Parenting “on the same page” with your spouse can dramatically improve feeling more effective and empowered in your parenting. Unfortunately, many parents get stuck among communication obstacles and are not on the same page with one another. Here are some tools to help you out.
- Take time to make agreements together on family rules. If you are noticing frequent struggles at dinnertime, bedtime, out-the-door time, etc., take time together to create some expectations/boundaries, so you are in agreement. Then share those boundaries with your child. For more details on how to do this, see my blog on Setting Boundaries with Young Children.
- Always back each other up in front of your children. If your partner does something you don’t agree with, try not to talk about it in front of the kids. This just puts the children in an uncomfortable position of A) Seeing you fight, and B) possibly feeling they are caught in the middle between you and your spouse/partner. Sometimes this causes children to act up more, because they know they can get one parent on their side.
- Engage in Problem-Solving Conversations as often as possible. When the above situation comes up (#2), don’t just steam or be passive aggressive (shutting down or punishing your spouse, or “getting even”). Use your words (just like we encourage our children to do), and work to problem-solve in a collaborative way.
The steps I find most valuable are:
A) Approach your partner with an attitude of curiosity. As taught to me by John Summers-Flannagan, “Get Curious, Not Furious”.
Say something like, “Can you help me understand why you let the kids watch a TV show before bed? That’s not what we usually do.” (remember, the attitude behind your words is even more important than the words).
B) Listen to your partner with the goal to be able to summarize back to them what you hear as the foundation of their intent. Assume that your wonderful spouse/partner had a good intention, and your goal is to be a detective to find the root of that intent. ie. “So, you were wanting to just give them a treat since it was Friday, and you were really extra tired, so you were just trying to find a way to get through the evening routine easier. Is that right?” Asking the last question is so valuable, because it gives your partner a chance to clarify or correct if you didn’t hear them quite right. Work to not get caught up in details that don’t matter. Focus on the main intent and core of the situation.
C) Share your thoughts and concerns. and ask your partner to summarize the core of your side of the situation. It may be that you are concerned your kids will start expecting TV every night, and you don’t want to be the “bad guy” tonight when it comes to bedtime.
*The key here is you are both seeking to try to see the situation through your partner’s eyes, as best as possible. John Gottman gives some great tips in his article, “How to Listen Without Getting Defensive“.
D) Find a solution you both agree on. One of you can bring the conversation to this step by saying, “So, what can we both agree on, to make this better?”
This picture of my husband and I was taken on New Year’s Eve, and even though we look festive, we had just finished a collaborative conversation. Sometimes we have our collaborative problem-solving conversations at the end of the night, when we are going to bed. Sometimes we have them during date nights or date breakfasts (boy do I do better at problem-solving in the morning). So, find whatever works for you, and let me know how it’s impacts your parenting.:)