After dinner, Eric took a seat in his favorite chair to unwind with a book. As he read, his two young boys entered the room and began playing on the floor. One toy captured both boys attention, and an argument ensued. When bickering turned to yelling, and yelling turned to hitting, Eric intervened.
“No dessert!” Eric said. “And I’m putting this toy away until tomorrow.”
Overhearing the commotion, Eric’s wife Beth had already entered the room. Upon hearing Eric assert that the boys couldn’t have dessert, Beth countered:
“But I just finished making it. And it won’t taste as good tomorrow.”
“They acted out,” Eric said. “They should have considered the consequences.”
“I’m fine with consequences,” Beth said. “I would just prefer we still eat dessert as a family since I spent a lot of time making it. How about no stories before bed?”
“Reading’s good for them. I don’t want to take that away.”
“Well I wish you would have asked me before you took away dessert!”
Has this ever happened to you? You’re in the middle of disciplining your kids when, all of a sudden, you disagree. Maybe, like Eric and Beth, one of you makes a call that the other person doesn’t like. Or maybe neither of you feel like you can make a choice, so you let the situation slide–even though you don’t want to.
If you’re not sure how to parent as a team, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we talk about what unified parenting looks like and how to parent together.
What is unified parenting?
What does it mean to be unified? Here are a few ways of defining being united:
- Joined as a whole
- One in mind and feeling
- Having harmony and agreement
- Concerted in purpose and action
According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, unity promotes strong family relationships characterized by service, understanding, and support. The scriptures encourage us to have our hearts “knit together in unity and love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21).
As always, Jesus Christ is our perfect example of unity. During His mortal ministry, He was constantly “about [His] Father’s business,” so much so that it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether it’s the Father or the Son speaking in scripture (Luke 2:49). He prayed that we would have unity, saying: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
Christ’s example paints a wonderful picture of what it means to be united with Him and God. But what does it look like to be unified as parents? Here are some examples of what unified parenting might look like:
- Knowing and respecting each other’s parenting backgrounds, including how their parents raised them
- Studying, praying, and deciding on parenting styles, philosophies, and practices together
- Refusing to negate or undermine each other’s rules or consequences in the moment
- Backing each other up when disciplining kids
- Allowing you and your partner to make mistakes
- Nurturing your relationship as a couple
Why is being on a united front as parents important?
From the examples above, it’s easy to see how parenting as a team is good, but is it necessary? Do you have to be on the same page to be effective parents?
The gospel and psychologists would both say yes, you and your kids do need unified parenting.
For one thing, our kids can tell when we’re not unified as parents, which leads to insecurity and misbehaving, says Debbie Pincus, a licensed mental health counselor.
“Here’s the truth: Kids know when their parents aren’t unified in their decisions about discipline. And their lack of unity creates anxiety for these kids because they are unsure of the rules and what matters and what doesn’t. And this anxiety contributes to further behavior issues,” said Pincus in her article for Empowering Parents.
In addition to fostering instability and confusion for your kids, a lack of unity can lead to resentment towards your spouse. If you’re constantly thinking, My husband is too authoritarian, then you’re bound to wind up fighting with your husband over parenting. Disagreements between parents with different parenting styles and subsequent animosity is so common, in fact, that one of the most common Google searches associated with unified parenting is the phrase “different parenting styles ruining marriage.” Ouch.
But while a lack of unity comes with a slew of negative outcomes, even an ounce of unity can have a positive effect on your marriage and family. Unified front parenting leads to clear boundaries for the family, strong leadership for your children, and positive feelings towards your spouse.
In the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Strong family life comes of parents who love and respect one another, and who love and respect and nurture their children in the ways of the Lord.”
How to parent together
What does becoming united as parents take? How can couples or parents with different parenting styles achieve unity?
In our episode entitled “How to Parent Together” on our podcast Helpmeets, we identified two ways to become more united parents: family councils and empathy exercises.
Hold family councils.
Family councils are meetings in which family members discuss feelings and ideas and make plans to meet goals and resolve problems. According to Elder Russel M. Ballard, they are patterned after heaven.
“Family councils have always been needed. They are, in fact, eternal. We belonged to a family council in the premortal existence, when we lived with our heavenly parents as their spirit children,” Ballard said. “A family council held regularly will help us spot family problems early and nip them in the bud; councils will give each family member a feeling of worth and importance; and most of all they will assist us to be more successful and happy in our precious relationships, within the walls of our homes.”
There are multiple types of family councils, depending on which family members are present. In an Executive Family Council, parents meet to discuss their marriage and family needs. To parent as a team, you can discuss parenting wins, pitfalls, challenges, and concerns at Executive Family Councils. In a judgment-free environment, you can talk about how things are going and what you are doing. You can then develop a joint vision of how to parent together, including plans for future parenting situations.
By spending regular time developing understanding for each other’s points of view, and by deciding how you want to parent together, you won’t get caught unprepared as often, and you’ll be more capable of being consistent and supportive.
Practice being empathetic.
When you disagree about parenting, it can be easy to feel proud and resentful. When you think you know better, or when you think your spouse is doing something wrong, it’s hard to feel love for your partner–let alone to want to work together. But if you really want to be unified as parents, you have to respect and understand your spouse’s perspective. Additionally, considering the feelings your spouse is bringing to the table when they parent–especially conflicting feelings about how they were raised or how they want to parent but struggle to parent–gives you necessary context to develop a plan and follow through.
One way to develop empathy, or the ability to understand and share your spouse’s thoughts and emotions, is by practicing. And you can practice on movie night.
In the middle of a movie or television show, hit pause. Take a moment to think about or even discuss what the characters are experiencing, and how that’s making them feel and behave. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Then, at the end of the movie or episode, reflect back on how you interpreted their situation, emotions, and actions, and see if you were right. Were you able to accurately understand their perspective?
Working to understand fictional characters in TV shows and movies can increase your ability to empathize with your spouse. And that empathy can lead to move love and unity in your home.
In the words of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Becoming united as parents
Like everything worthwhile, developing unity as parents is hard. But parenting as a team strengthens your home and family. As you work to collaborate as parents, you, your spouse, and your children will feel more peace and positivity in your home. Tantrums at the store or poor scores on tests won’t trigger the same anxiety or frustration when you and your partner know what you want to do and that you’re united in doing it. And your kids will thank you later–if not aloud then in their hearts. Because “there is beauty all around when there’s love [and unity] at home.”
When striving for unified parenting, it can help to have visual cues, like art in your home, to remind you of your goal. For becoming united as parents, we love Aubrie Mema’s “Helpmeet.” Depicting two sets of hands passing fruit back and forth, the piece harkens to Adam and Eve and how they were united in their partnership. Learn more about and purchase the work here.