John: * Before my parents punished me for some wrongdoing, they would put forth real effort to understand my motive and the circumstances involved. I try to imitate their approach when dealing with my daughters. My wife, Alison, comes from a different background. Her father and mother were more impulsive. They seem to have chastised their children without being concerned about the circumstances surrounding an incident. Sometimes I feel that my wife disciplines our children in a similarly harsh manner.
Carol: My father deserted our family when I was just five years old. He showed no interest in me or my three siblings. My mom worked very hard to provide for us, and I shouldered a lot of responsibility in caring for my younger sisters. It was hard to enjoy being a kid when I had to play the role of parent. To this day, I am more serious than playful. When my own children need discipline, I agonize over their mistakes. I like to know why something happened and what the thought process was. My husband, Mark, by contrast, doesn’t stew over matters. He was raised by a loving yet firm father, who loyally cared for his mother. With our girls, my husband is quick to resolve problems. He assesses a situation, deals with it, and then moves on.
AS THE comments of John and Carol show, your upbringing can exert a profound influence on the way you discipline your own children. When a husband and wife come from different family backgrounds, they are likely to have very different leanings when it comes to training children. At times, these differences cause tension in a marriage.
Tension can be exacerbated by exhaustion. New parents soon learn that disciplining children is a tiring, full-time job. Joan, who with her husband, Darren, has raised two girls, says: “I love my girls, but they seldom wanted to go to bed when I wanted them to. They woke up when it was most inconvenient. They interrupted when I wanted to talk. They left their shoes, clothes, and toys out and never put the butter back in the fridge.”
Jack, whose wife suffered from postpartum depression after their second child, says: “I would often come home exhausted from work and then be up half the night with our newborn. This made it a challenge to discipline our older daughter consistently. She was jealous at having to share our attention with her little sister.”
When tired parents clash over how to train a child, small disputes might explode into major arguments. Unresolved disagreements can become a wedge that drives a couple apart and provides an opening for a child to play one parent against the other. What Bible principles will help a couple maintain a close marital bond while effectively training their children?
Make Time for Your Marriage
Marriage should exist before the children arrive, and it is intended to remain long after they leave home. Regarding the marriage union, the Bible says: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matthew 19:6) By contrast, this same passage shows that God intended for a child eventually to “leave his father and his mother.” (Matthew 19:5) Really, any raising of children is only a phase of a marriage, not the basis of it. Certainly, parents need to invest time in training their children, but they do well to remember that a strong marriage is the best foundation upon which to do so.
What is one way in which a couple can keep their relationship strong during the child-rearing years? If at all possible, regularly set aside some time to spend together without the children. Doing so will allow you to discuss important family issues and just to enjoy each other’s company. Admittedly, making time to spend together as a couple is not easy. Alison, the mother referred to earlier, says, “Just when it seems that my husband and I might have a few moments together, our youngest daughter demands attention or our six-year-old experiences some ‘crisis,’ like not being able to find her crayons.”
Joan and Darren, mentioned earlier, made time for each other by enforcing a set time for their girls to go to bed. “Our girls were always required to be in bed and ready for ‘lights out’ at a fixed time,” says Joan. “That gave Darren and me time to unwind and to talk.”
By establishing a regular bedtime routine for their children, a couple not only buy out some time for themselves but also help a child not to “think more of himself [or herself] than it is necessary to think.” (Romans 12:3) Eventually, children who are trained to respect bedtime rules realize that they are a vital spoke in the family wheel but are not the hub of it—they must conform to the family’s routine rather than expect the family’s routine to conform to their whims.
TRY THIS: Establish a regular bedtime and enforce it consistently. If your child offers a reason why he or she should stay up a little longer, such as wanting a glass of water, you might want to allow one request. But do not let your child postpone bedtime indefinitely with an endless string of requests. If your child pleads to stay up an extra five minutes and you want to grant the wish, set an alarm clock to ring in five minutes. When the bell sounds, put the child to bed without further concessions. Let your “Yes mean Yes, your No, No.”—Matthew 5:37.
Present a United Front
“Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother,” states a wise proverb. (Proverbs 1:8) This Bible verse implies that both father and mother have the right to exercise authority over their children. However, even when a couple come from similar family backgrounds, they may disagree about how a child should be disciplined and what family rules should apply in a particular situation. How can parents deal with that challenge?
John, quoted earlier, says, “I feel that it is important not to disagree in front of the children.” However, he admits that presenting a united front is more easily said than done. “Children are very perceptive,” John says. “Even if a disagreement is not stated, our daughter can pick up on the emotions.”
How do John and Alison handle this challenge? Alison says: “If I disagree with the way my husband is disciplining our daughter, I wait until she is out of hearing range before I offer my input. I don’t want her to think that she can ‘divide and conquer’ by playing on our different points of view. If she realizes that we disagree, I tell her that every member of the family has to follow Jehovah’s arrangement and that I willingly submit to her father’s headship just as she should submit to our authority as parents.” (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 6:1-3) John says: “When we are together as a family, I usually take the lead in disciplining our daughters. But if Alison is more familiar with a situation, I allow her to initiate the discipline and then I back her up. If I disagree with her about something, I’ll discuss it with her later.”
How can you prevent disagreements about child training from building resentment between you and your mate—and, as a consequence, undermining your children’s respect for you?
TRY THIS: Pick a regular time each week to talk about child-training issues, and openly discuss any disagreements you may have. Try to see your spouse’s point of view, and respect the fact that your spouse has his or her own relationship with the child.
Grow Together as Parents
Without a doubt, training children is hard work. At times, the task may seem to be all-consuming. Sooner or later, though, your children will leave home, and you and your spouse will feel more like a couple again. Will your marriage bond be strengthened or strained by the experience of raising children? The answer will depend on how well you apply the principle found at Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their hard work. For if one of them should fall, the other one can raise his partner up.”
When parents work as partners, the results can be very satisfying. Carol, quoted earlier, expresses her feelings this way: “I knew that my husband had a lot of great qualities, but raising children together has shown me a whole new side of him. My respect and love for him have grown as I’ve watched the way he lovingly cared for our girls.” John says of Alison, “Seeing the way my wife has developed into a caring mother has deepened my love and admiration for her.”
If you make time for your spouse and work as a team during your child-rearing years, your marriage will grow stronger as your children grow older. What better example could you set for your children?
^ par. 3 Names have been changed.
ASK YOURSELF . . .
How much time do I spend with my mate each week without the children around?
In what way do I support my spouse when he or she disciplines our children?