Parenting is no easy task. That’s probably one of the many reasons God designed it to be done together —with both parents involved. Even so, you need all the help you can get. I’m writing this article for that reason.
I want to pass along to you some practical tips on doing this parenting thing together! But it isn’t my advice that I’m going to give to you.
These are actually tips that are given by Gary Chapman. Gary is a best selling author who gives practical advice in his book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Became Parents.
He also wrote the book, The 5 Love Languages and the book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. These are just a few among many, many others Gary wrote that I recommend you read. But for this blog, we’re going to concentrate on the topic of parenting together.
Parenting Children Together
I came up with the idea after hearing an interview with Gary Chapman on a Focus on the Family radio program. It’s a two-part series that is filled with all kinds of great advice. If you can obtain the radio interview (aired March 9 and 10, 2017), I HIGHLY recommend it. The title they give is, “Practical Advice for New Parents.” I’m not sure why they target new parents, because the tips given can be used by new and not-so-new parents.
The following is some of the dialogue that I was able to glean from the program on parenting together. (You’ll have to try to obtain the series yourself, if you want the rest.)
On Part 1 of the Radio Program:
Jim Daly remarks to Gary Chapman how children change the dynamics of a marriage. Here’s the answer Gary Chapman gives in reply:
“It does. Marriages do not operate on automatic, you know. You’ve got to do something. I think the first thing with the marriage is that you have to resolve this. Both of you say, ‘look, we’re gonna keep our marriage alive. If God allowed us to be married and have children, there’s time to do both. We just gotta figure out how we’re gonna work it. But we’re going to keep our marriage alive.’”
Jim Daly replied:
“You’ve got to work at it.’ You’ve got to be intentional. I would say that I’m not as intentional as I should be and have been, with our boys, when they were younger. I was not as good. There’s someone on staff here at Focus, John and Shelley Bethany, that they would always carve out 15, 20 minutes when he would get home. He would say to the kids, you know, ‘Go do something, because this is mommy and daddy’s time.’ That’s kinda what you’re talking about. Maintain that conversation. It’s not just, ‘Can you get the dishes done? Can you get the diapers cleared out, let’s …’ It can’t revolve around the children.”
The Child-Centered Marriage
Jill Savage said something on this issue that it’s important to note. She said that her own marriage was close to breaking apart because it was too child-centered. She then wrote:
“‘Marriage-centered, not child-centered’ was a phrase Mark and I had learned in a parenting course we took at our church. It was now foundational to how we operate within our family, but so hard to live out! …In our journey to get our marriage back on track, we realized our life had been revolving around our children —a huge factor in our marriage mess. It was throwing us off balance. Mark and I had begun to let our children run things at home, including how much time we spent together as a couple.
“We didn’t want to leave the kids because they’d have ‘separation anxiety.’ We both feared that something might happen to them if we left them in the care of someone else. At that time, we didn’t live near family, so childcare was always a problem.
“We’d become so child-centered that we didn’t have time for each other. And our marriage was deteriorating because of it. We didn’t realize the very thing we desired to give our children—a secure home environment—would happen only when our children knew they lived with a mom and a dad who loved each other. This knowledge would provide the stability for which they longed. Too many of us become parents and then place our marriage on the back burner. It’s impossible to keep the fire ignited without some strategic attention to the fuel that keeps it burning.”
Back to the Radio Interview with Gary Chapman:
Later in the conversation Jim Daly asked the following question:
“What about modeling that relationship? You know, so often, Gary, we forget how we project to our children as we interact as husband and wife. This communicates a lot to the kids. It communicates stability or instability, fear or contentment and safety. Speak to that, how to be mindful of that, even when you’re not feeling it towards your spouse.”
To that, Gary Chapman replied:
“I think the interaction[s] between the husband and the wife are extremely important to the development of the child. I mean, you are their primary model and if the child hears the dad yelling and screaming at the mother or the mother doing the same toward him, the emotional equilibrium of that child is just off. Something is wrong here. Little children can tell that.
“I think we have to learn how to process our differences, maybe, in a way we haven’t already learned. If you haven’t learned this before you have the child, it’s not going to just happen. You have to learn how to talk rather than yell, how to listen and how not to interrupt each other. You have to learn how to try to understand the other person, rather than trying to get your point across and looking for a solution, rather than trying to win the argument.
“All of that can be learned. I would say to parents, if you haven’t learned that already, you ought to take a class at your church. Go see a counselor. Read a book or something to learn how to process life with each other in a healthy way. Do this so you’re giving a good model to the child.”
Later in the interview, Jim asked the question, to which Gary afterward replied:
“How did you learn these principles and what kind of person was Gary Chapman back when you were raisin’ the little ones?
“You know, I wasn’t there. I knew very, very little about raising children when our first child came. The second child came four years later. But I was open to my wife and so, when she asked me to do things, I was willing to do those things. And together we kinda learned the process. And then we asked people questions. Don’t try to do this alone. Whatever you’re struggling with, reach out to your mother, and your daddy. Reach out to an older couple. Reach out to someone that’s had a child three years older than yours and ask questions, because we can learn from each other.”
I want to make a clarification of this point. If your mom and/or dad weren’t healthy role models, find someone else who is. Pray, read books, attend classes, and do whatever you can to learn what you need to learn. If you didn’t start out parenting as you should, don’t let that stop you. Become students of this marriage/parenting thing starting today.
Later in the Interview:
Gary then talks about how you have to figure out how to make things work for you as a couple, and as parents. There are deep sacrifices that will need to be made if you are going to do this well. It’s something you BOTH need to work on together with God’s wisdom (unless your spouse won’t do that with you, and then you have to figure it out with God alone). But then Gary says this:
“Let me just throw this out for husbands. You know, I think we’re probably going have to simplify our life. You can’t go to the gym three days a week, play golf all day Saturday, work long hours, and then when you’re home, be on the computer all night. You’re not going to be able to be a father and do all those things. So, along the way we have to examine how do I simplify my life? What are some things that I maybe need to drop off for a while here while I’m raising a child? It’s hard. It’s sacrificial.”
As the interview progressed, Jim Daly asked the following question to Gary:
“When you have the teenagers and you’re seeing behavior that is unhealthy, as a parent, how much should you own of that?”
To that, Gary Chapman replied:
“There’s the reality that much of what a teenager does, they learn from us. I remember when our son was yelling and screaming at me, it dawned on me, I was yelling and screaming at him.
“And that was a big moment for me. Together, we had to learn how to work through the whole anger thing. That’s because many of us as parents have not handled our anger very well. And whether it’s been anger expressed with the child in a negative way or expressed to a spouse in a negative way, the child has seen that. They grew up with that, and they’re handling their anger the way that we handle our anger.
“So, at that juncture, then we have to learn together. And that’s what I said to my son. ‘You know, Derrick, why don’t we try to learn when we’re angry, to sit down and listen rather than yelling at each other?’ That was the beginning of a whole new learning experience for both of us.”
It was actually a new learning experience for Derrick and Gary, but also for Gary’s wife Karolyn. They ALL needed to learn how to better handle anger so it wasn’t expressed in such toxic ways. Parenting is a learning experience for each parent, but also for each spouse. The child learns A LOT from watching the interactions of his or her parents. We are supposed to be the grown-ups. We learn, and then pass along what we learn by what we see and what we do. To the best of our abilities, with God’s help, we are to parent TOGETHER for the betterment of our growing child.
I want to share two more quotes, because they relate to the issue of parenting together. In Part 2 of the 2-Part Focus on the Family series Jim Daly asks Gary Chapman how important it is to evaluate their childhood. Concerning the influence the parents can have upon their children, “What can a person hope to learn from doing that?” Essentially, do we underestimate the influence parents have upon their children? To this, Gary stated:
“I think we do underestimate it. And you understand the influence they had on you is going to make you aware of the powerful influence you’re having on your child. That’s why, in the book, I ask that question …what if my children turn out to be just like me? What if they handle their anger the way I handle my anger? And what if they drive a car the way I drive a car? What if they have the same work ethic that I have? Plus, what if they talk to other people the way I talk to other people? And I could go on. It’s a sobering thing, because my model is gonna have a greater impact on my children than my words.”
And then the last question that was asked, is one posed by co-host, John Fuller where he says:
“Dr. Chapman, going back to the big picture that you offer in this book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Became Parents, how much of the outcome of the parenting journey ahead of me should I own? How much should I feel a responsibility for?”
To this, Gary Chapman remarked:
“I think first of all, we ought to recognize that we do have a responsibility. The child is a gift of God and the child is totally helpless. The child will not make it without us. We [make sure they have] the food, the sleep and all that are the essentials to keep the child alive. But they have all these other needs, social needs, emotional needs that we’ve touched on. And I’m the primary teacher to that child. I mean, before they go to kindergarten, all these things, they’re going to be learning from me. So, I do have a tremendous responsibility.
“But on the other hand, to the parent who’s saying, ‘Well, I tried. I did all those things and then my child turned out badly. Is that my fault?’ That’s the common question they ask. You know, what did we do wrong when an adult child makes a poor decision? And I have to say this. Look, God’s first two children made poor decisions and they had a perfect Father. So, you’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. We do the best we can and books like this will help us do that.
“But we’re not responsible for the decisions of our adult children. They are free to make decisions on their own when they get to be adults. And sometimes they’re going to make poor decisions. We need to be there for them. We need to let them know we love them. But we don’t need to take the guilt of what they do on ourselves, because they’ve made an adult decision. So, I think it’s important to keep that in balance.”
It’s Relevant to Know:
There is SO MUCH that needs to be kept in balance. That is why we need all the help we can get to parent well and to be good marital partners as we parent.
If you are the parent(s) of a child, I recommend you go to Focusonthefamily.com and find the radio series, “Practical Advice for New Parents.” There is much, much more that is included in that interview that isn’t included here. I recommend you pay attention to ALL that is said. May God bless the ministry of Focus on the Family for making interviews like this available to all of us.
And also, pick up Gary’s book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Became Parents, and his other book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. I believe you will find both books helpful. And as you and your spouse parent your child(ren):
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 15:5-6)