When parents came to me as a clinical psychologist, they frequently asked this question. The knee-jerk answer is, “Of course!” However, let’s think about this. Is your spouse a clone of you? Does he have your childhood experiences? Your needs? Your feelings? Your expectations of your children? Of course not. Presenting a united front to our children is a societal myth that many people buy into, but that has no basis in reality. When the united front does happen, one of you is giving into the other and, guess what? Your kids know exactly what’s going on.
Because each of us has unique life experiences, we each bring different gifts to the parenting table. When we are honest about that, both with ourselves and with our children, that’s a good thing. Learning to adapt, and that people are different, are teachable moments.
Okay, then, who’s in charge? Who gets the final say in parenting? The unsatisfactory answer is, “it depends.” Since we have been given the blessing of birth jointly, leadership in the family is a joint appointment. As parents, we must negotiate who’s in charge continually, based on availability, circumstances, and the unique challenges of the moment.
Paul told the church at Ephesus, “Husbands and wives, submit to one another.” This verse precedes the more famous ones, “Wives, submit to your husbands,” and, “Husbands, treat your wives just as Christ treats the church.” So, our togetherness as parents precedes our individual leadership in the family.
Jeff asks his mom if he can sleep over at Billy’s house this coming Friday night. Mom sees no problem with this, but she knows that Dad and Jeff are planning to go to an early Father/Son breakfast Saturday morning. She could say yes to Jeff and talk to her husband later about it. Or, she could say no because of the conflicting schedules. Better yet, she could put the decision on hold and confer with Dad before getting back with Jeff. Best of all, since Jeff’s plans don’t impact Mom directly, she could defer to his Dad, who could then negotiate with Jeff himself.
A united front in this situation would likely leave someone feeling less than. We each bring different things to the table. The catch phrase, “When in doubt, check it out” applies here. If a decision impacts more than one person, take time to confer among all parties, understand needs and feelings, active listen, and make plans accordingly.