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In Parenting, Win-Win-Win Is the Goal

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Parenting is easy . . . as long as our kids do exactly what we say, when we say it.

Though we laugh, there is certainly some truth in this sentiment, isn’t there? When the baby sleeps when we tell her to, when the toddler shares the toy when we ask him to, when the middle schooler turns off the video games and helps set the dinner table when we need him to, and when the teenage daughter loves the conservative clothes we buy for her, we say to ourselves, “This parenting stuff is easy! Why do so many complain?”

Okay, so you’re still laughing, aren’t you? Me too. If you’re not, that simply means you’re not a parent yet. Just wait. 

One might also be tempted to say that parenting together is easy . . . as long as my spouse agrees with every decision I make when it comes to our kids, when I make it, and how I express it. The truth is, however, as much as mom and dad agree on how amazing their children are, how much joy they bring to their lives, how much they love them, and the abundance they want them to experience in this world, that does not mean they agree on the day-to-day—things like how best to discipline, grade expectations, household duties, and when dating is okay.

So how do two parents maneuver around these differences of opinion? How do they work as an actual parenting team who value each other’s ideas, opinions, and good will, instead of throwing down the hammer with “My way is the only way here, and all would agree! You are crazy if you think anything else!”

Perhaps such a strong declaration is not literally said out loud in most families, including yours, but have you noticed that one parent seems to handle most of the decisions? Have you noticed that the kids always go to one parent over another, because they know who truly has the final say? Have you noticed one parent distancing him- or herself away from many parenting decisions, perhaps even giving the impression that they are okay with not being involved with these decisions?

If so, this is likely because parenting stopped being a team sport for them long ago. Over time, one parent continued to express over and over that they knew what was best, that their style was preferred, that the other parent was wrong. So eventually the “always wrong” parent simply backed away. In their mind, it was best for the marriage and family if mom and dad stopped arguing about parenting decisions and one just let the other start handling everything.

This is not how God designed parenting to be. Just as both male and female, blue and pink, are needed for the initial reproductive part to becoming parents, blue and pink continue to be needed equally while parenting the child post-birth. When God commanded Adam and Eve in the garden to “be fruitful and multiply,” they did so under the knowledge that the two of them had “become one” (Genesis 2:24). Though still different, still man and woman, still blue and pink, they were one—a parenting team.

I say all this to make the point that God intends for families to experience a win-win-win. Mom wins. Dad wins. And the child wins—at least to some extent. (“Winning” for a child is not getting whatever he or she wants, of course, no matter how much they may think that at the time.)

But how can this be done? You and your spouse have such different styles and opinions on so many important matters in parenting, don’t you? Is it really possible to find win-win-win? Yes, it is! Consider the following example:

If a husband believes his wife is spoiling their children and he brings his concerns up, she may completely disagree with him. That is okay. Disagreements like this are normal. What he wants to avoid, though, is turning the disagreement into a conflict over how he’s choosing to approach her about all of this. Instead of simply accusing her with something like “Why can’t you see how you’re spoiling our daughter? Do you want her to become a selfish person who thinks she deserves everything she wants?” the husband seeking win-win-win should try a different approach:

  1. Remember the other has good will . . . and acknowledge that.

    “I know you don’t want to spoil our kids. You give to them because you want them to be happy.”
  2. Share your concern.

    “But I see that they get pretty much everything they want, and I’m afraid that isn’t healthy for them. They now expect they will get what they want, as if they are entitled, and when they don’t get their way, they throw a fit. I want us to be able to work together on this and be on the same page.”
  3. Share what you see.

    “Kelly just had a meltdown because I told her she couldn’t go to her friend’s overnight again this Friday. I had hoped we could go as a family to the new Disney movie, but she wanted to go with her friend. You stepped in and said to let her go, overruling my decision. That felt disrespectful to me. Furthermore, she has spent the night with someone every weekend and I think we need more family time, but you didn’t give me a chance to explain that.”

If a husband chose this route, do you not agree that his wife would be much more likely to trust her husband’s heart toward the kids and see how he has their best interest in mind? He is not trying to fight with her but trying to make sure their children do not leave their home feeling entitled. He does not want to raise selfish children who think they can get whatever they want. This is why the possibility that she is spoiling them concerns him.

Consider this same husband who is concerned about his wife unnecessarily spoiling their children. If his wife is the one who is more the peace keeper of the family, which perhaps is why she makes some of the decisions she does that he disagrees with, he might be more the disciplinarian of the family, who makes sure his point is felt and his anger is heard. It is likely that, beyond the disagreement about whether or not she is spoiling their children, she sees the anger on his face and hears the harshness in his voice that frightens her and the children, and she notices the children’s frightened response as well. Should she up the ante with her own combative tone and raised voice, point her finger in his face, and yell at him, “This is why I told her she could see the movie with her friend! You’re always in a bad mood! You’re no fun to have a family night with!” Or in hopes of finding a win-win-win, might she try a different approach:

  1. Remember the other has good will . . . and acknowledge that.

    “I know you don’t want our kids to be afraid of you. Your intensity comes out of your concern for them.”
  2. Share your concern.

    “But that intensity sounds harsh and angry and I’m concerned that the children are becoming afraid of you. I want them to have a healthy relationship with you where they feel they can approach you, and you will be fair with them.”
  3. Share what you see.

    “I told Kelly she needed to ask your permission, but she told me she is afraid of you. She doesn’t want to ask you for anything because she fears you will get angry and say no. You scare her when you become so loud and your face looks so intense. I am afraid that you are pushing her away from you. I don’t want to undermine you in any way, but when the children come to me with their fears and want me to protect them, I feel stuck. How can we resolve this together?”

If a wife went this way instead, do you not agree that her husband would be much more likely to humble himself enough to trust her insight here, and accept that he doesn’t “hear” or “see” his anger and how it affects those he loves? She is not trying to fight with him but trying to make sure he doesn’t lose the heart of his children, who she knows are precious to him. This is why his anger concerns her.

To find win-win-win in times like these, you must state your concerns about how the situation is coming across to you, as well as the effects on the kids. “We are on the same parenting team, so let’s figure out how to make this a win-win-win for all of us: you win, I win and the kids win, at least to a degree. Let’s not impugn one another’s motives. We have to trust one another that we don’t have evil motives [such as to spoil the kids or scare them]. Let’s trust one another’s perceptions as we figure out the win-win-win that we need here.”

To get into an argument at this point about whether the children are acting spoiled or afraid is counterproductive, but more times than not that is exactly where the conversation goes. But if each parent could: 1) remember the other’s good will, 2) share their concern, and 3) share what they are seeing that the other perhaps doesn’t yet, then the first—and most difficult—step to finding the win-win-win has been cleared! 

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. What does the idea of “parenting together” mean to you? When you and your spouse disagree in a parenting situation, how does it typically get resolved?
  2. Have you ever considered whether win-win-win has been your goal when in disagreements with your spouse about parenting decisions? If not, why do you think that is? What is your typical goal when you find yourself in these situations?
  3. Why is it so important to remember each other’s good will when in disagreement?
  4. Is there a situation that you may need to use this three-step approach with right now?