The two most common topics of arguments between spouses are supposedly finances and parenting. It doesn’t have to be that way. Parents, especially Christian parents, need to have a strong game plan in parenting. If not, it is going to be difficult to help your kids build strong spiritual foundations and grow to their godly potential. Without a plan, arguments will become the norm as you “negotiate” through parenting choices in the moment. Life is stressful enough without having constant arguments over parenting decisions.
My husband and I had very few parenting disagreements as we were raising our daughter. We argued about other things, but for the most part we avoided parenting arguments. Here are some things we learned along the way that can help you and your spouse avoid arguing over parenting.
Get on the same page ASAP. It’s best to do this before your kids are born, but it’s never too late. The thing to remember is that no matter how similar your backgrounds, you and your spouse were parented in different ways. Some of those differences are minor and some are major. While you may want to change some things your parents did, you will most likely parent your kids how your parents parented you. This becomes problematic when those differences between your two families conflict. The best solution is to pick a parenting book or course and both read it or take it. Agree you will follow that plan unless you both disagree with some aspect of it. Then you have a plan you have both agreed to follow unless you both agree some aspect of it isn’t working.
Plan ahead. Sit down with your spouse before your kids reach the next stage of development and discuss how you want to handle common issues. The thing about parenting is your kids are constantly changing. This means your parenting needs to change with your kids. Many milestones, like driving, occur at certain ages. It’s easier to parent through these changes, if you decide a couple of months or even years before a milestone how you want to handle it.
Don’t get stuck in your “good cop” or “bad cop” roles. So many couples allow one parent to just be the “fun” parent and force the other to handle all of the correction and discipline. All sorts of plausible justifications are given for the dynamic, but at the end of the day allowing one parent to always just have fun with the kids and forcing the other to do all of the correction and discipline just isn’t fair. If you have anger issues, get professional help. Otherwise, share the responsibility and the fun equally.
Stop with the excuses and whining and change the dirty diapers! Once again, this unfair dynamic is all too common. Often it is excused because the mom is nursing or one is a stay at home parent. The other parent has all sorts of reasons why he or she has only changed 20 out of 10,000 dirty diapers or the other parent is always the one cleaning up the vomit or any of the other less pleasant aspects of parenting. Not doing your fair share of the unpleasant or boring parts of parenting will eventually cause your spouse to become irritated. And then angry. And possibly even resentful. Which is a breeding ground for all sorts of arguments. Some of these arguments may seem unrelated to parenting, but have their roots in a frustrated spouse. Your kids belong to both of you and it’s not fair to ask one parent to handle all of the hard parts of parenting, while the other only parents when there is something fun involved.
Find a mediator. If there is some area of parenting that causes constant arguments and seems to never resolve itself, consider getting a mediator. It doesn’t have to be a professional Christian counselor, although in some cases that may be necessary. Often an older Christian couple who has raised children who are active, productive Christians as adults can give you the godly parenting advice you need. (It is crucial you find a couple who has raised children who are strong Christians, as they have a positive parenting outcome.)
This tips won’t prevent every argument between you and your spouse, but they can help drastically reduce them. Life is stressful enough. Do the work to minimize the amount of arguing in your home.
Churches usually go one of two ways when discussing divorce….they either say it’s wrong in most cases or they accept it as normal in today’s world. The reality is that divorce was something God has allowed with certain provisions, but it was not something He ever wanted for us (Matthew 19:8). Whenever we stray from God’s original plan and His wisdom, there are usually real earthly consequences. The church has avoided discussing many of these for fear of hurting someone’s feelings….or perhaps because they don’t feel understanding the possible consequences is even necessary.
Yet to move people towards strengthening marriages, reconsidering divorce or in some cases understanding the divorce is both scriptural and has better outcomes than the marriage, we need to better understand what really happens to kids when their parents divorce.
Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt uses research and the personal stories of the author and others to enlighten readers about the actual impact of divorce on the children. While she obviously has her opinions, the author does a great job of using research to support the ideas she has formed based on her own experience and observations. Her most compelling belief is that adults filter their opinions of divorce through the adult perspective and have done little to examine the short and long term impact on kids. She is also quick to point out that being able to get an education, hold a job and have romantic relationships as an adult aren’t the only ways to measure the impact of divorce on children.
Marquardt is from a Christian background, but actually deals with faith rather generically in the book. She looks at how a divorce impacts kids faith and beliefs and how a church’s response to a parent’s divorce also impacts children. Interestingly, throughout the book, she categorizes children as growing up in homes with “bad” (contentious) divorces, “good” (low conflict) divorces, high conflict marriages and low conflict marriages. As one can imagine, even within divorce and marriage there are nuances that can make the impact children for better or worse.
If you are considering divorce, I highly suggest reading this book. It’s important to understand how it will really impact your kids. If you are divorced – whether it was something you wanted or were heartbroken over – you should read the book to understand what is happening to your kids and to find ways to minimize and/or address the issues. If your marriage is fine, it’s still a great book to read to motivate yourself to keep working to make your marriage better.
Ready for Valentine’s Day? We are big celebrators in our family. Any excuse for adding a bit of fun, joy and love to our days and we are there! Valentine’s Day may have been founded to celebrate romantic love, but why not use it to teach your kids about agape love and have some family fun.
Agape love is the type of love God has for us and we are to have for those around us. It’s a higher love not based on attraction, romance or even friendship. It’s loving others just because they are human beings whom God created and loves.
There are a lot of fun things your family can do to spread some Agape love on Valentine’s Day. You should still have time to accomplish one or more of these before the holiday is over. (Because Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year, restaurants are “celebrating” on Saturday and Sunday, too. Let’s do the same!)
Shower widows, widowers and single people with love. There’s nothing like Valentine’s Day to remind you that you are single. No matter how happy someone single may be normally, everyone celebrating love can leave one feeling lonely and alone – even unloveable. Have your kids make cards, cookies or little baggies of those heart chocolates. Allow a few minutes to stay and visit. If necessary prepare your kids ahead of time about some things they can say to help the conversation.
Love on friends and “frenemies”. Every child has someone at school or in their activities who is less than kind to them. They may have even been treated by another child as an “enemy”. What a better way to teach your kids about loving their enemies than helping them prepare a Valentine surprise for their friends, but especially for those “not so nice kids”. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Having some discussions on the subject though can help your kids feel more loving as they give a card or treat to someone they may normally avoid.
See the “invisible” people. People with special needs, people who are socially awkward or “unattractive”, people who are poor…our world has lots of people that are unseen by others, because they don’t fit the mold of someone who makes a good friend or even acquaintance. Consider having some of the “invisible” people your family knows over for a meal or dessert. Or give them a Valentine’s treat and have a real conversation with them. Find out the things they enjoy doing. Get to really know them as “real” people with real stories. Make them visible to your family.
Thank the unappreciated. How many bus drivers, crossing guards, or maintenance people are ever thanked, much less receive Valentine’s treats? Even teachers can be forgotten. What about the mail carrier, the garbage collectors and the counter person at the dry cleaners? How many unappreciated people can your family make feel appreciated over the next few days?
Serve those who help others. Ministries and non-profits usually have ongoing needs for items or volunteer hours. Can your family find a way to give a ministry or non-profit some extra help?
Surprise your family members. Let’s be honest. The people in our family know how to get on our “last nerve”. Living in the same house can create conflicts and hurt feelings. We can say the worst things to the people who love us the most. Why not change that dynamic? Encourage everyone in your family to find ways to surprise, encourage and love everyone in your family. Make it fun and focus on all of those little things that would make life more pleasant for the people in your family.
Make Valentine’s Day a day when your family has a tradition of loving everyone they can. Encourage your kids to pour out love generously. Who knows, your family may enjoy it so much it becomes a habit every day of the year!
“You just shouldn’t treat people that way,” the clerk muttered as I stepped up to the desk. I asked if the previous customer had been rude to her. “No,” she replied, “It was a co-worker who chose to assume the worst about me and never considered it might not be true. Not to mention, she was really ugly to me in the process. My feelings were of no concern to her.”
I could feel her pain. I had been through a similar experience recently. Why do people always seem to assign the worst possible motives to others – even if there is no evidence that was indeed their motive? Why do they believe they don’t need the full story before rushing to judgment? Why do they feel justified in whatever they choose to say or do if someone has made them unhappy in some way?
The truth lies in empathy, love and forgiveness – three character traits modeled perfectly by Jesus during his life on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t always model Jesus as closely as we could in those attributes. Let’s be honest, it can feel a little good to unload all of your frustrations about life onto someone who you believe has wronged you. They become symbolic of everyone who has ever hurt you.
Sadly, we pass our poor attitudes and behaviors on to our children We may not actively tell them to forget about empathy, love and forgiveness. If they see us do it frequently, however, they learn that lesson well.
How can we teach our kids to be more like Jesus? In many ways it starts with empathy – the ability to understand how others feel in a situation. It’s what Jesus modeled in the feeding of the 4000 and many other times in his ministry. Teaching your kids to be empathetic begins with all of you remembering and practicing some empathy basics.
Empathy takes intentionality. To be empathetic, you have to be able to consistently take a breath before speaking, acting or judging and try to understand what the other person may be thinking and feeling and why. That doesn’t happen by accident. You and your kids will have to be intentional about making this pausing and reflection a habit.
Empathy can mean asking respectful questions. Sometimes the situation is so complex, we can’t begin to easily put ourselves “in their shoes”. Asking respectful questions can help. “Can you help me understand what happened to help you come to that conclusion?” is usually more productive than just assuming the worst.
Empathy isn’t about judgment. Just because I can understand and have empathy for the brokenness that has encouraged someone to become an addict, doesn’t mean I approve of their choices. It does, however, remind me of the love God wants me to have for them and the passion I should have for helping them be who God wants them to be.
Empathy and sympathy are different. Sympathy can be a bit condescending. It can give others the impression that we have the attitude we are somehow better than the other person. Empathy is trying to understand the other person as well as we possibly can. This understanding can build bridges between people who might be enemies under other circumstances.
Empathy acts in loving ways. Yes, at times that may be “tough love”, but that can also be done in ways that are kind, patient, self-controlled, and all of those attributes found in I Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit.
Empathy starts by assuming the best. Most people don’t wake up in the morning plotting ways to ruin your day. People are tired, overwhelmed and make poor choices. That doesn’t mean they are at heart hateful, heartless or anything else your mind wants to immediately label them. Teach your kids to start by assuming the best and see what happens. If you give most people a chance, you will see the good in them. Make it a family habit to look for the good in everyone, rather than acting like professional critics.
Empathy is forgiving – as often as it takes. Forgiveness is not saying you agree with those choices. It is giving them the chance to start fresh with you. How many times? The Bible says 70 times 7…indicating that we just need to start with forgiveness and not wait to be begged into it by the “guilty” party.
Empathy isn’t easy at times. In the next post, I will share some fun things you can do to help your kids become more empathetic.
Love is a tricky subject. There’s only one word for it in English. It’s easy for your child to think the butterflies caused by the person he or she is dating is the same love your child is looking for in a potential future spouse.
Hopefully, you’ve been talking about dating, love and marriage with your child for years. Or perhaps you haven’t discussed it at all, thinking it would work out well regardless. Your child may be a young teen with a crush on a schoolmate or a young adult hoping to marry in the next few years. Is there anything you can do at this point to help your child through this critical stage? Yes, but you need to be very careful.
It’s important to remember, ultimately this is your child’s life and decision. If you have a healthy relationship with your child though, you can probably do these things to help.
Pray. If you’ve already been praying for your child’s future mate, great! If not, it’s never too late to start. Pray very specific prayers. Pray that your child and their special someone make wise choices. Pray that they keep God at the center of their relationship. Pray God will help them see clearly if it is in His will that they remain together.
Have your child make a list. Detail oriented young people probably already have one. This isn’t to set up expectations anyone will perfectly match the list. If however, there are many areas where the person fails to meet the list, there may be a better match in someone else. (You don’t need to see the list, but be aware some of it may be unrealistic.)
Spend a lot of time with your child’s boyfriend/girlfriend. You need to spend as much quality time together as possible without making things awkward. Get to know them as a person. What are their hopes and dreams? How do they feel about God? How do they treat your child, their parents and others? How do they react under stress? As a somewhat more casual observer, you may be able to see red flags your child has missed. Watch particularly for controlling behavior, someone who tries to separate your child from you unnecessarily and if your child’s friends dislike the other person. It may not mean anything at all, but it indicates a need to look a little more closely.
Learn about the boyfriend/girlfriend’s family. This isn’t about money or status. It’s about how healthy the family environment was. If it’s not great, that doesn’t mean the relationship must end. They just need to be aware they may need more outside help to work through issues that are created by the trauma.
Help them set safe boundaries. The closer they get to engagement and marriage, the more difficult it is for many couples to obey God and avoid pre-marital sex. You don’t need to hire a professional chaperone, but you can casually suggest ways to help them avoid unnecessary temptation. (If your child’s an adult, this must be handled very carefully. You can’t give consequences and rules to adult children.)
Suggest pre-marital counseling before the engagement. My daughter and son-in-law developed this idea. They are from two different countries and wanted to make sure they had discussed everything that might cause an issue when people are from different cultures. It’s great because had they found serious issues, it is much easier to end a dating relationship than an engagement. In fact, you may want to add this to your family list of future expectations (like asking the parents first).
Be loving and supportive. Don’t sweat the small stuff or you will push both of them away and set yourself as the common enemy. Focus only on anything that will put your child in danger spiritually, physically, emotionally or mentally. Everything else is personal taste and you need to accept those choices – even if they don’t match your personal taste.
You can’t control whom your child chooses to love. With love and care however, you can help your child make wise romantic choices. It’s a delicate balance, but with such an important life changing choice, you need to be supportive in godly, parental ways.