Golden rules for united parenting

Good communication, consistent messages and reliable support are not only good for your children, but help take some of the hard work out of being mum and dad.

Those days when good united parenting meant sharing the nappy-changing duties might seem a long, long time ago, but however old your children are, maintaining a united ‘mum and dad’ front remains an important key to a happy home.

Even if we’re lucky enough to enjoy a fairly stable home life, none of us have an idealistic ‘Waltons’- style existence, and we’d be lying to ourselves if we said that raising kids is easy. That’s why it’s good to remind ourselves, now and again, of a few golden rules.

We two are one
Whether you got together with your other half because you’re very similar in personality, or because your opposites attracted, it’s worth thinking about what you originally liked in each other. You may not be as carefree as you were pre-children, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun any more. Going out ‘on a date’, or just allocating one night in a week with a DVD you BOTH like, helps create a better basis for family life.

After all, if the children see mum and dad enjoying experience as equal partners, they will respect the fact that you both have an equal authority within their own lives.

Good communication
Whether you have one child or six, it’s vital from day one that you both know what the other thinks or expects. Gone are the days when you can disappear off to the bedroom, sorting out the wardrobe for hours on end while your husband’s literally left holding the baby not knowing if he’s going to be arranging the next baby feed.

Hopefully, by the time your children are at school, you will have got this whole ‘plan of action’ thing a bit more sussed. Otherwise, weekday mornings become too hectic and weekends will leave everyone frustrated because they didn’t have time to enjoy whatever it was they wanted to do.

It doesn’t have to mean you write a timetable on the kitchen noticeboard, but if you do want to disappear to the bedroom to get that wardrobe sorted, flag this up in advance, and work it into the plans you all have.

Even toddlers will go to one parent and then the other if the first doesn’t give them the toy or the treat they want. As your children get older, they will be able to use a lack of communication between you to work the whole ‘well, mum said it was OK’ routine.

Being consistent

If you both agree on a course of action for your children – a limit on sweets or clothes allowance, for example – you need to be consistent. Fair enough, when we’re tired or busy we might have a lapse in holding up our ‘house rules’, but if one of you says one thing and the other gives out a whole different message, then it’s easy for your children to use that ambiguity to get their own way.

That’s not to say that children are inherently manipulative, but they seek guidelines, and until they’re of an age where they will learn by their own long-term experience, you need to be a united voice, offering the guidelines you both feel are right, as parents.

If there is an issue you both simply do not agree on, it’s important to settle your differences away from your children, so that they do not see this lack of unity. Sometimes we might falter, and quarrel about an issue when our guard is down – perhaps on a car journey or when we’re on holiday – but if you both ‘regroup’ later and support each other, rather than openly criticising, you’ll get back on track.

It’s OK to play Mr Nice and Mr Nasty!
If one of you tends to be stricter than the other, this is not necessarily a bad thing so long as you both give your children guidelines roughly within the same boundaries. For example: one of you might be more likely to imagine every terrible thing that might befall your child on her first night out with school friends, and the other might be more open to such new territory, so long as you feel your child has talked you through what they are doing, where they are going and what they plan to do if there’s a problem. If this is the case, you need to understand and appreciate each other’s point of view, and let the other person know what you have told your child. If you have said ‘yes’ to a trip out, make sure you both know on what terms your child has been allowed out.