By Dr. John Townsend
Are you and your spouse united or divided in your parenting? Consider the following dialogue:
Dad: "You're letting our daughter do anything she wants."
Mom: "You're too strict with her."
Dad: "She needs more discipline and structure."
Mom: "She needs more love and encouragement."
Dad: "She's becoming irresponsible and out of control."
Mom: "She's becoming insecure and afraid."
And you thought kids and teenagers had conflicts! This conversation illustrates a primary problem that results when parents can't agree on how to parent. Rather than doing what they need to do for their kids—put her together—divided parents pull their kids apart.
Of course, no parents agree on everything. But in the best situations, they agree on the most important things and disagree only on styles, preferences, and smaller matters. This is what God intended, but often parents get in the way of God's design. When parents are far apart in their values and perceptions of their children, the kids lose out. They have no one to contain and integrate their internal divisions. Their unifying environment is split up, so their inner conflicts remain stuck, and can get worse.
If one parent is loving but has poor boundaries, and the other has good boundaries but is not very loving, their kids will likely be undeveloped in her ability to love and to set limits. They will have difficulty being open and vulnerable, taking responsibility, and staying attached in conflict. They will struggle to work through problems. Clearly, the stakes of split parenting are high.
If you and your spouse have significant disagreements about your kids, you can begin to resolve your conflicts—and go a long way toward maturing your child—by doing the following:
1. Agree that your teen comes first.
Talk about your conflicting viewpoints, and agree to work on your differences by doing what's in the best interest of your teen. Protect your teen, and find a way to agree on love and limits.
2. Defer to each other's strengths.
Most parents each have an area of strength. Agree that, for your teen's sake, you will defer to the strengths of the other. For example, if you have difficulty providing clear structure for your teen, you might ask your spouse for help and guidance. Or, if you can't listen and understand at the emotional levels your child needs, get your spouse involved in the conversation.
3. Don't triangulate your teen.
Sometimes parents will forget their role and involve their teen in their conflicts with each other. This is called triangulation, and leads to all kinds of problems, such as one parent indulging the teen with privileges, freedom, and gifts as a way of stealing the kid's love from the other parent. The other parent reacts by using too much strictness and discipline in order to prove the spouse's indulgent approach wrong. If you and your spouse are triangulating, stop. Agree to work out your differences. Consult a third party—such as a friend, pastor, or counselor—if the triangulation continues.
God designed parenting to be executed by a mom and a dad who love each other, support each other's parenting, make up for each other's limitations, and correct each other's mistakes. It is a very good system when it works as planned. So work together to become united rather than divided parents. After all, you are your teen's most important guide for how life is supposed to be lived. Kids do best when their parents stand together. Give your teen what he or she needs.