by Erin Sweeten
Raising multiples. It’s tough, right? You, mom*, are making most of the day to day decisions about discipline, activities, spiritual teaching, routines, eating, and so on. Even a relatively involved spouse can let these continual parenting choices pass by unnoticed. That is, until you make a decision he* disagrees with. Or until he notices something about the kids that concerns him. Then you might hear stuff like this:
“He’s four. Why can’t he stay in his seat?”
“I don’t want my kid to be labeled. Don’t get her tested.”
“Why did you spend so much on registration fees?”
“You need to teach them to share.”
“Why are you researching all these schools? I want them to go to my alma mater.”
“You’re too easy on them.”
“You’re too hard on them.”
Cue the argument. Maybe he had his chance to give input three weeks ago and he shrugged and said, “Whatever is cheapest.” Or perhaps you are particularly tired and can’t believe he’s nitpicking instead of stepping in to help. Or you thought you had agreed upon a discipline strategy, and then in the heat of the moment, your husband reverted to the way he was raised. Sometimes you wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to raise the children by yourself.
How can parents get on the same page about the kids, and stay there? I don’t have the answers, but I can share some of the strategies that have helped me and my husband of 21 years. We do our best to prevent these situations, though they still happen sometimes.
Before the Twins Were Born: Time Negotiations
We negotiated about what would need to be done when the babies came, and how we could support each other. We talked about work schedules, babysitter budgets, me time, night wakings, chores, you name it. These agreements didn’t always pan out in real life, but we at least started out with shared expectations and adjusted as needed.
When the Twins Were Babies: Sharing Expertise
We went through a season when I thought my spouse wasn’t doing his share. My husband felt that I knew every baby-related detail, and it was easier to let me deal with the babies. So, armed with masking tape, I labeled every drawer, shelf, cupboard and closet. I posted the recipe for the formula. I posted the daily schedule. I made a list of where to find extra wipes, diapers, formula, etc if we ran out while he was on duty. Our house looked like a pharmacy, with instructions and labels posted everywhere, but it did empower my husband to take charge with confidence. It was a major positive change for us. I reminded myself to let him do things his way, without comment, since the babies were safe and happy.
When the Twins Were Toddlers: Communicating Well
This was probably our hardest stage. He withdrew more from family life now that the boys didn’t need so much.My depression led me to interpret every interaction as a sign of doom. I loved and enjoyed my boys, but wanted more time to remember who I was apart from them. In the end, we had to do three things: 1. Renegotiate the budget and our schedules to free up childcare money. 2. Get deliberate about our relationship. That’s when we started scheduling dates and, yes, sex. 3. Get my depression addressed. Through all the hard conversations, being able to listen to each other, and to communicate our perspectives gently, made it possible to get back to feeling like a team. I went alone to counseling, and it definitely helped with communicating through conflict.
When the Twins Were Preschool Aged: Weekly Discussions
At this phase of life, we had to figure out our shared parenting values. It wasn’t just taking care of basic needs anymore; it was shaping and directing our children. It was a fairly easy process, since our approaches were more or less aligned. In areas where we disagreed, we sought out expert opinion. We would talk about stuff maybe once a week. Basically the way it worked is I would give him a rundown of the current status of the kids-- triumphs, struggles, worries, then we would prioritize what we wanted to focus on-- meltdowns for this child, enough attention for that one. My husband was rarely surprised by a child’s behavior, because he was in the loop.
Dealing with Larger Issues: Divide and Conquer
Now that our kids are school-aged, we continue our weekly What’s Up With The Kids sessions. Occasionally, serious issues come up. These cases usually require a multi-pronged strategy, including one or more outside professionals. I really don’t want to handle it by myself. Why? Because the consequences of any decision could be serious, expensive, or labor-intensive and I don’t want to carry that alone. So we tend to divide and conquer on the research, then I make the initial appointments and report back. Then we map out a strategy and negotiate who will do what to make it all happen. I tend to do more of the driving around and phone calling and paperwork; he tends to do more of the one-on-one stuff that can be done at home with the kids.
You Can Do It
If you are out of practice at deciding kid stuff with your spouse, start small! Pick one area of parenting-- maybe bedtime or manners, and work on that together. Then branch out. Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s easy for you to say. My spouse will never bend on anything.” Or you have such different ideas about discipline that it is a constant battle. If your parenting problems feel impossible to get past, get the help of a knowledgeable third party. Go to counseling by yourself if your spouse won’t go. It is such a relief to have an objective voice affirm you and advise you. Be courageous and take that step forward. The kids will be alright.
*If your family works differently, I don’t want to leave you out! Substitute pronouns and titles as needed.
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