It’s a phrase you often hear, but do you think it relates to parenting? It sure does, and if you and your partner are not united in your actions with regard to parenting decisions, you could be seriously jeopardizing the effectiveness of those parenting decisions.
Why is a United Front so important?
To understand this basic concept of a “unified front”, you have to think of it from your child’s perspective. If they know they can get different answers from each parent, how long will it take them to start “picking” the parent that will give them the answer they would most like to hear? Not very long – they are smart little people put here to continually test us! Has your child ever asked you something, you say no, and then they ask your partner and they get the answer they are looking for? Or have you had a disagreement on a discipline issue in front of your children? What kind of message do you think that sends to the child when they see both of you are not standing together in a decision?
Being united can be very difficult, especially when each parent has different views on the limitless issues you’ll find yourself “in” during your parenting journey. In all those decisions parents need to make wise choices and be consistent. If two parents are giving different answers, you have lost consistency and your child has lost the feeling of security knowing exactly what will happen –no matter which parent they get an answer from.
Here are some ideas that have worked very well in our home to develop a “unified front”. We are a blended family, so standing united is even MORE important and we saw how this could negatively damage our family situation. All children will try to put parents against each other, but step-children will be even more determined to divide parents. If you aren’t making a conscious effort to stand firm together you will discover the repercussions.
- Talk with your partner, set up expectations and basic guidelines.
I see a lot of parents skip this first important step. They forget or don’t even consider taking the time to go through rules of the house or expectations that the other parent may have – especially when you have been raised in completely different household growing up. It is amazing how different those expectations can be and if you wait until you’re in the heat of battle to come up with a plan, you will fail. The topics you cover will depend on the ages of your children. Some areas we have covered are: homework, chores, snacking, screen time, hygiene expectations, disrespectful behavior and table manners. The main focus is to get an idea of how each of you would like to handle these situations – because they will come up! You won’t be able to cover everything, but it will give you a great starting point.
- Do not undermine the others authority.
We have established this understanding with each other and unless there is physical danger, we try our hardest to not undermine the decision of the other parent. This is extremely hard to do at first, but the more you practice it the easier it gets! Can you see how much easier this part is if you have already had a conversation with your partner and have a basic understanding of your parenting ideas. What about those times that your partner makes a “command decision” on something and you do not agree? Those will happen – guaranteed! If you can hold onto your thoughts and wait until you can discuss it in private you will still create the perception to your children that you are completely united, but you will have the chance to share your ideas with your partner. Sometimes it is best to think, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Someone gets extra candy or watches a little more TV than you would like. In the big picture it isn’t that significant.
- Talk in private when you do not agree with a decision.
Just because we have talked about different situations and how we would like to handle them, there will always be situations that come up where one parent makes a decision and the other parent does not agree. When this happens, one of us makes some comment about needing to show the other one something in the bathroom or bedroom and then we can go discuss the topic in private. This gives the time and space to share with the other parent our issue with the decision. Sometimes they see the other’s side and we change a decision, or we know that the next time the situation comes up we have a different direction to go. If you can’t get away immediately, write it down so that you can come back to it at another time. This is very effective when you are wanting to change your parenting style and use new techniques. If every time something came up you didn’t agree about you could constantly be calling the other parent out of the room – which would get rather ridiculous!
- Divide family responsibilities into departments.
This idea was actually my husbands and he came up with it right before we were married. We noticed we each had different ideas on what snacks the kids should have and how frequently they should have them. It was starting to create a problem because one child would ask him for a soda, he would say yes, and I would give him the “are you kidding me” eyes bulged out look! Early on he realized this area needed to be in one person’s control. So I was designated the “Food and Beverage Coordinator” for our family. It started out as a funny little joke and we would laugh about it when someone would ask him a food question and he would just respond, “I am not the Food and Beverage Coordinator, not my department.” The kids caught on quickly and it solved countless food disagreements that we could have had. He also became the “Chore Guy.” Anything related to chores is directed to him. We have done this with homework too. It works great, but the key to making it work is what makes it successful. When something is not your department you cannot undermine the other person’s decision. You have to give up control of that area. Period. This is the only way it works.
I hope these ideas give you new direction so you can get on the road to becoming a “unified front” in your home. I can tell you from my own experience that concentrating on this area and being purposeful in your actions by standing united will positively affect your family and will reduce conflicts.
Try it and see what happens in your home. But remember, you will mess up; it will take some time to change behavior that has become a habit, so if you find yourself undermining your partner, or beginning a discussion in front of your kids about a decision you just have to apologize and move on. If you can learn from these experiences you will find that they start happening less and less and you will be “standing united” before you know it!
Photo courtesy Paulette.Sedgwick
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