I’ve always told parents that they don’t have to parent from the “same page”, but they do need to be in the same chapter. Too many times moms and dads try to be the same in their approach to parenting, and occasionally loose that personality that God has given them… while trying to be someone they’re not.
I spoke at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California on Father’s Day and reminded the men to “spend less time trying to become the father your wife wants you to be, and more time becoming the Dad that God designed you to be”. My intent was to let Dads know that they bring a special element to a family. And I would say the same about moms. Be the mom that God created you to be, not the one that everyone else demands.
It’s a rare thing indeed for a man and wife to agree on everything. If they did, it would be a pretty sterile and boring marriage. Sure, “iron sharpening iron” isn’t always a pleasant affair—especially when the sparks fly from the friction, but that’s the way God designed it. As the French say, Vive la Difference!
This is even more true when raising children. My wife, Jan, and I are good examples of how different two parents can be. We were both parents… just different in our approach. That would have been okay, except that we both kept trying to change each other. We just couldn’t seem to see past the “pearl” hidden in each other’s parenting styles! Jan felt like I needed to be more of a disciplinarian. Conversely, I didn’t think that she was a whole lot of fun. “You need to lighten up a little bit,” I would tell her.” There were (and still are) even more disparities: She cares about academics—I don’t. I care about character. She focuses on doing chores around the house and I spend time wanting to have fun. She wants to have the conversations and spiritualize everything. I want to flush it out and have spiritual experiences.
So, at the beginning of our marriage, we found ourselves battling back and forth. It was so bad that at one point we had to go to counseling—because, of course, she was really messed up! Seriously, we both had issues—you know, that proverbial baggage that every person carries into a marriage? However, the real problem was not the “stuff” that we brought into our union from the past, but our then-current expectations that we could change each other. I tried to mold her, and she tried to mold me into each other’s idea of an acceptable parenting style. I was so frustrated with her that my theme song was, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” And she was so fed up with my constant criticism, that I’m sure her favorite song verse was “These boots are made for walking… and one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you. Ouch!”
Valuing the Differences
Of course, not all husband and wives fit into the stereotypical roles one usually associates with mothers and fathers. For example, in our house, Jan is more likely to be the one to lay down the law, whereas I lean towards a more “laissez faire” attitude. Yet in time, I came to value our different parenting styles. Instead of defaulting to criticism and saying to my wife, “You’re too strict,” I could appreciate—and just as important—come to respect how she could engage a part of our kids that I didn’t. She, in turn, began to value what I could offer as a parent. We’re just totally different, and yet at the end of the day, God used those parenting style differences to help produce some pretty amazing children!
But that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t decide early on to let her do what she needed to do, and she let me do what I needed to do. We stopped trying to change each other, because if the truth be told, it doesn’t work anyway! All it does is pit you against one another. Instead of being a team aiming to win, you become opponents seeking to take each other out. Part of this stems from the very natural tendency for most men—including myself—to think, “It’s my way or the highway.” Women are a lot more patient. They say, “If you don’t do it my way—that’s fine—I’m just going to keep telling you until you do!”
Fortunately, it wasn’t long into our marriage before we realized that we needed to present a united front to our children. So we made the decision: We were a team. Period. This meant that even though we retained our own parenting style, our children knew that we shared the same expectations and set the same limits for their behavior. That decision paid off when they became teens—thereby avoiding many of the problems parents face during that stage of life.
Consistency Breeds Security
Because Jan and I were consistent with each other—agreeing upon a system of beliefs, with a set strategy as to how to flesh out those beliefs with house rules and consequences—our kids grew up knowing what was expected of them. Just as important, they understood that they could not avoid doing what felt a little hard or scary or challenging. And, as I often sadly see among both intact and divorced families (though more often with parental splits), we didn’t give our kids the opportunity to pit one parent against each other to get what they want.
Chelsea Cameron, a good friend of Parenting Today’s Teens, spoke to this issue in one of my interviews with her: “It’s so important to present a united front, because it gives the kids a sense of security,” shared Chelsea. “I mean, they know that Kirk [Kirk Cameron] and I disagree on things, but when we do, we’ll discuss it—not have a knock-down, drag-out fight over the dinner table about it. And our kids know that I’m not going to undermine his authority. And I think that’s huge—it’s just huge. Because the worst things kids can experience at home is this constant tension and dissension between mom and dad.”
To that end, it all comes down to laying down our right to be right. One of my favorite quotes related to this is: “You can be so right, and yet be so wrong.” What does that mean exactly? Basically this: So what if it turns out that maybe you’re right about something? If your insistence on being right causes dissension and disharmony in your marriage, then it’s just plain wrong!
Teens don’t rule… your marriage does!
So make it your highest aim to spend close, meaningful time with each other—ensuring that your relationship is strong. Don’t let your kids—or your teens—consume you. If you do, then you’ve got your priorities out of order. As I’ve said before: It’s God first, each other second and children third. When you take care of your marriage first, then your relationship with your kids will fall in line. They’ll see the way that mom and dad truly love each other. Just as important, you’ll be modeling for them what a healthy marriage looks like. As someone once said, “The best gift you can give your child is the investment you make in your marriage.”
So heed the scriptural admonition to “prefer one another in love.” Be intentional about it—even when you don’t feel like it. Make this lifelong commitment and watch your love grow. You really do need each other. You need to be on the same team, and so do your children. Remember….same chapter…not always the same page.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.