When Parents Don’t Agree

Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts Sheridan House Family Ministries

Is it okay for a husband and wife to disagree on the way they parent their child? This is a question that we get asked often! 

Parental conflicts

It is not only okay, it is natural! The top three areas of conflict in a marriage are money, sex and parenting. These are also the top three areas of interest in the marriage. We all arrive at the wedding ceremony operating from different backgrounds, raised by different parenting styles and with different temperaments. It stands to reason that our differences are going to be most impassioned and challenging when it comes to dealing with our greatest areas of interest — our children.


Differences are an asset

The differences in opinion are not the problem. In fact, the differences are actually an asset. The problem arises from the fact that we are often ill-equipped to work through these conflicts. Parenting is the most important mission we will ever do. There is great value in hearing a different view on parenting before making life-changing decisions about a child’s training or discipline. 

The answer for dealing with these apparent conflicts comes from the foundational definition of marriage given to us by Moses. Genesis 2:24 tells us that the man and woman are to leave their parents, unite in marriage and “become one flesh.” The “become one flesh” is important for this discussion. It involves two very different people coming together and doing what it takes to learn to function as one person. Functioning as one person is not an automatic byproduct of the wedding ceremony. Becoming one flesh is a process that takes work.


Discipline and relationship

parentOne parent is usually more inclined toward being a disciplinarian while the other parent is more comfortable being a friend to the child. Discipline and relationship are opposites, yet both are necessary components for good parenting. Each parent needs to give a healthy dose of each end of this spectrum. This means that each parent should learn from the gifts of the other parent. Discipline is not something to be divided up such as the “good cop/bad cop” scenario. Children need a healthy approach to discipline and a healthy relationship from each parent.

Parents who do not talk to each other about this, tend to go around compensating for the other parent’s approach. The disciplinarian parent might be the one to say, “You’ll be going nowhere this weekend!” The relationship parent might then find herself saying to the child, “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to your father…he’ll change his mind.”

This only serves to confuse the child. It also makes the child feel as if the marriage relationship is not as solid as it should be. The child that lives under this parenting style is encouraged to attempt to divide his parents in order to get what he wants. As the disciplinarian parent senses the continued leniency and lack of support on the part of the other spouse, the structured parent feels forced to become even more rigid in order to compensate. Everybody loses when this happens.

The lenient parent makes it impossible for the disciplinarian to have fun…to let their hair down. That parent is left feeling like the ogre parent. Always having to reel the family back in and say “No!”


Function as one person

Marriage is not about getting your way, it is about forming the best way. Marriage is two different people with differing approaches, coming together to draw from the best of each. Children need both approaches. Children need structure, but they also need relationship. What they do not need is parents battling in front of them.

A goal of parenting is to strive to function as one person. That takes a lot of talking. It takes even more listening. This takes ongoing marital staff meetings. A marital staff meeting is a time spent talking about the way to deal with a parenting problem. It is a time when each parent expresses his or her opinion. The meeting is not over until both parents agree on a common plan.

This is not a time where one parent dominates the other. Nor can one parent abdicate his or her responsibility, letting the other parent do all the talking and planning. This is a think and discussion time. The benefactor of these staff meetings is not only the child; it is also the marriage.

The purpose of discipline and structure is so that the parents can have a better relationship with the child. One parent is usually better at thinking through discipline. However, that parent is not always good at the relationship part…the fun part of being family. The plan set forth in Genesis is not only obvious, it is ingenious. Two people working together as one so that their gifts balance each other out. This is done for the sake of the child. The goal here is to learn the process of functioning as one person.

Is it a problem when parents do not agree? No, it is a reality. In fact, it is an asset to the parenting process.


Visit parentingonpurpose.org for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts.

For more articles by Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-bob-barnes-and-torrey-roberts/

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