Parenting ground rules

My husband and I were both raised in Christian homes, which made for many similar views on parenting. We were not, however, raised in the exact same home. So there were just as many differences.

My husband grew up with one studious sister and a stressed single parent who was a university professor. Their idea of fun around the dinner table was discussing comparative wars at the time of the Incas. I was raised in a two-parent parsonage with five raucous siblings. A good time at our house involved counting how many grapes we could stuff in our mouths. The list of variables in any home is endless. When two people come together to form a family, they bring their pasts. This includes the way they were parented. The sooner my husband and I were able to respect those differences, the better off we were in coming to a common parenting style.

The ground rules that we came to after much trial and error were actually fairly few:

  • Hash out differences away from the children, and present a united front in the presence of the children.
  • When differences arise, compromise may entail trying each other’s method.
  • If an impasse occurs, always defer to Scripture when possible.
  • Use great parents as resources. Fellow church members are a wonderful reference library. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Having said this, our children definitely knew that Dad was the “good cop” and Mom was the “bad cop.” They tried to play us against each other occasionally but were usually caught at that nefarious game. Children feel most secure when parents work together. God put the structure in place, and I reminded my children of that often. My rough paraphrase was, “Dad’s the king, I’m the queen, and you’re the serfs. You don’t get a vote, but we take care of you.”

Blended families face a whole different set of difficulties when it comes to parenting styles. There are now multiple people with a voice in the matter. The general principles still apply, however. Respect for the other persons involved while putting God’s will above all may not make everybody happy but is the best way to go.

We aren’t born knowing how to parent. If we were blessed to have fine Christian parents, we are truly blessed. We can certainly take away some great lessons. But think about it. We’re required to have a license to drive. Yet we’re allowed to have children without a permit or a written test. It just figures that when you try to get two sinful human beings together on the same page, there are bound to be disagreements about the rules of the road. The best roadmap is always Scripture.

A marriage meeting?

I just love meetings! No. Not really. I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the fellowship that we share at our church council and committee meetings. I just don’t think any guy ever said, “I really want to become a pastor so I can go to lots of meetings.”

So why in the world would I choose to have another meeting that I willingly put on my calendar? Because I recognize how important meetings are. They are a chance to communicate the challenges and blessings that we face, a way to proactively address issues before they become problems. And meetings—whether you love them or hate them—are necessary, important, and useful.

So, in addition to all the church and school meetings I attend, my wife and I schedule a “marriage meeting” each month. (I know. I can hear you calling us nerds, but hear me out.)

Each month we get together over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine not for a date but to proactively discuss any issues in our marriage by running through an actual agenda. (Okay, so we are nerds. Fine. I admit it.) But the blessings of this meeting have been huge, not just for my wife and me, but for the kids too. In addition to discussing our worship life, finances, romance and intimacy, workloads, and physical health, each month we talk about the kids too.

We do this because we need to show a united front. Even our two-year-old has learned to go ask dad for whatever it is mom just said “no” to. So to stay on the same team, we talk about them behind their backs.

When discussing the kids, we ask these questions:

  • Spiritual care—Are we encouraging what matters most? How could we do better?
  • Family devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?
  • Church services—How frequently are we attending? How could we get more out of it?
  • Education—How are they doing in school? How are we teaching good manners? Finances? Honesty, courage, a good work ethic, etc.? What could we do to improve?
  • Health—Are they getting enough to eat? Enough sleep? Enough exercise?
  • Discipline—Are we on the same page? Are we being consistent to show a united front?

When we discuss these questions on a regular basis, we often prevent problems before they happen. Others we catch before they get out of hand by discussing how we’re going to deal with an issue together.

It’s said the best thing you can do for your children is have a strong, healthy marriage. That’s what we strive to do as we put God first, then each other, then the boys. And that’s really what our monthly marriage meeting is all about.

But we desperately need God’s help! For too easily we become a house divided, looking to serve not just our Savior, but our own self-interests, our own pride, our own misguided sense of self-worth. Thank God for his forgiveness through Jesus that unites us to him. Then, united to him, we ask for his help to stay united to each other as husband and wife, as mom and dad, and as a family.


Marriage meeting agenda

Begin with devotion and prayer.

Worship life

  • Personal devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?
  • Family devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?
  • Church services—How frequently are we attending? How could we get more out of it?

Finances

  • Offerings—How are we expressing our thanks to God with our finances?
  • Budget—Are we on track with what we said we’d spend in each category? If not, why not? Does our budget need revisions? What can we do to improve?
  • Short-term savings—Are we saving enough for an emergency fund? For auto repairs? For big purchases? For medical expenses (dental/optical)?
  • Long-term savings—Are we saving enough for vacation? For auto replacements?
  • Really long-term savings—Are we saving enough for retirement? For kids’ college education?
  • Spending—How have we each individually been contributing to our financial problems or solutions?

Intimacy

  • Frequency—Are we having sex often enough? Building romance? What could we do to improve?
  • Quality—What barriers stand in the way of having a better sex life? What could we do to improve?
  • Initiation—Are we both initiating or is it one-sided? What could we do to improve?

Kids

  • Spiritual Care—Are we encouraging what matters most? How could we do better?
  • Education—How are they doing in school? How are we teaching good manners? Finances? Honesty, courage, a good work ethic, etc.? What could we do to improve?
  • Health—Are they getting enough to eat? Enough sleep? Enough exercise?
  • Discipline—Are we on the same page? Are we being consistent to show a united front?

Workload

  • Church work—How are we expressing our thanks to God with our time and talents?
  • Housework—Is it fair and balanced? What is a good division of duties?
  • Free time—Are you getting enough down time to recharge?
  • Watching the kids—Are both getting enough time with the kids? Anyone need more of a break?

Health

  • Exercise—How can we encourage each other to stay physically fit with good sleep and exercise?
  • Diet—Are we eating healthy foods or junk? How could we eat better?

 Love actions

  • What one thing can I do for you this month to better show my love for you?

End in prayer.

Different parenting styles, same Savior

When Forward in Christ asked if the topic of conflicting parenting styles is something that resonates with me, I have to admit that I actually laughed out loud. Oh, yes, it sure resonates—a little too much. Even after three kids and almost 21 years of parenting, I’m afraid my husband, Thad, and I are still working on this in our home.

I’m convinced that how we parent has a whole lot to do with what my counselor friend, Sheryl, calls your “family of origin.” Were any of us raised the same way, by the same kinds of parents? Unlikely. For example, Thad and I came from very different homes. In his home, you only talked if there was something that needed to be said. In my home, we were stream-of-consciousness talkers who lacked filters. In his home, you didn’t open up more than one bag of chips at a time. In my home, the cupboard contained a whole bonanza of accessible snacks.

So it’s not surprising how our unique upbringings can influence our parenting styles. And when you combine two very different parenting styles into one marriage, there is bound to be conflict. Thad tends to be the no-nonsense disciplinarian; I tend to be the softie who can lack follow-through. Over the years we’ve learned some very tough lessons about melding our parenting approaches, especially when it comes to the inevitable matter of disciplining our kids. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned—usually the hard way:

  • It is important to agree to age-appropriate consequences ahead of time, as a couple, then stick to them. Putting consequences in place then not following through only causes confusion for our kids and sends the message that we don’t really mean what we say.
  • It’s critical to be a unified parental team in front of our kids. We work to not undermine each other, and to back each other up. If I’m not respectful to Thad, why would our boys show him respect? One of the most empowering things Thad does is say to our boys, “You need to listen to your mother.”
  • We strive to apply a healthy dose of God’s law, when needed, followed up with the soothing balm of the gospel. We are still learning in our parenting journey about discerning the appropriate use and timing of each, depending on the situation.

Even though Thad and I were raised in very different homes, there was one thing our homes had in common. We were both blessed with godly parents who loved each other, shared God’s Word with us, and modeled the importance of faithful church attendance and selfless service to others as a reflection of God’s love.

So despite the differences in how we were raised, the solid foundation of God’s Word was the base upon which our homes were built. And despite any differences Thad and I have in our parenting styles, how comforting it is to know that with Christ at the heart of our home, we will be blessed—and forgiven.