No doubt, parenting is hard work but for most people, parenting is an exciting obligation, despite the stress that accompanies it. And interestingly, a popular adage says before a parent could proudly say ‘that is my child over there’, a lot of work must have gone into raising them.
Parenting is even more exciting and maybe easier when both parents are on the same page on how to train the children.
But, there are times couples disagree on how to go about it, and this manifests in many ways, ranging from how to chastise them when they are wrong, to how to use their leisure, whether they could go out to play with friends or neighbours and what to do and what not to do, among others.
Findings show that this has caused serious issues in marriages, especially as it seems to undermine the authority of the parent who gives any particular order that is overturned by the other.
Just last December, a 57-year-old man, Mr Bayo Babatunde, prayed the Customary Court in Iyana Ipaja, Lagos State, to dissolve his 25-year-old marriage on the grounds of incessant quarrels and disrespect by his wife.
Breaking it down for the court, he said his wife did not align with him on how to train their children and that he had been living like a stranger in his house. He added that she once incited one of their daughters to beat him, during which he had bruises on his body.
Giving examples, he said there was a time when his business was no longer going on well and he had to move his daughters from a private school to a public school, but that his wife and their children were not happy with the decision, and as a result, the children were not going to the public school. He said,
“My daughters came home with ‘F9 parallel’ (failed all subjects) and lied that their teachers failed all pupils in their classes. My daughters have taken General Certificate of Education examination twice but failed woefully and I have yet to see the results of my efforts on my children.
“Their mother is not helping matters at all. She encouraged them to be unruly to me. I cannot risk my life because of marriage, please separate us.”
In her response, the wife, Afusat, pleaded with the court not to dissolve the marriage, saying she still loved her husband.
“The problem started a long time ago when he enrolled the children in a public school without seeking my consent,”
Before adjourning the case to a later date, the President of the court, Prince Adewale Adegoke, blamed the wife, Afusat, for not supporting her husband to train their children.
This is one of the outcomes when couples don’t agree on the modality for training their children. Apart from the disunity and incessant confrontation it could cause between couples, sometimes in front of the children, it could make such children develop hatred or dislike for the parent that appears to be harsh on them and ultimately, the good morals or intended message from the parents could be lost on them.
But, on a cursory look, a marriage coach and author of books on interpersonal relations, Debbie Pincus, pointed out that it is not abnormal for parents to sometimes approach parenting differently because marriage itself is a union between people from different family backgrounds and beliefs.
However, there are ways to parent as a team, some of which are:
Control yourself even when you don’t agree:
A common example in this case, especially in this part of the world, is, say, when a child tells lies or is still bed-wetting. A father could see it as a minor issue that shouldn’t warrant spanking, but a mother could see it as a serious offence for which they should be taught a lesson.
But, according to Pincus, instead of disagreeing openly on this, she said when one parent has already communicated their stand or action to be taken to the child, the other must back them up, even when they do not agree. She said when they are alone, they could discuss better ways of handling the situation subsequently. She added,
“Make it a rule that if one parent disciplines the kids, the other parent must back them up, even if they do not agree. If you don’t do this, it will show your child that his parents are not a unified team and undermine your authority. Your child will see that he can get around any parenting decision you make.”
She then cautioned that this rule should not apply when the other parent is doing something that is harmful or detrimental, emotionally or physically, to the child.
Try and settle for the best option:
No doubt, there are times couples have varied positions on issues, but they are advised to give each other a chance to justify their preferred option. Pincus said,
“The parent who feels more passionately about it might make the call. Let’s say, for example, you are okay with your 12-year-old going to sleep over at a good friend’s house, but your spouse is still fearful of allowing your child to have that kind of independence.
You might say, ‘I feel so strongly about this. I’d really like you to support me on this, even if you don’t see it the same way. Or, ‘Can I ask you to go along with me on this one, even if you don’t agree?’ Or, ‘My gut is telling me to give it a try. Can you support me on this?’”
Discuss parenting decisions from the outset:
Perhaps, one of the decisions couples could make even before having babies is how best to train their children. This would include what to do when they go wrong or they tell lies or they even do things the family could find embarrassing.
For example, till date, some parents do not believe in spanking while some do. But, as a way out, parents are advised to have honest but friendly discussion about such. Pincus said that would be a good time to influence each other’s decision. She added,
“When you can be respectful of that truth and make room for another person’s thoughts that are different from your own, you’ll have a chance of keeping your mate open to your ways of thinking, too.”
Having a united stand would also help to eliminate the likelihood of some children running from one parent to another, knowing they have different stands.
Let your child know you both love them:
When parents make certain decisions or set some restrictions, there are times children see them as being wicked, but according to Pincus, parents should try and empathise with the child, without bad-mouthing their partner in the presence of the child. She said,
“If your spouse feels more strongly about something and you’ve decided to go along with their decision, you can say to your child, ‘I know it’s hard for you when your mum won’t let you go on a sleepover.’ When you show empathy, your child also feels he’s understood and not so alone.”
Understand where your partner is coming from:
To an extent, people are a product of their upbringing and this reflects in their parenting even several years after they became adults. In order not to be too critical of your partner, especially when their perspective on parenting seems weird, Pincus advised that people should get to know the partner’s family history. She said,
“It may help you to see things more objectively and less personally, and you will then be able to respond with less judgment. Try to help each other see that safety issues, environmental concerns, and cultural norms change over time; different from when they were growing up.”
Never fight in the presence of your child:
According to Pincus, parents should never allow issues degenerate to the level of argument or fisticuffs even when they disagree on how to train the child.
She said it’s better to take a walk or leave the scene, and that when they are calm, they could talk about it. She pointed out that when kids provoke arguments, they are not getting the discipline they need and they are not being held accountable.
Don’t rule out professional help:
If disagreements persist on how to train the child, parents are advised to seek professional help, ultimately for the good of the child. In her post on Empowering Parents, a website dedicated to advising parents, Pincus said,
“A good therapist will help you find ways to talk with each other rather than fight about every parenting issue that comes up. The bottom line is that we all have different ways of communicating and different belief systems, and that is fine.
No two people would come together with the exact same opinions and values 100 per cent of the time. The important thing is to find a way to come together so your kid is not pulled into the middle of your differences.”