Back and forth, up and down. Parenting can be like a roller coaster if you and your spouse are not on the same page.
Consistency in parenting is crucial for keeping peace in the home, according to Licensed Mental Health Practitioner Rebecca Dacus.
“If one parent is (consistent), and you aren’t, you’re setting yourself up for behavioral problems of some kind,” she said.
Families that seem to be able to stay on the same page tend to eat meals together and do things together that promote communication, said Dacus, who employs Systematic Training for Effective Parenting to help parents she works with in her practice.
Dr. Nick Stevens warns that if parents aren’t on the same page, a sense of unity, integrity and security can be lacking. So why is it so hard to find unity in parenting? Stevens said it has to do with how we were raised and the roles of our own parents. Also, parenting isn’t something that comes naturally.
“You have to constantly pursue it,” he said.
Some areas to consider when coming together include nutrition, structure, discipline, emotional health, physical health and activities. Parents need to find a middle ground, a balance, Stevens said.
Certified Mental Health Practitioner Anne Tapley of Williamsburg Behavioral Psychology gives three areas parents need to be together — expectations, consequences and rewards. She recommends a few steps to find unity.
First, parents should discuss their own upbringing, what they liked and didn’t like, and what they see other people do. “It can give couples a vision of what they want their parenting to be like,” she said.
Next, they should list behaviors from least to worst and potential consequences/rewards for the children.
“They need to figure out what are the definite no’s of things happening in their home versus things that aren’t as serious,” Tapley said.
Some examples might be what will happen if the child wets the bed or is caught eating in the living room.
Parents need to take turns dishing out rewards and consequences so that one parent is not always the “enforcer” and the other the good cop, Tapley said.
“You want to make sure that both of you are doing that — giving out rewards and consequences,” she said.
When disagreements about parenting arise, don’t hash it out in front of the children, and don’t triangulate or take sides, Tapley said. Instead, discuss the issue later out of earshot of the child and how it could be handled differently next time. If parents are unsure of what a consequence should be, it’s OK to tell the child that they will find out tomorrow (after parents have had a chance to talk it over), Tapley said.
Sometimes it’s beneficial to model negotiating a disagreement in front of the kids by using phrases such as “I hear what you are saying” or “I see why you are feeling this way, but I see it differently.”
“That way the kid gets to see how a disagreement is resolved in a respectful way,” Tapley said.
Spousal support in child-rearing is critical for the parents’ emotional stability, Stevens added.
“Research shows that whenever sides are being taken, the family is no longer a team,” Stevens said. “If you have a united front, there is safety, stability and predictability.”
To stay united, he recommends a weekly couple’s meeting where parents discuss what’s going well and what’s not and vent. It does not have to be a problem-solving session but an opportunity to be honest and open with each other and to support each other, Stevens said.
Tapley said it’s crucial that parents work out differences in parenting approaches earlier than later, because once they get entrenched in certain patterns, it’s harder to make a change. She adds that if disagreements run deep, they can backfire.
According to research studies, there is a relationship between acting out behavior and parental disagreement, Tapley said. “Avoiding harmful kinds of disagreement and presenting a unified front leads to the best outcome for children.”
In the case of divorce, getting or staying on the same page can be even more of a challenge. Tapley encourages divorced parents to adopt similar routines and discipline styles and follow nine co-parenting rules.
As children age, new areas to get on the same page will arise, such as curfews, driving privileges and dating. Parents can revisit and update their list of expectations, consequences and rewards for a smoother transition. Good questions to ask include, “What did your mother say?” and “What did your father say?”