"How can my spouse and I get on the same page where the kids are concerned?" is both the most difficult question parents ask me and also the most important. It is the most difficult because each of the parents in question thinks the problem lies with the other, and as long as they cling to that security blanket, the problem cannot be solved. It is the most important question because the strength of a family, and therefore the well-being of its children, depends fundamentally on the parents being in a state of unity.
Fifty-plus years ago, it was rare for parents to have significant disagreement concerning children. Today, the problem is ubiquitous. And it is at the root of many, if not most, parenting problems. Solve that, and everything will begin to fall into place rather quickly and easily.
Paradoxically, however, the "parents on two different pages" problem won't be solved by communicating more about the kids, being more willing to compromise on matters of discipline or respecting one another's different expectations and goals concerning the kids. In other words, parents who are not on the same parenting page will not get on the same page by regarding and treating their differences as a parenting problem. It's a marital problem.
The problem exists because the two people in question, when they began having kids, slowly abandoned the roles of husband and wife. This happened over the span of several years, so like the proverbial frog in water that's being slowly heated to boiling, they accustomed themselves to it. Eventually, not really being truly married became a habit. At this point, they're in a state of denial. They say they're married, but they're not. They are a mother and a father. Those roles do not define a marriage; they define biology.
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Correcting the problem, therefore, requires that new habits be substituted for existing ones. The new habits involve paying more attention to each other than to the kids, doing more for each other than for the kids, talking more to each other than to the kids, and so on. They should even strive to not talk much about the kids at all. They should work at having adult conversations about adult things.
A healthy, vibrant marriage consists of two people who are attuned to each other and who serve each other; two people who are willing to sublimate their almighty and most narcissistic selves to the betterment of the union. This is done by simply asking "What can I do for you?" It is done through humility, submission and other things that, unfortunately, no longer are part of our national vocabulary.
Paying more attention to and doing more for one's spouse requires paying less attention to and doing less for the kids. But that will be easy, because when children see a marriage coming back together, they ask for less attention. This happens naturally. They begin to relax. They begin doing their own thing, letting you do yours.
And before you know it, you're on the same page, but the likelihood is that this same page will be different from either of the separate pages you once occupied. And the kids will approve, believe me.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services