When people come into my counseling office with marital problems, I always ask them, “When did these things start to be a problem?” The majority of people trace it back to when they started having kids.
This makes sense. When kids come along…
- You have to share your spouse’s attention with a very needy child.
- The demands of parenting, leave you with less energy for marriage.
- Money is tighter, leaving less to spend on the relationship.
- Free time becomes a thing of the past and things like dating often go by the way-side.
But there’s another reason why kids disrupt a marriage as surely as pulling the pin on a grenade. When kids come into a marriage, we become parents. And although we’re parenting the same child/children, our views on parenting often differ. These different views on parenting can create a lot of conflicts.
DIFFERING VIEWS ON PARENTING
Where do we get our views on parenting?
There are distinct differences between the genders. Some of these differences are the result of genetics and some are the result of socialization. But the differences are there and they affect our views and approaches to parenting. Men and women will always view parenting differently on some level.
Family of Origin Differences.
But most of our views on parenting come from how we were parented. You and your spouse had different parenting experiences growing up, so it makes sense that you would have different views on parenting now. Let me give you an example…
One of the biggest disagreements between my wife and me centered on how our teenage girls kept their rooms.
Walking into our girls’ rooms was like going on a safari in the jungles of Africa. There were so many clothes on the floor you needed a machete to cut a path. Bras and scarves desperately hung from mirrors as if they were afraid of falling to the floor and getting lost in the undergrowth. School books were scattered around the room as if their book bag had suffered from projectile vomiting. And there were drinking glasses and dishes that had been there so long, I had forgotten we had them.
My wife and I responded very differently to the girls’ rooms. I would look in their rooms and shake my head, much like you would when you see someone pushing on a door that says “pull.” Then I would shrug my shoulders and keep moving. But my wife would look in their rooms and respond so heatedly it would set off the smoke alarms and send the kids into a duck-and-cover mode.
Why did we react so differently? Because we were raised by different parents.
As a boy, I shared a very small and well lived-in bedroom with two other brothers. My mother sensed it was futile to expect it to stay neat all the time, so she gave us our space…asking only for an occasional cleaning.
But my wife was parented differently. Her parents believed that children showed respect by keeping everything neat and in its place. To do otherwise was considered disrespectful. So she always kept her room neat and clean.
You can see why we reacted differently to our girls’ messy rooms. We viewed room cleanliness based on how we were parented.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR APPROACHES TO PARENTING DIFFER?
I can sum up the answer to this question in one statement…
If your approaches to parenting differ…you must parent differently.
It took us a while to come to a mutual agreement on how our kids should keep their rooms. I wanted an approach in which the kids were not always complaining about living with a room nazi. My wife wanted an approach in which the kids respected her enough to keep their rooms from looking like a toxic waste dump.
To find a solution, we both had to change our approach. We both had to parent differently.
We came up with a solution that was different from what we each wanted but had enough of what we each wanted to satisfy us. Here is what we came up with…
Six days a week, the girls could keep their rooms pretty much the way they wanted, with two exceptions: they couldn’t leave food lying around, and they had to keep their door closed so their mother didn’t go into cardiac arrest each time she passed by their rooms. But one day a week, they had to clean their rooms to pass mom’s inspection…and mom’s inspection could be tough! And if their rooms didn’t pass her inspection, then they lost privileges.
You see, my wife and I had to parent differently than we wanted to accommodate each other’s parenting views. We had to find out what was important to each other when it came to parenting, and then find approaches that honored us both.
It’s easier said than done, but there’s no other way. You each will approach parenting differently, which means you must each parent differently.
On a side note: both girls survived. They grew up to have kids of their own and now have to fight their own room battles. There is some poetic justice in life!