3 Ways to Parent as a Team
One day when our children were younger, Emerson said to me, “Sarah do you think we could get together sometime, just the two of us, and not talk about the kids?” Wait...what? Talk about something other than the kids?
Didn’t Emerson, who has a Ph.D. in Child and Family Ecology, think that our kids should be our main focus?
Weren’t we a team and weren’t these kids our priority?
Those were some of the thoughts that ran through my head when Emerson surprised me with that question. I thought I was putting our marriage first, but our kids had become my primary topic of conversation. After all, didn’t we need to talk about them in order to be on the same page - in order to be a parenting team?
That day I realized the answer to that is, “Not necessarily.” I knew Emerson loved our kids. He was a great dad, not just to our kids but to all in the neighborhood. The reality is the neighborhood kids would come to our door every day, not to see if our kids could play, but to see if Mr. E could come out to play!
So the fact that Emerson didn’t want to talk about our kids all the time was no reflection on his love and concern for our children. But it was a wake up call for me, and a realization that he did have more in his life than being a parent - and so did I.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for your kids is work on strengthening your relationship - your parenting team.
So how do you become a team?
Emerson and I discovered three ways that helped strengthen us as a parenting team - and they were all about our marriage, not our kids.
#1 Marriage First, Children Second
Although I thought I was putting my marriage first, my conversations with Emerson obviously didn’t reflect it. I realized I needed to bring some balance by not always making everything about the kids.
Focus on each other.
Women, one way to stay in touch with your husband as a man, and not just the father of your children, is to ask him what he is dreaming about. (Men like to dream and talk about their dreams.) Or ask him about his work or a hobby he enjoys.
Another way I learned to energize Emerson was to just be with him shoulder to shoulder and not talk at all. Men also like that… strange as it seems to us women! They like being together without always talking. It took me a long time to learn this one...not only with Emerson, but with my two sons as well. So I hope you take my advice and try this sooner rather than later!
Men, you can also ask your wife about some of her dreams or thoughts unrelated to the kids. Sometimes we moms feel like we lose our identity as unique individuals when we become so entrenched in mothering. But I don’t know any woman who wouldn’t feel loved and appreciated if her husband asked her to share some of her dreams as a woman...or asked her thoughts and opinions on topics she’s interested in.
Bottom line, don’t forget the reasons why you were attracted to your spouse before you got married, and before you had kids. Focus on those areas that are unique to them, apart from being a parent. In the end, you will be a stronger parenting team!
Putting your marriage first requires unity.
Emerson and I both experienced the divorce of our parents, so we know the pain of a lack of parental teamwork. (Fortunately Emerson’s parents remarried.) Early on we recognized the wisdom in parental teamwork and focused on unity.
Unity vs unanimity.
Did we always agree? No, but we distinguished unity (a united and harmonious front) from unanimity (having to agree all the time on all aspects).
We figured if we always agreed, one of us was unnecessary.
Our differences led to better decisions.
We often debated opposing opinions and ideas about the children behind closed doors, but we knew God had made us male and female to spark better ideas and insight.
To slightly paraphrase Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, so one spouse sharpens another.”
We were confident our differences led to better decisions. Not wrong, just different.
Do not allow divide and conquer.
When we did come out to face our kids they knew they couldn't divide us and conquer by getting their way.
We weren’t always aware of it then, but now that they are adults, we realize how tuned in they were to these situations.
Our oldest son Jonathan, now a parent himself, looks back and reflects on our solidarity. He said we “always waited and made decisions as a team.”
Joy recalls, “You guys had great teamwork. We knew that ‘divide and conquer’ was not going to work, no matter how much we tried to work you.”
Did we always make the right decisions? NO.
But did we make those wrong decisions as a team? YES!!
Security for the family.
And guess what?
Your kids like seeing you together whether it is going out or just being together at home. They feel secure when they know you enjoy being together.
When our kids were younger and would talk disrespectfully to me, Emerson would say to them, “Don’t talk to your mother that way. She is my girlfriend. When you grow up, you are gonna be out of here, but she and I are staying together and we are going to party and have a good time!”
Being reassured we were going to stay together also made them feel secure. And I felt loved hearing Emerson stick up for me in that way!
When Joy, our last to leave the nest, called from college her freshman year, she said “I think you two are having way too much fun without us!”
We were - and still are!
Do your kids know that your marriage is first?
#2 Believe in Each Other’s Goodwill
One day years ago, I was frustrated with Emerson...just as there were days when he was frustrated with me. I can vouch for him that he was right in his frustrations!
But I remember vividly where I was on the sidewalk when I sensed God, in this inaudible voice, was saying to me, “But he is a good man!”
Since God is always right, I was struck by the truth of that! Emerson was a good willed man who was not perfect. And neither was I.
The meaning of goodwill.
Goodwill means the “deep down intention to do good toward the other.” The problem is we do not always follow through.
Even the disciples who were to keep watch while Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane fell asleep. He said to them, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
The apostle Paul also captured the reality of good intentions but poor follow through in Romans 7:19: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong but I do it anyway” (NLT).
Through the years of pastoral counseling Emerson would often ask couples if their spouse was a good willed person. Both quickly answered, “Yes.”
Trust the goodwill in your spouse.
That question has revolutionized many marriages. To acknowledge deep down they know their spouse has goodwill despite all the stuff that might be going on puts them on a positive path to teamwork, even though they may still have strong differences and irritations.
Trust the goodwill in your spouse, if for no other reason than for the sake of your kids. How sad when children see the basic goodwill in mom and dad, but mom and dad do not see this basic goodwill in each other.
#3 Speak with Love and Respect
We all need love and respect but our research with 7000 people showed that in conflict 72% of women feel unloved and 83% of men feel disrespected.
Do your children hear you speaking with love and respect to one another?
This is crucial if you want teamwork in your parenting. Watch your words, tone and actions when you speak to one another.
Remember - your children are watching and listening!
Men, love your wife!
Men, one of the best things you can do for your kids is to love their mother.
An awesome way to ignite teamwork with a woman is to praise her heart for mothering.
I recall with much delight the day years ago as a young, tired, and frustrated mother that Emerson encouraged me by saying,”Sarah, if I had your job, I would be in prison!”
I was so happy, not that he would go to prison, but because I felt loved and understood that my job was not an easy one.
Women, respect your husband!
Women, one of the best things you can do for your kids is to respect their dad.
Research by Shaunti Feldhahn in her classic book For Women Only, reported that when men were asked which would be worse - to be left alone and unloved, or to be viewed as inadequate and disrespected - 80% of the men said they could not stand the thought of being viewed as inadequate and disrespected.
One of the ways you can show respect is to thank him in front of the kids for the way he provides for the family, even if you work outside of the home. Whether it is a lot of provision or a little, this is where men find their greatest significance. It all started in the Garden of Eden and not much has changed!
What If we aren’t a team?
Maybe you're thinking that your spouse doesn’t want to be a team.
The great thing about these three keys to teamwork is that you can start doing them on your own and just maybe your spouse will want to join your team!
A challenge for the week.
To strengthen your parenting team, start with one of these simple applications:
Do or say something specific that will show your spouse that they are your priority over the kids.
See the goodwill in your spouse and point it out.
Use the word respect in conversation with your husband and the word love with your wife.
It’s about your marriage first, not just your parenting.
From my heart,