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Parents Need to Agree on How to Raise Their Children

Agreeing on how to raise children is essential for a happy home.

Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

In an earlier article, “Married with Kids,” we talked about how the introduction of children into the home can wreak havoc on some marriages. These problems often result from work overload—their lives are no longer just about managing the house, or jobs, or making each other happy. The responsibilities that are dumped on new parents can mean that both, but especially wives (since they shoulder most of the burden), are perpetually stressed, exhausted, and pushed to their limits.

For those who are hit particularly hard, their relationship can suffer not just because of less time devoted to each other. When under chronic stress, there’s a strong possibility that partners will at times let their emotions get the better of them and they will then take their frustrations out on each other. There may also be disappointments that derive from unmet expectations. Expectations have a lot to do with adjusting to parenthood, and the more partners are off with regard to how they thought things would be, the greater is the likelihood of resentments and conflicts.

Problems can also result from differences in parenting philosophies. In some marriages, one parent may prefer to take a relaxed attitude while the other may want to institute more structure and rules for the child to follow. When parents bump heads on how to raise their children, not only do they give themselves reasons to argue, but they also work against the interests of the child. Sometimes in these situations one parent may try to gain the child as an ally against the other parent. The child may then feel forced to take sides with one parent or the other, or become confused as to what they’re supposed to do. The parent who loses that power struggle can feel alienated from the family, and may resent their partner or the children.

Parents who run into these problems with each other may inadvertently take out their frustrations on their children. They may find the stress of their relationship so emotionally draining that they don’t pay enough attention to their children’s emotional needs. Others may feel their children are responsible for their marital problems. Even if they don’t consciously blame their children, parents who are hostile to each other might target their hostility to their children.

This can be particularly true for men—the way many men feel about their marriage can have more to do with how he acts toward his children than his skills as parent. Typically, that’s not how it works with mothers. They tend to treat their children the same regardless of how they feel about their husband or their marriage. Bad days are bad, but they won’t take it out on their kids.

Regardless of how marital problems come about, it’s not just the parents who suffer. Fighting between husbands and wives can harm the psychological and emotional development of their children. Children can tell when their parents aren’t getting along, and they find that environment frightening. There’s a chance they will suffer from depression, have problems in school, and even develop some physical health issues. Some might even blame themselves for their parents’ problems, and that can leave them feeling vulnerable, fearful and anxious. As adults, they can end up as more dependent, insecure and unsociable. They may also learn some inappropriate behaviors or develop attachment styles that won’t serve them well in their own relationships.

To that point, if parents’ arguments are hostile and aggressive, their children might learn the same style and use it in their own relationships. If they’re aloof and emotionally distant from each other, their children might have a hard time making emotional connections to other people. And if the children then develop behavioral problems because of the negativity they’re exposed to, these can further fuel problems in the marriage.

Before making the decision to have children, both partners must be personally committed to the idea, and their relationship should be on solid enough ground to handle how their lives will change. There will be a lot of pressure, and sometimes under pressure we can behave badly, and we may forget we’re not the only two people living in the house. Marital disputes are a child’s worst nightmare. If you and your spouse are having problems, and that could include how to raise children, work them out in private. Also, keep your roles as parent and spouse separate. Try not to let the issues you have with one contaminate how you feel about the other.

If you and your partner disagree on how to raise a child, it’s important to confront this issue and find a solution as soon as possible. This can be an emotionally charged issue that can easily get out of hand, so it’s best to follow some rules. First, as with all disputes, make sure this is done without the kids present. Second, wait until you and your partner are in a good place emotionally. Third, be prepared to negotiate and compromise so that you both get something that you want, and what you decide is in the best interests of the child. Whatever you decide, make sure you’re consistent, so that your child is not confused as to what is expected of them.

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