Have you ever thought that marriage was SO much easier before you had kids? Do you and your spouse have arguments that stem from stress, miscommunication or different approaches when it comes to parenting? YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
My wife Ashley receives messages every day on our blogs and Facebook pages from stressed parents who feel like their differences in parenting styles are negatively impacting the marriage. Ashley and I can relate to this one from personal experience. In fact, this has been the primary source of stress and disagreement in our own marriage.
Ashley and I are alike in so many ways, but we surprised each other by how different we can be in our parenting approach to our four sons. These differences turned into some tense frustrations and finally reached a breaking point where we realized we needed to take action. We’ve still got a LOT to learn when it comes to this (so please send us all your suggestions), but below are five things we’ve done that have made a huge difference in our marriage and brought more peace to our home.
If you’ll do these five things, it will help your kids AND protect your marriage! In no particular order…
1. Find a mentor couple who is older than you and has a strong marriage and healthy relationships with their kids.
This was the first thing Ashley and I did when we realized we needed to take action in this area. All of our friends were in the same season of life as us and dealing with the same struggles. We realized that we need to intentionally seek out a more seasoned couple who had grown kids and the kind of family dynamic we hoped to have one day. We also needed someone we weren’t related to (even though we love our own parents and have learned so much from them).
We talked about a which couple seemed like the right fit and we landed on our friends Todd and Stacy. We just called them (or maybe we just send a long and awkward text message) inviting them over for dinner and telling them in advance that we wanted to interview them about what worked in their own parenting and ask their advice on some struggles we were facing. They listed and gave us some AMAZING insights and encouragement. We’re so thankful for their investment into our lives. Their mentoring made a huge difference. Find a “Todd and Stacy” in your life. You don’t have to figure all this out on your own! Find someone who has been there. It will make a BIG difference.
#2 was one of the BEST pieces of parenting advice we’d ever heard…
2. Don’t use anger to get action from your kids. Use ACTION to get action from your kids.
We stole this nugget of parenting wisdom from Dr. James Dobson who has written many great books on parenting. We were in a bad habit of getting angry with our kids and then responding with anger in return. This just created more anger and very little action. We realized (and I’m continuing to slowly learn this lesson) that we can’t just respond with anger. We need to control our emotions and simply respond with action. Let kids know ahead of time what the consequences will be for certain behaviors and then calmly carry out those consequences when the behavior takes place. It defines the boundaries and brings clarity instead of confusion. That consistency and predictability takes the emotion and guesswork out of the discipline process and it will bring more peace to your home.
#3 reveals our great source of parenting wisdom.
3. Follow unchanging parenting principles instead of your own fickle feelings.
There are going to be moments in parenthood where there’s not a clear roadmap for what to do next, but for the most part, the path is clearly defined. For Ashley and me, we agreed early on that the Bible was going to be our roadmap for life, for marriage and for parenting. The Bible (which actually has all kinds of great parenting insights) says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) In other words, don’t just leave your kids on autopilot. Be intentional about defining the right path and helping them stay on the right path.
#4 changed the way we talked to our kids…
4. Be your kids’ biggest encourager; not their biggest critic.
Be the one who wipes away their tears; not the one who causes them. Teach them to be confident, but not cocky. Help them realize they are a unique masterpiece, created by God for a world-changing destiny! Believe in them even when they struggle to believe in themselves. The tone of your words will create the tone of your home. We want to build them up and not tear them down. Yes, there are certainly times we need to correct and plenty of times I’ve blown it and yelled or criticized, but then I always try to be quick to apologize. We want our kids to know they’re loved and that we’re honored to be their parents. We want to cultivate the kind of relationship that makes our kids want to come hang out with us long after they’ve grown up and moved out!
#5 reveals our single most important “rule” for parenting and protecting our marriage…
5. We’ll always have unity in front of the kids and we’ll do our disagreeing and/or working through differences of opinion in private.
Don’t let the kids work one parent against the other. Be united. In addition to having each other’s back, let the kids know that you and your spouse are a team. Let them see you prioritizing your marriage. Don’t put your marriage on hold while you’re raising your kids or else you’ll end up with an “empty nest” and an empty marriage! One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to have the kind of marriage that actually makes them want to get married someday.