies and T.V. As a result, we have many years’ worth of phrases and silly things from these shows that we say to each other when a memory is triggered. Often our children will ask, “What’s so funny?” We simply say, “It’s something funny between Mommy and Daddy.” Our kids don’t have to know everything. Knowing that Mom and Dad had and have a life outside of their realm of influence is a good thing.
6. Show affection in front of the kids. A lingering hug or kiss, cuddling on the couch with quiet whispers, and walking arm-in-arm are all appropriate ways that you can show affection to each other and demonstrate unity. These types of touches are qualitatively different from the types of affection that you give your children and demonstrate a different type of bond. Your children need to know and see that you are one.
7. Use your marriage to illustrate the Trinity. Once you have been living like this for a while, you can use your united marriage as a way to illustrate the complex concept of the Trinity. Marriage is a “profound mystery” (Eph 5:32) but provides a wonderful living example of the separate-but-one-ness of the Holy Trinity.
A strong marital relationship is one of the best gifts you can give to your children. It sets the foundation for a solid family. Don’t neglect your relationship. Elevate it back to its rightful place so you can firmly declare to your children: “United we stand.”