A common dilemma:
Many mixed-faith couples find themselves with opposing views of what makes good parenting. Maybe one partner feels that church attendance or raising kids in a church community is part of being a good parent, and the other feels like being a good parent is getting them away from messages and situations that they feel could be spiritually or otherwise damaging. One parent might feel like structure and more strict rules are part of being a good parent while the other thinks that more flexibility and choice is part of being a good parent. There are many ways that couples, whether mixed-faith or not, can have opposing views about what being a good parent is all about.
Depending on who you ask, there are a lot of different thoughts about what makes good parenting. For the sake of this article, I want to focus on a very simple framework that was very helpful for me personally to zoom out and see what good parenting is all about, and helpful in becoming an effective parenting team. According to couples therapist Terry Real and his mentor Pia Mellody, good parenting requires these 3 things:
Where do you agree?
Most couples would not argue that these 3 elements are critical to effective parenting even if they might differ on the more concrete details within these categories. A good rule of thumb to follow when you are not in agreement as a couple about something, is to stop focusing on where you don’t agree (because that will keep you endlessly stuck) and zoom out to find out where you do agree. Let’s look at each of these 3 parenting elements to see how zooming out to focus on them can help you be a parenting team even with your differences.
To nurture means to care for and encourage the growth or development of something. While you might disagree about how exactly you want your children to grow and develop and the best way to nurture them, start with the fact that you can both agree that you do want to encourage their growth and development.
If encouraging their growth and development is your shared parenting goal and where you CAN agree, then you can each be contributing to this nurturing process using each of your strengths and different values in purpose of that goal. There are so many different ways kids need to grow and develop, so it’s a good thing that you both can nurture in different ways to contribute to the bigger whole!
For example, maybe one partner feels that church is a harmful place for their children. In that case they can help nurture their children around the emotional, physical, and mental maturity to be able to keep themselves safe no matter what group they are a part of. Or they can nurture how their children develop in other communities also and not just in a church setting.
Maybe the other parent feels like church is a great way to nurture their spiritual and social development. They can then nurture all the ways that being in a church community can help them grow and develop socially and foster a connection with something greater than themselves. It doesn’t have to be either/or. You both can be simultaneously nurturing all different aspects of your children, and you can also nurture the same aspects but in very different ways. When you see that the goal is to help them grow and develop, you might start to see that the ways that you are different are actually helping you increase the ways that you are able to nurture their growth and development!
Parents do this naturally in a lot of ways. For example, my husband tends to nurture the fun side for my kids. He is the one who plays video games with them and loves to teach them how to ski or fish or introduces them to all the fun movies out there. I tend to nurture their more serious side by making sure they are practicing their instruments and doing their schoolwork and doing the daily tasks. It’s a good thing both of us are nurturing these different aspects or else their development would be very lopsided!
The same can be applied to faith differences as well. Each parent can nurture their children’s development in different ways and it doesn’t have to be a hindrance or a problem or in opposition to each other. The more nurturing you can be to all different aspects of their growth and development, the better it is for the kids!
Your parenting team mantra can be: We want to nurture our children’s growth and development in many areas and we can each contribute our own unique strengths, values, views, and life experiences in service of that goal.
The definition of guidance is: help and advice about how to do something or to deal with problems. What child would not benefit from being very resourceful to know how to deal with a variety of problems? Isn’t that what we all want for our kids is that they can effectively navigate life? Mixed-faith marriages are set up very well to do this because you both might have very different ways that you have dealt with problems. For example, one might deal with problems through prayer or church community and the other might deal with problems through critical thinking or secular/professional resources. How great for kids to know that there are multiple ways to navigate their problems!
When you are parenting from a place of agreement that kids need lots of advice and help about how to navigate life, then you might be able to see that it’s a positive thing that you both have different things to offer them in this area. The fact that you guide in different ways and have different advice to give them does not have to be a problem! It can be a strength and a unifying force in your parenting. For kids to only hear about one way to navigate life can actually be a disservice to them and not prepare them to deal with a wide range of things they might be facing.
Your parenting team mantra can be: We want to guide our children so that they can effectively navigate the many complexities of life, and we can each bring our unique strengths, values, views and life experiences in service of that goal.
Agreeing on limits is where many mixed-faith parents find themselves very stuck. Unlike nurturing and guidance, effective limits do require that both parents be on the same page about the limits and enforce them equally, otherwise the limits become very ineffective.
If you can both agree that limits are essential for good parenting, then you can stop disagreeing about where you differ and find some limits that you CAN agree on. Maybe you disagree about what limits you should set around things like church participation, Sunday activities, or moral codes of behavior for example. Instead of focusing on your different views, focus instead on limits you do agree on, which might be that there should be some limits around not letting them only do what they want to do 100% of the time, or that there should be some limits around being sexually responsible etc. You might find that you can easily find some limits that you do agree on.
It is common knowledge that shared interests create more collaboration and unity. You will have more success in negotiating, compromising, and brokering your deals around how to handle the more specific, actionable limits you set in your home if you are starting with shared interest. If you are starting with competing interests, you will be less likely to collaborate and negotiate to find workable solutions. So it is in your best interest to start the discussion of limits with zooming out until you can find some common ground on appropriate limits, and then work down to the specifics from there.
Your parenting team mantra can be: We will always find the limits we both agree on even if we have to zoom out and find more broader shared goals and then compromise and negotiate our way down to the specifics that we can both agree on.
I hope that viewing what effective parenting is all about using this broader framework can help you see that your differences can be an asset to being effective parents! If you can agree on this broader framework, you can use it as you parenting goal that you work from and use your differences to help support your bigger picture!